It happened again this week. I received an e-mail from a student at a major university who is in the midst of a profound personal crisis. Was this a financial problem? A failure in course work that threatens a lifelong career dream? A romantic breakup? No doubt there are plenty of those kinds of crises happening all over college campuses. But none of those accounted for her distress. Instead, my correspondent was having a wrenching crisis of worldviews, and her deepest foundations were being shaken.
She had been home-schooled by loving parents who were dedicated Christians, and who made sure that she learned the deep and profound principles of their faith. She made a personal commitment to that faith as a teenager, and her relationship with Christ was a central part of her life. She arrived at university fully aware that this secular environment might threaten her faith, but she quickly found other believers to share experiences with, and she learned to love the undergraduate experience.
That is, until she decided to major in biology. For the first time, she had the chance to see the scientific evidence for the actual age of the earth (4.55 billion years) and the theory of evolution. Like 45% of Americans, she had based her previous conclusions on an ultraliteral reading of Genesis promoted in many conservative churches - that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, and that all species of animals and plants came into being by individual acts of special creation by God. But with gathering alarm, she could see that a veritable mountain of data from physics, cosmology, chemistry, geology, paleontology, biology and genomics made that interpretation of Genesis no longer tenable. She tried to think of ways that the scientific evidence could have been misunderstood, or even (as she had heard from some Christian friends) that there was a widespread scientific conspiracy to promote these false ideas, but she could not see how to dismiss the massive weight of evidence. She sought guidance from her professor, but he made no secret of the fact that he thought religion was a waste of time. The ice was cracking under her feet. If her spiritual mentors had been wrong about origins, might they have been wrong about other things? Was faith just an illusion? Was God really out there?
She is not alone. Over the last three years since my book The Language of God was published, I have heard from dozens of individuals experiencing this same crisis. I have tried to provide reassurance, based on my own path from atheism to belief, and my own experience as a physician, geneticist, and Christian, that science and faith are entirely compatible. We humans have the privilege of discerning the truth from both of God's books - the book of God's words (the scriptures) and the book of God's works (nature). But when the Bible is read as a scientific textbook, or when scientific findings are taken to prove or disprove certain spiritual conclusions, trouble ensues.
It is a sad reality that this kind of misunderstanding has led to an increasingly hostile battle of worldviews, especially in the United States. The conversation is particularly dominated by those at the extremes of the spectrum. Some of those are religious fundamentalists. Some are scientific fundamentalists. This contentious atmosphere has often discouraged a more deep and meaningful dialogue. And the battle is having a lot of innocent casualties, like my college correspondent.
The voice that is not being heard is one that strives for theological and scientific rigor, that takes seriously the claims of both theism and science, and that finds compelling evidence for their compatibility. To try to fill that void, my colleagues Darrel Falk (Ph.D., biology), Karl Giberson (Ph.D., physics), Syman Stevens (M.A., philosophy), and I have founded the non-profit BioLogos Foundation. The word BioLogos arises by combining the Greek words Bios (life) and Logos (the Word), reflecting our conviction that the universe, and the life within it, can be understood as a manifestation of God's creative purpose.
We are delighted and honored to have been asked by Steve Waldman to host this new Beliefnet blog on Science and the Sacred. Today's inaugural entry could thus be considered our "BioLoguration". New entries will appear weekly, penned by one of us, or by guest bloggers that will offer new and refreshing insights on the interface between science and faith. We encourage responses (but let's keep it civil, please!). We will also aim to post daily images, quotes, and prayers on this same site.
We would like to point interested readers to a new web site: www.biologos.org, also being unveiled on April 28, 2009, which contains many more resources for those interested in this topic. That includes thoughtful responses to more than two dozen of the most frequently asked questions about science and faith - as posed by atheists, agnostics, skeptics, seekers, and believers in the more than 1000 e-mails and letters I have received since The Language of God was published.
My college correspondent is still searching for the truth, but she was reassured to know that it is possible to embrace both science and faith, without having your brain explode. I hope these new resources will help her. I hope they will help you also. Join us here and at www.biologos.org for a chance to explore some profound questions about science and the sacred.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Former Director, Human Genome Project