“The Language of God” Book Club–Chapter 5

| By on Faith and Science Seeking Understanding

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 bookThe 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 andThe 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.


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).

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