Thoughts and Notes on “The Language of God”
If God created the universe, and the laws that govern it, and if He endowed human beings with intellectual abilities to discern its workings, would He want us to disregard those abilities? Would He be diminished or threatened by what we are discovering about His creation?
— Francis Collins, The Language of God
Faith and science. What comes to your mind when you hear these two words paired together? More than likely, you think of conﬂict. You might even think about contradiction.
That’s understandable — history is full of people arguing that these two pillars of humanity are fundamentally opposed to each other. Even now, there are many who would strongly imply if not outright tell you that you must choose between faith and science.
This has always been something at the back of my mind, but in the last few years it’s become a topic I couldn’t ignore. I found myself in a strange place of having a strong conviction in my faith and relationship with Jesus while also strongly believing in the scientiﬁc process as a way to understand the world around us.
Unfortunately, the history of the church has been ﬁlled with messages saying that the ﬁndings of science (the study of God’s creation) are incompatible with what the Bible tells us (God’s written word). But how could that be possible if Christians believe that God is both the creator of the universe and the author of those sacred words?
As I sought to have a better understanding I came across an incredible organization called BioLogos . This group seeks to ﬁnd harmony between science and biblical faith. BioLogos was founded by Francis Collins who led the Human Genome Project and is now the director for the National Institute of Health. So, you know, he kind of knows his stuff. Before founding BioLogos, he wrote The Language of God to tell his story of how he came to know Jesus even while holding strongly to his scientiﬁc background and knowledge. He dug into some of the key reasons why people might believe or assume that science and faith are incompatible. He discusses this idea in both modern and historical perspectives, drawing upon writings from respected writers such as St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis. He also explores the roles of both science and the Bible and how they can coexist without contradiction.
I started this book before the COVID-19 pandemic really hit the United States, but I thought the message is quite timely. The scientiﬁc process has always been about a series of experiments in which many fail but always add to the overall understanding of the problem. In the instance of this pandemic, that process has been accelerated and highly publicized. This dynamic, coupled with the already unfortunate relationship between science and faith, has caused many to doubt the integrity or intention of the scientiﬁc community. I believe that Christians should be known as truth-seekers by elevating and amplifying voices of truth, not those of fear or misinformation. This can only get better as we ﬁnd harmony between science and our faith.
I wanted to share the parts of the book that really stood out to me in the hopes that it would help you or anyone else navigate this landscape. There were 77 highlights in my Kindle and I did my best to whittle it down to what was most meaningful to me. I’ve also summarized my main takeaways. I’ve put both at the end of this long-winded “intro” but don’t skip over it — that’s really where the good stuff lies!
If you’ve ever had questions about how science and faith can coexist I highly encourage you to read this book — even if you don’t consider yourself a religious person. I ﬁrmly believe that there is no fundamental inconsistency between believing in God as the creator of the universe and trusting the discoveries that science brings forth.
I welcome a conversation with anyone who would like to chat about it more. One of the core problems of the science and faith controversy is that we’ve forgotten how to communicate with each other about it. I want to see that change. Please reach out to me if you’d ever like to have a conversation about it.
My Key Takeaways
You don’t have to choose between science and faith; they are not inherently at odds with each other. A great example of this is that many see evolution and the Christian faith as being incompatible. It’s completely possible to both accept evolution as a natural process while recognizing God as the creator of the world.
The Bible is a historical, religious text and its role is to tell us about the character of God and the nature of our relationship with him. It shouldn’t be used as a scientiﬁc textbook.
The role of science is to tell us how the world works. It’s ultimately unable to answer the question of why we are here and what our purpose is.
A God-of-the-gaps approach — using God to explain things we don’t yet understand in nature — will only serve to decrease God’s signiﬁcance over time. This has happened time and again as we make new discoveries about how our world works.
Understanding more about how our world works doesn’t diminish God, it actually gives us even more reason to be fascinated by what He’s done and how He’s created it. Again, using evolution as an example; it’s an incredible process that God put into place to create the amazing diversity of life that we see in the world today.
Christian writers (St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis) have long considered evolution to have no real conﬂict with the Bible. The method that the world was made in does nothing to discredit God as the author.
My Top Highlights
If I ﬁnd in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Page 38)
Miracles thus do not pose an irreconcilable conﬂict for the believer who trusts in science as a means to investigate the natural world, and who sees that the natural world is ruled by laws. If, like me, you admit that there might exist something or someone outside of nature, then there is no logical reason why that force could not on rare occasions stage an invasion. On the other hand, in order for the world to avoid descending into chaos, miracles must be very uncommon. (Page 53)
One of the most cherished hopes of a scientist is to make an observation that shakes up a ﬁeld of research. Scientists have a streak of closeted anarchism, hoping that someday they will turn up some unexpected fact that will force a disruption of the framework of the day. That’s what Nobel Prizes are given for. In that regard, any assumption that a conspiracy could exist among scientists to keep a widely current theory alive when it actually contains serious ﬂaws is completely antithetical to the restless mind-set of the profession. (Page 58)
Saint Augustine, probably one of the greatest of all religious intellects, was particularly aware of the risks of turning biblical texts into precise scientiﬁc treatises, and wrote, with speciﬁc reference to Genesis: “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we ﬁnd in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so ﬁrmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.” (Page 83)
A word of caution is needed when inserting speciﬁc divine action by God in this or any other area where scientiﬁc understanding is currently lacking. From solar eclipses in olden times to the movement of the planets in the Middle Ages, to the origins of life today, this “God of the gaps” approach has all too often done a disservice to religion (and by implication, to God, if that’s possible). 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. (Page 93)
There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge. (Page 93)
Evolution, as a mechanism, can be 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. (Page 108)
Freeing God from the burden of special acts of creation does not remove Him as the source of the things that make humanity special, and of the universe itself. It merely shows us something of how He operates. (Page 140)
In fact, for those like myself working in genetics, it is almost impossible to imagine correlating the vast amounts of data coming forth from the studies of genomes without the foundations of Darwin’s theory. As Theodosius Dobzhansky, a leading biologist of the twentieth century (and a devout Eastern Orthodox Christian), has said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” (Page 141)
If God created the universe, and the laws that govern it, and if He endowed human beings with intellectual abilities to discern its workings, would He want us to disregard those abilities? Would He be diminished or threatened by what we are discovering about His creation? (Page 153)
Galileo ultimately came to the conclusion that his observations could make sense only if the earth revolved around the sun. That placed him in direct conﬂict with the Catholic Church. (Page 154) … In retrospect, modern observers must wonder why the church was so utterly threatened by the idea of the earth revolving around the sun. To be sure, certain verses from scripture seemed to support the church’s position, such as Psalm 93:1—“The world is ﬁrmly established; it cannot be moved”—and Psalm 104:5: “He set the earth on its foundation; it can never be moved.” Also cited was Ecclesiastes 1:5: “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.” Today, few believers argue that the authors of these verses were intending to teach science. Nonetheless, passionate claims were made to that effect, implying that a heliocentric system would somehow undermine the Christian faith. (Page 155)
Stephen Jay Gould, who outside of Dawkins is probably the most widely read public spokesperson for evolution of the past generation. Writing in an otherwise little-noticed book review, Gould chastised the Dawkins perspective: To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time: Science simply cannot by its legitimate methods adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither afﬁrm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists. (Page 165)
Harkening back to Saint Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, however, and remembering that he had no reason to be accommodating to scientiﬁc evidence about evolution or the age of the earth, it is clear that the ultraliteral YEC views are in fact not required by a careful, sincere, and worshipful reading of the original text. In fact, this narrow interpretation is largely a creation of the last hundred years, arising in large consequence as a reaction to Darwinian evolution. (Page 174)
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. Young people brought up in homes and churches that insist on Creationism sooner or later encounter the overwhelming scientiﬁc evidence in favor of an ancient universe and the relatedness of all living things through the process of evolution and natural selection. What a terrible and unnecessary choice they then face! (Page 177)
God, who is not limited in space or time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him. He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey the Moral Law. (Page 200)
I do not believe that the God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has revealed to us, in order to prove our love for Him. (Page 210)
Proverbs 19:2 warns against this kind of well-intentioned but misinformed religious fervor: “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge.” (Page 230)
Believers would do well to follow the exhortation of Copernicus, who found in the discovery that the earth revolves around the sun an opportunity to celebrate, rather than diminish, the grandeur of God: “To know the mighty works of God; to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful working of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.” (Page 230)
I hesitate, however, to advocate very strongly for faith-based bioethics. The obvious danger is the historical record that believers can and will sometimes utilize their faith in a way never intended by God, and to move from loving concern to self-righteousness, demagoguery, and extremism. (Page 271)