The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
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3.5 out of 5
ISBN/ASIN : 0743286391
Manufacturer : Simon & Schuster Ltd|
Release data : 04 September, 2006
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Good arguments for evolution, but little evidence for faith
I rather enjoyed reading Francis Collins' book, it is well written and rather informative. Using easy to understand language and fluid writing, he manages to explain genetic evidence for evolution in a simple manner. Considering his scientific credentials this is not surprising. This book successfully argues the case for evolution and shows the ridiculous nature of Intelligent Design and creationism, whilst displaying that Science and Faith can live in harmony. He delves into other scientific realms with ease, showing that God has not been eliminated by science and can in fact tie in with it.
The problem with this book is that it boasts in the subtitle that he is giving evidence for belief. The main case for belief that he gives is the idea of the Moral Law. He repetitively quotes C. S. Lewis and appears not to question him, given that he is such a high profile scientist this is very surprising. He barely touches evidence to the contrary and merely skims over it. This un-scientific approach is surprising and is the main fault I found with the book.
If he had been more objective in his judging of 'Moral Law', then this book may have lived up to its claim (if he indeed successfully refuted all opposition). However, without this objective approach the book is not likely to convince any non-believers, though it may help to affirm somepeople's faith.
Intelligent, readable and humble - very refreshing.
How refreshing to read a book by a scientist about faith in God which is totally free of the hyperbole, intemperance and aggression of other recent publications! Collins frames his proposals with humility and his criticisms with care and respect - if only all contributions to the God debate could be written in a similarly gracious manner (whether by theist or atheist) we'd all be better off and better off - and more light than heat would be generated.
This book is extremely valuable for two important reasons.
First, Collins is an extremely eminent scientist. As director of the Human Genome Project, Collins is possibly one the most respected scientists in the world and he is also committed believer in God. His scientific integrity is beyond question - indeed his harshest words are directed towards creationists who abandon any pursuit of science and he is strongly critical of Intelligent Design - and yet he sees no contradiction between his scientific discoveries and his belief in God.
Second, Collins used to be an adamant atheist. This is no "dyed-in-the-wool faith-head" (to use a memorable but misleading description) - Collins was brought up by free-thinking, non-believing, liberal parents and only later in his adult life arrived at his Christian faith after a painstakingly rational search which thoroughly examined the evidence.
Consequently this book slays two great myths currently doing the rounds. Collins demolishes the notion that science and faith are contradictory or in conflict - not only do a huge number of scientists have a theistic faith, the vast majority of those who don't see no contradiction between being a believer and being a scientist. The myth of a great battle between science and faith is simply a dragon conjured up by fundamentalists on both sides of the atheist/theist debate to stoke the fires of antipathy. Secondly, Collins demonstrates that there is nothing irrational about faith. Faith, by its very nature, goes beyond reason, but it is no way contrary to reason. In describing his own faith-journey (from agnosticism to atheism to theism to Christianity) Collins shows how a reasonable, rational and open-minded search for truth can easily lead to Christianity.
Although this faith-journey is perhaps too briefly outlined to properly cover the philosophical themes he brings up it provides useful context to the heart of the book where Collins shows how faith and science can sit quite happily side-by-side - indeed he shows how this was always the belief of people like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein.
Collins communicates his enthusiasm for science in an infectious, accessible manner, and I found myself (as a non-scientist) captivated by the amazing world of genes and DNA. As a scientist, Collins' can marvel at the wonders of the order of the cosmos beyond and the intricacies of the double-helix within whilst at the same time, as a believer, seeing the hand of a divine designer in both.
Thoughtful and intelligent - but evidence?
Francis Collins writes calmly and rationally about his belief in this book, and sincerely tries to reconcile science and religion. He is a serious scientist, not a burbling dim-witted creationist, and therefore accepts the overwhelming evidence for evolution. In fact, he calmly destroys what passes for a theory in the area of "intelligent design". That chapter should be compulsory reading for anyone dumb enough to believe what is nothing more that a particularly evil marketing campaign.
However, in the end the book amounts to a self-justification of why you can believe in rational, evidence based science and convince yourself of the truth of a heap of supernatural clap-trap at the same time.
The sub-title is clever, but I don't need evidence that people can believe - it is sadly self-evident that people can convince themselves of almost anything if they try hard enough, in the face of common sense and science. It is a remarkable feat of mental agility to hold both of Mr Collins' belief systems at once, but that doesn't prove anything other than that the human mind is infinitely flexible - thanks to evolution!
He concentrates completely on his own Christian faith, and therefore singularly fails to address why billions of people are utterly convinced that his version of religion is wrong and theirs is right. Whilst Islam, Judaism and Christianity are close enough together to treat as one, the rest are fundamentally different, but have just as much "evidence" for their dogmatic beliefs as the Abrahamists. One lot of them must be wrong ...
He also fails to address a fundamental truth of religion since the advent of proper science i.e. that it is a story of religion's continual retreat from absolute belief in the face of unarguable scientific truth - from the Earth being centre of the universe onwards. In the end, because of his comfort with evolution and the big bang, he is left with nothing but the familiar mantra - "there's a bit left before that which science can't explain yet, therefore it must be God". In other words, the entirely tiresome "God of the Gaps" theory. This simply doesn't wash anymore. There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that science will not fill those gaps, and the traditional Christian approach of deliberately not trying to fill those gaps is reprehensible. If people had not fought for science in the face of religion over the centuries, we'd probably still be dying of the plague and wondering why the Moon was made of cheese ...
Whilst this is a very readable and likeable book, and Mr Collins is clearly sincere and his beliefs entirely personal and non-threatening, it fails to provide me with any convincing reason to believe. In fact, it further confirms what seems to me to be the logical truth.
I read this as a counter-point to Richard Dawkins' blistering assault on religion, "The God Delusion", and to me Dawkins' arguments remain unassailable. Yes, he is polemical and occasionally a little arch with some of his examples, but I think that is justifiable considering the forces he feels he has to counter. And in the end, I find his intellectual power provides an overwhelming case. The sooner the monolithic and frequently lethal power of organised religion is overcome the better. If you must remain beholden to superstition, then personal and private belief seems a lot healthier.