Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Longing for the Sacred

Scott Russell Sanders of the Washington Post on Francis S. Collins' The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief:

Collins writes just enough about his youth for us to learn that he was brought up in a household indifferent to religion; he became an agnostic in college and an atheist in graduate school, where he studied chemistry. Only in medical school did he reverse that trajectory, gradually accepting the existence of God and embracing evangelical Christianity -- led to belief, like St. Augustine, less by longing than by reason.

Reason persuaded him that the universe could not have created itself; that humans possess an intuitive sense of right and wrong, which he calls, following Immanuel Kant, "the Moral Law"; and that humans likewise feel a "longing for the sacred." The source of this longing, the Moral Law and the universe, he came to believe, was the God described in the Bible, a transcendent Creator, Companion, Judge and Redeemer. He found additional evidence of a Creator in the eerie ability of mathematics to map the universe and in the numerous material properties -- from the slight imbalance between matter and anti-matter in the Big Bang to the binding energy within the atomic nucleus -- that seem to have been exquisitely tuned to fashion a world that would give rise to complex forms of life.

The God in whom Collins believes is no aloof Prime Mover who set the show in motion and withdrew to watch. He's a deity who intervenes (albeit rarely) in the course of things. Why God permits the suffering of innocents is a puzzle Collins does not pretend to solve, although he speculates, following C.S. Lewis, that we may need to suffer in order to learn. The resurrection of Jesus is, for Collins, the key intervention by a God "who takes personal interest in human beings." Late in the book, after a lucid account of genetic research and a spirited defense of evolutionary theory against proponents of creationism and "intelligent design," he reveals that on his path toward faith, Jesus was a crucial "bridge between our sinful selves and a holy God."

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