The schedule for the online portion of our book club has us in chapter four this week, “Life on Earth: Of Microbes and Man.” I offer three more questions for you to consider.
One of the themes of our discussion has been whether scientific explanations rule out theological ones. I think this topic is particularly poignant at the three big “game changing” moments in the history of our universe: 1) There was a radical change from the existence of nothing, to the appearance of energy and mass (and space and time). 2) Then some of that lifeless matter became alive. Perhaps there isn’t as stark of a line dividing before and after here (are viruses alive?), but we can easily tell the difference when we look at our planet chocked full of life compared to the others in our solar system. 3) Then some of those living organisms became conscious or self-aware. Again, perhaps there was a more gradual transition in the development of consciousness, and undoubtedly there are degrees of self-awareness among the higher species today. But we’re pretty sure there is something significantly different between our conscious lives and that of a fruit fly.
Some people who brook no “god of the gaps” arguments anywhere else look to these three moments as more reasonable places to insert God into natural processes: God spoke matter/energy into existence, God made life out of lifeless matter, and God breathed a soul into human beings. We talked about the origin of the universe in chapter three. Collins takes a pretty strong stance against gaps for the origin of life in chapter four: “In summary, while the question of the origin of life is a fascinating one, and the inability of modern science to develop a statistically probably mechanism is intriguing, this is not the place for a thoughtful person to wager his faith” (p. 93). But interestingly, his treatment of the moral argument in chapter one might be interpreted leaning toward a gaps argument and could be tied to the origin of our consciousness.
- How about you? Do these three moments somehow stand apart from the rest of the natural order of things? Should we think differently about them with regard to scientific explanations and God’s involvement?
The fossil record has been contentious since Darwin first proposed his theory. Our supplemental materials point to a quick overview of the usefulness of fossils, and you can find a more detailed video on the topic from the very nice resources on evolution at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The Cambrian explosion and the fossils of hominids are particularly interesting to us, and Collins describes these briefly (p. 93-96).
- What does the fossil record tell us about the history of life on earth? What does it not tell us?
Finally, after some description of DNA—a topic about which Collins must be recognized as one of the world’s authorities—he discusses the effect that scientific discoveries have had on him:
For me, there is not a shred of disappointment or disillusionment in these discoveries about the nature of life—quite the contrary! How 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, from the ribosome that translates RNA into protein, to the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly, to the fabulous plumage of the peacock attracting his mate! 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 (p. 106-7).
- What are your thoughts on this?