The title of this blog post should go without saying. The scientific theory popularly known as the Theory of Evolution has been, and unfortunately remains, a “hot button issue” in many circles, particularly among certain populations of Christians. The assertion made by some is that genuine Christian faith (really any theistic faith, these people might say) is incompatible with the scientific worldview whose origin is generally credited to Charles Darwin. Some on the science side of this divide also claim as much when they suggest that theistic faith is irrational and unnecessary given what science can tell us about the universe. Both sides, this new book by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins asserts, are wrong.
The book, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (InterVarsity, 2011), is the collaborative work of two well-known scientists. Giberson is a physicist and Collins is now the director of the National Institutes of Health. The general thesis of this book is that the theory of evolution and religious faith are simply not incompatible as both some believers and some scientists — often for opposing reasons — have asserted.
The style of the book is very approachable, designed to present an ongoing conversation between the hypothetical inquirer and the well-researched respondent. As the subtitle of the book suggests, The Language of Science and Faith is organized into actual responses to real questions. The questions, in large part, come from the work these two scientists have engaged in with their acclaimed project “The BioLogos Forum: Science and Faith in Dialogue.” The constant reference to this project throughout the book did grow tiring for this reader, but the effort of the enterprise is indeed a welcome one.
I have long been interested in the discussion between science and religion, never growing tired of what I see as the deeply interconnected reality that offers a subject of study for two rather distinct disciplines that have much to offer one another. I was privileged to have as my M.A. thesis director a theologian who is also a scientist, one of those rare dual-PhD scholars who holds doctorates in both historical theology and a scientific field, oh and she happens to be a Franciscan sister. There is much about her understanding of the relationship between science and religion that comes through in this book, although the authors — Giberson and Collins — do not have any formal theological training.
This is a book by scientists about faith published by a popular Christian press. For that reason alone it is a unique project. I think the book could have been stronger if a theologian had been a collaborator, but, as it stands, the book offers a powerful witness to both the religious and scientific communities about the non-antagonistic potential of the two worlds.
What the book does well is address, in subtle and polite ways, the absurdity of both the claims that religious faith requires a rejection of science and that scientific inquiry necessarily requires an atheistic worldview. Such faith is simplistic, fideistic and literal and is, as I would posit, illegitimate. Such scientific stance relies on gross caricatures of religious practice and theology, while succumbing to the hubris of complete scientific certainty. As a doctoral student in physics once admitted to me while we were talking at a reception, even biology and physics require a sort of “scientific faith” in unprovable phenomena, many of the laws and theories of science presume unverifiable truths to make sense. You would think that such a reality would create a better disposition toward religious belief. This book does just that.