Thursday, April 04, 2019

Francis Collins, BioLogos, and the Harmony of Science and Religion

As I mentioned in the last post, I was just at the BioLogos conference on science and religion, which was (as expected), often profound and captivating. One of the key reasons was spending time with, and hearing from, the head of the National Institutes of Health and author of The Language of God, Francis Collins. He's a guitarist, singer, and often, song leader, and to the left here he is with his "double helix" guitar.

Collins can to public recognition when headed the Human Genome Initiative, which, in 2000 decoded the entire 3 billion letters of the human genome “on time and under budget” (as I’ve heard him celebrate), in a “rough draft” form. 

The Language of God, written in 2007, strikes a tone that could be pleasing to no one, or at least, problematic for the vocal poles. He rejects both scientific atheism (in a thoughtful  gentler manner appropriate to his personality) and hardcore Creationism as well as Intelligent Design. For example, he once commented to CNN
“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.” Francis Collins
But it manages to present a winsome, harmonious connection between religion and science. He even sees a profound reconciliation between religion and science that even leads to worship:

“The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful.” The Language of God
So why the term "BioLogos"? Ultimately, Collins wanted to reformulate the traditional phrase theistic evolution, which seems to privileged "evolution" and put God second. Instead he coined Biologos
“Scholars will recognize “bios as the Greek word for ‘life’ (the root word for biology, biochemistry, and so forth), and logos as the Greek for ‘word.’” 
“’Biologos expresses the belief that God is the source of all life and that life expresses the will of God.” The Language of God
In the same year his book was published, the BioLogos Foundation was started to offer a voice to promote the harmony of science, and especially evolution, with evangelical Christianity. And so last week, we (and I as a member of the advisory council) celebrated its ten year anniversary.

At the conference, he recounted an encounter as a medical student in which a dying patient had laid out her faith in Jesus as the Christ and then asked, “Doctor, what do you believe?” (You can see a more detailed version of Collins's testimony in this Veritas Forum video.) He was stunned and knew he had no answer. So—after asking a local Methodist pastor for a recommendation—he began reading C. S. Lewis’s famous defense of the faith, Mere Christianity:

I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments, and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds.

At age 27, he became a Christian.

In spending time with him, I found Collins both humble and confident, knowing his life in light of God's grandeur and yet his experience and scientific training. (He has collected both a PhD in physical chemistry and an MD.) Collins combines a world class grasp and passion for genetics—and thus evolution—with "mere Christianity." 

That makes Collins a significant voice for science and religion--and that fascinates me. Plus, he's fun to hang out with.

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