Two Languages, Two Books: One Creator
One of the most daunting but exciting parts of publishing a book happens after the publisher has decided that your manuscript isn’t an embarrassing disaster and will actually get published. I am referring, of course, to the solicitation of endorsements for the back cover of the book, known as “blurbs” in the business.
Authors who take this part of the process seriously work hard to secure endorsements from authoritative and well-known figures. If you are an established public figure you may know some famous people, or they may know you and be willing to endorse your book. When Francis Collins published The Language of God, he was world famous as the head of the Human Genome Project. Not surprisingly, his cover blurbs reflected this: he had endorsements from Desmond Tutu, Noami Judd, Tim Keller, and Ken Miller.
When I was working on my first book, Worlds Apart almost 20 years ago, I was completely unknown and had no real celebrity endorsers in my circle of friends. By the luck of the draw—or providential provision—I was introduced to Jeffrey Sheler, then religion editor of US News and World Report, at a Christmas party. With great fear and trembling I told him I had just finished a book and asked if he would consider endorsing it for me. He graciously agreed and wrote me a very nice blurb, which my publisher put at the top of the back cover.
The Language of Science and Faith is my fifth book, and I now have a great circle of well-known friends and acquaintances to turn to for cover blurbs. And, not surprisingly, they occasionally solicit cover blurbs from me, which gives me a chance to read some very interesting manuscripts months before they appear in print. Among my roster of interesting professional colleagues in science and religion is Owen Gingerich of Harvard University. Owen, who I have come to appreciate enormously over the years, is a leading historian of science and an important authority on the reception of Copernicus’ famous book advocating heliocentricity: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. He wrote a nice blurb for my last book Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Owen is a also a deeply committed Christian and his small book, God’s Universe, is an extraordinary meditation on what it means for a scientist to be believe in God. Its unintimidating brevity and elegant prose make it a perfect introduction for a non-scientist.
I always approach Owen with a mixture of hope and fear: hope that he will write a nice blurb, and fear that he will discover some humiliating mistake in the book. Owen, I have discovered, doesn’t just skim manuscripts and toss off generous compliments so he can get his name in print one more time. He reads, and reads carefully. And he takes time to offer suggestions and corrections. The Language of Science and Faith is a stronger book because of Owen’s thoughtful input.
In writing his blurb for the book Owen picked up on the “language” metaphor from the title and composed the following:
Two challenging languages, one old and wise, one modern and awesome. Two very different accounts of human origins. Can the book of Scripture and the book of nature both be true in the age of science? We need sympathetic and enlightening interpreters. Happily Giberson and Collins here offer a guide to the perplexed that is reverent, relevant and very well-informed.
In The Language of Science and Faith Francis and I address this specific metaphor of the “two languages” that Owen picked up on, and offer some suggestions for how they can be related. In particular we try to allay fears that Christians might have about science constantly forcing new interpretations of the Bible.
Here is a brief excerpt:
“Many believe that the discovery of the great age of the earth forced Christians to abandon the traditional reading of Genesis and embrace a “compromise” forced on them by science. Those who continue to believe in a young earth because “the Bible tells them so” claim that they are simply being faithful to the Christian Tradition, courageously refusing to be bullied by a secular scientific community. They lament that Christians who accept the great age of the earth and the universe have “compromised.” In The Modern Creation Trilogy Volume One: Science and Creation, the late Henry Morris and his son John argue (page 76):
Surely all those who really believe in the God of the Bible should see that any compromise with the geologic-age system is theological chaos. Whether the compromise involves the day-age theory or the gap theory, the very concept of the geological ages implies divine confusion and cruelty, and the God of the Bible could never have been involved in such a thing as that at all.
This view, however appealing on the surface, misrepresents the Christian Tradition. Christians across the centuries have not been united in reading Genesis in this literal way and the widespread insistence that it can only be read this way is actually a recent development dating to the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961. Ron Numbers makes this clear in his definitive history, The Creationists.
Early Christian thinkers did not have science to help them understand the earth and its history. Nevertheless, many of them were well-educated and more than capable of discerning that the Genesis creation stories were not trying to teach about the literal history of the world. The works of many of the first Christian theologians and philosophers actually reveal an interpretation of Genesis surprisingly compatible with both the great age of the earth and Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Like Origen and St. Augustine before him, Thomas Aquinas did not fear the possible contradiction between the Genesis creation story and scientific findings and saw no need to draw lines in the sand about how to read Genesis. Oxford University scholar, William Carroll notes in a 1999 article in First Things titled "Aquinas and the Big Bang:"
Aquinas did not think that the opening of Genesis presented any difficulties for the natural sciences, for the Bible is not a textbook in the sciences. What is essential to Christian faith, according to Aquinas, is the "fact of creation," not the manner or mode of the formation of the world.
Centuries later, the influential Anglican minister and early leader in the Methodist movement, John Wesley, taught that scriptures were written in terms suitable for their audience. He writes,
The inspired penman in this history [Genesis] … [wrote] for the Jews first and, calculating his narratives for the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances, and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the understanding of the mysteries couched under them.”
Using these and other examples, Francis and I summarize what is very well-known to scholars of the history of Christianity—namely that a strong emphasis on a literal reading of Genesis leading to a young earth creationist position has not historically been an emphasis of the Christian community.
Portions of the previous blog are adapted from The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. The book, which will appear in February 2011, is the first in a series of books that BioLogos will be producing in concert with InterVarsity Press. (Collins’s contributions to this volume ended when he became head of the NIH).