This is the third in a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Part Two of this book describes the scientific evidence – the reasons why many (most) scientists who are Christians have a hard time with a so-called literal interpretation of Genesis. This is truly Dr. Collins’ area of expertise – especially the discussion in Ch. 5 on lessons from the human genome.
But first an observation and a question or two.
It sometimes seems as though Christians, evangelical Christians in particular (and I am an insider here), have a house of cards approach to understanding both science and the faith. Scientific theories are envisioned as elaborate and flimsy descriptions based on hypothesis and speculation – a house of cards built on a foundation of Jello. But – in most cases – nothing could be further from the truth.
Even more significantly – the faith is viewed as a house of cards built on the foundation of (a favored interpretation of) the special revelation in scripture. But is this really true? Isn’t the faith founded on the triune God and on His relationship with us, His creatures? The Bible tells God’s story of His interaction with His people – in the appropriate ways and at the appropriate times.
Looking at the science may reshape how we read the Bible, but the science alone does not challenge God and does not change God’s story.
So what are the generally accepted facts? As you read what follows remember this key point: NO serious scientist doubts this basic outline – except a few with a prior conviction that evidence from scripture trumps all else.
1. The universe has a distinct beginning and shows every sign of being approximately 14-15 billion years old give or take a few billion. The evidence comes from a multitude of sources and measurements.
2. The earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old with life (in very simple form) appearing a scant 0.7 billion years later. The mechanism for the origin of life is not at all clear. Again the evidence comes from a multitude of sources, measurements and observations.
3. The paleontological record shows a patchy progression from simple to complex. The record is not complete – and given the conditions required for fossilization a complete record of the progression is not to be expected. Approximately 550 million years ago diverse invertebrate life forms appear in the fossil record, 400 million years ago plants appeared on land, 370 million years ago animals moved onto land and 230 million years ago dinosaurs roamed the earth. The extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago led to an explosion of mammalian life. Homo Sapiens (“modern” man) dates from about 195,000 years ago.
4. The theory of evolution explains the evidence for the progression of life in profound and predictive fashion. As measurement of the bending of light near the sun validated the theory of relativity; and the observation of the diffraction of electrons validated quantum theory; so also the genetic record – the genome – validates the theory of evolution. The genetic record provides distinct evidence for the inter-relatedness of species and the evolution of one species from others. In fact, the genetic record provides just the sort of evidence one would expect from the theory of evolution, which was, after all, formulated well before any concrete knowledge of the structure and composition of the genetic material.
5. The evidence available from the human genome project, and the comparison of the human genome with others is consistent with the evolution of mankind from the lower species.
Dr. Collins is an expert on #’s 4 and 5. I encourage all who are interested to read Chs. 4 and 5 in his book – or to listen to his lectures on the subject. Two of these, delivered at the 2002 and 2006 annual meetings of the American Scientific Affiliation, are available for download: 2006 audio, 2006 video, and 2002 audio. Warning the video file is very large, ca. 400 MB. (Click to stream, right click and save to download and listen or watch later.)
Finally, consider this quote from Augustine “If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (Ch. 19, par. 39, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis)
How should Christians react to the evidence from science?
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