|« A short imagined dialogue inspired by the new Iron Man trailer||Hmm...interesting »|
The Language of God: evidence for belief?
Danny has already written a very good review of the book, and I want to avoid treading a lot of the same ground he does (if you haven't already, you may want to read what he has to say first). Rather, I'm intending this post to be a both a response to Danny's criticisms and a collection of my own independent reactions to the book.
Lately I've been very interested in God and the origin of the universe, which has paradoxically led me to read the works of some very prominent atheists: namely, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. Although they don't believe in God I see in them an attitude of reverence and awe at the beauty of the universe which enhances my own religious experience. Sagan has even been quoted as saying that science is "informed worship." I was delighted to see Francis Collins begin his book with a commentary on a lot of what Hawking and Sagan write about: the Big Bang, the nearly impossible (statistically speaking) formation of elements, stars, planets, and everything that makes life possible. He even attributes a couple of quotes to Stephen Hawking that seem to suggest the existence of a supernatural God, which, though seemingly uncharacteristic of Hawking, are a refreshing addition. It's nice to see a Christian paying respect to the scientific expertise of atheists.
I think it's this wonder at the universe that best defines The Language of God. Collins goes on to discuss the theory of evolution, which he regards as scientific fact backed up by a huge body of evidence. But whereas some Christians view the idea of evolution as an affront to God, Collins sees it in the same way he sees the very existence of the universe: as an amazingly intricate and beautiful system that speaks to the wonder of God. It's not that these things necessarily prove God's existence, but that they inspire a sense of wonder that can be used as a form of worship.
That's not to say that Collins doesn't attempt to prove the existence of God--as Danny has pointed out he briefly falls into the same trap he criticizes in others, using God to explain what science currently does not. But I found these moments to be brief and not characteristic of the book as a whole. During his description of theistic evolution, the view he espouses, he acknowledges that
The theistic evolution perspective cannot, of course, prove that God is real, as no logical argument can fully achieve that.
Later he elaborates that this view
doesn't try to wedge God into gaps in our understanding of the natural world; it proposes God as the answer to questions science was never intended to address, such as "How did the universe get here" "What is the meaning of life?" "What happens to us after we die?"
In his description of the origin of the universe and the evolution of life, then, Collins isn't trying to conclusively prove the existence of God so much as he is showing that a scientific understanding of the universe can at least be compatible with a belief in God.
This then begs the question: Why believe in God? If His existence can never be proven and is not needed to understand how the universe works, why would anybody still hold onto a belief in God? I believe the answer to this question must always be a personal one.
Near the end of the book Collins tells about an experience he had serving at a hospital in Africa. After seeing the poor living conditions that caused people to suffer horrible diseases that would be easily preventable in any developed country, Collins began to feel like his presence was not doing any lasting good there. He tells about performing an emergency operation to save one farmer's life, only to realize that he would most likely die of another affliction very soon, simply given his living conditions. Collins says:
With those discouraging thoughts in my head, I approached his bedside the next morning, finding him reading his Bible. He looked at me quizzically, and asked whether I had worked at the hospital for a long time. I admitted that I was new, feeling somewhat irritated and embarrassed that it had been so easy for him to figure that out. But then this young Nigerian farmer, just about as different from me in culture, experience, and ancestry as any two humans could be, spoke the words that will forever be emblazoned in my mind: "I get the sense you are wondering why you came here," he said. "I have an answer for you. You came here for one reason. You came here for me."
I was stunned. Stunned that he could see so clearly into my heart, but even more stunned at the words he was speaking. I had plunged a needle close to his heart; he had directly impaled mine. With a few simple words he had put my grandiose dreams of being the great white doctor, healing the African millions, to shame. He was right. We are each called to reach out to others. On rare occasions that can happen on a grand scale. But most of the time it happens in simple acts of kindness of one person to another. Those are the events that really matter. The tears of relief that blurred my vision as I digested his words stemmed from indescribable reassurance--reassurance that there in that strange place for just that one moment, I was in harmony with God's will, bonded together with this young man in a most unlikely but marvelous way.
It's moments like this that create belief in God. It certainly won't satisfy anyone looking for conclusive proof that God exists, but that's not really the kind of question it's meant to answer.
I started writing a comment to this post, but it got so long that I decided to put it on my blog:
By the way, I wonder how many people see the title of the book and think it’s a treatise on why English should be the official language of the US.