The Language of Science and Faith: A Brief History
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!
Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.