25 April, 2008

Collins: Why this scientist believes in God

Editor's note: Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. His most recent book is "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief."

ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views.

As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan.

I did not always embrace these perspectives. As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers.

I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as "What is the meaning of life?" "Why am I here?" "Why does mathematics work, anyway?" "If the universe had a beginning, who created it?" "Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?" "Why do humans have a moral sense?" "What happens after we die?" (Watch Francis Collins discuss how he came to believe in God )

I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments, and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds. My earlier atheist's assertion that "I know there is no God" emerged as the least defensible. As the British writer G.K. Chesterton famously remarked, "Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas, for it is the assertion of a universal negative."

But reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.

For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search to learn more about God's character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God's son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus.

So, some have asked, doesn't your brain explode? Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren't evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection?

Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers. Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.

But why couldn't this be God's plan for creation? True, this is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, but long before Darwin, there were many thoughtful interpreters like St. Augustine, who found it impossible to be exactly sure what the meaning of that amazing creation story was supposed to be. So attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer.

I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

Jason, I've looked through your blog, and it's unfortunate that you don't have a readership worth note, but perhaps I can help by commenting occasionally.

Regarding this particular post, I'm not sure what you're trying to accomplish.

This scientist clearly believes Darwinian evolution ("Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true."), and since he even notes that your own Christadelphian interpretation is incompatible with this belief ("[T]his is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis"), at least according to the Statement of Faith this blog links to...

So it appears that all you've accomplished is the weakening of your own position.

I'd further say that this scientist is pretty ineffective when defending his notion of "revelation". I daresay, in fact, that he hasn't defended this at all (though, to be fair, this isn't apparently the aim of his statement).

Instead, he's given credence to the various personal "revelations" claimed by a great many people of all creeds. Note the subtle divorcing of the science of Darwinian evolution from the belief in a creator (e.g. Intelligent Design), and the further divorce from that pseudo-science (I'll grant you it could be considered science) to the clearly unscientific definition of who that Intelligent Designer might be.

All he's done is say that yes, evolution is a fact, and that besides that fact, he's had a personal "revelation" which has confirmed to him that [liberal] Christianity is the proper religion, even though the very first sentences in the bible are allegory/metaphor at best.

--
Stan

April 26, 2008 4:52 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Stan,

Thanks for your comment.

"...and since he even notes that your own Christadelphian interpretation is incompatible with this belief... Statement of Faith this blog links to..."

I don't see any incompatibility as there's no dogmatic 'Christadelphian interpretation' that enforces an "ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis".

...even though the very first sentences in the bible are allegory/metaphor at best.

On what grounds?

April 26, 2008 5:53 PM  
Blogger Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

I don't see any incompatibility as there's no dogmatic 'Christadelphian interpretation' that enforces an "ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis".

True, there doesn't seem to be a requirement of the "ultra-literal" interpretation, but I'd say that the following pretty neatly denies evolution (from the Christadelphian Statement of Belief, item #4:

[T]he first man was Adam, whom God created out of the dust of the ground as a living soul...

If the first human was instead a descendant of a line of hominid primates, then he wasn't Adam, and he wasn't created out of the dust of the ground. Unless...

...the very first sentences in the bible are allegory/metaphor at best.

On what grounds?


Well, on those grounds, for one, and for two, the whole statement was as follows:

All [Dr. Collins has] done is say that... the very first sentences in the bible are allegory/metaphor at best.

So Dr. Collins is saying that the Genesis 1 account is allegory and/or metaphor, if not completely fictional...

So your topic's title, Collins: Why this scientist believes in [g]od could just as well be, Collins: Why this scientist is not a Christadelphian -- in either case, the substance of the post does not help the cause of Christadelphianism.

--
Stan

April 26, 2008 6:35 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Stan said: If the first human was instead a descendant of a line of hominid primates, then he wasn't Adam, and he wasn't created out of the dust of the ground. Unless...

From a Biblical perspective, Adam was the first man who God created. We’re not told about anything prior to this.

So Dr. Collins is saying that the Genesis 1 account is allegory and/or metaphor, if not completely fictional...

Where does he say this?

So your topic's title, Collins: Why this scientist believes in [g]od could just as well be, Collins: Why this scientist is not a Christadelphian -- in either case, the substance of the post does not help the cause of Christadelphianism.

The article wasn’t posted to ‘help the cause of Christadelphianism’. It was posted as point of interest.

April 26, 2008 8:08 PM  
Blogger Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

If the first human was instead a descendant of a line of hominid primates, then he wasn't Adam, and he wasn't created out of the dust of the ground. Unless...

From a Biblical perspective, Adam was the first man who God created. We're not told about anything prior to this.


No?

Day 1: Light created, separated from darkness

Day 2: Sky created to separate water below from water above

Day 3: Surface water consolidated so that land forms, vegetation created

Day 4: Sun, moon, stars created

Day 5: Aquatic creatures and winged creatures created

Day 6: Land creatures created, humans created; humans given dominion over all other creatures; plants deemed as food for all creatures

Looks to me like we're told quite a bit about what happens before Adam was created... Or did you wish to ignore the Genesis 1 version of creation and focus on Genesis 2? Unless you discount the Genesis 1 account, we have a clear description of what happened before Adam was created, and it doesn't mesh with evolution.

So if you want to call the first Homo sapiens "Adam", you're welcome to it, but the distinctions between species are not so clearly drawn (in terms of a new species being born from a different species), and there is no reason to believe the first Homo sapiens was male as opposed to female.

Again, either way, Dr. Collins supports evolution to the point that he calls it a fact, and evolution does NOT match up with either creation story depicted in Genesis.

Me:

So Dr. Collins is saying that the Genesis 1 account is allegory and/or metaphor, if not completely fictional...

You, direct quote:

Where does he say this?

Dr. Collins, direct quote from your article:

Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.

But why couldn't this be [g]od's plan for creation? True, this is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, but long before Darwin, there were many thoughtful interpreters like St. Augustine, who found it impossible to be exactly sure what the meaning of that amazing creation story was supposed to be. So attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer.


(emphasis added)

Did you even read the article or did you just copy-and-paste it?

Do you understand the meanings of the terms allegory and metaphor?

I'm not trying to be disparaging, but you are trying awfully hard to be obtuse on this count. If you really think Dr. Collins believes a literal interpretation of Genesis is at all true, then I have some property I'd like to sell you...

I understand that this article is not meant to affirm Christadelphianism per se, but I should think your goal isn't to neutralize it.

It's a point of interest, sure, but it is a point for critics of your chosen doctrine. At best, you can use this article to say, "See, this genius scientist is smart enough to see that there must be a god, but unfortunately even he is too stupid to recognize the right doctrines which embody that god".

Is he revered for believing, or is he demonized for heresy? Both?

I suppose you could also claim that he is simply on a journey which started at atheism and which will end (hopefully) at the correct Christian dogma, but it sure looks like he's firmly rooted in his acceptance of evolution... Perhaps Christians are merely counting themselves lucky to have a respected scientist at least partially on their side?

So yeah, it's an interesting article. It affirms Darwinian evolution, and it affirms a liberal version of Christianity. I can see why I find it interesting, considering that it appears on your site, but I still don't see its appeal or value to your cause.

Makes for good debate, I suppose.

--
Stan

April 26, 2008 9:31 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Looks to me like we're told quite a bit about what happens before Adam was created... Or did you wish to ignore the Genesis 1 version of creation and focus on Genesis 2?

I’m not arguing we’re not “told quite a bit”. I’m arguing we’re not told everything. And Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are the same. One is described from the God’s view, the other is described from the view of Adam.

Unless you discount the Genesis 1 account, we have a clear description of what happened before Adam was created, and it doesn't mesh with evolution.


Then you’ll have to prove the amount of time that passed between Day 1 and Day 2.

Again, either way, Dr. Collins supports evolution to the point that he calls it a fact, and evolution does NOT match up with either creation story depicted in Genesis.

Why not?

Did you even read the article or did you just copy-and-paste it?



Please answer the question: Does Dr. Collines say the Genesis 1 account is allegory and/or metaphor?

April 26, 2008 10:01 PM  
Blogger Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

I think we're done here.

April 26, 2008 10:43 PM  

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