Sunday, November 4, 2007

A, C, G, T . . .

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
by Francis Collins

In all honesty, I found this book to be kind of a bust. Pretty much by accident, I started reading it right around the same time that I started Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I thoroughly enjoyed (see October 28th post for more on that one). Had I known that Bryson and Collins would cover a lot of the same material, although Bryson does it much better, I probably would not have bothered with Collins' book. Ironically, this scientist presents the scientific concepts in a much more opaque way than either Bill Bryson or Natalie Angiers.

Francis Collins was the Director of the Human Genome Project, which you may remember got a huge amount of press a few years ago (deservedly so) for mapping the 3-billion+ sequence of the human genome. Even after reading this book and a fair amount of other science stuff lately, I still have only the vaguest idea of the potential genetic and medical significance for this task, but clearly it is a huge deal that took a lot of time and many millions of dollars to do.

Francis Collins is also a committed Christian, and the premise of his book is to present evidence, from the viewpoint of a scientist, for belief in a Creator. To his credit, he acknowledges that at some point, belief will always require a leap of faith. God's existence and presence in the world cannot be proven by science. He traces the prehistory of the world but compresses it down into kind of a Cliff's Notes version. His main point is to say that none of the scientific advances made thus far in the world, including the always controversial theory of evolution, disprove God's existence. Duh. Someone call the newspapers.

Collins does include a section that compares society's competing views regarding the earth's and life's origins that provides helpful information, especially the differences between the people who believe (despite all evidence to the contrary) that the earth is only about 6,000 years old (evidently there is a name for this group - they are the Young Earth Creationists) and those who believe in the slightly more palatable school of thought that has been around for about 15 years and is known as Intelligent Design). This section is helpful, because it describes the varied nuances in the thinking of each group. What I found truly astonishing is that 45% of Americans polled called themselves Young Earth Creationists. Yikes. Francis Collins describes himself (and many other scientists who are also people of faith) as a "theistic evolutionist" - he believes in the principles of evolution, but believes that some sort of Creator (for him it is God) got this all going and in some way is still involved. Makes sense to me. As I've said before, with regard to the tension between faith and science, I just really do not see what all the fuss is about.

That's all for now. G. wants me to read Elmo's ABC Book. The Washington Post Book World is also calling my name.

Reverent Reader


At 11/6/07, 11:42 AM , Blogger Erin Duffy said...

I kind of enjoyed this book, although a good chunk of the science went over my head. I had not (and still haven't) read the Bryson book, although I intend to. I can see where there would be some redundancy. I saw in the paper today that Francis Collins got the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with Harper Lee and some others.

At 11/10/08, 7:14 PM , Anonymous Tanith said...

Well written article.


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