Book Review: The Language of God

I found this book to be a very enjoyable read. It blends scientific acceptance and theistic belief, which Mr Collins’ adheres to and reminds his readers that we must all realise the importance of holding both in tension.

I have mentioned before in other blog posts that I try to read a non-Christian book, and then a Christian book, aiming to have people attempt to explain their worldview and the reasons behind why they believe what they believe. It’s important to focus on thought processes, explanations and reasons. We should never stop learning, we should never take our current position as unmovable and we owe it to ourselves to keep stretching what we believe and why we believe it.

Mr Collins has a fantastic understanding of the human genome, having headed up the Human Genome Project which managed to map the whole human genome. It has done marvellous things for both science and medicine, and he does a great job at explaining how hard and how important both the task and the results were to achieve.

But this book isn’t solely looking at the Human Genome Project. It is looking at how a very accomplished scientist can also hold a position of faith, believing in the Christian God as being real and true. It will be of no surprise to you, but not all Christian’s believe the same thing, the same if true of Atheist’s. Mr Collins’ does a really good job of explaining why he believes what he believes against other atheist, agnostic and Christian worldviews.

The book is very well written, I was surprised at how quickly I got through it and how much I took away from it. The stories are interesting, and the content is clear and well explained. The scientific side to this book is fantastically informative and at the moment I was beginning to get a bit confused as to why he was going into this much detail about the Human Genome Project (or some other scientific tangent), he shifts track and re-engaged my attention. Something a lot of writers get wrong a lot of the time. He uses what he talks about, and it all comes together really well.

The faith side of Mr Collins argument seems to boil down to reflections on the variety of options currently available to humanity as to why we are here and the labels that we give ourselves to live out from. He tackles the following in quick succinct ways: Agnostic, Atheist, Creationist, Intelligent Design (ID), BioLogos (all life coming out of the Word – God). Mr Collins falls into the final category, which I found hard to understand and differentiate opposed to the ID view. I felt BioLogos was more of a nice way to move away from the known pitfalls of ID and create a new science-faith label to live out of.

The stories are engaging, and the reflections are real and honest, I am just not sure that I can say I would have found the same things draw me to the conclusions that Mr Collins makes. There seems to be a scientific side that I really appreciate and admire in Mr Collins. There is also an honest reflective side which is really nice to read about and engage with, but then there is the landing point, a belief in God, which I find unjustified and was a bit confused as to why he was stopping there.

When he speaks about his atheism of his early life and university days, it also seems that he took atheism at face value and didn’t spend time asking questions, reading books and being moved to ask, ‘why do I take this position’ or ‘what do I really think’. He has clearly been very moved by the likes of C. S. Lewis and quotes him a number of times. Now, I love C. S. Lewis and to a thinking Christian he is a very good source of reason and logic. But the same thing within C. S. Lewis happens within Mr Collins’ work.

We can imply, suggest, hope and dream of an all-loving God who knows us and holds us within His plans and purposes, but we can’t know it. This doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people. I find it a very hard hurdle to overcome, obviously. If God is real then He is tangible, He is knowable and He is within the very fabric of this world, because He created it and knows it. He knows what it takes to convince people within the 21st century that He is there, He knows what it would take to convince me that He is real, but I am not convinced.

People say to me – ‘why would God give you special revelation, when He doesn’t do that for anyone else’. But I would argue that the Bible speaks about God’s people knowing God, that he writes His law upon their heart, He dwells with them, He is the groom of the Church, His bride. We can look at specific moments within scripture as well, Moses seeing the face of God and having to wear a veil, Paul and his road to Damascus experience, Simon-Peter meeting God in flesh.

I don’t think I am asking for anything special, I just want to know that God is real and that my beliefs in Him, that I used to hold, are correct and tenable. But I can’t know this, at least I have not come across anything that convinces me as of yet, and as I keep saying (through this blog), I don’t think I have control over what does or does not convince me.

Maybe Mr Collins’ is in the same place as me. Maybe he can’t ‘prove’ God is real and that is why he looks to story’s, emotion and the other options (agnosticism, IR or atheism) to help him push into a belief in God, back into BioLogos. But hope isn’t a basis for a life encapsulating decision.

Justin Brierley had Francis Collins on his show in June 2020 and I managed to get the above segment asked of him directly. It was really nice of Justin to ask him and although I don’t think he answered my question in and of itself, it was still interesting to see how he answers it. You can listen to the question being asked and the response by watching the following and skipping to 56:45.

‘The pure, clean water of spiritual truth is placed in rusty containers, and the subsequent failings of the church down through the centuries should not be projected onto the faith itself, as if the water had been the problem.’ Collins, Francis. The Language of God (p. 40). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.

This is a really interesting point, and I can see why it would give believers a sense of relief and comfort. I can also see the biblical arguments for it, humanity is fallen and just because we are now ‘saved’ through Christ’s saving gift of Himself, it doesn’t mean we aren’t still living in sin. The problem is you would also expect to see a difference between believers and unbelievers, from what I can see to date, I can’t.

‘If God is outside of nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. Atheism itself must therefore be considered a form of blind faith, in that it adopts a belief system that cannot be defended on the basis of pure reason.’ Collins, Francis. The Language of God (p. 165). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.

I have mentioned this before, it takes faith to believe in anything. We can never know for complete certainty that something is true, it will always require a level of belief or faith, however small. The problem comes when you call atheism ‘blind faith’, which I don’t think is true. We can make informed steps towards our knowing, even if we can’t get the whole way. For example, I would argue that there could well be a God who created the universe and then stopped being involved with it, I think you could reasonably believe that if you so desired, the issue is you cannot know it to be true. The second issue is that the Bible speaks of a God who is actively involved with the world around us today, that means that we should be able to interact, experience and study Him. So, to be an atheist, who claims ‘I don’t think there is enough evidence to prove the existence of a God’ isn’t ‘blind faith’, rather it’s a logical conclusion based on the evidence we have to hand and have spent time investigating.

Finally – I want to thank Mr Collins’ for writing this book. It’s a really good read, and I would encourage everyone to pick it up, engage with it and reflect on his words as you work your way through it. This book does the world a service by reinforcing the scientific theory and fact of evolution, down to the human genome and how we now understand why certain medicines affect us in certain ways, it’s all there, in the code. He makes it very clear that you really can’t say evolution isn’t true. I walked away more convinced of my convictions than moved to a faith in God.

I would love to chat to Mr Collins about his story and reflect on the touch points within my own story. I would love to find the precise location where he steps over into faith, and then to know what extra information, or thought processes have enabled him to believe that he has a relationship with a God. What is it that means I cannot? I guess that is the whole point of this blog though… It’s a journey of discovery.

_End of Blog Blurb_

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.

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-Sam

When Belief Dies #72 – 'Qualia' with Sharon Dirckx When Belief Dies

This week Sam and Daniel are joined by Sharon Dirckx. The video version of this conversation can be found here on our YouTube channel 12 hours after the audio version goes live. Sharon is a Senior Tutor at OCCA The Oxford Center for Christian  Apologetics. Originally from a scientific background, she has a PhD in brain imaging from the University of Cambridge and has held research positions at the University of Oxford. In this conversation, we look at consciousness and Qualia. Qualia are defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience. To find/follow Sharon: Twitter Resources mentioned in this episode: The OCCA Am I Just My Brain? by Sharon Dirckx   Does consciousness point to God? Philip Goff & Sharon Dirckx We hope you enjoy our show. When Belief Dies aims to honestly reflect on faith, religion and life. Your support via Patreon enables us to cover the costs of running this show and look to the future to make things even better as we build upon what we already have in the works. Please take a look and consider giving. Alternatively, you can support the show with a one-off gift via PayPal. Use the following link to navigate to the website, to find us on social media and anywhere else we might be present online. #Podcast #Deconstruction #God #Agnostic #Christian #Atheism #Apologetics #Audio #Question #Exvangelical #Deconversion #SecularGrace #Exchristian
  1. When Belief Dies #72 – 'Qualia' with Sharon Dirckx
  2. When Belief Dies #71 – 'Connection to Nature' with Sam Gandy
  3. Big Update (Welcome Kirsty!)
  4. When Belief Dies #70 – 'So it begins…' with Roger Bretherton
  5. When Belief Dies #69 – 'Through the Looking-Glass' with Bryan Todd

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Language of God

  1. Good stuff, thanks for this Sam. It’ll be one to add to my PoS (Pile of Shame!) for sure.

    Have you approchaed Francis Collins to requests a date to discuss at all? I’d want to ask the same question as you. The crux of where knowledge ends and faith begins.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved the review!! This is one of those books that I often recommend to others. You are very fair and thorough in your assessment of the book and also of Francis Collins, something which others taking a secularist perspective might not do. Thank you for that.

    Although I am a Christian, it may surprise some readers to learn that some of us vigorously support scientific progress and endeavour and who, like myself, are avid supporters of Dr Collins, as well as the charity he founded, BioLogos (https://biologos.org/).

    As you can validate through their video series (https://biologos.org/biologos-basics-videos/), BioLogos are generally of the view known as “Theistic Evolution”, rather than “Intelligent Design” or ID. The idea of Theistic Evolution is that biological creation does proceeds through the physical mechanism of evolution by natural selection, which means that this physical process could potentially be subject to being “divinely nudged” from time to time – something that would be indistinguishable from any other apparently “random” event.

    The point is that otherwise, in both the ID and standard Creationist scenarios, people would then be able to find tangible evidence for God that would then, in effect, coerce everyone to believe, thus crushing and robbing everyone of the necessary free choice that allows genuine love, freely given, to exist at all, along with the desire to create freely – both things that I believe God desires of our lives. This is primarily why I believe that God _does_ deliberately remain hidden – otherwise, we would be forced and compelled to accept Him! I strongly believe that He wants people to discover Him for themselves in a loving manner, naturally and freely, without all humanity being _necessarily_ compelled to do so!

    Obviously, I can’t speak for other Christians at all – or whether many others would support those notions – but this is what I do understand and accept for myself.

    Finally, Dr Collins has been the subject of many awards and honours in both the US and internationally, including being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, and last year he was awarded the 2020 Templeton Prize. Since 2009, Francis Collins has been the presidentially appointed director of the National Institutes of Health. See, for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins. Thanks again, Sam!

    PS: The reason I say “I believe” several times above is not to coerce anyone else into believing anything themselves. All I am saying is that I do believe this such-and-such and, crucially, I can not know this such-and-such for sure, whatever it might be. After all, knowledge has to fit inside our finite brains – and infinite knowledge can’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the response and overview of Theistic Evolution, really helpful!

      Glad that you are enjoying the blog and I hope this continues 🙂

      Cheers,
      Sam

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Sam – Thank you for your gracious reply. I feel I do need to apologise to you here as I’ve just noticed that I left my comment on your review while signed in as an “admin” to another WordPress site! I just want to say here that this won’t happen again as I’m about to “logout” of this identity – and in future, I’ll make sure I’ll use my Facebook one – which is a bit more transparent (My name in Brian Monahan). With thanks, Brian

        Liked by 2 people

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