Book review: The Language of God

Peter Thomas 22 Aug 18

There have undoubtedly been many books written on the question as to whether one can be a Christian and a scientist (perhaps meaning can one be a Christian and yet use reason). Not having read them all, The Language of God stood out to me nonetheless as being a very readable, engaging, accessible, and satisfying answer to the question, concluding with a resounding yes. The name Francis Collins may or may not ring bells, but his credentials certainly qualify him for answering the question. He served for four years as a Fellow in Human Genetics at Yale, is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Science, is the current director of the National Institutes of Health, and headed up the Human Genome Project whilst acting as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Aside from his scientific qualifications he is also the founder of BioLogos – a group formed to encourage discussion of the relationship between science and faith. The man himself is one of the strongest arguments for the plausibility of having a faith whilst being a scientist.

The book purports to answer the question ‘is there still the possibility of a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews?’ A better description may be that it is an account of a scientist’s journey to faith. As such, it does not simply try to convince the reader that genetics or science provides a compelling case for the existence of a god. Rather, it detours through general arguments for God, reviews a variety of worldviews in the light of science, and explores different approaches to reconciling faith (in a loose and general sense of the word) with science. Thus it comes across as heartfelt and informal, with all colours pinned to the mast. It feels more like a journey to and through a worldview than it does a defence or presentation of one.

Collins starts by recounting his own journey from atheism to theism, before reviewing the arguments which convinced him in greater depth. He begins with an attack on initial scepticism before visiting more positive arguments on the side of the existence of a deity. Many of these will sound familiar to fans of C.S. Lewis, whose Mere Christianity is cited by Collins as the book which helped him overcome many of his objections to faith. The rest of the book continues as a mixture of personal experience and apologia. Collins sets up a series of facts which are then used as lights to be shone upon four worldviews: atheism (and agnosticism), creationism, intelligent design, and finally theistic evolution. Collins manages to discuss topics such as DNA and other advanced concepts very clearly, without being either patronising or confusing. As the facts presented are then used as lenses for worldviews with which Collins disagrees, the points which are put across feel unimpassioned and mature making for a not only convincing but also satisfying case for theistic evolution. The last chapter is devoted to finishing Collins’ testimony. Here he explains the meaning and significance of Jesus’ crucifixion, and encourages the reader, whatever their background, to make an appropriate response.

All in all, I would recommend this book, in particular commending Collins’ clarity and placidity. However, I have one caution. Throughout the book, Collins seems to be advocating ‘faith’ more than Christianity, and concludes that ‘the spiritual worldview’ has much to offer. Therefore, his exhortation to the reader is to look for their own spiritual truth. So despite insisting that it is impossible for conflicting views to be equally true, Collins implies that a spiritual truth can be found which doesn’t involve Jesus Christ. This is something to bear in mind before you give a copy to a non-Christian friend.

Apart from this one caveat, the book is a great resource. It would make for a fantastic and inspiring introduction to apologia for science and Christianity, a great resource to use in a follow-up course or to read with someone asking questions about life. It might even be one to have free to take resource to be had at an evangelistic event. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, finding it a refreshingly calm book on a topic about which there are many heated discussions. Do try to read this book, whether by yourself or in a groups setting, as I can assure you that you will benefit from it.

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