Author’s note: I wrote the following book review about Francis Collins’ “The Language of God” for the Indianapolis Star Newspaper.
Francis Collins’ “The language of God” is well worth a read. It is a Yin and Yang approach to Religion and science. Everyone will find something to cheer about and frown about. Collins walks the meandering line between believers and non-believers, and talks authoritatively to both sides.
The scientific/medical achievements of this Evangelical Christian are legendary. His “position cloning” gene hunting approach enabled researchers to find the genes for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, adult acute leukemia, neurofibromatosis, and others. His pioneering techniques have increased the chances of finding genes responsible for cancer, mental illness, cardiovascular disease, and adult-onset Type II diabetes.
The curious reader will wonder how Collins came to be a leader in a field in which over 90% of researchers do not believe in a deity who interferes with natural laws. The explanation is not that extraordinary. Collins tells us of deep empathy with his suffering patients and a family tragedy. He, like many others when faced with personal conflict, longed for an ultimate truth upon which to hang his scientific credentials and answer his unanswerable questions. His conversion, as he describes it, came on a wintry morning in 1976 when, while hiking, he discovered three adjacent frozen waterfalls, which reminded him of the Trinity. Einstein, Darwin and many others, were also witness to human atrocities and tragedies, and marveled at the grandeur of nature with different outcomes. They were atheist/agnostic.
The Language of God is not a scientific defense of Collins’ belief in God. Collins does not believe that God is rationally provable and does not linger on this conundrum except to fall back on the old argument that the odds against human life on a fragile planet in a hostile universe are so great that a divinity must be responsible. It is an idea long debated by evolutionists and creationists.
Collins has a conglomerate belief in science and religion, which he calls BioLogos, also called theistic evolution. He believes that evolution is a process designed by God to create human life from single cell organisms up the evolutionary ladder to primate pre-humans, and ultimately to wonderful us. His opinion represents a thunderous volley of cannon balls into the leaking hull of the Creationist ark.
The Language of God, surprisingly, levels its cannons directly at Creationism and Intelligent Design rather than godless scientists. Its loudest critics will be those fundamentalist believers trying to save their leaking ark with its cargo of superstition and “fanciful creation science.”
Freethinkers and Secular Humanists should look to Francis Collins with envy and gratitude. He has accomplished what they could not. He has preached the truth of evolution to the fundamentalist community, and they are listening. He strums gospel tunes on his guitar and sings scientific lyrics; he enchants his audience, believers and non-believers.
To Secular Humanists and freethinkers, the Collins melody is sometimes ambiguous and inexplicable, but it is the only show playing in the Creationist theaters. Secular Humanists will accept Language of God with a wry smile and a faint nod of approval. They realize that Francis Collins has gone where no man has ventured, to colonize the Creationist world with evolutionary science. He has taken a controversial step for the betterment of humankind through gene research and the acceptance of scientific fact.
The majority of the Christian community will warmly accept Collins’ contention that their God speaks not only in the mystery of faith, but also in the language of the physical sciences. Read the book! It is a fascinating insight into a great mind and a truly loving human being.
Additional comments: Christians such as Francis Collins and biologist Michael Zimmerman, and Christian organizations such as the Templeton Foundation have taken a hesitant step toward science and evolution while maintaining their liberal religious beliefs. This step has alarmed some atheist groups which say any and all supernatural beliefs are totally incompatible with science, and any accommodation between the two only weakens the effort to maintain a secular state. Personally, I think a small step toward the acceptance of science and evolution is better than no step. Although secular humanism is continually under threat from Evangelical religion, it continues to be healthy and is growing. Francis Collins is a strong spokesperson for science and the separation between church and state; we need more like him.