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Monday, April 09, 2007

The Language of God, Chapters 4 and 5, by Francis Collins

A previous post gives the contents of Chapter 1, and the bibliographic and author information for The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, one of the most important books on science and Christianity, and additional posts describe Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.

Chapter 4 discusses the origin of life on earth. How did this happen, from a scientific standpoint? Collins says that we don't know. But he does not claim that complexity proves design. He summarizes Paley's argument from design thus:
1. A watch is complex.
2. A watch has an intelligent designer.
3. Life is complex.
4. Therefore, life also has an intelligent designer. (p. 87)
But he points out that there is a flaw. Collins shows this flaw with a similar argument: electric current comes from the power company, and is a flow of electrons, but that doesn't mean that every flow of electrons comes from the power company. (86-7)

Then Collins addresses the question of how, if processes set in motion by God brought about life, and each living thing, rather than the different kinds of things having been made by separate creative acts, we can see God in the result:
No doubt many readers have reasoned for themselves, or been taught in various religious settings, that the glorious beauty of a flower or the flight of an eagle could come about only as the consequence of a supernatural intelligence that appreciated complexity, diversity, and beauty. But now that molecular mechanisms, genetic pathways, and natural selection are being put forward to explain all this, you might be tempted to cry out, "Enough! Your naturalistic explanations are taking all the divine mystery out of the world!"
Do not fear, there is plenty of divine mystery left. Many people who have considered all the scientific and spiritual evidence still see God's creative and guiding hand at work. For me, there is not a shred of disappointment in these discoveries about the nature of life -- quite the contrary! Now marvelous and intricate life turns out to be! how deeply satisfying is the digital elegance of DNA! How aesthetically appealing and artistically sublime are the components of living things . . . 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. (pp. 106-7)

I'll say little about Chapter 5, because it really needs to be read, and is hard to summarize. Let's just put it this way. The title is "Deciphering God's Instruction Book: The Lessons of the Human Genome." I will give away one detail, which is that Collins believes that he was divinely called to his work on the Human Genome Project, and says that he didn't accept the position until he had spent considerable time praying about it. (pp. 118-9) I will quote one passage, which relates to the title of the book:
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 awe in surveying this most significant of all biological texts. pp. 123-4.

Here's a link to my post on Chapter 6 of this book.

Thanks for reading.


Rob Rumfelt said...

If you like "The Language of God," I would highly recommend Stephen M Barr's "Modern Physics and Ancient Faith." Being a physicist he brings a different and interesting perspective to the debate. As a non-scientist I found myself re-reading passages many times, but it was worth the effort!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks. I've read Barr's book, which, as you say, is very good. I also agree that Collins is a little easier to read.

Rob Rumfelt said...

Thanks for the link to your previous post. I loved the quote from Ian Barbour. John Polkinghorne sounds like a great read, too. Just what I need, more books to add to my list that's already too long!