The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Francis S. Collins
Free Press, 2006
294 pp $26 (cloth)
Americans love to talk about reason and revelation, but we aren't very good at it. With our passion for vulgar controversy, we tend to see everything in terms of extremes: religion versus science, faith versus Darwin. And while those tensions are a sustained theme in our national inner life, these perennially unsettled questions have heated up again in recent years. Consider the battles over Intelligent Design in Dover, Pennsylvania, or the charges that the Bush administration systematically ignores scientific facts (as with stem cells) and the facts on the ground (as in Iraq) out of an impervious religious certainty.
For renowned atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, religion -- all religion -- is the source of great evil in the world, and the root of that evil is the unwillingness to limit our beliefs to the evidence. Religion, according to them, is not just belief in truths beyond the reach of human reason but belief in things contrary to human reason. For them, all religion is fanaticism, and the most far-reaching political question of our day is not the conflict between the liberal democratic West (made up of believers and nonbelievers alike) and Islamic fundamentalism, but between reason and religion, within the West perhaps even more than outside it.
Believers might understandably feel that these shrill critiques are animated by personal vitriol instead of honest truth-seeking, a kind of anti-fanaticism fanaticism. In his new book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Francis Collins provides a counter-example to the Dennett-Dawkins view of what it means to be religious. A noted geneticist, best known for leading the Human Genome Project, and an avowed Christian, Collins stands at the intersection of science and religion. The very title of his book illustrates his thesis. The language of God, in the first instance, refers to the mapping of the human genome, one of the major scientific accomplishments of recent years. But Collins also wants us to hear the echoes of revelation, to think that nature might still be seen as pointing, however indirectly, toward the Christian God.
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