Francis Collins ....Belief: readings on the reason for faith

Went to an estate sale today (because we like to buy used items) and the former owner of this house (God rest his soul) had a lot of books right up my alley. 18 books for $10! Among them was a reading anthology put together by Francis Collins, who seems to be a popular name here. He did give Biologos a nice plug:

And for a deeper exploration of the potential harmony of the scientific and spiritual worldviews, I would commend, where my colleagues and I have embarked on an effort to provide responses to the questions about science and faith that are most frequently posed by believers, seekers, and skeptics.

Collins does not believe you can absolutely prove God’s existence but he thinks faith and reason go together quite well and put forward a few of the common arguments:

Big Bang and Kalam

Big bang and Kalam is fairly standard and I tend to agree with him on this front. I don’t think an actual infinite regress of causes is possible. I am not saying everything about an uncaused first cause is immediately clear and obvious but my knowledge of cosmology pushes me this way. Usually in discussion with people I like to ask them if a cakes can bake itself? I have seen a few people that don’t seem to like the word “explosion” for the Big Bang but that is a minor issue.

Design of the Universe

I like that he lays out the three potential pathways we can take as a response to examples of what look like fine-tuning question in our universe. The multiverse is absolutely a leap of (anti)faith to me. A leap away from God.

On Moral Law and Evolution

Does Morality have a foundation in atheism?

This is the one that is near and dear to me. I just don’t see how materialism produces objective morality beyond “conditioned to think this via evolution.” How can it be truly right or wrong, for one assemblage of atoms and subatomic particles governed by physical laws to “hurt” another assemblage of atoms and fundamental particles governed by physical laws? Can we be more than just blobs of matter in atheism?

I certainly do not think atheists live amorally. Some seem more moral than fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at times. But I’ve never seen how, philosophically, any ultimate meaning in the universe can be gleaned without God. It all just seems so arbitrary and culturally cherrypicked. Our religious moral code is certainly not immune from that charge.

One thing for me is also that ultimately, we have a blink of an eye existence on cosmic scales and the universe looks like it will expand forever until there is nothing left but darkness and temperatures hovering around absolute zero for the vast majority of cosmic history. Virtual nothingness forever–for so long that I wonder how any blip of matter in the past would be statistically relevant or meaningful. I mean, does anything truly matter in that framework? It is a bit bleak and depressing to view the universe without God. I think Collins phrased it way better than I ever could and I appreciated this next line:

I realized that seeing all of humanity’s nobler attributes through the constricted lens of atheism and materialism ultimately leads to philosophical impoverishment, and even to the necessity of giving up concepts of benevolence and justice.

Even avoiding whether we can prove or no God’s existence and what these arguments entail. From a perspective of world views, atheism is just bleak and dressing. It doesn’t seem to do justice or account for our everyday experiences except to dismiss them as illusions. Based on the introduction, I am looking forward to the selected readings!


That’s a great find! Now I’m tempted to pick up a copy of the book. For the time being it is available on scribd.

This is something I’ve thought a great deal about. It was in one of my first major online discussions about uncaused causality, around 1000 posts, I began to see how an uncaused cause would be unobservable by nature. Later in that discussion me and an atheist (or agnostic) senior philosopher just sat there staring at each other (it was Facebook) as we both realized that an uncaused cause is not necessarily aware of its action.

Why science can’t absolutely prove God exists. Yes, God is outside nature and therefor not capable of being put into a test-tube. Which means proving God exists vi this method is not possible nor is disproving as some militant atheists try to do: Collins wrote:

Though Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 was widely embraced by many in the church as an insight into God’s method of creation, more recently evolution has been perceived as a direct assault on belief in God. Philosopher Dan Dennett is fond of calling Darwin’s theory a “universal acid” for any tendency toward religious thinking. But surely this claim is going beyond the evidence. If God has any real significance, God must be at least in part outside of nature (unless you are a pantheist, who believes that God and nature are the same thing). Science, including the science of evolution, is limited to exploring and understanding the natural world. Therefore, to apply scientific arguments to the question of God’s existence, as if this were somehow a showstopper, is committing a category error. If God Almighty, unlimited by space or time, chose to use the mechanism of evolution to carry out a creative plan that led to a truly marvelous diversity of living things on a blue planet near the outer edge of a spiral galaxy, we would have to admit that this was a powerful and highly effective plan.

Does this first cause have consciousness? Does it care about human life? How anthropomorphic are these questions to begin with? All interesting questions. I suppose your concern is where fine-tuning comes into play and provides me with intellectual comfort. Collins:

These arguments from the observed order of the universe are compelling, but they say little about whether such a “creator” God would be interested in human beings. To be sure, the fine-tuning arguments, including the precise resonance of the masses of helium and beryllium that makes carbon- based life a possibility, encourage the notion that God must have been interested in something more than a sterile and boring universe.

From here Collins suggest the moral law, assuming we actually believe in such a thing, bridges the gap more fully. For Christians, God incarnate is the decisive answer. Logically, if the first cause is “not necessarily aware” of its action, I think our universe simply suggest that the first cause is aware. Unless the universe were accidentally created, accidentally fine-tuned for carbon based life to evolve after several solar cycles and accidentally be given a moral law.

I started the next chapter. NT Wright is talking about justice. It seems to me that he may go in a direction I did a long ago as an atheist. I started realizing the problem of evil was worse for atheists because of the finality of death. For so many billions of people life is cruel, cold and abrupt. The end comes and its very bleak and unceremonious. No wrongs are ever redressed. Fairness and our sense of justice is just a delusion that sometimes comes to pass. There is no light in the atheist’s universe to me aside from hollow platitudes which usually end up assuming things its probably not justified in doing so. Im sure I can be accused of “happily ever after” syndrome but I think our sense of justice, fairness and right and wrong are deeper and innate.

Edit: Wright didn’t really go that way. He just seemed to be saying our longing for justice and spirituality seem to point to something more and are questions worth asking.

The “hidden spring” of spirituality is the second feature of human life that [sense of justing being the first], I suggest, functions as the echo of a voice; as a signpost pointing away from the bleak landscape of modern secularism and toward the possibility that we humans are made for more than this.

Wright said there are three ways to explain our sense of justice:

We can say, if we like, that it is indeed only a dream, a projection of childish fantasies, and that we have to get used to living in the world the way it is. Down that road we find Machiavelli and Nietzsche, the world of naked power and grabbing what you can get, the world where the only sin is to be caught.

Or we can say, if we like, that the dream is of a different world altogether, a world where we really belong, where everything is indeed put to rights, a world into which we can escape in our dreams in the present and hope to escape one day for good—but a world that has little purchase on the present world except that people who live in this one sometimes find themselves dreaming of that one. That approach leaves the unscrupulous bullies running this world, but it consoles us with the thought that things will be better somewhere, sometime, even if there’s not much we can do about it here and now.

Or we can say, if we like, that the reason we have these dreams, the reason we have a sense of a memory of the echo of a voice, is that there is someone speaking to us, whispering in our inner ear—someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves, and who has made us and the world for a purpose that will indeed involve justice, things being put to rights, ourselves being put to rights, the world being rescued at last.



Actually, that argument was the least of my concern. But I did hear a pretty good argument for why agnosticism was the most reasonable position due to the design arguments and the argument from suffering.

For me, as I was caught in this impossible dilemma between theism and solipsism. On one hand I couldn’t emotionally accept solipsism and yet these coincidences kept bothering me. With Hegel saying the goal of history (or this life) was for reason to become conscious of itself, intellectually it made perfect sense, but what a horror it would be to be alone.

So at some point when I lost it, and prayed to just touch the feet of Jesus and know that he was there, I felt what I can only describe as the touch of his Spirit. And this is what provided me with the “intellectual” comfort I needed.

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Sounds like James 1:5. Collins started the book with that and said he has it on a stairway so he passes it several times a day.

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