“The Language of God” Book Club – Chapters 7-9

| By Jim Stump on Faith and Science Seeking Understanding

We’re on the second-to-last book club post this week. As we plan for future book clubs, we’d like to get some input from you. Take the short survey, which closes this weekend. We’d like to hear what kind of format would be most useful to you. We know there are all sorts of groups using Language of God this spring, from church small groups, to reading clubs, to college classes; and rarely does one size fit all. So let us know how we can best address your situation. We were pleased to hear from a large college group this week who has been working through the book. Here is their photograph:

College class group photo

The schedule for this week has us considering chapters 7-9 on the various alternative options for understanding science. The first of these is atheism and agnosticism. We’ve all heard our fill from the so-called New Atheists who trumpet scientific advances to “prove” the non-existence of God. Collins claims, though, that doing so, “goes beyond the evidence. If God is outside of nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. Atheism itself must therefore be considered a form of blind faith” (p. 165). I wonder, though, whether this claim is too strong as well. I don’t think we’d want to say that science is irrelevant to Christian faith (as Gould seems to suggest with his Non-Overlapping Magisteria view). Collins himself cites the fine-tuning arguments as important for his faith.

  1. What do you understand the role to be between empirical discoveries and Christian faith? (You might watch this video from an NYU biologist in our list of supplemental resources.) Could scientists discover things about the world that would count for or against belief in the Christian God? Is atheism “blind faith” or can it be understood as what some take to be the best explanation of the available evidence?

We at BioLogos have spent a fair amount of energy responding to the claims of Young Earth Creationists. We respect that their position stems primarily from a commitment to Scripture, but we believe their interpretation of Scripture commits them to scientific claims that are clearly false. Often such a discussion leads to the point that God could have created the universe and earth with the appearance of age. Collins discusses this point briefly in chapter 8, and we point you to a lengthier essay on the topic from Rev. Scott Hoezee in the supplemental resources. Once we start down this road, it is difficult to know where to stop. British philosopher Bertrand Russell teased that there is no empirical evidence that could determine whether the earth was created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age (including ourselves with the necessary memories). Young Earthers’ favorite example in this regard is Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine.

  1. If we had performed scientific tests on the wine, would it have yielded results consistent with an older origin? What difference could we point to that makes this miracle an exception to the rule that God typically works through natural processes we can understand? Is there a way to think of God creating the universe with the appearance of age that doesn’t make God into a deceiver?

Finally in chapter 9, Collins tackles the Intelligent Design movement, giving both scientific and theological objections to invoking a “god of the gaps.” The theological implications are troubling when we say that God made natural systems which work on their own most of the time, but every so often God must step in and tinker with the system to keep it on track. But, if we say God only works through natural processes, the challenge is to avoid Deism, according to which God never steps into the system. But now we’re back to question #1 and the possible empirical evidences of the divine.

  1. How can we avoid a god of the gaps situation without completely removing God from the created order? How else might we describe God’s relationship to the functioning of natural systems?

We’d be happy to hear your thoughts on these or other questions you’d like to bring up. Two weeks from today will be the last of our book club posts on The Language of God, covering chapters 10-11.


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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