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BONUS | Francis Collins & Phil Vischer

Phil Vischer and Francis Collins sit down to talk about science and faith and the new BioLogos Integrate curriculum.


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Francis Collins and Phil Vischer with guitars

Phil Vischer and Francis Collins sit down to talk about science and faith and the new BioLogos Integrate curriculum.

Description

A podcast that shows the harmony between Christian faith and current scientific discoveries by sharing the stories of interesting people who have found a better way of understanding science and Christian faith.
  • Originally aired on April 28, 2022
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Phil Vischer and Francis Collins sit down to talk about science and faith and the new BioLogos Integrate curriculum.

Additional Resources


Transcript

Stump: 

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump, normally the host of this show. But we don’t have a normal episode today. We’re working on a bunch of things and we will have new episodes for you starting again next week. But we wanted to bring you a bonus conversation we’ve had in the hopper for a little while. 

On February 1st we had the pleasure of having both Francis Collins and Phil Vischer together in the same room for a day in Washington DC. For many podcast listeners, neither of these men need introductions. Phil Vischer has been on the podcast before and also is co-host on the podcast, Holy Post. And if you don’t know him from that you might know him as the creator of VeggieTales and the voice of many of the characters. Go listen to his interview, episode 98, to hear him show off a few of the voices for us. 

Francis Collins, among his many many credentials has the honor of being the most frequent guest on this podcast. He also led the human genome project, directed the NIH under three different presidents, and now serves as the acting science advisor to the president. He is the founder and senior fellow of BioLogos.

Phil and Francis joined several of the BioLogos staff to help promote BioLogos Integrate, a new faith and science curriculum from BioLogos. Integrate is designed for Christian educators, parents, and ministry leaders looking to equip the next generation of Christian leaders to be faithful, informed, and gracious voices on the difficult questions raised by modern science and technology. We got Phil and Francis talking about science, faith, and the next generation and just let the conversation go. And so that’s what we have for you today. 

Integrate launched this month, so we thought the conversation was especially timely. Phil and Francis talk a bit about Integrate in the conversation here but you can find out a lot more by going to biologos.org/integrate or by watching the video linked in the shownotes. 

Let’s get to the conversation. 

Interview

Vischer:

Dr. Collins, do you feel like you have your finger on the pulse of the relationship between faith and science?

Collins:

Oh, I wouldn’t say that there’s a single pulse. There’s a lot of different pulses going at different rates. For me, as an evangelical and a scientist, I think this is a fantastic time, because science is uncovering all kinds of real answers to mysteries. And they’re also mysteries that I see as a glimpse of God’s mind because God’s the creator, and science is a way of uncovering some of what God has given us. 

Vischer:

But don’t most scientists want me to be an atheist?

Collins:

Actually no. Something like a third of working scientists are actually believers. That surprises people who think, yeah, everybody out there must be just completely discounting any existence of anything you can’t measure in the lab. But not so. But even the ones that are not calling themselves believers. Many of them are agnostics, they’re more along the lines of I don’t want to think about it, as opposed to I think it’s wrong.

Vischer:

Right. Right. Do you think if there are more people like you, you know, that are visible and then believers and in science? Does it take away a little bit of that apprehension, that this whole scientific operation is opposed to my faith?

Collins:

Yeah, would help. I think there is still this sense, in a lot of churches, and maybe in Christian homeschooling and Christian High Schools that science and faith are kind of like not going to be getting along here, right? And I see that as a terrible tragedy, because I see these are different ways of understanding God’s creation, God’s Word and God’s world that kind of go together. BioLogos stands up for that, and has become a place where people who are really interested in having that conversation can go and see what’s happening here. And it’s really exciting. But it’s still not, I think, in many places, particularly churches, seen as a comfortable space. And that’s too bad, because that means a lot of young people who are kind of interested in science, but whose faith is really important to them, feeling uneasy about is this going to be a safe place for me to be. 

Vischer:

When I was in high school, I really liked science. I really liked physics, partly because it was stuff bouncing around, it was light bouncing around, it was waves bouncing around. And it was some math equations. And I liked that. I wasn’t wild about biology, partly because of the cutting smelly stuff up. But partly because I knew we were going to get to that unit called evolution. And just growing up in a conservative church, it was kind of imprinted in my brain, that that’s where they’re going to try to get you to stop believing in God, you didn’t have that because you didn’t grow up, you didn’t have the faith tradition that I had. So it just never occurred to you that studying evolution would be in conflict with your beliefs. Not at all.

Collins:

I didn’t grow up with any faith tradition, I was an atheist. By the time I was a graduate student, I also love physics and chemistry. That’s what I was studying. Now I went to medical school and encountered really important questions about life and death and realized that I really thought about this. And to my surprise, became a Christian. And everybody said, “okay, you’re in trouble, because you’re interested in that stuff called DNA. And that means you’re looking at evolution, you’re gonna have a brain explosion, here, there’s no way that your worldviews are going to get along.” Never happened. I see evolution as this remarkably elegant, beautiful, creative process that God put in place at the very beginning of the universe, and which has played out in this beautiful way to make it possible for us to have this conversation. But unfortunately, that’s not the way the E word has been utilized in lots of conversations where people really are worried about this. And that’s going to be a threat, because maybe it won’t fit with Genesis. It does fit actually, once you sort of step back from particularly the last 150 years of ways in which people have tried to read the Bible as a science textbook, which I really don’t think it was supposed to.

Vischer:

There’s the sense that we’re trying to use the Bible for things it was not intended for, and that the original author and the original audience would have said, “wait, what are you getting out of this? Because we didn’t get that at all because we weren’t looking for it.” You know, and the fact that we’re looking for things that the original audience and author we’re not looking for should be a clue that we’re trying to solve problems. We’re trying to answer questions that are being asked, you know, and that’s how we often get into conflict. That’s what I’ve tried to do with kids is just to kind of unpack some of this stuff and say, is this a question that the original audience would have been asking? Because if it isn’t, then the Bible probably isn’t answering it. But to be able to do that and look at really good scholarship, you know, from guys like John Walton and other people that are really digging in, let’s take the Bible seriously, you know that we don’t have to reject science to take the Bible seriously. In fact, if we’re rejecting science, it may be because we’re not taking the Bible seriously enough to figure out what the original author actually intended to say.

Collins:

Right. The Bible is not sufficiently viewed simply by insisting that every word be literal. It’s much more important than that. Because we have to figure out exactly what was the intention of the author and the audience to which it was written. And people hearing this conversation maybe going, “oh, it sounds like they’re going to try to water down the real meaning of Scripture.” And you and I, I think, would quickly say no, wait a minute. We are, through BioLogos’ way of framing this just as serious, maybe more serious about adhering to the truths of Scripture, as we are the truths of science. The good news is, they get along, they’re both guides.

Vischer:

Unfortunately, they’ve both been conscripted into a culture war that started in the 1910s and 1920s, where we said, okay, science, Darwin, and German modernists are trying to take away the Bible, you know? And because one of them were a group of theologians, and the other was a group of scientists, liberal theology goes with science, conservative, Bible-believing, God-honoring theology is against science. And that was a dichotomy that we set up, that really was never needed to be set up, you know, that dichotomy between faith and science or conservative theology and science. So I’ve been really heartened to see the work, you know, even when you launched BioLogos, I remember thinking, oh, good, this is exactly what we need. And he’s the perfect guy to do it. You know, because my brother had handed me your book, my brother is the dean of a law school. And he’s had his own, you know, faith and science wrestling’s and does any of this makes sense. And he bumped into your book and said, Phil, you got to read this book. And I read the book. And, well, this is fantastic. You know, it’s not that I agree with every one of your positions on everything. And you don’t have to agree with me either. But I’d like it if you did. But we’re having the conversation, you know, from a science literate point of view, and a biblically literate point of view. And if you can, if you can kind of take the steam out of the culture war, out of the sails, you can actually get people to come down and talk. And hopefully that’s what BioLogos can do.

Collins:

That’s wonderfully well said. And you’re right, it’s 100 years now of paying the price of what happened in around 1920. Putting these things to opposite poles as if you had to pick one or the other, and young people today are paying the price of that.

Vischer:

Yeah, I really think that Christian schools, and churches and pastors need to be familiar enough with all these issues, you need to know both sides of the argument, you know, what’s the side, if you say the Bible insists that I must reject these scientific consensus? Is that the plural? consenses? consensus? Consensis? But, you know, this is the argument that’s being made, that we have to reject this mainstream science. But this is another argument also from scripture, you know, so that you can talk to kids that have grown up thinking they have to think one way, and understand where they’re coming from, and then respond to their concerns. Because I see a lot of kids growing up that, you know, say I’m interested in science, but I’m afraid of science. I’m afraid of the implication for my, the things that matter most to me, which are my worldview, my faith, and my family. You know, so what can we do to help them?

Collins:

Well, we need to help them because they’re our future. We don’t want to lose that talent, that vision, that next entrepreneur who’s going to make a discovery that cures Alzheimer’s disease, and if we’re driving that talent away, because of this fear that it’s going to upset their very fundamental feelings about faith which we want to preserve. Then something terrible has happened here. So what to do? I get emails from people who are in that same crisis? I bet you do too. Even more I get from those who are in college, who really believed that the view that they’d have about science, and particularly about things like origins of the universe and of humans, were only going to be seen in one way, or somehow their faith was in trouble. And they’re looking at the data now and realizing, you know, it wasn’t quite what I thought it was. And does that mean the whole edifice of my faith is now under threat? And that’s a terrible place to put somebody in an unnecessary place. So what do we do? Right? I think we have to have a way that young people who are interested in science, whose faith is a rock on which they stand, have the opportunity to see how those things do fit together in the kind of teaching opportunities that maybe haven’t been so apparent before. And now, with BioLogos, introducing this Integrate curriculum, there’s a way for that to happen in Christian High Schools and Christian home schools. No longer do you have to set up kids to be in this sense that there is irreconcilable conflict, because it can be reconciled, not just, “okay, we can sort of squeeze this together.” It fits, and it’s beautiful, and it’s satisfying, and enriches your faith, instead of threatening.

Vischer:

When I was in high school, and we got to that unit in biology, want to get to the unit on evolution. I remember going to my mother, and saying Mom, do we believe in evolution? And she paused for a while and then just looked at me and said, I don’t know. Which was honest, you know. She didn’t know. She hadn’t read enough or had done the work. I just wish there had been a resource like this, where we could say, “okay, well, let’s go through this together.” You know, let’s do this in our church youth group, or let’s do this in our, you know, our homeschool group, or, let’s, let’s have faithful Christian scholars walk us and faithful Christian scientists together, walk us through how to think about this, you know? And I’m thankful that my mom didn’t say, don’t even think about it, you know, don’t even just push it out of your mind. Because it gave me the permission to say, “okay, I don’t know. So let me come to some conclusions on my own.” I just wish I had a resource to help. So I am excited about the Integrate curriculum, because it’s doing what I was trying to do by myself on my own as a high schooler of putting the Bible and science back together.

Collins:

I thought your mother might say, “well, I’m evolved, but I’m not so sure about your father.” That was not the answer.

Vischer: 

No, it was not. Maybe that was the long pause, was her thinking about that answer first. Yeah, so I enjoyed, the more that I learned about it in, you know, because I grew up next to Wheaton College, I remember going to the Wheaton College Science Building to see their Mastodon. You know, they have the Perry Mastodon, the fossil of a full size Mastodon that was excavated by the Wheaton College geology department. And so I’m going to in college, I’m thinking this is conservative Christianity. They have a mastodon, what do they say about it? And right there on the plaque, it says it probably lived, you know, about 20,000 years ago. And I just remember as a high school kid going, wait a minute? I thought we were supposed to believe the earth wasn’t that old? You know, and my next thought was, well, when did Wheaton College go liberal and stop believing the earth was young? And then I dug into it and realized that they never went liberal, because they never taught that the earth was young. And that that was just in a segment of evangelicalism. It wasn’t the entirety of evangelicalism. So just that you know, just that revelation for kids. 100 years ago, the men who wrote the fundamentals did not believe the Earth was young. You know? Very few evangelical Christians that were fundamentalist believe the Earth was young 100 years ago. It’s actually a newer tradition. So once you start to learn more about history and the history even of evangelical thoughts, even fundamentalist thought, you realize, okay, this is not it’s not just been one way throughout church history.

Collins:

Yeah, that’s really well said, Phil. I always think back also to St. Augustine was kind of obsessed about Genesis and he wrote, I think, five different books trying to interpret what Genesis was all about. And very clearly comes to the conclusion that you can’t really interpret exactly what the intentions were as much as he was a scholar trying to figure this out, and says in very clear words, let no one attach themselves to one specific interpretation of what this meant about the details of creation, less that turned out to be proven false by scientific measurement, and then Christianity is made to look foolish. Well, here we are. We need not to make that mistake. Thank you, St. Augustine. People are caught up in the consequences of that and BioLogos aims to try to help, in a loving way, in a way that encourages civil discourse. There’s no mudslinging here, this is everybody’s opinion is really welcome. But let’s sift through it together and try to figure out what is the truth of it all. We need not be afraid that if we’re reading God’s word, and we’re reading about God’s works, which is nature, that they’re going to be in collision, they’re both God’s

Vischer:

True, right, right. I think it was Francis Bacon who said, if I’m reading nature, and I’m reading the Bible, and I see a conflict, I’m reading one of them wrong. 

Collins:

Correct. I like that, too. 

Vischer:

Yeah. And to have the humility to say, I might be reading the Bible wrong. Because we put so much stock in our traditions, the traditional reading in my section of Christianity is this, you know, but to say, first of all, there are more traditions in Christianity that might be reading that differently. But then to say, even if this has been traditional, for a long time, we might learn more. You know, the Bible says the Earth has four corners, you know, and at one point, people did try to argue the earth must be flat, can’t be a ball, because the Bible says it has four corners. When you then let the book of nature speak, and you realize, oh, no, it’s definitely a ball. It’s definitely a ball. You can have the humility to say, “I think I was reading that verse wrong.” And that was, you know, it was a figure of speech, it was just a saying, it was the way they viewed it at that time. And having that–there’s a humility there to say, even though I believe the Bible is inerrant, even though I believe the Bible is authoritative, the way I read it is neither . The way I read, it could both be wrong, and never has authority, because it’s me, I’m not the authority over the Bible, the Bible is the authority over me. So to allow God’s other works is other writings to illuminate, did God really mean that the earth is flat and has four corners? I don’t think so. Because God did something over here where he made a ball that I can now see. And that tells me I might be reading this wrong. Do you think humility is important for what you’re trying to do?

Collins:

Absolutely. Maybe people think that scientists are always really sure themselves and their conclusions or— 

Vischer:

You didn’t get to where you were, without being very sure of yourself, right?

Collins:

Well, sometimes, but sometimes not so much. Anybody who has been in science for a while will realize they’ve had hypotheses that they were very attached to. And unfortunately, the experiment got done. And their hypothesis fell totally apart. And you learn from that. And you say, “okay, let’s move on here to see what might be the substitute that’s actually going to bear up with experimental testing.” That’s the nature of the scientific process. It assumes, though, that there is something called objective truth that exists outside of my feelings and my hypothesis. And the goal is to try to understand what is that truth?

Vischer:

So in that sense, do you think science is like theology, in that there is truth? There, we’re not saying that everyone just comes to their own conclusion. And then your truth is your truth. There is truth, but it takes fumbling to get to it.

Collins:

Yes. And it requires humility. Because even when you think you’ve really got it figured out, something else comes along, you hadn’t anticipated and you have to revise. And that’s certainly true in science. And I think it’s true in terms of our interpretations of the Bible. But don’t you think God actually intended for us to explore God’s creation, explore nature to understand all those galaxies out there and how amazing the story is of how they came into being? And then to look in the micro level about how a cell with all of its elegant parts, does what it does. That just feels to me like, we’re going to the cathedral here.

Vischer:

I don’t know if he wanted us to go outside, would he have created the Xbox? Yeah, I definitely agree with you. And people, there have been Christians in the sciences, you know, there was a point in history where almost all science was done by pastors, because they were the only ones that were educated enough. And they were only the ones that had spare time. You know, everyone else was subsistence farming or working in a factory. And it was the pastors that were doing all this work and finding the glory of God, you know, in the work they were doing. And then we professionalized science. And we also kind of professionalize the pastorate and the two moved further and further apart. And then at one point, for some reason, we perceive they declared war on each other. So it would be nice to get more pastors interested in science, again, for more than just sermon illustrations, but actually, to improve your life.

Collins:

Indeed, and there’s another role that I think BioLogos is trying to play is providing to pastors the kind of information that might not have been accessible in seminary, that they’re going to need not just for a sermon, but when they’re dealing with a young person who’s struggling with their faith and trying to understand how some new observation and science doesn’t seem to fit with what they heard in Sunday school. Pastors need to be that empowered voice, to be able to help people find out that these are not conflicts that need threaten their faith, if you sort of step back, right? Whatever it was that you thought you had heard from somebody maybe wasn’t that well informed.

Vischer:

Why do you think we need more Christians in sciences? And why do we want to encourage Christian kids to pursue the sciences?

Collins:

This is probably the golden era of science, if you ask me just in terms of the way in which we are on an exponential phase of being able to discover things, whether it’s understanding more about the origins of the universe, or how the human brain works, or everything in between those scales. And a lot of the talent we need to make those discoveries are now young Christian people and we need them to come and join this adventure. And it’s going to be an amazing experience. So we don’t want to have them somehow screened out of this because of fear that the science might threaten them. But I also think it’s good to have Christians at the table as we are debating the ethical consequences of what we’re learning, whether it’s that we’re manipulating the genome, in a way, to do editing using things like CRISPR, or whether we’re trying to understand exactly what is the significance of learning the brain functions that are involved in spiritual experience. You want to have that perspective, as part of the discussion, I actually think most of the time, ethical perspectives of Christians and non Christians are not drastically different. But there is something about the way in which we, as Christians, see humans as in God’s image, in a special sort of way that is divinely inspired that’s a little different than perhaps some of the other people around the table who don’t have that perspective.

Vischer:

And there are people that are trying to bring the dignity of human life into the conversation, even if they’re not believers, they’re borrowing from a Christian tradition of ethics. So I don’t want to see the Christian tradition of ethics separated too far from actual Christians, or where it came from. So can we actually be at the table? Do you think that Christian kids, you know, who want to go to MIT or who want to go to Harvard? Should they feel like they’ll be accepted? Or will they be asked to check their faith at the door before you come into these august institutions?

Collins:

I think generally, there’s a willingness to accept or at least tolerate people who are professing a belief in those august institutions. They may not always feel like that’s a perspective that is being embraced and welcomed. But I don’t think very often you really getting a sense that you’re being put down, you’re like, oh, well, that’s interesting. And sort of like, you are a follower of Jesus. Well, you know, I’m a follower of the NBA. And let’s talk about that instead. And there’s certainly people who will be very uncomfortable with that. But they are also missionaries, coming into those environments where there are lots of people searching and don’t know exactly who to talk to who might actually have some answers.

Vischer:

Right. It’s funny sometimes that we feel comfortable sending our kids to a Muslim country as a missionary, but not to Harvard as a student, you know, because they’ll face too much opposition there. So it’s, I do think we need to encourage Christian kids to stay engaged. Otherwise, you almost end up with a self fulfilling prophecy of the well science is an atheistic pursuit. Well, yeah, if all the Christians abandon it. It will become so. But there’s no need for that outcome.

Collins:

And it will be particularly powerful. I think that Christian student who’s talking openly about their faith is also a really good scientist. I guess that’s the surprise. Another Deb Haarsma who’s studying astrophysics at MIT, in the current generation will get people’s attention like, well, wait a minute, that person is clearly really rigorous about how they’re investigating the natural world. And yet they say, I believe in God, what is that about? Maybe I ought to ask a question about that and see what the answer is.

Vischer:

Yeah, the more visible Christians we have in the sciences, the more Christian kids will pursue the sciences, and the more visible Christians will have in the sciences. So we really want to prime the pump of you know, it’s okay. You’ve loved biology. Let’s pursue this, but pursue it with your biology book in one hand and the Bible on the other hand, and a guide to help you find, you know, figure out how to integrate those two, by a curriculum called Integrate from BioLogos! That would help. Are you working on that?

Collins:

Well, hallelujah, this does not exist. I for the last 12 years, I’ve been dreaming that there would be something that homeschoolers, parents who are trying to give their kids a good education, or Christian High Schools can give kids so that they’re really prepared for what we know about science and about nature. And they don’t end up being set up for a crisis that first day in the biology class as a freshman at the University of whatever. And now that exists. Integrate is there but in a way that completely focuses on how this has to be consistent with Christ-centered scripture. And it’s possible to do that in an elegant, awesome, inspiring, wonderful way that I think now kids through integrate will have a chance to learn about

Vischer:

Right. Dr. Collins, this has been really helpful, and really fun. It’s good to get to know you. And I just love the work that you’ve done, both for academia, for the country, and for the church.

Collins:

Phil, it’s been great to chat with you. It’s been a very interesting and entertaining conversation. And I really appreciate what you’ve done to encourage young people through VeggieTales and now by championing the importance here of getting science and faith together in their lives as the Integrated curriculum aims to do, So thank you. 

Vischer:

You’re welcome. 

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Institute and by individual donors who contribute to BioLogos. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Nate Mulder is our assistant producer. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. 

BioLogos offices are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Grand River watershed. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum or visit our website, biologos.org, where you  will find articles, videos and other resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Featured guests

BioLogos - Francis Collins

Francis Collins

Francis Collins is one of the world's leading scientists and geneticists, and the founder of BioLogos, where he is now a Senior Fellow. In his early scientific career, he discovered the gene for cystic fibrosis. Then he led an international collaboration that first mapped the entire human genome. For that work he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. In 2008 he was appointed to his current role as Director of the National Institutes of Health, where he has been overseeing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2006, Collins wrote the best-selling book The Language of God. It tells the story of his journey from atheism to Christian belief, showing that science actually enhances faith. The tremendous response to the book prompted Collins to found BioLogos. He envisioned it as a forum to discuss issues at the intersection of faith and science and to celebrate the harmony found there. His reputation quickly attracted a large network of faith leaders, including Tim Keller, Philip Yancey, and NT Wright. These and others joined the BioLogos conversation and affirmed the value of engaging science as believers. BioLogos is now an organization that reaches millions around the world. In celebration of his world-class scientific accomplishments and deep Christian faith, Collins was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2020. It honors individuals who are "harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” He joined a prestigious group of previous winners, including Mother Teresa, Francis Ayala, Charles Townes, Desmond Tutu, and Billy Graham.
Phil Vischer

Phil Vischer

Phil Vischer is the co-host of Holy Post Podcast and was a co-creator of the animated children's series, Veggie Tales. He is the voice of Veggie Tales' Bob the Tomato and many other characters from the show. Phil lives in the Chicago area with his wife Lisa.

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