In chapter 6, Collins starts by telling some stories of experiences which disturbed him in how sensitive so many Christians were to the facts of theoretical biology. At first he was enthusiastically welcomed as a scientist who supports Christianity only to have them turn away when he dared to state the facts about evolution. It was a truth many people were still unwilling to hear.
Reasons for lack of Public Acceptance of Darwin’s Theory
Collins blames this on the unexpected nature of Darwin’s conclusions, the inability to understand the long periods of time involved, and the perception that it argues against the role of a supernatural creator, or contradicts the word of sacred scripture.
I blame it on
- reactionism: reacting to social Darwinism and to atheist claims that science supports their worldview.
- intellectual laziness in response to the challenges and especially to the implication that any adjustments in their way of thinking might be required.
- Struggle of the religious maintain perceived power/authority to dictate answers to certain questions.
What does Genesis Really Say?
Collins underlines the fact that there are two accounts of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis and they do not agree on the details. This strongly suggests that taking such details rigidly and literally doesn’t make sense. Next Collins turns to St. Augustine who pointed out before science had its say in these matters, that it was very unlikely considering 2 Peter 2:8 and the many ways that the word "day is used in the Bible, that these days in Genesis chapter 1 are meant to refer to 24 hour periods.
The fact of the matter is that the Bible and Genesis doesn’t really support a creationism or a literal understanding of the text. Adjustments are required to make it fit the creationist point of view. Ignoring all the people Cain feared Genesis 4:14 and contradicting other parts of the Bible in the claim in the meaning of “sons of God” in Genesis 6 to claim angels can breed with women to make weird half breed monsters.
Lessons from Galileo
Next Collins tells the very sad story of the conflict with Galileo which did untold damage to the respectability of Christianity. Collins points out that today it is hard for us to even understand what the big deal was with the Copernican picture and how these clergy could have taken this as a threat to Christianity. The truth then as it is now that the real threat to Christianity are the foolish people who are equating Christianity with ideas opposed to the findings of science.
Chapter 7 Atheism and Agnosticism: when science trumps faith
I would change the subtitle to, “when atheists change science into rhetoric for their beliefs.” Science cannot trump faith because science is founded upon faith: faith in the scientific method and faith that the evidence will lead us to the truth (not a product of supernatural deception). And… even though Collins, myself, and many other scientists are religious people we do not find science contradicting our religious beliefs.
Collins begins this chapter with a summation of his experiences of the times over a decade earlier than myself. In 1968, I was only 7 years old. So what Collins describes was my childhood and my college years was dominated instead by birth of the computer era (as computers shrunk from something filling a room to something held in your hand), and the fall of the Soviet domination (iron curtain) of half the world (I was actually in Latvia when the tanks rolled into Riga after the disappearance of Gorbachev and by the time I left Latvia I was carrying a fragment of the statue of Lenin from the center of the city). Thus in some sense, the wave of atheism had already passed and I was left with the aftermath and the question of where to go from there.
I was confronted with a completely different set of questions and alternatives. There was no question in my mind, which would win in a conflict between science and religion. Science defines the limits of what is reasonable to believe. But science can only speak to what is measurable and repeatably observable. So the question for me is why I should limit my understanding of reality only to these things alone? To be sure, without determinations of this objective scientific methodology, there is likely to be some diversity of thought. So while I always felt obliged to make sure what I believed fit with the results of scientific inquiry, it did not seem the nature of life to limit our comprehension of the world only to that which was irrespective of our beliefs and desires. Too much of life depends on such things in a critical way. Love for example is not a matter for objective observation – it requires asking yourself what you want and then to believe, for what but belief can make it so? And no few times I saw the foolishness of people trying to deal with such things objectively.
I cannot say anything about a universal search for God. That is certainly not my experience. What I can say instead, after watching my father eventually turn from atheism and Maoism to Taoism, is that without addressing the aspect of life which requires our subjective participation, quite opposite the objective observation of science, it is nearly inevitable that we will feel profoundly unsatisfied in life. I read the “Selfish Gene” and found its genetic reductionism to be absurd, and I hardly needed Dawkins’ other books to convince me of the accuracy of evolution or the darker side of religion. Frankly, I think Dawkins was simply taking advantage of this irrational reactionary rejection of evolution within Christianity as a means to push atheism – but that could only make it ultimately just as irrational and reactionary as well.
My earliest confrontation with agnosticism was my father’s response to my question about God saying that he didn’t know – and my thinking was that I would find the answer to this question myself. I later found that he not only didn’t know but he didn’t care because he couldn’t see how the Deist sort of God, which is the only one he thought possible, had any importance for the living of our lives. Collins says most agnostics are not so aggressive and I would go much farther than this to say that most atheists are actually a rather humble sort – they simply don’t have an interest in the things of religion.
But I think my ultimate response to agnosticism is this division I have made between subjective and objective knowledge. It is the fact that we proceed with life on the basis of certain beliefs that make them knowledge and it is type of evidence we have for those beliefs and whether it is reasonable to expect others to agree with them that distinguishes between the two types. Accordingly, I am an agnostic with respect to objective knowledge of God and see no objective merit in any of the “proofs for God’s existence” – on this I would agree with Dawkins in the “God Delusion.” But I don’t stop there and frankly don’t believe that anybody else does either – not without an indulgence in self delusion. Perception of the world and making sense of the data just isn’t possible without making a few belief choices which depend on our own personal experiences, including what feels right and good. Thus I am a theist in spite of the failure of all those proofs for God’s existence. I choose to believe because that is the life I want to live and person I want to be.