Synopses & Reviews
Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, is one of the world's leading scientists. He works at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life. Yet he is also a man of unshakable faith in God and scripture. He believes that God cares about us and can intervene in human affairs on rare occasions, even miraculously. Collins has personally discovered some of the scientific evidence for the common descent of all living creatures, even though he repudiates the materialist, atheistic worldview argued by many prominent Darwinists.
In short, Dr. Collins provides a satisfying solution for the dilemma that haunts everyone who believes in God and respects science. Faith in God and faith in science can be harmonious combined into one worldview. The God that he believes in is a God who can listen to prayers and cares about our souls. The biological science he has advanced is compatible with such a God. For Collins, science does not conflict with the Bible, science enhances it.
For many years Dr. Collins kept his views largely to himself, as he helped oversee the Human Genome Project's stunning sequencing of the code of life. Now, in what may be the most important melding of reason and revelation since C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, Dr. Collins explains himself in detail. The Language of God makes the case for God and for science. Dr. Collins considers and rejects several positions along the spectrum from atheism to young-earth creationism including agnosticism and Intelligent Design. Instead, he proposes a new synthesis, a new way to think about an active, caring God who created humankind through evolutionary processes.
He has heard every argument against faith from scientists, and he can refute them. He has also heard the needless rejection of scientific truths by some people of faith, and he can counter that, too. He explains his own journey from atheism to faith, and then takes readers on a stunning tour of modern science to show that physics, chemistry, and biology can all fit together with belief in God and the Bible. The Language of God is essential reading for anyone who wonders about the deepest questions of all: Why are we here? How did we get here? And what does life mean?
"Collins, a pioneering medical geneticist who once headed the Human Genome Project, adapts his title from President Clinton's remarks announcing completion of the first phase of the project in 2000: 'Today we are learning the language in which God created life.' Collins explains that as a Christian believer, 'the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship.' This marvelous book combines a personal account of Collins's faith and experiences as a genetics researcher with discussions of more general topics of science and spirituality, especially centering around evolution. Following the lead of C.S. Lewis, whose Mere Christianity
was influential in Collins's conversion from atheism, the book argues that belief in a transcendent, personal God and even the possibility of an occasional miracle can and should coexist with a scientific picture of the world that includes evolution. Addressing in turn fellow scientists and fellow believers, Collins insists that 'science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced' and 'God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible.' Collins's credibility as a scientist and his sincerity as a believer make for an engaging combination, especially for those who, like him, resist being forced to choose between science and God. (July 17)
" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
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"An essential read, equally for readers of religious or secular persuasions." Library Journal
"What an elegantly written book. In it Francis Collins, the eminent scientist, tells why he is also a devout believer....A real godsend for those with questioning minds but who are also attracted to things spiritual." Archbishop Desmond Tutu
"The world respects Francis as a brilliant scientist responsible for breakthrough discoveries benefiting mankind. For a decade I have been privileged to admire him as a devoted family man and talented musician with a charmingly sharp wit. This intellectually honest, spiritually grounded reconciliation of God and science helps answer your greatest questions. I was profoundly enlightened and believe this important book should be required reading." Naomi Judd
"Francis Collins, one of the world's most distinguished scientists, treats the relationship of science and religion with reason and reverence. Collins's mix of clear technical exposition and personal reflection is infused with an intellectual and spiritual honesty. Everyone who questions how religious faith could be reconciled with scientific knowledge, everyone who fears that modern science attacks the heart of religious faith, everyone interested in an enlightened discussion of a crucial issue of our time should read this book." William D. Phillips, 1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics
"In today's world, scarred by cultural warfare, it is rare for a scientist to offer a testimony of faith in God. For that scientist to be one of the world's most renowned is rarer still. For his testimony to be so lucid and compelling, combining reason and revelation, science and spirit, is unheard of. The Language of God belongs on the shelf of every believer and every seeker." Dr. Robert H. Schuller, Founding Pastor, the Crystal Cathedral
About the Author
Francis S. Collins is one of the country's leading geneticists and the longtime head of the Human Genome Project. Prior to coming to Washington, he helped to discover the genetic misspellings that cause cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, and Huntington's disease. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and in his spare time he enjoys riding a motorcycle and playing guitar.
Reading Group Guide
The Language of God Francis S. Collins
DISCUSSION GROUP GUIDE
1. "So here is the central question of this book: In this modern era of cosmology, evolution, and the human genome, is there still the possibility of a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews?" (p.6). What view did you have before reading this book on the integration of science and religion? How would you answer Collins's question now?
2. On page 23, Collins sums up the Moral Law, stating that "the concept of right and wrong appears to be universal among all members of the human species (though its application may result in wildly different outcomes)." Do you believe the Moral Law exists?
3. What caused the author to question his atheism? At the end of the book, he calls on the reader to question his or her current beliefs. Do you think this is a realistic request or will the average reader wait for a "personal crisis" before embarking on a journey of spiritual discovery (p.233)?
4. Did the book fairly assess the different religious "options" of atheism, agnosticism, creationism, intelligent design, and theistic evolution, renamed as BioLogos (p.159-211)? Did reading these descriptions change your understanding of any of these views? Which option best explains your beliefs?
5. Collins argues that atheism is the least rational of all these choices, since an atheist must claim such extensive knowledge that s/he can conclusively discount the possibility of God. Along those same lines, G.K. Chesterton called atheism "the most daring of all dogmas ...for it is the assertion of a universal negative". Do you agree? Is it possible to be rational atheist?
6. Collins states his belief that young earth creationist opinions ultimately harm the religion they represent more than help it: "But it is not science that suffers most here. Young Earth Creationism does even more damage to faith, by demanding that belief in God requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world (p.177). Do you agree?
7. Collins presents data from the study of genomes (pp. 133 - 141) that argues for a common ancestor for chimps and humans. Do you find the arguments compelling from the anatomy of human chromosome 2, pseudogenes, and ancestral repeat elements? Why could this not be God using the same general themes in multiple acts of special creation?
8. Collins quotes (p. 83) St. Augustine's warning (in 400AD) that narrow interpretations of Biblical passages with uncertain meaning may place faith at the risk of ridicule if future discoveries conflict with that narrow interpretation. In what situations today do you think that warning may have relevance?
9. Discuss the following quote from Galileo: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use" (p.158). What was Galileo trying to say? Do you think this statement is in tune with the author's views?
10. In the following quote from the book, Collins refers to "why" questions as those for which science is poorly suited to provide answers: biogenesis as the one event for which science will never be able to provide an explanation: "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?'" (p.88). Does Collins support this claim elsewhere in the book? Do you agree with him?
11. How does the theme of this book fit together with the opening lines of Psalm 19?
12. Collins frequently describes the danger of basing religious beliefs on the scientific information that we don't know, referred to as "God of the gaps" (p.93). "Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps" (p.93). However, he also says that the answers he searches for are those that science alone cannot discover (p.88). Does Collins's personal search fall within his description of looking for God of the gaps? Why or why not? See pages 193 and 204 for more references to God-of-the-gaps thinking.
13. Do you foresee a time when organized religion will accept Darwinism, just as we eventually came to accept that the earth revolves around the sun? Is the battle between science and religion destined to continue over each new scientific discovery that is made?
CREATIVE TIPS FOR ENHANCING YOUR BOOK CLUB OR DISCUSSION GROUP
In November, 2006, Time magazine hosted a debate between Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, for a cover story (see http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1555132,00.html). Bring it to your group, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments.
Reread Genesis 1 and 2 or read these passages for the first time or bring them to your meeting to discuss with your group. Do you see the two slightly different creation stories? How do you interpret these verses now that you've read The Language of God?
C. S. Lewis is quoted frequently by Collins as the philosopher who helped him discover God, and Collins repeatedly quotes Lewis's work when important religious questions arise. Take a trip straight to the source and read one of the Lewis books that Collins quotes. Choose from The Problem of Pain, Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, and Miracles. For more information on C. S. Lewis, visit www.cslewis.org.
As the head of the Human Genome Project, Collins has attracted a great amount of attention in the press and on the Web. Search the Internet for the information that interests you most about Collins and print a copy of what you find to bring in for discussion with the group. Good places to start your search include www.genome.gov, www.cnn.com, www.salon.com, and www.nytimes.com. There is also an online video of Collins located on the Web site for the PBS show "Religion and Ethics" at www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week947/profile.html.
Take your online research of Collins a step further to discover sites dedicated to contemplating the coexistence of science and religion. Head to the Web site of the C. S. Lewis Foundation at www.cslewis.org or take a look at the companion site of the four-hour PBS special "The Question of God": www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/. Take a visit to www.godandscience.org, www.hawking.org.uk, www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/thuxley.html, and www.aboutdarwin.com for even more information.
Try finding Web sites that explain more about the scientific and medical topics mentioned in the book. Search for details on the Big Bang, cystic fibrosis, personalized medicine, and the human genome. Sites such as www.umich.edu/~gs265/bigbang.htm, www.cff.org, http://www.personalizedmedicinecoalition.org/, and www.genome.gov are good places to start.