Evolution and the Language of God

Exposing yourself to perspectives that thoughtfully challenge your own is usually positive. This was one of the reasons why I read The Language of God by Francis Collins. Collins is a world-class scientist; he is the head of the Human Genome Project which sequenced the entire human genome. He is also a Christian and an evolutionist. It was helpful to see Collins’ personal reconciling of science and Christianity, but that wasn’t my main interest in the book. Evolution and Christianity have long been incompatible in my mind and I wanted to see how a Christian biologist could bring them together.

Collins begins the book by describing his spiritual journey. Then he begins a layman’s explanation of the way genes operate and describes some of the discoveries of the Human Genome Project. Next Collins critiques three different views on the origins of life: Atheistic/Agnostic Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design. He follows with his own form of Theistic Evolution which he names BioLogos. You will have to read the book to see all of his arguments, but here are something things I gained from them.

First, biology is complex and constantly changing. I once memorized several scientific arguments for why evolution doesn’t work. As our understanding of life increases in complexity scientific layman like me are going to have a harder time tracking the changes. Unless one takes the necessary time to study and follow a certain field, his or her arguments are likely to be incorrect or outdated. Once it may have been easy for someone with little (relatively) scientific knowledge to use the argument of irreducible complexity, but not anymore.

Second, someone can believe in evolution and be a Christian. A “literal understanding” of the first two chapters of Genesis is not necessary for salvation or even to be a good Christian. Belief in evolution is not a slippery slope into disbelief. I assume that Collins is a firm believer. C.S. Lewis, one of Christianity’s most celebrated apologists, believed evolution to be true. Belief in Creationism or intelligent design should never be a condition of coming to Christ. I am afraid that they has become a stumbling block to the gospel rather than an aid.

Third, we often oversimplify Genesis 1 and 2. Collins only talks briefly about interpretations of Genesis, but a careful reading of these two chapters revels that a literal (as opposed to an allegorical) reading is not without problems. God gives us all we need to know in the Bible, not all that we want to know. We are not given the entire picture in Genesis.

This is not to say that I agree with Collins in every respect. I have some problems with his BioLogos explanation. Collins’ God is little different from a deist’s God for the first 14 billion years of the world’s existence. He created the conditions for life to form and then let it run free until the arrival of man. Collins also gives little explanation on how human-like hominids became fully human, created in the image of God, having a soul, a moral sense, and a desire for beauty.

Collins is also in danger of doing the very thing he warns against in the book. He criticizes the medieval church for becoming too attached to the geocentric model of the solar system. This he likens to modern Christians clinging to a believe that God created different species by a direct act. However, Collins seems to attach as much certainty to the theory of evolution as to the fact that the planets revolve around the sun. Science’s greatest weakness is that it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. Ever so often a seismic shift comes along that alters the scientific landscape. Albert Einstein, for example, was able to shake the foundations of Newtonian physics with his discovery of special and general relativity. The currently evolutionary model will probably look quaint and naive in a hundred years. If Christians do come to accept evolution then we must hold on to it loosely, without attributing to it the certainty of divine revelation.

Theistic evolution’s understanding of the origin of life has gaps. Collins rightly warns that we should be careful not to fall into the God-in-the-Gaps fallacy, attributing everything that we can’t explain to a direct act of God. Such an understanding can result in God being gradually removed by new scientific discoveries. However, the opposite danger is a faith in “science-in-the-gaps,” that everything that we can’t explain will eventually be explained by science.

Augustine is thought to have said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity [love].” The question of whether evolution, Creationism, or intelligent design is true should be treated with liberty and charity; the subject of hospitable dialogue between scientists, theologians, thinkers, and other believers. Our unity exists is in a belief that God exist; in contrast to the views of atheistic naturalism and agnosticism. That is where we must devote our energies.

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