Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Book Review: The Language of God (Part 1)

The Language of God - A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Francis S. Collins
New York: Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster

Francis Collins is a medical geneticist who has spent his professional life trying to understand what goes wrong in certain diseases. His early research into the "typo" in the genetic code that leads to cystic fibrosis led to his being invited to lead one of the teams that engaged in a "race" to decode the human genetic code.

He is also a Christian whose path took him through agnosticism, through atheism, and finally faith after he was challenged to read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. He found himself questioning the things he thought he knew.

The Language of Life in divided into three parts:
  • Part 1: Chapters 1-2 -- The Chasm Between Science and Faith
  • Part 2: Chapters 3-5 -- The Great Questions of Human Existence
  • Part 3: Chapters 6-11 -- Faith in Science, Faith in God
An appendix discusses issues of medical bioethics and the moral practice of science.

The first part discusses his personal journey to faith with many personal reflections on what went through his mind as he grew up. His parents were quite instrumental in laying the groundwork for his educational and social development. Much of his growing years were spent involved in organic farming, music, and summer theater. Collins chose a different path than his somewhat counter-cultural parents as far as faith is concerned, but nonetheless he dedicated his book to his parents.

In the second part, Dr. Collins discusses the science that is involved, and why it is necessary to know and understand the genetic code in order to understand how genetic disease can be treated. In addition he tells a fascinating story of two competing groups who were in a race to decode the human genome, one publically funded and the other privately funded. One group was dedicated to rapid disemination of the results, and the other was interested in a return on the investment of the private parties who underwrote the research.

As both groups converged on the goal of decoding the human genome, Francis Collins had a nightime meeting with Craig Venter, his counterpart on the privately-funded side, that was arranged by a mutual friend. The meeting took place in the basement of the friend's house over pizza and beer. It almost seems "cloak-and-dagger", and in a way it was. An inquisitive reporter could have blown the whole thing out of the water and eliminated any hope of cooperation between the two groups. As it turned out, the two team leaders appeared jointly at a White House Press Conference on June 26, 2000 to announce the completion of the task.

Francis Collins is a quirky individual, and often brings a guitar to meetings. It is hard to imagine a room full of scientists singing along to a ballad about genetic research written to familiar music, but it seems to happen on a regular basis where Collins is involved. Having personally been involved with science for many years myself, I think we could use more scientists who actually have a life....

In the next two installments of this three part review, I will focus in on Collins' assessment of different ways one can bring their worldview to bear on science and religion, and the pitfalls involved with most of them. His groundwork in the nature of science that he lays in the first two parts will serve the reader well as he discusses atheism/agnosticim, creationism, and intelligent design, as well as his own proposal for a framework for understanding the relationship of science and faith.

Tommorow: Chapters 6-10 on the often uneasy relationship between science and faith

1 comment:

wickedSPEAR said...

I am a Christian who has listened to this book twice while on long business trips. I find the book fascinating. It has opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at evolution and creation. I no longer think the two things are in conflict. I wish there were a study manual and a process/course that would take us further down this road.