CNN | One Scientist’s Faith

Recently on Fresh Air Terry Gross did back to back shows where she interviewed the famous atheist Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins, the head of the human genome project and a believer in Jesus Christ. I’ve downloaded the podcasts but haven’t had a chance to listen to them yet.

This morning I was poking around CNN and found Collins’ commentary on how and why he became a believer. There are some good points and some that bother me a bit. I really appreciated this comment:

I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “Why does mathematics work, anyway?” “If the universe had a beginning, who created it?” “Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?” “Why do humans have a moral sense?” “What happens after we die?”

Science can do many and great things for humanity, but ultimately it can only answer “how?” and that only to a certain degree. Science can never answer “why.” Collins ran into that wall and went searching. Was belief in God rationally possible? Somehow he came across C. S. Lewis and found the answer to be a resounding yes.

I do side with Collins on the issue of faith and reason:

But reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.

But I am uneasy about this “leap of faith” business. I’m not so sure it is a leap as much as an appropriate application of reason. Anselm’s idea of “faith seeking understanding” is more appealing to me. Otherwise, if we start with reason which has been distorted by the fall we are likely to allow that distortion to affect our faith. This is true even in a heart that has been renewed by the Holy Spirit.

So I am a concerned when Collins says something like this:

True, this is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, but long before Darwin, there were many thoughtful interpreters like St. Augustine, who found it impossible to be exactly sure what the meaning of that amazing creation story was supposed to be. So attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer.

This is where we must ask about the relationship between general revelation (what can be learned by studying creation) and special revelation (the Bible). This most often comes up in light of Darwinism and Genesis 1.

I believe it is wisest to start with the Biblical account and move out from there. I do not think an “ultra-literal” interpretation of Genesis 1 is demanded from the text. Genesis 1 appears to be Hebrew poetry and we shouldn’t take poetry literally. But notice that this discussion starts with hermeneutics not genetics. Beyond that, there are other texts of the Bible which seem to rely on six days of creation and one day of rest. I’m not sure if that means that the universe had to be created in six 24-hour days but what is being expressed in the poetry is an important pattern or cycle that is not included in Collins’ synthesis of science and Scripture.

So the struggle goes on. The reconciling of general revelation with special revelation struggles forward. I think Collins will be helpful in that movement but the work must be done not only by scientist but also by theologians and all of it in faith and under the headship of Jesus Christ.

P.S. The link at CNN that took me to this commentary read “Why one scientist believes in God” so I thought it was fascinating that Collins refers to “he 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers.” CNN’s comment could be taken to imply (though not necessarily so) that there is only one scientist who believes in God.

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