“The Language of God” Book Club – Chapters 1 & 2

| By Jim Stump on Faith and Science Seeking Understanding

Today begins the on-line portion of our book club. We announced back in December that we’re encouraging the BioLogos community to read and discuss the book that started BioLogos: Francis Collins’ The Language of God. Many of you have downloaded the discussion questions we’ve prepared and committed to a small group that is using the book for the next few months. We’d love to hear from you regarding your group’s experience and insights. Others don’t have a small group with whom they can read the book, but they would like to join in some virtual discussion. This post, and a new one every two weeks, aim to serve both populations. Please jump into the comments section, answering questions and asking your own (I’ll ask a few to get us started, and attempt to moderate things to some degree to keep us on topic). When your comments refer directly to what someone else has written, please use the “reply to this comment” function so ongoing discussion on the same topic is easier to follow. If you have a new topic to discuss, use the “Add your comment” at the bottom of the comments page. And of course we ask that you keep the discussion civil and follow the Ground Rules for Commenting.

We start with the Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2 (you can see the rest of the reading schedule we’ll follow and access supplementary resources on the Book Club page). In this part of the book, Collins gives his faith journey from agnosticism to atheism to committed Christian faith. This journey took place during his education in the sciences, and so it incorporates these two sources of belief formation—science and religion. Collins poses, as the central question of his book: “In this modern era of cosmology, evolution, and the human genome, is there still the possibility of a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews?” (p. 5-6). BioLogos likes to use the word “harmony” too, but that is sometimes mistaken as a simplistic notion of complete consistency and total absence of any conflict. Musicians understand harmony as richer and more complex than this, even accepting dissonance that is resolved over a piece of music as part of the harmony (see, for example, President Haarsma’s post about this).

  1. How do you understand the “harmony” between science and Christian faith? Are there points of tension that need to be worked out?

In chapter 1, Collins says that C.S. Lewis’s argument about the Moral Law was what most caught his attention in considering the evidence for the truth of Christianity. If understanding right and wrong is a universal feature of humanity (not necessarily which specific things are right and wrong, but the fact that there is a right and wrong), where did this come from? Collins claims that if the “Moral Law is simply a consequence of evolutionary pressures”, then “the interpretation of many of the requirements of the Moral Law as a signpost to God would potentially be in trouble” (p. 24-25). And he goes on to give arguments against the purported evolutionary explanations of moral behavior by sociobiologists like E.O. Wilson. In recent years, though, some Christian scientists have been more receptive to the idea that evolution may have played a role in the development of morality. Consider, for example, a short post on our blog (also included in the supplementary materials) which suggests that a scientific description of how morality comes to exist does not tell us why it exists. This is a lively field of inquiry today.

  1. Do you agree or disagree with Collins on this point? If science could show persuasively how morality developed, would that undermine the belief that the Moral Law is a pointer toward God?

Finally for today, in chapter 2 Collins lists four main areas of doubt that he himself has confronted: God as wish fulfillment, harm done in the name of religion, the problem of evil, and miracles. The relationship between faith and doubt is a complex one. If we understand faith to mean merely “belief in the absence of proof,” then it seems that doubt could be problematic for faith (though even here it is wise to remember the words of the demoniac’s father in Mark 9:24, “I believe, help my unbelief”). Classically, though, trust and commitment played a more central role in faith, and it is easier to see how one might continue to trust or stay committed to Christ even in the face of doubts that sometimes surface.

  1. Has Collins addressed the areas of doubt that you see most often presented as difficulties for the Christian worldview? What do you take to be a healthy balance between skeptical questioning (which can result in fueling doubt) and dogmatic acceptance (which can result in “blind” faith)?


About the Author

Jim Stump

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).