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“The Language of God” Book Club–Chapter 5

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March 7, 2014 Tags: Education, Genetics, Image of God, Science as Christian Calling
“The Language of God” Book Club–Chapter 5

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

Chapter 5 of Collins’s The Language of God is about genetics—a topic on which he might legitimately be called one of the world’s leading authorities. The advance in our understanding of genetics over the past two or three decades is nothing short of remarkable, and Collins has been at the forefront of these developments. It is conceivable—and even expected by some—that Collins will be awarded a Nobel Prize in recognition of his leadership over the Human Genome Project. When Mark Noll wrote his seminal book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind two decades ago, he claimed that Evangelicals have no Nobel laureates and are not doing the kind of work that is so recognized (p. 51).

  1. Does Collins show that Evangelicals have turned the corner on the scandal Noll brought to light, or does the continued resistance of the majority of Evangelicals to Collins’s work (about 75% reject human evolution) show that we as a collective group still do not take the life of the mind seriously?

Collins says, “The study of genomes leads inexorably to the conclusion that we humans share a common ancestor with other living things” (p. 133-4) and “Given the strength of the evidence, it is perplexing that so little progress in public acceptance has occurred in the United States” (p. 141). The genetic research is fairly technical, though increasingly there are descriptions of it that are able to be understood by scientific laypersons (see some of these in the Supplemental Resources on the Book Club Page).

  1. Why do you think the public—and the Christian public in particular—is so slow to recognize the strength of the genetic evidence for evolution?

Early in the chapter, Collins describes some of the advances in genetic research and the implications it may have for future medicine (here is more along that line from an interview on our site). We’ve accustomed ourselves to technological advances that correct our imperfections like vaccines, braces, and laser eye surgery. But sometimes the possibilities of genetic engineering are treated differently.

  1. Discovering the genetic cause of cystic fibrosis is one thing, but should we tinker with DNA to prevent such mutations? How about the sort of thing portrayed in the movie Gattaca where prospective parents go to a genetic counselor to “order” their baby in terms of gender, hair color, musical ability, and so on? Does our ability to understand the genetic code give us the right to manipulate it?

Share your thoughts with the BioLogos Community in the comments section. Also, you can join a live webinar with President Deb Haarsma and me, discussing Francis Collins and The Language of God on Tuesday, March 18th from 8-9pm (Eastern time). The webinar is free to all, but you must register. Find the details here.

Jim Stump is Senior Editor at BioLogos. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates existing content for the website and print materials. Jim has a PhD in philosophy from Boston University and was formerly a philosophy professor and academic administrator. He has authored Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues (Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming) and co-authored (with Chad Meister) Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010). He has co-edited (with Alan Padgett) The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) and (with Kathryn Applegate) How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity, forthcoming).

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sy - #84694

March 9th 2014

Starting with question 2, I think many Christians are slow to accept the genetic evidence for evolution, because they do not really understand what evolution is. I found out when I gave an evolution primer at my Church, that almost nobody understood that evolution involves common ancestry, not direct descent. Many well educated people still thought evolution meant that humans were once monkeys or chimps. The genetic evidence is even more complex, though compelling to those who can understand it. 

But frankly, I think the real problem is that we have not done a good enough job in addressing the very real issue (which several Biologos commenters have raised many times) of how evolution can be consistent with an ongoing role for a Creative God who intervenes in our lives and in the workings of his creation. I admit this is not an easy task, but I do think that some scientific advances might be making it easier. 

Brenda Tucker - #84708

March 10th 2014

I appreciate this level of candidness in your post and I am hoping I will not shock you by offering a new theory of evolution that is easier for a Christian population to understand. My website at http://www.homestead.com/theosophy/ascension.html is one short version of what evolution entails, however many more posts have been written by me online about a girasas kingdom. Once this new theory of evolution is learned, the real problem will not be that we have not done a good enough job in reconciling the two views, but that many people do not feel ready and are not prepared to just assume a role in bringing forth a higher kingdom of nature.

How do we ready ourselves to play this role? How difficult is the prospect? How recognizable will our lives be and how will the two groups: 5th and 6th race humans interact? (While it is not possible to live long-term in a 6th race body at this time since no 6th race bodies exist, Jesus Christ has demostrated to us the power that life is bringing to us all.)

Laura Gardner - #84703

March 10th 2014

I believe that the Christian community finds it hard to reconcile evolution with the Bible because indeed, they are used to the common way of thinking: that evolution is simply humans evolving from animals. 

The definition of evolution is: “the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth.”

Even the definition itself includes no mention of the creation of the Earth, or the creator. I have always maintained that the Bible and science coincide. Romans 1:20 states, “ For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

One of the problems with all of mankind is that we have begun to draw lines and try to define what is divine and what is not as mankind has progressed. Yesterday I read this fact: “Some lizards, in which the tail is a major storage organ for accumlating reserves, will return to a dropped tail after the threat has passed, and will eat it to recover part of of the sacrified supplies.” This in itself is quite amazing, considering that the lizard has no ability to discern and reason with itself how to stay alive and the detriment in losing it’s tail. God’s relationship with animals and their evolution has been one of the key factors in keeping humans alive as well.

I think of evolution as direct evidence that God has worked WITH humans and animals to continue our existence following the last convenant He made with us. If we could only all understand that God is revealing His greatness more and more to us, as the days go on. 

Brenda Tucker - #84709

March 10th 2014

I am hoping that I can be helpful in bringing forth the consideration that humans and animals are vastly different in their current makeups and that evolution and involution can occur hand in hand, but that we have a much different responsibility to involving lives than we do to evolving lives.

When we help evolving animals ascend, we take them off the earth, replacing them in the process with the entire range of animal forms as well as teaching them and providing for them by transferring a new group of involving lives to their keeping.

If angels can be shown as existing in animal forms AFTER the evolving animals are ascended, then we can right ourselves into a position of working with involving angel animals as if they can be aided by being obedient to the evolving lives and that the evolving girasas kingdom is actually bringing many new involving angels to join their ranks, with two angelic groups of natural living things only splitting and separating during the 7th human race and 3rd girasas race.

Matthew Winegar - #84704

March 10th 2014

Maybe I misunderstood question 1, but it seems a little presumptious, to ask if, as a collective group, evangelicals do not take the life of the mind seriously (even if only in a limited way, i.e. with respect to modern science).  It may be true for some, but I would be wary of painting with a broad brush.  There is certainly an cavalier attitude from some when dealing with scientific data/theories, and a lack of understanding I have seen from some, but I would not presume to say this about everyone who does not believe this or that theory.

Question 2 is better to get at this, I think, and is more constructive.  I concur with what sy said.  I know some people, who reject evolution, who simply do not understand evolution.  I would go further, that some simply do not want to understand, and even if corrected about the “people came from monkeys” type misunderstandings (these often include erroneous thoughts that evolution happens within individuals, not just in populations over or between generations), some will still cling to these ideas, to reinforce their own ideas that “evolution is perposterous”.  Perhaps this is because these ideas make them uncomfortable (after all, they have deep worldview implications).  I’m not really sure, here.  There are many articles on Biologos about synthesizing evolutionary understanding of the world with a creator God, as described in the Bible (and how to understand the Bible in its context).  The problem is (I think), these things need to be front and center with any presentation of evidence, otherwise people’s defense mechanisms kick in and all of that evidence gets ignored or “explained away” by some dubious line of reasoning.

For question 3, I think our ability to manipulate the genetic code definitely does not give us the right to do whatever we like.  The problem here (practically) is we are tinkering with the whole random element of inheritance, with potentially unintended consequences (and these consequences will be born by other people, through no fault of their own, for generations).  We already can alter our own survival/reproductive chances through modern medicine and other technological advances (I find no problem with this, we are just altering how we play our hand, given the genetic cards we are dealt).  On a theological level, I think we are “playing God”, so to speak, if we alter DNA of people before they are born, for any purpose.  This is very different, though, than using genetics as some kind of basis for therapy for a born person, to treat disorders (with their consent, or course).

Allan Hill - #84710

March 10th 2014

Question 2 is the big question we face today. CS Lewis wrote a book titled “Your God is too Small” that I read 40 years ago, and I still keep that in mind when I deal with spiritual issues. The good is is that Jesus will meet you where you are. He then says follow me, and that makes for an interesting journey. For me, my first premise is that God is bigger than the godf of Abram, difeerent from the Spirit of America, larger than a survival of thr species sort of humanist god. Maybe even larger than a Gaia, who would be responsible for planet Earth and it’s weel being, though for now that’s the limit of my understanding. I can take a larger God of the universe, it just raises many more questions than anyone can answer. I can take that on faith.

   As for question 3, the unintended consequences will have to be dealt with. Around here,almost all corn comes with genes attached to make them reistant to herbicides. The funny thing is, we’re now getting weeds resistant to herbicides. Can these genes be transmitted, something like a little radio antenna?

Brenda Tucker - #84711

March 10th 2014

The resistance that we find to science may be two-fold: 1) they do not accept our word for the amazing change that takes place in our lives when we begin to live in harmony with the higher kingdom descending into us and they do not offer us scientific services in this regard as a result. 2) We don’t feel ready or equal to the challenge of working with a higher kingdom: a kingdom that is advanced beyond our human stage as we are beyond the dinosaur (evolving animal).

It not only makes us uncomfortable to consider ourselves akin to monkeys. It also makes us equally uncomfortable to consider our lives invaded (at our asking of course) by a girasas kingdom when we (science included) know so little about what it means to work successfully with them. Strange and nearly alien, but so blessed and helpful doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to our independence and grasp of reality.

The workings of DNA and mankind’s capacity to change our genetics is a rational use of our human ability and it is a wonderful thing to trust the human body and mind as being equipped fully with what is needed for human realization and exchange with a higher girasas kingdom. However, it is not the way that a new 6th race will be formed. It is only the way that a human 5th race will be improved for the next round. The 6th race will begin when the 6th race from the previous round is uncovered from its place within the earth where it was put for safekeeping until the right time for the 6th race to begin. (approx. 400,000 years). When the 6th race has a form to use, it will be more conducive to harboring this new half human-half girasas being on earth. As for now, we labor either in a 6th subrace of the 5th race or in an Ascended Master state, sharing the energies of the higher kingdom as we are able to from a close distance.

Joanna Klein - #84713

March 10th 2014

I heard an interesting story on NPR just last week called “When It Comes To Vaccines, Science Can Run Into A Brick Wall”   It originally caught my attention since I teach an undergraduate microbiology course and vaccination is an important topic.  The story describes a research report on the effectiveness of parent education to reduce belief in the erroneous link between the MMR vaccine and autism.  The study found that when parents were given corrective information, they superficially accepted it, but were actually less likely to have their children vaccinated. 

The story says “Nyhan seems to be finding is that when you’re confronted by information that you don’t like, at a certain level you accept that the information might be true, but it damages your sense of self-esteem. It damages something about your identity. And so what you do is you fight back against the new information. You try and martial other kinds of information that would counter the new information coming in. In the political realm, Nyhan is exploring the possibility that if you boost people’s self-esteem before you give them this disconfirming information, it might help them take in the new information because they don’t feel as threatened as they might have been otherwise.” 

I think this finding extends beyond public health messaging, and is exactly what is going on with discussions of evolution in the church.   I think messaging about the facts of evolution needs to be preceded with a discussion of interpretations of Genesis – particularly ones that are compatible with evolution.  People need to be given a place to stand theologically before they are presented with the evidence for evolution. 

This aligns with Matthew Winegar’s post.

Mike Beidler - #84795

March 17th 2014

1.     Does Collins show that Evangelicals have turned the corner on the scandal Noll brought to light, or does the continued resistance of the majority of Evangelicals to Collins’s work (about 75% reject human evolution) show that we as a collective group still do not take the life of the mind seriously?

Dr. Collins shows that some thoughtful Evangelicals have turned the corner and left Mark Noll’s well-attested accusations of scandalous anti-intellectualism behind, but there is still much work to be done, and not just within the Evangelical community.  The American population in general still lags far behind in accepting the veracity of evolutionary theory.  Insofar as the Evangelical church is concerned, it really is up to the other 25% to dispense with their fear and become more vocal about how acceptance of evolution is not an enemy of the faith; rather, when understood properly, the embrace of evolutionary theory (along with the rest of modern scientific discovery) can enhance one’s faith.  Such enhancement can only come about, however, if one’s faith is properly placed in the person of God’s Son and not in any particular interpretation of Genesis or any particular understanding of the nature and extent of Scripture’s inspiration. 

There is, of course, a belief within the Evangelical Christianity that our particular paradigm is the ultimate example of intellectualism, that we have the corner on biblical hermeneutics and the interpretation of scientific data.  To accept the possibility that we don’t, thereby admitting one’s past ignorance, is an extremely difficult task and, if not conducted properly, could lead to a crisis of faith among many individuals within Evangelicalism who can not tolerate any degree of uncertainty.  Is it, then, up to organizations like BioLogos to blaze the trail, come alongside churches, and assist in the slow (and likely painful) process of paradigm shift.

2.     Why do you think the public—and the Christian public in particular—is so slow to recognize the strength of the genetic evidence for evolution?

The reason American Evangelicals show continued resistance to injecting a healthy dose of intellectualism into their faith – to include the embrace of modern science – is two-fold.  Firstly, it is the result of general apathy.  The American public simply does not appreciate the application of modern science beyond certain realms that touch their lives most directly: entertainment, communication, transportation, and medicine (to an even more limited degree if in good health).  The various States – with the assistance of public policy groups like the NCSE: National Center for Science Education – must take greater pains to enforce higher standards of science education and continue combating attempts by special creationist and Intelligent Design proponents to inject pseudo-science into the science classroom.  As long as the so-called “controversy” remains and evolution is considered “only a theory,” the longer it will take the Evangelical church and the American public at large to achieve scientific literacy.

Secondly, the Evangelical church has a tendency to nurse a martyr complex.  Possessing a martyr complex makes it easier for the Evangelical community to defend – both as individuals and as a collective body – its understanding of the faith through the identification of so-called enemies it perceives as threats to the faith, whether real or unreal, political or scientific.

3.     Discovering the genetic cause of cystic fibrosis is one thing, but should we tinker with DNA to prevent such mutations?  How about the sort of thing portrayed in the movie GATTACA where prospective parents go to a genetic counselor to “order” their baby in terms of gender, hair color, musical ability, and so on?  Does our ability to understand the genetic code give us the right to manipulate it?

If “tinkering” with DNA goes the route of preventive medicine and remains there, I believe God would honor our noble attempts to improve the quality of life for every one of His children.  If it is within our power to prevent disease and eliminate congenital conditions that negatively affect quality of life, we should do so. 

However, I believe that the practice of “custom-ordering” your child will quickly become subject to the latest fads and culture-bound expectations of what is desirable, thus decreasing the genetic diversity so important to continued evolution, adaptation, and survival.  As well, it could open the door to all sorts of abuse.  We’ve already seen two successful attempts a decade ago by a congenitally deaf lesbian couple to bear (by means of a congenitally deaf sperm donor) congenitally deaf children (see “The Best Possible Child” by Michael Parker).  To think that this couple – immersed in and proud of their deaf “culture” – would purposefully deny their child one of their God-given senses!  God forbid!

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