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Featuring guests Francis Collins and Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall and Francis Collins | Being Human

Jane Goodall joins Francis Collins and our host Jim to talk about her life’s work, the importance of hope in conservation, and the spiritual side of human existence.


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Jane Goodall joins Francis Collins and our host Jim to talk about her life’s work, the importance of hope in conservation, and the spiritual side of human existence.

Description

Jane Goodall’s name has become almost synonymous with the study of and care for chimpanzees over the course of her work which now spans 6 decades. Jane is also this year’s winner of the Templeton Prize, an honor she shares with people like Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, and Francis Collins. She is also the founder of several initiatives, TACARE and Roots & Shoots, aimed at helping developing communities and young people build sustainable communities in 68 countries. Jane joins Francis and our host Jim to talk about her life’s work, the importance of hope in conservation, and the spiritual side of human existence. Jane and Francis may use different language to speak about their spirituality, but throughout their friendship they have found they share a lot of views about the greater significance of all life on earth and their roles in protecting and promoting the flourishing of that life.

  • Originally aired on July 15, 2021
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Transcript

Goodall: 

And so there we are, this most intellectual creature. And the bizarre thing is, how is it possible for such an intellectual creature to be destroying its only home and it seems there’s been a disconnect between this clever head and the human heart where we poetically seat love and compassion. And I believe, and I’m pretty sure you do too, Francis, that only when the head and the heart work in harmony, can we attain our true human potential.

Collins: 

Back to the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.” We don’t have a lot of meekness going on, in terms of what’s happening to our planet. Billy Graham, a former Templeton Prize winner, was actually quite outspoken about this in terms of our need for stewardship in caring for creation, and referred regularly to Psalm 24, which ought to be on our lips, whenever we’re talking about this, “the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” This is God’s gift to us. And God has handed to us the responsibility to be caring for that gift.

Goodall: 

I’m Jane Goodall, and I have a degree in ethology. So I’m an ethologist, but also a conservationist and environmentalist. And I think my main job right now in grim times is to give people hope. 

Collins:

I’m Francis Collins, I’m the director of the National Institutes of Health. I’m a physician, a scientist, a believer in God and the founder of BioLogos.

Stump:

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump. 

Our regular listeners will know that Francis Collins is the founder of BioLogos, leader of the Human Genome Project, and the current director of the NIH. We talk to him about as often as his schedule allows. But we only found out fairly recently that he’s friends with Jane Goodall. We hear in this episode how that came about, and even a bit of the tension that still exists between people developing vaccines and defenders of animal welfare.

Jane Goodall, of course, is a pioneer in the study of chimpanzees from her time in Tanzania. That led to conservation work more generally, and the founding of the Jane Goodall Institute over 40 years ago. It aims to inspire people to conserve the natural world, thereby improving the lives of people, animals, and the environment. 

Having these two on the podcast together is pretty special, given that they are the two most recent recipients of the Templeton Prize, which honors scientific and spiritual curiosity. Francis speaks often about his commitment to Christianity. Jane, too, is steeped in the Christian tradition and a profoundly spiritual person. But I think it’s fair to say that she doesn’t always use the same words to describe her experience as many of us do. In these days of social media echo chambers, we think it’s really important to hear from people outside our immediate communities, and her core message ought to resonate with us — the natural world is not there for us to consume as we will; as she reminds us, our own Scriptures charge us to be stewards of creation, not consumers.

I hope you have as much fun listening to this episode as we had making it.

Let’s get to the conversation.

Interview Part One

Stump:

We are very pleased and so honored to have the two most recent Templeton award winners here together, I wonder if this has ever happened. You’re part of a club that includes Mother Teresa and Billy Graham and Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. What has this been like for the two of you, Francis over the last year and a half or so, but Jane very recently, as this has been announced?

Collins:

Well, I must say, from my perspective, it was a complete surprise. And the opportunity to be able to go through the many different plans that the Templeton Foundation likes to include with the announcement of the prize was somewhat inhibited, because of COVID-19, including the ultimate ceremony where I had the chance to give my Templeton Prize lecture to an almost entirely empty auditorium. But it was required by the nature of things. But it was a chance perhaps, to spread a bit of the word that the Templeton Foundation aims to stand for, that there is a spiritual side to human existence, that is not incompatible with science. And to be able to articulate that and talk about it in a personal way, was a wonderful gift that I got to experience last year.

Stump:

Jane, do you know yet if you’ll be able to have an in person ceremony for your prize?

Goodall:

I’m actually not sure. But I’m so used to giving talks to nothing by now. I think Francis, when you were doing your talk, it was sort of more or less towards the beginning of the pandemic. But I’ve had to learn to give lectures, instead of getting feedback from an audience, just looking at that little camera spot on top of the laptop, and trying to get the same enthusiasm into the talk. But that’s what you have to do. Anyway, I don’t think, Francis, that you should have been at all surprised that you were selected. Because I mean, everything that you’ve done, on the one hand, unravel the human genome, and on the other hand, you’ve written a book called The Language of God. So clearly, you bring the two together. I was very surprised that it was me. Except that really, ever since I got my PhD, I’ve been pushing to help people understand that the spiritual side of human existence is as important as the scientific side. And I have never seen a conflict between religion and science. I was brought up that way. My grandfather was a congregational minister. And congregationalists are very open to this sort of thing. And… Nor did he see a conflict between religion and science.

Collins:

And Jane, you surprised me in my opportunity for that reception of the prize by sending a video to contribute to this which I hadn’t quite expected. So I hope I will have the chance to return the favor when your moment of the actual ceremony arrives.

Stump:

Francis, last year, when several of us from the BioLogos office were watching your prize ceremony, we saw that message that Jane had recorded and sent to you for the occasion. And we looked at each other and said, Francis knows Jane Goodall? Why didn’t we ever know that? And then a few weeks ago, on the Stephen Colbert show, we saw this photograph of Jane sitting on the back of your motorcycle. How did the two of you come to know each other?

Collins:

Oh, yes, that is a story. Well, I think I first, I admired Jane from a distance. But I first met her in person at a typical Washington, DC dinner in some hotel, where a group of people had been brought together of different perspectives. And the guest of honor was Jane Goodall. And I went up to say, hello. And we immediately engaged in a very serious conversation about science, and particularly about whether, in fact, science was following appropriate responsibilities in terms of caring for animals, and particularly, chimpanzees. Obviously, an area that Jane has led the entire world in understanding those very, very special creatures, and the important responsibility that we have with regard to our closest relatives, to treat them with respect, and benevolence. And she kind of pointed out to me as the NIH Director, that we were not doing our job in that regard. And I was surprised because I wasn’t that well informed about exactly the nature of our chimpanzee research programs. And somebody along the way had assured me oh, yeah, it’s fine. And she convinced me that this deserved a much closer look. And we then became allies on the course of this topic, and others about how it is part of our responsibility as humans, particularly to care for other living things. And it led to my putting together a request to the National Academy of Sciences, to look at what we had been doing with regard to invasive research on chimpanzees, and whether it was still justified. And ultimately, when their report came forward, they said, it really isn’t. And we should retire all these chimpanzees that have been in research laboratories, to a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their days. Jane was a powerful influence in getting us to that point, and along the way, we just became very good friends. And that’s been a wonderful gift, the kind of friend who, if she’s in town, lets me know, and we have tea together and play some music. And that’s just something I never quite imagined would be part of my experience as the NIH Director.

Goodall:

Well, I remember that evening really well, Francis. And if I remember correctly, you had not been long, the head of NIH, you were fairly new. And we sat next to each other at dinner. And of course, I’ve been fighting this battle with NIH for years. I mean, starting in 1987, going into the labs looking at the way chimps were treated. So of course, there I am next to the new director. And so of course, I started talking with you. You said, but Jane, I don’t know about chimps, I’m a geneticist. So I made sure that you knew about chimps by the end of dinner. And for me, it was like some kind of miracle, after all those years of trying to make change, and getting small changes, like making the cages two foot bigger. What’s the point of that? I mean those cages were five foot by five, for our closest living relatives, and you being a geneticist, know the significance of sharing 98.6% of the composition of our DNA. And so, the fact that you sort of almost immediately agreed to do this investigation from the standpoint of NIH, it was literally like magic. I mean, you were like an angel coming into my prayers. 

Stump: 

Jane, what’s your relationship with Francis been like since then, what are the kinds of things you talk about when you come to tea?

Goodall:

Oh, we talked about a lot of things. We talked about the NIH responsibility to their various primates, I’ve mentioned one or two other situations, which Francis has always looked at. Some of them are very awkward, but I think in the end will be resolved. And we’ve also had fun. And one evening, I remember really well, Francis, in your lovely house with your lovely wife. And we invited the people who are working with the chimpanzees in those early days. And when I was having these huge battles with NIH, and it was absolutely amazing to hear what they were saying. And it was agreed that once they were no longer working with NIH, we try and put a book together to show the history of a movement that’s ended up so well.

Collins:  

I remember that evening also, Jane as one of the more special experiences of my life. Having all of those hard working people, most of them behind the scenes, who came to this completely convinced of their opportunity, maybe their moral responsibility to try to help even against resistance from various quarters. And each of them telling the story of the role that they had played that ultimately led to this decision to cease invasive research on chimpanzees and retire them to sanctuary. And they all got their pictures taken with you. And I know, there are a lot of walls of home offices that are decorated with those photos today. Mine is one of them.

Goodall:

We’ve had a lot since then. But anyway, you know, I mean, I think the point is that it takes courage to do something like retiring the NIH chimps. And I know, you told me that some people you thought were friends, were not too happy with what you’d done. But you did it anyway. And I think we’ll never make change in not just animal research, but in so many of the things we’re doing wrong. And sometimes it does take courage. But what shocked me the most in those early days, when I first went into a lab, and I was absolutely shattered, I was completely, you know, I knew it was going to be ghastly. But I wasn’t prepared for the way I would feel. And I came out, and I didn’t realize it, but all the top guns of NIH at the time, was sitting in a room around a table and I sat down there. And they all looked at me and I go crikey, they want me to say something. But I’m all emotional, what am I going to say? So sometimes things come to you. I open up and they come from up there. And so I said, Well, I am quite sure you’re all caring and compassionate people. So you all feel rather as I do about the conditions in there. And it was silent, what could they say? Oh, no, I’m not caring and compassionate, I don’t care. But what shocked me, and we had a good conversation, and I did not attack them at all. I simply told them stories about the Gombe chimps, rather like I did to you, Francis. But what shocked me is after that meeting, a lot of animal rights people who I considered my friends wouldn’t speak to me anymore. Some of them never have. Because how can you sit down with those evil people? And I said, well, one, if you don’t talk to people, how can you ever expect them to change? And two, let’s give people the benefit of the doubt. Some people actually are ignorant; they don’t understand. Like, well, [inaudible], when I talked to him, you know, he was the AIDS guru at the time, wanting lots of chimps to experiment to develop vaccines. And he said, but Jane, I don’t know anything about the chimps. I don’t see them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chimp. I just ask for a blood or a serum sample. So I said, well, if I give you Shadow of Man, will you read it? And he said yes. And he did. And then he helped me.

Collins:

See, Jane, You are such an example of what we when we’re facing conflict ought to try to do which is to listen to each other. Try not to go in with all sorts of attacks and verbal abuse of each other. And instead try to understand and to be recognizing that everybody has a history that they brought to that table. That takes such courage and such a willingness to be a negotiator and not somebody who demands an outcome right now. We’ve not seen a lot of those skills in more recent times in a lot of areas of human conflict, and you have been such a model of how that is the process, which is both honorable, it’s benevolent, it cares for other people, and it gets the work done. Because people ultimately come around to thinking, yeah, you know, Jane’s right. I want to be on the right side of this. But they won’t be that way. If they start out feeling challenged, embattled, criticized, demonized, which is all too often what happens in these conversations. You never do that.

Goodall:

Well, I think I owe a lot to my amazing mother, she was such a force for good when I was growing up. And she always used to say to me, if you meet somebody you disagree with number one, listen to them. Because you then perhaps understand why they feel the way they do. And maybe they’ve got some points you’ve hadn’t thought of. But if you still feel that you’re righter than they are then you’ve got to have the courage of your conviction. But don’t assume they’re bad people. And so, you know, she really gave me that, that way of thinking because you know, people have to change from within. It’s no good battling with this head up here. It’s led to an awful lot of things you need to reach the heart, and reaching out I do with telling stories. And at the time, you may not know that you’ve made change. It may happen afterwards. For some people, especially me being a woman, you know, especially in those days, an unknown woman, and they’re not going to tell people that, oh, Jane made me change my mind. They’re not going to do that. So maybe they don’t mention you at all. But if they change, what does it matter?

Stump:

Well, I’d like to come back to this topic of our responsibility and how we might be able to affect change. But first, let’s rewind the clock a little bit and get the two of you perhaps telling some stories, some stories from your scientific career even. I think it’s fair to say that the state of knowledge in each of your respective fields has grown really incredibly over the course of your careers. And perhaps we could get each of you to reflect just a bit on that. Jane, maybe you can start — what was known about chimpanzee behavior in their natural habitat before you left for Tanzania? And what are a few highlights of what we know now in that regard?

Goodall:

Well, when I started out in 1960, nothing, nothing was known. Nobody had studied them. One man tried and this is such a funny story, because he, for some reason, he felt that the chimps might be less afraid of him if he covered himself with baboon dung, naked, but he was scared of them as they are much stronger than us. So he sat in a cage by a fruiting tree naked, covered in baboon dung. Well he didn’t see one single chimp. They took one sniff and fled, it was the most ridiculous thing. But anyway, there had been one expedition that this man went through the forest with 17 porters. He saw chimps once in three months. And then the war came, so the budding research stopped, and I came in after the war. And I had no protocol to study, but I just did what I did as a child here in Bournemouth, because Francis, I’m talking from the house I grew up in, in the south of England, when I was out in the garden, watching animals and birds, squirrels and everything. And feeling that, I always felt that, unless you get the animal to trust you, then you will never really learn much about it. So I did the same with the chimps, I sat and waited, wore the same colored clothes every day. And gradually, they came to accept me. And some of the highlights. Well, of course, that first amazing example of the chimpanzee who first began to use his, this is David Greybeard, and I saw him picking grass stems, and pushing them into a termite mound and picking off the termites and then picking a leafy twig and use that as a tool he had to strip the leaves. So at that time, Western science believed that humans and only humans used and made tools. We were defined as man, the tool maker. And so it was that observation that enabled Leakey, my mentor, well, he never came to Gambia, he never told me how to do it. But he got the money for me. And he was able to go to the National Geographic Society, and they agreed to provide funding, because initially I only had funding for six months. And they sent a filmmaker photographer. So when I first started talking about the things I was observing how like us the chimps are kissing, embracing, holding hands, petting one another. The long term bonds between mothers and offspring, and older members of the family, the males competing for dominance, swaggering, standing upright, lips bunched in a furious scowl, hair bristling, just like some human male politician is exactly the same. You know, finding out that they have emotions the same as ours, they can be compassionate and altruistic. But they can also be brutal and violent and aggressive. So like us, they have a dark side. But they also have the other side. And I’ll come back to that later how that helps us to define who we are. But since then, we’ve been able to study four generations. It takes a while because they don’t have their first baby until they are 13, and then it’s a five year birth interval and lots of babies die. So we’re, you know, beginning to get this idea, long term understanding of how the personality of the mother makes a difference, how the environment can make a difference, and events in their childhood can make a difference. And you can’t do that unless it’s a long term study. So we’re still learning basically.

Stump:

Francis, let me have you share a little bit and then we’ll try to draw some connections between these. Obviously, the mapping of both human and chimpanzee genomes has occurred during your career, anything that turned out to be surprising about that, or other than you had expected?

Collins:

Well, everything was surprising, really, and the opportunity to be able, through the advances in technology to read out those 3 billion letters of the human genome and the chimp genome, and now dozens of genomes of other species has taught us so much about this incredible tapestry of life that’s been just growing in remarkable complexity and wonder on this planet for about 4 billion years. And if anyone doubted that relationship, on the basis of the fossil record, although it’s pretty darn compelling there too, the DNA digital record made that even more clear and more wondrous. And we could say quite definitively by studying those DNA inscriptions written into each of our cells, that we are, in fact, all tied together as one family of different creatures. And if you wanted just one more reason to consider as really important and worthy of care, all those other creatures, well, there’s that relationship for you right in front of you. It certainly was also, because I’m a doctor, the opportunity to begin to utilize that information to try to find answers to suffering and be sure that we’re using our responsibilities in that regard in a way that cares for the most vulnerable, which includes people and also includes animals. And that’s been a big part of what I’ve tried to do now in almost 12 years as the NIH Director. And especially in the last year and a half faced with the worst pandemic in 103 years, trying to bring all of the science that we could to bear on this terrible challenge, including developing vaccines in just a mere 11 months, something that normally would have taken five or ten times longer than that. For which I am incredibly grateful to a scientific community that dropped everything to try to see what they could do to save lives, and we’ve lost way too many lives. And it’s not over yet, we still have work to do.

Goodall:

And Francis, I hope you’re also grateful to the thousands of poor monkeys who’ve been kept in horrid conditions to test these vaccines on. Because, you know, this pandemic really, I mean, it’s our fault. We brought it on ourselves by our disrespect of the natural world, and our disrespect of animals. We move into their environment, we drive them closer to people, we enable the pathogens to jump from animal to animal and animal to person. We hunt them, kill them, eat them, traffic them into wildlife markets to sell them as food and medicine, as exotic pets around the world. And these so-called zoonotic diseases about which you know, far more than I do. But they’ve, they trace back HIV to different chimpanzee populations in Central Africa, MERS to domestic camels in Saudi Arabia, SARS a wildlife market in China, like, presumably COVID-19. And so, you know, we bought this on ourselves. And it’s ironic that our mistreatment of animals led to a pandemic, which we’re curing by mistreatment of animals. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying it’s ironic. And if we could just get people to care for the animals, and give them a little bit more in the labs, not confine them in single cages. A lot of them caught from the wild in China, and what must it be like? Like taking a human child away, putting them in a cage, really.

Collins:

Well, Jane, you make that point, with great clarity and a very compelling case, indeed, it has been necessary in order to get these vaccines to the point where they can save, we hope, maybe millions of lives, to go through those steps of making sure that they’re going to be effective. And most of that has involved smaller animals, like mice, but in some instances, also monkeys. And I agree with you, we have a special responsibility in those circumstances, to care for those animals in a fashion that respects them. That is part of what NIH aims to do. I wouldn’t say we’re perfect at it, but I think we are working harder at that than perhaps in the past, as people like you have raised our sensitivities, to our responsibilities here to think of these as sentient beings who suffer, and who can go through a great distress from the conditions under which they are kept.

Goodall:

I’m told that in the wildlife markets in China, where the animals are in these tiny cages very, very stressed, that the stress somehow makes it easier for the virus to spill over into a human I have no idea if that’s true, but a lot of people are saying it. But anyway, whether it’s true or not, you know, there’s not much we can do about the way monkeys are treated in China. 

Collins:

And you’re certainly absolutely right that whether it’s HIV or Ebola, whether it’s SARS, or MERS, or now SARS-CoV-2, these are all examples of viruses that spilled over from other animal species, whether they were bats or civet cats, or in Ebola we don’t even know what the intermediate host was. And that comes about because of our increasing, moving in on habitats that normally were not ones where humans were allowed to be, and we go there at risk and encounter new pathogens as a result. And I’m afraid I don’t see that changing in most places, anytime soon. This is not the last pandemic I fear that we will have to deal with as a result of that kind of spillover of pathogens from other species to humans. 

Goodall:

I know.

Stump:

Let me use that topic itself to transition to talking a bit about human identity here. The Templeton Prize is awarded to people who bring their scientific experience to bear on what they call some of the deeper questions. And I think one of those questions might be what does it mean to be human? And I’d like to introduce this question by noting that I think there are twin dangers, or at least extremes in answering that position. Some might say, on the one side, that humans are so special, and the only thing that matters, so everything else can be used up as we wish, right? This is the concern that Jane you’ve just been noting with regard to testing of medicines and so on. And on the other hand, some people might say there is no significant difference between humans and other animals. I think both of you steer a middle course between these but maybe in slightly different ways or have slightly different emphasis in how you understand what it means to be human with respect to the other creatures, particularly our closest cousins, the chimpanzees. Could each of you speak to that a little bit? What does it mean to be human, particularly with regard to whether we’re the same or whether we’re different from all of these other creatures? Jane, could you go first?

Goodall: 

Well, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things that struck me when I began studying chimpanzees, and which has only grown since, is how amazingly like us they are, in so many ways, and I’m not talking about the genetic similarity, but a lot of their behavior. And just because they are our closest genetic relatives alive today gives you a chance to stand back and say, yes, but we are different. Chimpanzees are amazingly intelligent, much more than people gave them credit for, in the old days as are other animals too. But our intellect is of a different order. I mean, we designed a rocket that went up to Mars and a little robot creeping around for the scientists on earth to see, people who somehow worked out the mysteries of the cosmos. And so it’s this explosive development of our intellect, which I think I feel certain that one of the main triggers was the fact that at some point in our history, we developed a spoken language so that we could talk with words so that, for the first time, we could teach our children about things that weren’t actually there. That we could make plans for the distant future, not the immediate future, chimps can do that. But plans for 2, 3, 4 years ahead, we could talk about the ancient past and try and learn from it. But even most important, we can bring people together from different disciplines, different walks of life, different countries, to discuss a problem, and hope to find solutions. So that, I think, has pushed us into this intellectual superiority. But it’s, you know, it’s also, it’s also mixed up all these things. Like, if you take Genesis, and right at the beginning, where it says that God is creating the world, and giving man dominion over the birds and the animals and the fish and so on. But the correct translation, I’m told by my Jewish friends, of that word, that Hebrew word, is not  dominion, it’s stewardship. And that’s very, very different. And again, going, thinking about this interplay of science and religion. If you look at Genesis as a story, it basically is the story of evolution, go through the different creatures and the order that they are presented in, in this beautiful story, in Genesis, it’s a wonderful story. And so there we are, this most intellectual creature. And the bizarre thing is, how is it possible for such an intellectual creature to be destroying its only home? And it seems there’s been a disconnect between this clever head and the human heart where we poetically seat love and compassion. And I believe, and I’m pretty sure you do too Francis, that only when the head and the heart work in harmony, can we attain our true human potential.

Collins:

Well said. I completely agree with your synthesis that language was such an important part of what became possible for humanity. But I am curious, Jane, what you would say… I, I gave a talk about what it means to be human at a science and faith symposium at Johns Hopkins, about 15 years ago, and I was really kind of trying to struggle about okay, what really, can I point to that I would say is uniquely human and language was the first item on my list. And another item I put down, but you may challenge it from your close observation of chimpanzees, is the ability to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. Is that something that you have seen in a chimp?

Goodall:

Well, I’ve got as far as chimpanzees having imagination, but imagining you’re somebody else, I don’t see how you could, how you could show that. I mean, what I love… You know, I was told, when I finally went to Cambridge to get a PhD, I was told that I shouldn’t talk about chimps having personalities, minds or emotions, because those are unique to us. But I’d been taught by my dog that that wasn’t true. And I was told that anecdotes were absolutely a no, no in the scientific world. Anecdotes, it’s a scientific observation, and you see it once or twice. So you can’t, you can’t quantify therefore, it’s not scientific. But a collection of anecdotes begins to tell you about other minds. And I don’t know if I told you this story, Francis, but some captive chimps love to draw. And the ones who’ve learned ASL, American Sign Language, they’ll sometimes tell you what they’ve drawn if you ask them. So this young female, she was filling up a page, she loved painting. And on this occasion, she just went like this a zigzag and handed it to the teacher. So the teacher looked at it, handed it back and said, Could you finish this? So the chimp looked at her picture and signed “finished” and handed it back. So finally, the teacher said, What is it? And she said, it’s a ball. So what has she done, she’s drawn the bounce of a ball. And that just gives you an insight into other minds working not like ours, I don’t know that anybody’s drawn a bounce of the ball. And you know, some of the wonderful stories that show chimps do have an imagination, and they can imagine something that isn’t actually there.

Collins:

That’s fascinating, you have not told me that story. Well, other things that I have, I guess, put on my list, certainly the sense of right and wrong, but you will quickly say chimpanzees have altruism, they don’t always act on it either. Just like we humans are not quite there. But what about the search for God, which seems to be universal to all human cultures that we have knowledge of which is a lot, which you and I have experienced as these moments of spiritual longing. You write about it in your wonderful book Reason for Hope about the experience you had in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, walking into this church and hearing the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor playing and feeling lifted outside of what was happening, and you write about, a particularly I thought, evocative description 40 years ago, in Gombe, after a storm, where the clouds have moved off, and the chimps are around you. And something just seems to transport you into a place of intense spiritual… It’s sort of both wonderful, satisfying, but also a longing — what CS Lewis would call joy, at least that’s the term I’ve often been attracted to. And that does seem like we were somehow made for the ads. And that’s one of those reasons, I think, calling us not just materialistic creatures, but spiritual creatures, is merited because we seem to have this built into us somehow. Do chimpanzees show signs of that? Of those kinds of moments of spiritual ecstasy, or is that uniquely human?

Goodall:

Well, again, it ties into language, I think, because when we get these moments, we can talk about them. And the closest that chimps, I don’t know if this actually really ties in with this. But there’s this amazing waterfall in Gombe where the water drops 80 feet. And over the millions of years, it’s worn a deep channel in the rock. So it’s only a small narrow waterfall, but it’s carved this channel and as it drops down 80 feet, it displaces the air so there’s always a breeze and the vines are moving in the breeze and the sound of thunder of the water landing on the graveley stream bed. And very often as the chimps approach their hair rises, which is a sign of excitement. And then they’ll come up near the foot of the waterfall, and the water is shallow, so normally they avoid it. But now they’ll actually stand upright in the stream and pick up the rocks and hold them and sway from foot to foot. And then they may climb up the vines and push out in the spray. And if you’re in a good position at the end, sometimes you see one sitting on a rock and you see his eyes looking up to where the water’s coming and following it, and following it, what is the stuff that’s always coming, always going, but always here. And those feelings are trapped within that individual, so they can inspire each other to have the same display, but they can’t talk about what it might mean. They could talk about it, wouldn’t that lead perhaps to one of those early animistic religions, the worship of the sun, and the moon and things that those early humans didn’t understand. But you know, whether we can relate that to spiritual experience in Notre Dame, I don’t know.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hey Language of God listeners. If you enjoy the conversations you hear on the podcast, we just wanted to let you know about our website, biologos.org, which has articles, videos, book reviews, and other resources for pastors, students, and educators. We also have an active online forum. We discuss each podcast episode, but it goes far beyond that, with lots of open discussions on all kinds of topics related to science and faith. Find it all at biologos.org.

Interview Part Two

Stump:

You’ve talked about morality a couple of times. And I wonder if we could probe that a little deeper. So we have these other instances where we thought humans were the only ones to use tools, we thought humans were the only ones to use language. And maybe in some sense, there are precursors there that we see in chimps, cooperation and altruism, but speak a little bit more about morality if you could. Can you give us some examples of behaviors in chimps that at least come very close to looking like these behaviors were morally good or morally evil?

Goodall:

Well, the closest I can come really is, if two females are squabbling, the alpha male may display up and separate them. And very often, an alpha male will intervene on behalf of a youngster. And in a protective mode. And there was one occasion when two youngsters, a male and a female, they were on their own, and they were squabbling over a banana and screaming, the female was being beaten up and screaming, and they peacefully settled down to eat the bananas. And then suddenly, the female began screaming and hitting the male who’s older than her. Why on earth is she doing this? And then she had a male protector, and he was coming down the path. And so she’d seen him coming. So now for protectors coming now she can get her own back, and the protector, called Huxley. He stands looking, and then he charges up and hits both of them shut up.

Stump:

You’ve given other examples too, where perhaps a chimp will adopt a baby who has lost its parents. And that seems very difficult to explain on purely evolutionary survival of the fittest grounds, doesn’t it? Do you read something more into that in the sense of them doing something selfless?

Goodall:

Yes, I get fed up with all these people who say that everything has some kind of biological significance. And there’s definitely a feeling of empathy and compassion in the chimpanzees. Why else would an adolescent male of 12, who is normally afraid of the big males because they use him as a scapegoat very often. But this is a motherless infant, had no older brother or sister to care for him. And he began following around this 12 year old. Interestingly, the 12 year old lost his mother in the same epidemic. And maybe there was some special feeling but anyway, he adopted this little one, he let him ride on his back, shared food with him when the infant begged, and threw him into his nest at night. And even would risk being buffeted himself. And often he was, if the little one got too close to the big males when they were displaying with each other. And sometimes they seem to see red, they’ll drag him in. So it’s a grand display and Spindle would run in to rescue him. So this, you know, this is not anything that benefited him in any way. In fact, it exposed him to being hurt by these big males.

Stump:

Francis, in your own story of coming to faith, you talk very eloquently about the moral law sometimes. Do these examples of what maybe we can only call proto-morality, but some inkling of morality, as Jane describes here in chimps. Does that undermine at all your argument with regard to the moral law? Does it show how morality really may have developed in a natural sense and that we don’t need to appeal to God for something like the law that’s written on our hearts or our conscience or do you have other ways of explaining that now?

Collins:

Oh, I think it absolutely strengthens the sense that this is part of God’s plan worked out through the mechanism of evolution with this remarkable proliferation of wondrously complex creatures. If we humans were intended to be particularly sensitive to the idea of good and evil, and that we are called to do what is good and holy, and to stay away from what is evil, it would make sense that that has to be in some biological way provided with pathways in our consciousness to make that possible. And for that to happen in a gradual sense, with our closest relatives being the closest example of the stirrings of those same impulses, just to me makes total sense. But I do think we still have to say, hang on here. Let’s not say, therefore, that the moral law can be completely explained on the basis of purely materialistic naturalistic pathways, because it still leaves you wondering, is there really some substance to the concept of good and evil? Are these simply wired into creatures because of survival areas? Is this because of kin selection, maybe even group selection? Even the most hard bitten atheist has a very hard time saying that good and evil are simply concepts that we’ve been hoodwinked about, and they don’t really matter. They do. And, again, if you’re looking for a question that is really hard to answer without God, for me, it’s what’s the basis of good and evil? Why do those things matter so much? And where did the standard come from that is written in our hearts that we are supposed to track this particular set of concepts and adjust our behavior, even though we regularly fail to do so. Then what do we do? We make excuses: well, it wasn’t really my fault. Which just means we believe in the law, after all, even though we know we break it. So I think this is a fascinating part of our whole discussion about how science and faith meet together. And I think science is not fully capable of answering the question, what is the nature of good and evil? We can’t quite get there. That’s where faith has to come in.

Goodall:

I think there are a lot of questions that science can’t answer. And I get very irritated when the atheists say, well, you know, we know how the universe began, it began with the Big Bang. Well, okay, yes. I’m sure it did begin with the Big Bang, it created all this and created the stars and the planets and everything. But what was before the Big Bang? You can’t just have nothing, at least our finite minds can’t comprehend nothing. Just as we can’t comprehend a time before time, or an ending of time, or an ending of space. I mean, we’ll never comprehend that, even though we’re pretty amazing. I think some people have tried, but it’s so complicated that I can’t begin to understand it and I’m not sure anybody could. But you know, I mean, all this research that’s being done, and some of it is quite remarkable, about life after death. And I was just talking to somebody just two days ago, who was attacked viciously by a Congolese rebel. And he got to the hospital, and he died in the operation, was definitely dead. And when he came back to life, as they pumped his heart. And he could describe things he could not possibly have seen. He was in a hospital where he’d never been before. But he could describe the room, what it was like, outside which he arrived unconscious. So there’s something exciting. When people asked me in a lecture, it was asked the other day, what’s your next great adventure? And I said, I thought for a bit. Well, dying, so it was kind of a few chatters. And I said, Well, when you die either nothing in which case, fine, or something. And if there’s something which I happen to believe, I cannot think of anything more exciting than finding out what that something is.

Collins:

Wonderfully said. I’m excited about that one too. And yes, the greatest adventure still lies ahead for anybody listening to this as well. And you’ve said it very, very well. And yes, one does hear many of these descriptions of those experiences. And they are, of course, written off by those who really don’t want to accept anything that couldn’t be explained by the firing of a few neurons and neurotransmitters, but some of the experiences really defy explanation. And certainly for those of us who are believers, who do think that what we see around us is just a glimpse of all of the other aspects of experience during life and afterlife. It’s very tempting to draw conclusions from what might be out there. And of course, the Bible gives us other perspectives about that as well, which I read every morning and try to understand.

Stump:

I sometimes wonder if we’re rather like your chimps looking at the waterfall, Jane, with regard to some of those experiences in spirituality. That we just don’t have the language or the concepts to completely understand what all is out there.

Goodall:

No, we don’t, I’m sure. Now we see through a glass darkly, then face to face, then we will discover.

Stump:

Well, as our conversation comes to a close, I’d like each of you to have the opportunity a little bit to talk about responsibility. We as humans must have responsibility in some sense. And each of you perhaps share what it is you believe humans to be responsible for, particularly as it relates to other people, to other creatures, to this planet that we share. Jane, how ought we to be responsible?

Goodall:

Well, as I said earlier, it’s bizarre that this most intellectual creature is destroying its only home. And we’re getting close to a point of no return with climate change, loss of biodiversity, explosion of zoonotic diseases, we’re destroying the forests, we’re polluting the oceans. And so it’s more than responsibility. If we don’t get together and take action now, then life on Earth, as we know it, will come to an end. We’re not exempt from that, you know, we’re part of the natural world, we depend on it. For food, water, clean air, we depend on the forests in the ocean to regulate the climate and the rainfall. And we see the devastating results of these changing weather patterns caused by the Earth heating. And it’s shocking. So our responsibility now is to find ways that we can wake the world up and get together to make the change that we need to make.

Stump:

And how is the Jane Goodall Institute going about trying to accomplish that?

Goodall:

Well, for one thing, we’re trying to protect chimps and forests in six African countries. We work with the local communities, and try and help them find ways to make a living without destroying the environment. Because if you’re really poor, you’re going to cut down the last trees to try and grow more food because your own land is overused and infertile, or to make charcoal to make some money. And so working with these local communities with a very holistic program, which is now ready to be spread across any country in the world you like, there isn’t time to go into it now. It’s called Take Care or TACARE. And so all these communities that we work with, have now become our partners in conservation. And they understand protecting the environment is for their future, not just wildlife, which is the mistake some other NGOs have made. And we also have this program for young people Roots & Shoots. And these young people now in 68, countries of all ages, choose themselves three projects to make the world better, one to help people, one to help animals, one to help the environment, because I learned in the rain forests, how everything is interconnected in this beautiful tapestry of life that we call an ecosystem. And so young people are so responsive, I think that they’ve woken up in a fright, because they see so much in the news and the media and everybody talking about what we’ve done to the planet. And it’s their future that we’ve been stealing. So they’re ready. They just need somebody to listen to them and empower them to take action. Oh, my goodness, they are changing the world. Even as we speak. There are groups in all these countries rolling up their sleeves, because, as I say, it’s in 68 countries.

Stump:

Francis for the last year and a half or so you’ve been sitting in a position helping to direct the government and even industry’s response to this pandemic that’s been among us. Has this experience given you new perspective in our responsibility to others, to the planet, to trying to prevent these in the future? Or what do you take the human, the correct human response to all of this to be?

Collins:

Well, it has been inspiring in some ways, and disheartening and others, inspiring to see people basically decide to drop many of their resistance against working together. Being willing to basically put every bit of their energy into finding solutions for an illness that’s taking lives every day, and not worry about who is going to get the credit, just trying to get it done. There have of course in the midst of all that also been times where other motivations have popped up. And I’m sorry to say our politics, certainly in the United States, but probably in many other parts of the world has oftentimes been more of a problem than a solution. And the willingness of people to basically act in tribalistic ways, has gotten in the way of what might have been otherwise a more effective response. I’m a follower of Jesus, I look back at the words of the Sermon on the Mount. And in some ways despondent that we have not been very successful in following those of late “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” We don’t have a lot of peacemakers, it seems mostly we have people who want to start conflicts. And when it comes to creation care, the most likely predictor of somebody’s view about that is their political party, which makes no sense at all, when you consider what we have been given as responsibility to care for all the creatures and for the planet. Back to the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.” We don’t have a lot of meekness going on, in terms of what’s happening to our planet. Billy Graham, a former Templeton Prize winner, was actually quite outspoken about this in terms of our need for stewardship in caring for creation, and referred regularly to Psalm 24, which ought to be on our lips, whenever we’re talking about this, “the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” This is God’s gift to us. And God has handed to us the responsibility to be caring for that gift. We’re doing a pretty lousy job in an awful lot of places. I’m glad BioLogos is stepping into this space as well, to try to share from the perspective of believers, why this is something that we can all agree on, and can gather together and figure out solutions. And what Jane has just been talking about with Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots and her remarkable voice of clarity is something we need more of, and I’m glad we’ve got Jane out there. And that we will have I hope, another 20 years of that, to hear that wisdom. But it’s gonna take a lot more of our society coming around to the perspective that this is not something to keep putting off. It’s been put off for way too long.

Goodall:

And you know, we’ve got a window of time, but it’s not a big window, and it’s closing. So I started off by saying one of my goals, one of my reasons for being on the planet is to give people hope, because without hope, why would you bother to do anything? And so I’m always urging the media, you know, yes, they need to inform us about the harm that we’re doing. The news is full of doom and gloom. But if they would only give more space to the amazing people, extraordinary projects, and great successes of people who are trying to make a difference and are making a difference, that would inspire more people to do their bit because they’d realize, yeah, I can make a difference. I do matter, I do have a role to play. And although it might not seem important if I pick up one piece of trash every day, if all my friends pick up pieces of trash and all their friends, you know the cumulative effect is change. What kind of change we need. A piece of trash was just one example.

Stump:

Jane, is there any advice you might give particularly to the more traditional Christian communities that Francis and I are part of with regard to our human responsibilities in the here and now?

Goodall:

Well, I really love the Golden Rule, which is shared by every single major religion. Which is do to others as you would have them do to you. I can’t think of a better piece of advice for anybody whether they’re religious or not. If everybody obeyed that golden rule, we’d have a very peaceful world.

Stump:

And perhaps each of you could just share briefly in closing, then what are your reasons for hope that you still have, in spite of all of these things that you say where do you find that hope? Francis, go ahead. 

Collins:

Well, I’m fond of a quote from poet Peter Levi, about hope, which is that “hope in every sphere of life is a privilege that attaches to action. No action, no hope.” That’s both an inspiration to say you can’t just sort of vaguely toss it off and say, well, I hope for something to go better. It requires an action. Jane is all about that for her whole career. I try to be in that same space primarily, of trying to organize action against suffering that causes too many people to have lives that are shortened or are cut down in terms of their flourishing by chronic illnesses that might have been prevented. But that takes a lot of action. I am encouraged when I see how many other people share that same sense. I guess I’m encouraged by the sweep of history that even when we go through dark times, we somehow seem to get through them and find ourselves back out into a better place, the storms, and the clouds, and the downpours. Ultimately, the clouds break, and the sun starts to shine through again. I’m very much hoping that we will see that in the nature of our human societies in the coming years. Even as I grieve a bit about the circumstances right now, where there seems to be so much conflict, so much willingness to think ill of each other, so much temptation, it seems to adopt things that are simply not true, in favor of something that feels more politically appealing. And if there’s one thing and I said this in my Templeton address, one thing that I worry most about in the current circumstance, it’s this willingness to perhaps consider the truth is not all that important anymore. And that somebody’s opinion is actually more important than what the facts would say. If we don’t recover from that particular heresy, we are really on a difficult path. But again, we’ve been on difficult paths before. I think, because I’m an optimist based on God’s love and God’s grace, that we’re going to be okay, but we got a lot of work to do to get there.

Goodall:

Well, my reasons for hope are very simple. And the first one is all these young people who are busily changing the world taking action, right now. And the second reason is this extraordinary intellect. So although we haven’t been very wise, we are beginning, the scientific world is coming up with innovative technology to help us live in greater harmony with the natural world. And people are beginning to think about their own ecological footprint. And then this resilience of nature, amazing places that we utterly destroyed, give them time, and perhaps some help, and nature can take over a life and come back, maybe not exactly as it was. And we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction. And some of those life forms are gone forever. But then that’s happened throughout evolution. And then finally, there’s what I call the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle what seems impossible, and won’t give up and succeed. So those are my reasons.

Stump:

In your book, Reason for Hope, more than 20 years ago now, but in your book you used over and over a verse from the book of Deuteronomy, of all places, “as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Perhaps it’s Francis, who particularly needs to hear that inspiration right now, given the last year and a half of his work through the pandemic. But perhaps you could explain just a little bit what that verse has meant to you and what it might mean to the rest of us, given all of your work.

Goodall:

It was my grandmother’s favorite text. And it was basically, well, each day, take it one by one. And you will be given the strength to get through it somehow or other. Sometimes when I’m so exhausted, I have to give a lecture to 5, 10 thousand people. And I just sit there and think I can’t do it. I’m too tired, my brain doesn’t work. So I open up my mind and let some kind of divine voice come in. And then I give a really good lecture. And sometimes I almost can stand aside and watch myself giving this lecture which is a bit spooky. But it has happened. So as thy days so shall thy strength be. That was what I kept chanting to myself, when I was making that first visit to the lab, which I was so terrified of doing quite rightly, too. And okay, so I will be given the strength to get through this horrible experience. And I was.

Collins:

Wonderful. That reminds me of one of my favorite verses, which is sort of related, which was a puzzling one for me when I first became a believer, which is this message that was coming to Paul, which was my grace, this is God speaking, “My grace is sufficient for you. Because my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Like what? God wants me to be weak sometimes? Oh, yes. So that God’s strength can actually take over. Yeah, like when you have a talk to give, I’ve been there too, and you have no words. And it’s like, okay, God, it’s, it’s time for me to step back. Or when I went and volunteered as a missionary doctor in Nigeria, and really did not know anything about a lot of the illnesses that I was being asked to take care of, because they had just been words on a page in a book. I never felt I needed or experienced God’s grace more than then. My weakness, God’s grace.

Goodall:

What you said to Francis just then maybe you need to hear as thy days socialized Springfield is another one. I made this little Bible box, my grandmother, six of the little match boxes glued together and pull it open with a little paperclip. And, and I read every single book of the Bible, and on these little scrolls, but this long and this high in tiny writing, I wrote out not just the sort of platitudes that you get in Bible boxes, but everything that I thought was meaningful. Sometimes it was pretty grim, you know, some of the Old Testament stuff. Well, three times, this has happened three times, there must be I don’t know how many little scrolls in this Bible box, each little match tray boxes filled with them rolled up. Three times, I’m setting off on a lecture tour, and complaining to my sister that I really don’t want to go badly being here. I haven’t got the energy. And Judy says, oh, have a text from the Bible box. Three separate times, and we always mix the drawers up. I brought out, “He who has once put his hand to the plow and turneth back is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.” Three times. So Judy says, Okay, off you go. 

Collins:  

Okay plow, I’m here. Wonderful. I read about your wonderful group of scriptures in matchboxes. Just trying to imagine what that looks like. So you still have that that’s still part of your ability to seek encouragement when you need it.

Goodall:

Yes, it’s still, we still get it out. Yep. It still survived. And I made it when I was about 13.

Collins:

That’s wonderful. 

Stump:

Well, to both of you, you have kept your hand on the plow and your days have been long and they’ve been and they continue to be incredibly inspiring to so many people. So may your strength continue to be equal to those days. We thank you so much for talking to us and pray God’s richest blessing on your work and on your lives. Thank you for talking to us today. 

Goodall:

Thank you.

Collins:

Thank you, Jim. Jane, wonderful to have the chance to to talk with you, let’s get together soon once we can all travel again.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the remote workspaces and homes of BioLogos staff in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and 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.
Jane Goodall headshot

Jane Goodall

Considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, Jane Goodall is best known for her 60-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees since she first went to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania in 1960, where she witnessed human-like behaviors amongst chimpanzees. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots program, and she has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.


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