Titlu original: The Language of God – A Scientist Evidence for Belief
Autor: Francis S. Collins
Editura: Free Press
Anul apariţiei: 2006
Preț: 10 $
Recenzie de Valentin Teodorescu
Francis Collins is one of the greatest scientists of our times. As specialist in medical genetics at Michigan University, he contributed to the discovery of the genetic errors that lead to the apparition of cystic fibrosis, of neurofibromatosis, and of Huntington’s disease. In addition to that, as director of Human Genome Project, he had the great merit of leading the team which – for the first time in world history – mapped the Human Genome. And even more interesting (for the Christian community), is the fact he also is an engaged evangelical Christian, a Christian who believes that between science and faith there is no contradiction. On the contrary, between them is harmony; we need both of them: we need to know how to integrate them if we hope to build a reasonable and satisfying worldview.
So, what is Collins’ motivation for writing another book – The Language of God – having as its subject the much debated relation between science and religion? Are not enough books written on this topic? Surely there are. But – we guess – Collins is concerned that in this respect there is – in the public opinion – a false image of the science-religion relationship: the idea that between these two domains is an opposition: this motivates him of writing his book.
On the one side, we have the new atheism perspective (represented by people like Richard Dawkins), which suggests that religion is the enemy of science – that a honest and intelligent person cannot accept neo-darwinism and embrace in the same time Christian faith.
On the other side, we have the Young Earth Creationism position (represented by people like Henry Morris), which – in Collins’ perspective – suggests the opposite idea: that science is an enemy for religion (although the YEC proponents would deny such an affirmation, Collins still considers that, once they have refused to accept evolutionary theory as true, they have refused in fact the truth of science – because neo-darwinism is, for Collins, real science). In contrast with these two opposite (and extreme) views, Collins suggests that there is a third way, a way which successfully reconciles neo-darwinian evolution with Christian faith – a view which affirms a full reconciliation between science and religion.
But is this reconciling perspective plausible? – one might ask. What we will try in this review is to weight Collins’ arguments in this respect.
Before starting our analysis, it is important to observe that, in many respects, Collins is extremely qualified to write such a book. First of all, he speaks with the authority of a great scholar: this fact is by itself a strong argument for his position. What better support for the harmony between science and religion than a scholar who fully (and knowledgeable) embraces both domains? And secondly, he brings some arguments from an area which few other people would know better than him: the human genome. This should be, by itself, a motif of humility for us, as reviewers: any critical argument brought by us to this book needs to be backed by serious data and bibliography – if it is to have any trace of plausibility.
I would like, in the beginning, to start by appreciating many of Collins’ arguments for his case. If one would refer only to his ethical-theological arguments, they are intelligently and elegantly formulated; in many respects he uses in treating these matters ideas from serious Christian thinkers as C.S. Lewis (his most admired spiritual mentor), Saint Augustine, John Polkinghorne, Ian Barbour, Allister McGrath, etc. These kinds of arguments have even greater power as he combines – when stating them – reason with passion: that is because they played a key role in his conversion; as a result, he is “experientially” attached to them (not just intellectually). (Collins started, as C.S. Lewis, Allister McGrath and others did before him, with being an atheist; and finished as they also did, by becoming a Christian – after the encounter with the moral argument and with the fascinating figure of Christ).
At first impression Collins denies that the theistic worldview can receive any scientific support from science: such support comes rather from a kind of ethical-esthetical-religious experience. However, he still argues that the rationality and mathematical elegance of the universe (pace Albert Einstein and Eugene Wigner), and the Big Bang singularity and the fine tuning of the Universe, could be good confirmations of God’s existence (but only for those persons who are already accepting a theistic paradigm). Again, Collins follows here the apologetical style of people like John Polkinghorne, Ian Barbour and Allister McGrath; in this respect he does not bring anything new. But one might say that his intention is not necessary that of being original, but rather that of convincing his readers.
When one turns to the arguments from biology, again, she might say that Collins is not very original: he uses here the style of arguing of other neo-darwinian apologists – be they atheists (as Richard Dawkins) or theists (as Ken Miller, Arthur Peacocke and Darrel Falk). Only in what concerns his arguments related to the Human Genome, he seems to be more original – because this area is his real specialty; but even here, as Dr. Fazale Rana suggests, at least the style of arguing, is not totally new: it was used by the geneticists since the ‘80-thies.
Collins recognize that the complexity of the biologic life is incredible, and that this was for many years one of the best arguments of the theists for their position. But he affirms that with the advent of the Darwinian theory of evolution, things have changed: evolution offers a naturalistic explanation of these complex biological structures. To use in these days such an argument means nothing more than to appeal to the fallacy of the ‘God of the gaps’: wherever the scientists did not find an explanation, the supporters of this argument would say that God intervened there miraculously. But the problem is that with the advancement of science these gaps seems to narrow or to disappear; because of that, God’s intervention is no more needed – and as a result the strategy leads to atheism. This bad strategy – suggests Collins – is a motif why the Intelligent Design movement – who uses it in particular -, does not convince the scientific community.
Collins accepts that in what regards the problem of life’s origins, science is far from having a serious explanation: he even contemplates the possibility that this might be a serious argument for God’s supernatural intervention; however, in the end he rejects such an argument because he sees in it another instance of “God of the gap’s” fallacy. The same is the situation with some classical “icons” of Intelligent Design movement: the blood clothing cascade, the eye, and the bacterial flagellum.
However, in our opinion – and with this we start a series of critics to Collins book -, one should not be as skeptical about the “God of the gaps” argument as some people think we should. As Del Ratzsch suggested, there is no logical problem related to the possibility of a relation between the gaps from science and the supernatural design.
First of all, there is nothing in principle suspicious about the existence of gaps in nature. There are all sorts of things that nature cannot do: such perfectly respectable scientific projects as SETI depend upon that fact. If the chance, nature or aliens cannot produce a phenomenon from our world – and this conclusion is not determined by our ignorance but by an authentic knowledge of nature’s capabilities – then the only remaining option is the admission of a supernatural intervention. In fact, people like Charles Thaxton and Nancy Pearcey have argued convincingly – in our opinion – that in the case of life’s origin (in particular the case of the apparition of DNA programming language) this might be the case.
Furthermore, it is not so clear that the gap arguments have such a historical track record of unbroken failure (as gaps are successively closed) – some critics would suggest. Not all scientific gaps are closed. And the theories (or research programs) accepted as closing some of the gaps may have been accepted exactly because they were the best available explanation, given the prohibition on design explanations. Moreover, as Thomas Kuhn argued, revolutions sometimes reopen scientific issues previously thought to be closed: gap closure may be an unstable phenomenon (in fact, the gap in the explanation of life’s origin might be the best example in this respect – a “conceptual gap”, as Paul Davies would say, (re)opened by the genetic revolution).
A well known critique against the design inference refers to the idea that the gaps cases undermine the motivation for rigorous empirical inquiry. But, as Ratzsch observed, “were one committed to the existence of gaps, one of the better strategies for confirming their existence might be strenuous attempts to close purported gaps. Failure of such attempts would potentially have the same implications as failure of strenuous (Popperian) attempts to falsify theories – a procedure often advertised as the real core of science. Persistent survival of such trials by fire is one of the stronger endorsements a theory can receive from nature”
Collins, as many other critics of the design argument, tends to see it as related to the so-called “God of the gaps” theology. This “theology” would suggest that the world is a great machine which is almost entirely self-sufficient, and that the divine activity in nature is limited to those phenomena for which there is no scientific (or, more precisely no naturalistic) explanation. In this context, the goal of apologetics would be to affirm that the best reasons for the existence of God are those phenomena that natural science cannot explain naturalistically.
But for philosopher Alvin Plantinga, for example, such considerations are a caricature of serious Christian theism – because the God of theism is constantly, intimately and directly active in creation, upholding it in existence and providentially governing it – the natural laws being in no ways independent of God. In this respect, God’s supernatural activity might fill the gaps of science; but of course, His role in Creation is not reduced to this activity. He also created and continuously sustains the laws of our universe. (It is interesting that Plantinga, although he believes that the evolutionary theory is true, is open – in his last book ‘Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism’ – to the ideas of the well-known leader of ‘Intelligent Design’ movement and critic of naturalistic evolution Michael Behe, and that in his essay ‘Two Dozen of (or so) Theistic Arguments’ (in his ‘Argument from positive epistemic status’), he affirms that: ‘there does not appear to be any decent naturalistic account of the origin of life, or of language’.
The danger in Collins’ argumentation is that of replacing the so-called “God of the gap’s” fallacy with the “Nature of the gaps” fallacy, which states that, even if at this moment we have no cogent natural explanation for the complexity of some biological structures, we believe that in the future science will be able fill these explanatory gaps through some kind of naturalistic mechanism.
The best strategy to see which camp is right about the nature of the explanatory gaps in science – the neo-darwinian evolutionists or Intelligent Design proponents -, is to watch whether the explanatory gaps from science will increasingly grow, or, on the contrary, they will increasingly narrow. As Collins rightly observed, one of the serious problems with “Intelligent Design” theory is the lack of a model: it does not have a frame in which to predict other discoveries, and in which to suggest strategies for experimental verifications. However, the problem with Collins’ approach is that he neglects that there are also some scientific groups which not only seriously take the possibility of some “stoppers” in nature’s determinism, but are also able to integrate them in a plausible scientific model: see in this respect the “Reasons to Believe” movement, an organization that defends an Old Creationist model of life’s origins and evolution (of course, there are also various Young Earth Creationist models: that proposed by ‘Institute for Creation Research’ , and that proposed by the the Adventist organization ‘Geoscience Research Institute’; regarding this models it is interesting the position of one of the most serious and best informed proponents of Young Earth Creationism, Paul Nelson, who considers that, from a strictly scientific point of view, the Old Earth Creationist models seem –at least at the present moment – more convincing than the Young Earth Creationist ones; he argues that he continues to hold to his Young Earth position – in spite of its problems – rather from exegetical and hermeneutical reasons than from scientifical ones; in this respect the scientists from ‘Geoscience Research Institute’ seems to agree with him; however, other Young Earth Creationists disagree with this evaluation of their position – see in this respect the position of another well informed proponent of YEC model, Kurt Wise, who made his doctoral dissertation under the supervision of the great Harvard evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould).
In the chapters 4 and 8 of his book, Collins offers an argument against the Young Creationist model, by affirming that all the methods of radioactive dating independently argue for an old age of our planet: 4.55 billion years. But even if such a finding would be true (although it is worth knowing the balanced position of the Young Earth Creationists from the Seventh-Day Adventist from the Geoscience Research Institute in this respect), this fact in no way affects the Old Creationist models. As the other critics of Creationism, Collins uses the strategy of combating only the convenient alternatives to his theistic evolutionary model.
When dealing with the fossil record, he considers that all the discoveries in this area agree with the idea of Common Descent. True, he agrees that the data are very incomplete. But, in spite of this observation, nothing detracts him from considering them a good support for neo-darwinian evolution. However, in this respect he seems to us extremely optimistic.
 Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science, State University of New York Press, New York, 2001, p.118-119.
 See in this respect the last chapter of their book: Nancy Pearcey, Chales Thaxton, The Soul of Science, Crossway Books, Wheaton, 1994.
 Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design and Science, p. 143,144.
 Alvin Plantinga, “Methodological Naturalism, Part 2”, article found on the internet address: http://www.arn.org/docs/odesign/od182/methnat182.htm .
 Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011. See especially chapter 8.
 See in this respect the aforementioned article at the internet address: : http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/plantinga_alvin/two_dozen_or_so_theistic_arguments.pdf .
 See in this respect some articles published by this organization at the address: http://grisda.net/subGi/article/creation-and-science/ .
 See in this respect his position in one article from the book published by James Moreland and John Reynolds (eds), Three Views on Creation and Evolution, Zondervan, 1999, p. 7-76.
 See in this respect the article from the address: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/cm/v18/n1/think-weird .