Rereading The Language of God (& signed book giveaway!)

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

  1. reactionism: reacting to social Darwinism and to atheist claims that science supports their worldview.
  2. intellectual laziness in response to the challenges and especially to the implication that any adjustments in their way of thinking might be required.
  3. 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.

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I tend to blame it on intellectual pride rather than laziness. That is, many are so caught up in their own construct, that they refuse to see it as flawed, and fear what would happen if they permit it to be shown to be built on a crumbling foundation. But, in any case, closely aligned with your thoughts.


Chapter 8 Creationism: when faith trumps science
I would change the subtitle to, “when worshippers of the dark ages change Christianity into their personal prejudices.” Faith cannot trump science because science is founded upon faith. So what is really meant here is when the personal uninformed beliefs of a small portion of Christianity is made into the measure of all truth including both science and Christainity. Thus both the Bible and all the data God sends to us from the Earth and sky is ignored in favor of what this one group has decided to believe.

Young Earth Creationism
Some people lie a lot and other sincere naive people simply believe them.

Young Earth Creationism and modern science are incompatible
Both Young Earth and Flat Earth groups seem to have taken an ancient worldview founded upon a perception of the world limited to a radius of a few thousand miles or years and tried to fit everything they see into that rather small sphere. There does seem to be a human capacity for refusing to see beyond the end of their own nose, so to speak.

But Ultraliteral interpretations of Genesis are unneccessary
Collins recalls the reflections of Augustine to show that Christian understanding of the Bible has never been so narrow as the YEC have tried to make it. Not only is a great deal of the Bible clearly not literal, but the Bible doesn’t even treat the things in Genesis as completely literal either. To the concern about liberal interpretations we can also say that ultrametaphorical interpretations of Genesis are also unneccessary – they are not made necessary by anything in science. Black and white treatments of such questions are product of dishonest rhetoric.

God as the Great Deceiver
The great deceiver is the devil. Creationism is only one of the ways in which theological stubborness can end up making the God you teach sound more like the devil than like Jesus. Would it not be a terrible waste and tragedy for Christians to throw away their greatest religious advantage in a living example of what God is really like in the person of Christ?

A Plea for Reason
Science is not a threat to Christianity, only a challenge for us to learn and understand more about the universe. The biggest threat to Christianity are those who equate it with ideas opposed to science.

Interesting. Roger Scruton thought that many of us seek religion as a way to resolve the unclear/unknown. If that is true, fear is also likely another reason we don’t want to change our opinion. If it’s based on faith, how can we with any certainty re orient ourselves to an entirely different direction?

Chapter 9 Intelligent Design: when science needs divine help
I would change the subtitle to, “when theists change science into rheoric for their beliefs.”
This follows the medieval standard which declares theology to be the queen of the sciences, and thus when science is no more than philosophy concerning the natural world. But modern science is something quite different than this, founded on a methodology which tests hypotheses with written procedures giving the same result no matter what you may believe.

What is Intelligent Design Anyway?
Collins’ answer to that question is basically two words, “irreducible complexity.” It is the claim that science cannot explain everything in biology. If true it would be the quantum physics of biology and not something scientists would accept without the same kind of irrefutable proof. Furthermore the movement, Collins explains, goes way beyond this to claim that

  1. Evolution promotes atheistic worldview and must be resisted by believers in God.
  2. Evolution is fundamentally flawed because it cannot account for the complexity of nature.
  3. There must have been an intelligent designer to provide the necessary components.

The first is a profound insult to the majority of Christianity who has accepted evolution, or even worse to those like myself who have come to Christianity from a scientific worldview and would not accept Christianity without evolution. Collins says because this not motivated by a scientific desire to understand life but a religious mission, the idea that this is a scientfic theory is no more than pretense – in short pseudoscience. Thus it is far more like the abuse of science made by atheists such as Dawkins and Dennett.

Besides consisting largely of a rehash of William Paley’s argument from design, the second is a God of the gaps sort of argument which is doomed to constantly retreat as scientific discovery advances. Not only is the logic of the basic theory irrefutable but it has been demonstrated conclusively that evolutionary algorithms are quite capable of feats surpassing human intelligence and design capabilities.

For the third, Collins only points to the dishonest nature of hiding God behind such terminology, but I have a much more fundamental objection. I think it amounts to a denial of any difference between living things and machines. To be sure, now that we can study the mechanisms employed by living organisms to accomplish so many things the similarity to machines is obvious. There is really only one difference. Machines are a product of design and can only do what their designers made them to do. Living organisms are a product of growth, learning, choices, and such self-organizing processes. The most we can say is they do not do this in a vacuum but in an environment which may include parents and teachers, and that is the role God should have rather than as a maker of machines.

Scientific Objections to Intelligent Design
“Since scientists are actually attracted to disruptive ideas, always looking for an opportunity to overturn accepted theories of the day, it seems unlikely that they would reject the arguments of ID simply because they challenge Darwin.” YES! In this the religionists are completely projecting their own motivations and way of thinking. Science really doesn’t work that way right down to the econmic motivations of individual scientists. Since their careers are made or broken by their abitility to contribute something new (it is even required for a PHD), they are driven from the get go to find something wrong with current theories and the ONLY reason they might seem dogmatic about certain things is because they already personally tried and tried to break those things themselves and prove them wrong.

“A viable scientific theory predicts other findings and suggests approaches for further experimental verification.” ID not only fails in this regard but is directly opposed, telling people to stop looking because there is no answer but “Goddidit.” ID is not just pseudoscientific rhetoric but anti-science. It provides “no mechanism by which the postulated supernatural interventions would give rise to complexity.” Collins complains that the suggestion by Behe that primitive organisms are preloaded with God’s plan for future organisms doesn’t work because it is unlikely to survive mutation rates. But this objection is easily answered by preknowledge on the part of God. Collins’ probably overlooks this because this kind of thinking is just as useless to science as the rest of ID and I can only say this simply cements IDs fundamental character as theology rather than biology.

Collins then goes through a number of the examples given by the ID proponents of irreducible complexity and shows that they have been subsequently revealed to be not irreducible after all. Such is the ultimate doom of all god of the gaps type argumments. These examples include human blood-clotting cascade, the eye, and bacterial flagellum. In these cases more recent discoveries have undercut the claims of irreducible complexity.

Theological Objections to Intelligent Design
In addition to the failure of the “god of the gaps” approach, Collins observes that “ID protrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies” of previous efforts. This objection seems closely related to the philosophical problem of suffering and the problems of bad design are not just found in the the past but in the present. It leaves one with a picture of a God which is either bumbling or malign and all of that goes away with evolution and the recognition that rather than being a product of design life is a matter of growth and learning.

The Future of the ID Movement
The challenge of the founders of ID who set down the conditions by which ID would be disproven have already been met, and thus one need only quote those founders themselves to establish the demise of ID quite conclusively. What then Collins asks of the search for harmony between science and faith? If seeking this harmony in the submission of science to religion has failed, then how about the submission of religion to science instead? This is not as bad as it might seem because despite their claims Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris are the voice of atheism not science. Unlike religion, science is already under some very strict guidelines not only about what it can claim but even what it must, however reluctantly, accept.

Chapter 10 Option 4: Biologos - Science and Faith in Harmony

Like Collins I sought the truth of science and religion/Bible in parallel, but while Collins couldn’t imagine a conflict, I simply would not consider anything in religion that was in conflict with science. BUT my field of study wasn’t quite the hotbed of conflict that Collins’ was. And indeed I found even more reason to believe in God and a spiritual side to existence in my studies of physics.

What is Theistic Evolution
Collins lists 6 premises for theistic evolution. I would leave out the comment on probabilities in 2 since probabilities which cannot be calcuated are empty rhetoric. Number 4 is like saying that Christians require no supernatural intervention (no miracles). It is a weird thing to say. God intervenes as He chooses according to what He wants to accomplish. I would say rather that no breaking of the laws of nature were required, and any divine interventions (just like the miracles in the lives of Christians) can be dismissed as coincidence or statistical anomalies by the skeptics. But this doesn’t mean God did not play a role in bringing about those events. God created the world and us in it for an interactive reltionship. I suppose with 4, Collins is just trying to rule out the approach of Intelligent Design, that science cannot explain things. I certainly agree with that intent. Finally, I disagree with the idea in number 6 that a moral law distinguishes us from the animals or points to a spiritual nature. I also cannot rule out the possibility that the search for God also has a sound scientific explanation also. But despite these small quibbles I don’t think this significantly alters the conclusion that we can have a “plausible intellectually satisfying and logically consistent synthesis” between science and theism.

Critiques of Theistic Evolution
Many ways of thinking is an inherent aspect of religion and theology because there is no way to test any particular synthesis or resolution between the findings of science and religion any more than we can resolve the other issues of religious thought. But diversity of thought is not a fatal flaw any more than is the diversity of the genome. On the contrary, it is necessary for survival.

Collins comes up with the name Biologos as an alternative to “theistic evolution,” and the point is the acceptance of both roots biology and the Word, which according to John 1 is God. So I would say there is a definite link to Christianity and the Bible in this term. I like that Collins seeks to remove the anthropomorphism many see in the Biblical concept of “image of God.” But I obviously do not agree with his choice of absolute foreknowledge over open theism, which he invokes to answer the discomfort with God leaving things to chance. But I see no need to make God into a control freak any more than we should seek to be a control freak ourselves, for these make notoriously bad parents.

What about Adam and Eve
Collins basically leaves this as an open question. He quotes to us comments that C. S. Lewis made on the topic to show how open he was to all kinds of metaphorical treatments of different aspects of the story. He argues that is unreasonable to rest our position regarding evolution on something plagued with so much uncertainty and diverse thought. I cannot say that I find this leaving it up in the air approach to work all that well for me. Instead I have a pretty well defined position on the question of Adam and Eve as historical people chosen and made human by communication with God. But I will say that it is more important that I can find a resolution to this question than what my particular resolution may be.

Science and Faith: The conclusion really matters
The triumphant declarations of materialists/naturalists/atheists only makes me laugh, because I have to wonder how many of them like Collins and C. S. Lewis might simply change their minds later in life as they come to understand that these questions and issues are not quite so simple after all. But turning our back on science will do more harm than good. That is for sure.

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Collins begins the eleventh and final chapter of this book with a story from Nigeria. I can totally relate. For us intellectual types, to feel an actual experience of love is the greatest miracle for us. Compared to this, parting the Red sea and walking on water seem little more than pale stage magician tricks – irrelevant distractions to which our heart and amazement have become somewhat inured.

Making Personal Sense of the Evidence
Instead of Collins’ “Moral Law” it is language (substance of the human mind) which makes us different than any animals we have encountered and the means not only by which we can have a relationship with God but an inheritance of ideas from God as well to make us His children. Of course my reasons for belief are a little bit different than those of Collins (link above in the comments on chapter 3).

What Kind of Faith?
Here Collins seeks to narrow down this account of His religious search to a particular religion. He rejects Deism because such a God doesn’t seem to care enough about us. Just as I did, he became increasingly aware of his own inability to do even what he believed to be the right thing. In this widening gap he experience between himself and God came a realization that in the person of Christ, he could not only see God more directly but experience a personal relationship with Him. Collins had a similar reaction to mine concerning the resurrection and the atonement, and these were some of the last things of which I could not make any sense of in Christianity. But as should be clear by now, despite our many similarities we still think somewhat differently and so we found our way through these difficulties differently. And perhaps again, the point is that it is more important that such a rational explanation is possible than what that particular solution may be.

Evidence Demanding a Verdict
Collins takes the classic approach as presented by C. S. Lewis that you have to choose between whether Jesus was God as He claimed or a deciever, and so, simply being a great teacher isn’t an option. Unfortunately that rhetoric finds no sympathy with me because history is full of great teachers who said things that were terribly incorrect. So what we are talking about here is the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, which is another of my last difficulties to overcome in becoming Christian. And in my case, what convinced me was Phillipians 2:5-8. It was not just that this convinced me that the Jesus of the Bible was God, but the priorities inherent in this act which won me over to the belief in a God who would do such a thing as discarding power and knowledge to become a helpless human infant and grow up as one of us – choosing love over power. That was a God who I could believe in.

Seek and Ye Shall find
Collins resonates with me a great deal in his quote of the words of John Polkinghorne, another scientist like us coming to Christianity from the scientific worldview. Accepting science as the source of objective knowledge still leaves us with a realization that there is more to life and more to know even if we must accept that it is subjective and thus that a diversity of thought is an inherent part of it. Science, however successful it may be, is still just one way of looking at the world through a filter of mathematical glasses and must not be confused with a sum total of reality itself.

An Exhortation to Believers
Here Collins asks for believers to have some empathy for us scientific types and argues (with a quote of Copernicus) that science can be a kind of worship of the creator who made what the scientist seeks to understand. Collins also quotes Proverbs 19:2 to warn against misinformed religious fervor.

An Exhortation to Scientists
Here Collins appeals to those in science not to judge religion by the faulty examples of human beings who err in religion as they err in so many other things. Collins makes a quick attempt to deal with a number of objections which frankly do not justice to those difficulties. Certainly the problem of evil and suffering is one which could be the subject of an entire book by itself. Collins does a better job at addressing concern with the idea that science is insufficient in answering questions. However as a physicist rather than biologist I find this one somewhat amusing since we physicists have already had to accept this from the discovery of quantum physics.

A Final Word
“Seekers, there are answers to these questions.” Again this underlines the important fact that answers are possible without suggesting that we will all find the same answers to every question. LOL So Collins calls for “a truce in the escalating war between science and spirit.” This book is ultimately the testimony of a prominent scientist that “science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced.” And I can certainly testify that Collins is far from alone in this experience.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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