ColLang 07-07-68

The Language of God

A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief



Francis S. Collins

Free Press, 2006, 294 pp., ISBN 0-7432-8639-8


Dr. Francis Collins is head of the Human Genome Project working at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life. He is a Christian with a strong faith in God and Scripture. And he is a theistic evolutionist. The first two chapters describe his journey to faith. After that he discusses the big questions of human existence and his view of the relationship of faith and science.


"The human genome consists of all the DNA of our species, the hereditary code of life." It is an amazingly complex catalog of information 3 billion letters long. It would take thirty-one years to read it at one letter per second. Printing it out would require a pile of paper as tall as the Washington Monument. (1-2)


President Clinton referred to is when he said, "Today, we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift." (2)


"We have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God." [Glory to Him! dlm]


"This book aims to [argue] that a belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science." (3) There is a rich and satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews. (6)


"Faith was not an important part of my childhood. I was vaguely aware of the concept of God." (13) In college he concluded that the religious faiths held no foundational truth. (15) "I gradually became convinced that everything in the universe could be explained on the basis of equations and physical principles. And so I gradually shifted from agnosticism to atheism." (16)


Working with sick patients he struggled with maintaining a professional distance. "What struck me profoundly about my bedside conversations was the spiritual aspect . I witnessed numerous cases of individuals whose faith provided them with a strong reassurance of ultimate peace ." If it were a psychological crutch then it was a very powerful one.


"I found myself with a combination of willful blindness and something that could only be properly described as arrogance . Suddenly all my arguments seemed very thin, and I had the sensation that the ice under my feet was cracking. This realization was a thoroughly terrifying experience. After all, if I could no longer rely on the robustness of my atheistic position, would I have to take responsibility for actions that I would prefer to keep unscruitinized? Was I answerable to someone other than myself?" (20) [I wonder how many atheists remain atheist rather than to face up to this question. dlm]


Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis exposed his schoolboy constructs against faith. (21)


The universal inherent concept of right and wrong he considers a powerful apologetic. (23)


"Faith in God now seemed more rational than disbelief." (30) "For a long time I stood trembling on the edge of this yawning gap. Finally, seeing no escape, I leapt." (31)


"A miracle is an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin. All religions include a belief in certain miracles." (48) "How can one accept such claims, while claiming to be a rational modern human being? Well, clearly, if one starts out with the presumption that supernatural events are impossible, then no miracles can be allowed." (48) " a discussion about the miraculous quickly devolves to an argument about whether or not one is willing to consider any possibility whatsoever of the supernatural." (51)


"If, like me, you admit that there might exist something or someone outside of nature, then there is no logical reason why that force could not on rare occasions stage an invasion. On the other hand, in order for the world to avoid descending into chaos, miracles must be very uncommon." (53)


"There is at least one singular, exceedingly improbable, and profound event in history that scientists of nearly all disciplines agree is not understood and will never be understood, and for which the laws of nature fall completely short of providing an explanation. Would that be a miracle?" (54) [He refers to the origin of the universe. dlm]


How did it all begin? At the beginning of the 20th century scientists assumed the universe had no beginning. But discovery that all objects in space are fleeing implied a beginning. Cosmologist now suppose a "big bang' about 14 billion years ago. (64)


"The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined beginning. I cannot see how nature could have crated itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that." (67)


"But what of the rest of creation?" (67) "Earth gradually cooled, developed an atmosphere, and became potentially hospitable to living things by about 4 billion years ago. A mere 150 million years later, the earth was teeming with life." (68)


"The existence of a universe as we know it rests upon a knife edge of improbability." (73) "Altogether there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory is unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have." "The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal. And yet those are exactly the parameters that we observe. In sum, our universe is wildly improbable." (74)


"It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us." (75 quoting Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time)


"I am reminded of Psalm 19, where David writes, 'The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.'" (80)


"If God is truly Almighty, He will hardly be threatened by our puny efforts to understand the workings of His natural world. And as seekers, we may well discover from science many interesting answers to the question 'How does life work?' What we cannot discover, through science alone, are the answers to the questions 'Why is there life anyway?' and 'Why am I here?'" (88)


"But how did self-replicating organisms arise in the first place? It is fair to say that at the present time we simply do not know." (90)


"A word of caution is needed when inserting specific divine action by God in this or any other area where scientific understanding is currently lacking." Advances in science may subsequently fill those gaps and then we have built an unnecessary theological argument doomed to destruction. "There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge." (93)


"No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life. In fact, the relatedness of all species through the mechanism of evolution is such a profound foundation for the understanding of all biology that it is difficult to imagine how one would study life without it." (99)


"As a firs approximation, one can think of DNA as an instructional script, a software program, sitting in the nucleus of the cell." "A particular instruction, known as a gene, is made up of hundreds or thousands of letters of code. All of the elaborate functions of the cell, even in as complex an organism as ourselves, have to be directed by the order of letters in this script." (103)


"This 'genetic code' by which information in DNA and RNA is translated into protein, is universal in all known organisms." (104)


"Evolution, as a mechanism, can and must be true. But that says nothing about the nature of its author. For those who believe in God, there are reasons now to be more in awe, not less." (107)


"For me, as a believer, the uncovering of the human genome sequence held additional significance. This book was written in the DNA language by which God spoke life into being. I felt an overwhelming sense of aw in surveying this most significant of all biological texts. Yes, it is written in a language we understand very poorly, and it will take decades, if not centuries, to understand its instructions, but we had crossed a one-way bridge into profoundly new territory." (123-24)


"One surprise is just how little of the genome is actually used to code for protein." About 1.5%. (124) Another striking feature is that at the DNA level, the different members of our own species are 99.9% identical. We are truly one human family. (125) The DNA diversity of other species is 10 to 50 times greater.


The facts about the human genome "point to all members of our species having descended from a common set of founders, approximately 10,000 in number, who lived about 100,000 to 150,000 years ago." (126)


"If one picks the coding region of a human gene (that is, the part that contains the instructions for a protein), and uses that for the search, there will nearly always be a highly significant match to the genomes of other mammals. Many genes will also show discernible but imperfect matches to fish. Some will even find matches to the genomes of simpler organisms such as fruit flies and roundworms. In some particularly striking examples, the similarity will extend all the way down to genes in yeast and even to bacteria." (126-27)


"If, on the other hand, one chooses a bit of human DNA that lies between genes, then the likelihood of being able to find a similar sequence in the genomes of other distantly related organisms decreases. It does not disappear entirely ." "What does this mean? At two different levels, it provides powerful support for Darwin's theory of evolution, that is, descent from a common ancestor with natural selection operating on randomly occurring variations." (127-29)


"The distinction between macroevolution and microevolution is therefore seen to be rather arbitrary; larger changes that result in new species are a result of a succession of smaller incremental steps." (132)


"The study of genomes leads inexorably to the conclusion that we humans share a common ancestor with other living things." (134)


Humans and chips are 96% identical at the DNA level. "The human has twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, but the chimpanzee has twenty-four. The difference in the chromosome number appears to be a consequence of two ancestral chromosomes having fused together to generate human chromosome 2." (138)


"At this point, godless materialists might be cheering. If humans evolved strictly by mutation and natural selection, who needs God to explain us? To this, I reply: I do. The comparison of chimp and human sequences, interesting as it is, does not tell us what it means to be human. In my view, DNA sequence alone, even if accompanied by a vast trove of data on biological function, will never explain certain special human attributes, such as the knowledge of the Moral Law and the universal search for God. Freeing God from the burden of special acts of creation does not remove Him as the source of the things that make humanity special, and of the universe itself. It merely shows us something of how He operates." (140)


" in my view evolution might have been God's elegant plan for creating humankind." (146)


"From a biologist's perspective, the evidence in favor of evolution is utterly compelling. Darwin's theory of natural selection provides a fundamental framework for understanding the relationships of all living things." (146)


"The problem for many believers, of course, is that the conclusions of evolution appear to contradict certain sacred texts that describe God's role in the creation of the universe ." (149)


Collins takes Genesis 1 and 2 as more of a poetic account. "Despite twenty-five centuries of debate, it is fair to say that no human knows what the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 was precisely intended to be." "If God created the universe, and the laws that govern it, and if He endowed human beings with intellectual abilities to discern its workings, would He want us to disregard those abilities? Would He be diminished or threatened by what we are discovering about His creation?" (153)


The fundamentals of so-called scientific Creationism are hopelessly flawed. (176)


The Intelligent Design movement proposes that evolution cannot account for the intricate complexity of nature and thus an intelligent designer has stepped in to provide the necessary components. (184-86)


Collins' objections fall into two camps. One, Intelligent Design does not qualify in a fundamental way as a scientific theory. It cannot predict findings and suggest approaches for experimental verification. It's a scientific dead en. (187) Secondly it seems likely than many examples of irreducible complexity are not irreducible after all and the primary scientific argument is crumbling. "ID proponents have made the mistake of confusing the unknown with the unknowable, or the unsolved with the unsolvable." (188)


Regarding the human eye, "It is not prohibitively difficult, given hundreds of millions of years, to contemplate how this system could have evolved into the modern mammalian eye, complete with light-sensing retina and light-focusing lens." (191) [Forgive me, but I just can't see it. dlm]


"ID is a 'God of the gaps' theory, inserting a supposition of the need for supernatural intervention in places that its proponents clam science cannot explain." (193)


"I settled comfortably into a synthesis generally referred to as 'theistic evolution,' a position I find enormously satisfying to this day." (199) Theistic evolution is the dominant position of serious biologists who are also serious believers. (199)


For typical version of steps of theistic evolution, see p. 200. "God, who is not limited in space or time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it." "God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him." (201)


"God could be completely and intimately involved in the creation of all species, while from our perspective, limited as it is by the tyranny of linear time, this would appear a random and undirected process." (205)


[Let's see what Hugh Ross has to say in his new N avPress book, Creation As Science. dlm]

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