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The Language of Science and Faith: A Brief History

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January 28, 2011 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
The Language of Science and Faith: A Brief History

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

In February, America’s leading evangelical press, InterVarsity, will publish the first of a series of BioLogos themed books. The title of the first book is The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions and the authors are Francis Collins and myself.

(I must add an immediate qualification to this brief history: Francis Collins did not work on this project after he moved to the NIH. As is often the case with co-authored works, the authors played different roles. Francis’s contribution was to get the whole FAQ project started and work closely with the original writers and editors on the first round of material, most of which ended up on The BioLogos Forum.)

The Language of Science and Faith shares and even embodies the very inspiration that launched BioLogos—the desire to help people find answers to “Genuine Questions” about relating scientific accounts of origins to their faith in God as creator. As our many visitors to this site know, the “pre-history” of BioLogos was Francis Collins’s publication of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief in 2007. The book went on to become a bestseller and even now, almost 4 years later the book continues to be near the top of the best-selling books in its area. As I write these words a few days after Christmas, it is #1 on the “science and religion” list at Amazon, a powerful testimony to both the importance of this topic and the winsome writing style and testimony of its author.

The Language of God told the story of how Francis found harmony between his science and his Christian faith. He is a world-class scientist—leading the Human Genome Project to a successful completion and going on to become the head of the National Institutes of Health, where he presently works. But he is also a committed believer. His story moved readers who were wrestling with questions of faith and science, and seeking the place of rest that Collins had found in his own journey.

Letters and emails poured in, asking Francis for wisdom and insight. Readers wanted to dig deeper. Many asked questions not addressed in The Language of God. Soon Francis was buried in a pile of “Frequently Asked Questions.” Addressing these questions individually was simply not possible, but many of them were passionate and came from people with real struggles. Ignoring them was not an option. BioLogos was Francis’s response to this felt need.

Not surprisingly, the BioLogos website launched with a series of FAQ’s in which various experts helped BioLogos staff writers address key issues in their fields—from biblical studies and theology to the history of science, from biology to physics, and everything in between. The experts included such leading thinkers as Denis Alexander, Jeff Schloss, Owen Gingerich, Darrel Falk, Alister McGrath, Ernest Lucas, Ron Numbers, and Ted Davis.

The FAQ format requires short, stand-alone answers to work well, and it became apparent that there would be value in a more systematic treatment of these issues. The mission of The Language of Science and Faith is to survey these same issues but in a more wide-ranging way that is only possible in a book. By rewriting all of the original material, adding fresh material where needed, and working with the editors at InterVarsity, I have tried to create a coherent and consistent style that will help readers stay with the themes as they unfold.

The book groups topics thematically, allowing a reader to get a global sense of the issues connected to each topic. Throughout the book, we built carefully on each topic, hoping to take the reader by the hand, so to speak, from one topic to the next in a way that would let them dig steadily deeper without feeling like they were getting in over their heads.

The book begins with the evidence for evolution and the great age of the earth. As readers of this blog know very well by now, this evidence is compelling and must be taken seriously. In fact, it is the strength of this very evidence that requires books like this and projects like BioLogos. If the evidence was weak and piecemeal, then we could simply withhold assent and maintain a more traditional view. But the evidence does not let us do that, and we make this case in the first two chapters.

Once we accept this evidence, the questions emerge and are the subject of the next two chapters, which look at ways to relate science and religion in general, and science and scripture in particular. Unless a harmony can be found, there can be no “coming to peace with science” as BioLogos president Darrel Falk titled his wonderful book on this topic. We believe, of course, that harmony can be found, and we lay out that case. But this leads to another question: If harmony can be found so readily, why is Darwin’s theory of evolution so controversial?

The controversy surrounding Darwin’s theory is a complex sociological and cultural problem, which we unfold in a chapter. From atheists who want evolution to be a weapon against religion, to biblical literalists who want the Bible to be a weapon against evolution, there is no shortage of people with agendas to create controversy.

The constant presence of controversy creates the impression that this discussion is an endless quarrel. This is far from true, and we include a chapter on the fine-tuning of the universe to make exactly that point. The many features of our universe that are fine-tuned for life do not explain themselves and, while we caution against leaping to the conclusion that “God is the explanation for fine-tuning,” we do suggest that the universe appears to have the sort of deeply rational, purposeful character that a Christian would expect, even before looking at it from the perspective of science.

The final chapter, titled “The Grand Narrative of Creation,” offers a speculative look at the scientific creation story through biblical and theological lenses. We suggest, tentatively, that the affirmations Christians want to make on behalf of Genesis resonate nicely with what science has discovered about origins.

The Language of Science and Faith does not seek to break new scholarly ground. Our target audience is the evangelical church—the tens of millions of Bible-believing Christians who are prepared to engage contemporary science, rather than simply reject it. We were thus quite thrilled when Dr. Joel C. Hunter -- pastor of the Northland Church in Longwood, Florida, an enthusiastic participant in our New York Workshops, and one of America’s religious leaders -- gave us this endorsement for the cover of the book:

"As a pastor, I am constantly searching for resources that will guide people to the fullness of God. I care that my congregation be attracted toward God's artistry, moved by his majesty and intellectually challenged by his sovereignty. This book is at the top of my recommendations both as an evaluation of theories of creation and as a devotional that prompts us to revere the Creator."

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be offering reflections on the development of this book, some excerpts, as well as exploring some of the themes of the book in greater detail.

Be sure to bookmark the new landing page for The Language of Science and Faith to stay up to date with the latest news about the book!

Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.

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Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa - #49424

January 28th 2011

I’m not evangelical, but I certainly look forward to reading the book.  Thanks to all those who made it possible.  You are all a gift from God

freetoken - #49495

January 29th 2011

Our target audience is the evangelical church—the tens of millions of Bible-believing Christians who are prepared to engage contemporary science, rather than simply reject it.

Dr. Giberson is to be commended for taking on such a large and difficult task.

I am skeptical though of the association of “Bible-believing Christians” being equated to those “who are prepared to engage contemporary science, rather than simply reject it” on a scale of tens of millions.

Perhaps (perhaps) World-wide one could find so many?  However, in my experience here in the US people who usually self label with the descriptors “Evangelical” combined with “Bible-believing” really do reject science, though no doubt exceptions can be found.

Jon Garvey - #49503

January 29th 2011

@freetoken - #49495

“However, in my experience here in the US people who usually self label with the descriptors “Evangelical” combined with “Bible-believing” really do reject science, though no doubt exceptions can be found.”

It’s very much a cultural attitude. Some Americans forget that not all thought and opinion begins on their shores. A few of them even resent the fact!

Gregory - #49510

January 29th 2011

Just a short query about the word ‘straight’ - what is that supposed to signify? What is the alternative to ‘straight’? Crooked? Or…?

Also, it says “Expanding on the Frequently Asked Questions hosted on our website…”

Will this thread finally be a place to discuss those “Questions” here at BioLogos? There is no space currently provided at BioLogos for this.

Bilbo - #49522

January 29th 2011

I enjoyed Francis Collins’ The Language of God (though of course I disagree with his critique of ID).  I’m looking forward to reading The Language of Faith and Science.

beckett - #49525

January 29th 2011

Most Evangelicals I know do not reject science. They may reject a few theories of science but they nevertheless value science in and of itself. Stop stereotyping.

The Dr. - #49628

January 30th 2011

Just a quick word on Francis Collins—

I have not read a significant portion of his book, but I did manage to glean what was meant by BioLogos and am in the process of publishing my own philosophical criticisms on the matter.

Perhaps someone more versed in Collins can answer some questions that remain in my mind.

What about the “God of the Genome” is exclusively godlike.  It seems that any explanation of the world would rely on human language, and that any interpretation of the language of God would render it indistinguishable from those languages generated by the human intellect.

That being said, I further question whether those purported truths written in the Christian Bible could not have, in fact, simply been generated by men.  If nothing within the faith lies outside of human experience (and how could it?) then wouldn’t the “best explanation” be that religion and the ‘illusion’ of faith are merely human inventions?

unapologetic catholic - #49843

February 1st 2011

“They may reject a few theories of science but they nevertheless value science in and of itself.”

This is rejection of science.  You can’t reject a “few” theories of science without wholesale rejection of science and the scietific method.  Rejectionof evolution for exampel requires rejection of chemistry, physics, astronomy, paleontology and geology as well.

Mark Noll rigthly accuses Evangelicals of this rejection of science in “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”

It’s not a steerotype, as you just demonstrated.  It’s a widely, but not universally, held fear of science.  Biologos is doing what it can but it will take much time for the Biologos efforts to bear fruit.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #50039

February 3rd 2011

The Dr.

Since the human intellect was created by God, God can communicate with the human intellect and the human intellect can understand God, at least up to a point.

The question has been raised by Einstein as to How can the human intellect begin to comprehend the universe?  Is the rational structure of an nonthinking universe a mirage invented by humans or is it real, created by some Agent outside of stupid Nature?

Thus it seems to me that with God, science makes sense.  Without God science is fantasy land.

The student - #50068

February 3rd 2011

The Language of God book changed my view to accepting the possibility of a bible interpretation which includes an old earth, relatedness between species, species created by a God ordained/specified provision of evolution. Whether or not individual Christians hold this intrepretation themselves, I think this interpretation should be presented to pre-christians as a valid possiblity. Why create barriers to salvation based on such interpretations and speculations of the mechanisms God used ?

The Dr. - #50251

February 5th 2011

To Roger:

Roger, allow me to direct you to a short article by the philosopher John Wisdom entitled “Gods”.  I believe his commentary on the problem of other minds may add some insight to the disagreement here.

I will defend my own position, however, passively and with a simple request.

Roger, I want you to communicate with God and then relay to me the content of the communication.

I think you will find that nothing uniquely godlike will be produced by your tongue/keyboard.  In fact, whatever you identify as God’s message will be indistinguishable from the properties and limits of your own intellect.  As I have said, there is nothing in the Bible that is super human, and whatever metaphysical claims are made rely on the negation of propositions about the natural world.  For instance, by what process does Jesus walk on water?  By what process does he change water into wine?  I assure you, whatever the case may be, if something can be described, it is limited by the describer.

The Dr. - #50253

February 5th 2011

The interesting thing is, if we are to describe some supernatural process, we must do so in relation to the natural world by appending a negative modifier to propositions in a manner such that p is like q but not q.  p is left undefined, and furthermore, p is supposed to be undefined because to define it removes the mystical quality. 

Assume this situation were a fact:

An observer is presented with an object, n, and asked if it is also a p.  If p is a metaphysical object, the observer must deny that n is an instance of p because n is a physical object (this is know because it is presented).  Thus, for all physical objects, none are an instance of p.

Likewise, God is a metaphysical object and the closest we can come to describing ‘Him’ is through simile and metaphor.  (‘God is a creator like a watchmaker is a creator, but of course, God is not a watchmaker.’)  Everything written about him is in an earthly language, and, there are no falsifiable means for assessing his properties because nothing presentable corresponds to God. 

Correct me if I am wrong on any of these points.  Or, if you please, show me something to which God directly corresponds that is not a mirror of the human intellect.

Rev. Scott Mapes - #50705

February 10th 2011

That is absolutely right, fellow Student!  At times I fear that we so-called “evangelicals” may be guilty of placing burdens on others that we ourselves are not able to bear.  Thus making us a . . . gulp . . .“scribe and/or Pharisee” of Matthew 23.

beckett - #50814

February 11th 2011

Unapolgetic Catholic,
I am sorry but your comment is ludicrous. I doubt you personally buy into every scientific theory ever devised. It is just plain silly to imply that a rejection of evolution is a rejection of all the academic sciences! Plus I no where said I rejected evolution.  I doubt any credible scientist at Bio Logos would agree with your statement.

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