Monday, January 24, 2011

Moral Law and Evolution, Part 2

I'm almost done with The Language of God, but wanted to jot a few thoughts down before I forgot them.

As I read further into The Language of God, my impression of Collins gradually improved. He is in his element when he gets down to details in his field and begins to argue against the YEC and Intelligent Design movements through scientific evidence and fact. The funny thing is that the very evidence he uses in his book is the very evidence that made me eventually come to accept evolution. I came across most of the examples he used while watching Intelligent Design on Trial, a NOVA special on PBS about the trial that took place in Dover, PA when the school board clashed over evolution and intelligent design.

The fact that there actually are transitional fossils, that Michael Behe's example of the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum has been proven incorrect, and that the human genome has a fusion of 2 chromosomes that are present, yet separate, in chimpanzees, giving us 23 chromosomes instead of 24 like other primates, showing a direct link and traceable mutation between humans and chimpanzees....well it all made me realize that most of the "scientific" arguments of creationism and Intelligent Design were simply false.

It was a huge turning point in my thoughts. I finally understood why evolutionists were so infuriated by Intelligent Design and Creationism and why even Christian biologists had no qualms about believing in evolution. Evolution wasn't an attack on God by godless atheists, it was simply making sense of the very good evidence that has turned up within multiple fields of science.

I couldn't deny evolution on the basis of counter-evidence....because there wasn't any counter-evidence.

Collins explains all of this quite lucidly.

Unfortunately, when he's done with "science-y" part, he immediately moves back to the argument from Moral Law and more quoting of C.S. Lewis. This is the weakest part of the book because Collins is out of his depth. It isn't that the argument from Moral Law can't be persuasive, but it has no grounding in all of his scientific points. What seems to happen is that Collins is melding two different magisteriums without acknowledging what he is doing, and he has slammed on the brakes and switched gears rather suddenly.

Collins, throughout the book, continues to make assertions about "godless materialists" and "unnecessary ultra-liberal interpretations of Genesis" and believing in the "God of the Bible" and much of Scripture as "eyewitness accounts of historical events".

His motives for retaining his faith are very unscientific. And that is my main criticism of the book; it is a bit of a bait and switch. It doesn't answer the questions that I think that most people who pick up a book subtitled, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, are looking for. There is no "evidence", from a scientific perspective, for his belief. Instead, he provides a description of the personal synthesis of his scientific understanding and his religious beliefs.

Here is the dilemma that Collins misses, maybe because of his background and not coming from a seriously impassioned evangelical faith from youth: the crisis that evolution causes for many people of faith has nothing whatsoever to do with science. It is a crisis of epistemology, a crisis of knowing what information to trust and where to look for the truth.

Collins writes at one point:
I do not believe that God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has reveled to us, in order to prove our love for Him.(pg. 210)

On the one hand, Collins keeps asserting that the "God of the Bible" is not denied by evolution, yet he doesn't define what his picture of the "God of the Bible" looks like. Is it the God of the Bible who commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Is it the God of the Bible who made the sun stop in the sky so that Joshua could win the battle? Is it the God of the Bible who killed a man for accidentally touching the Ark of the Covenant?

These are the questions about God that many fundamentalists and evangelicals struggle with. The Bible is replete with stories in which people have to act in discordance with what they see around them in order to please God. The Bible, the Old Testament in particular, is replete with stories in which God is portrayed as somewhat capricious and mystifying in his actions.

I will assume that when Collins refers to the God of the Bible, he is referring to a milder Christian version of a loving, forgiving, always benevolent God. A God such as that is compatible with reason, and curiosity, and human potential.

Collins gets it backwards. Christians are not in need of a scientist who can affirm theology; they are in need of a theologian who can affirm science. Those are strikingly different things. Collins can't give YEC-ers what they need, because theirs is not a position beholden to science, it is a position beholden to theological imperatives.

Collins simply doesn't have the expertise in the relevant areas to communicate a true synthesis of science and theology and how the two might work together. Even if he did, it would come at the cost of reshaping many of those theological imperatives that he so blithely brushes by without any good alternatives.

In trying to deal with the theological implications of evolution Collins quotes Lewis again:

For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of his fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its material and physical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say "I" and "me", which could look upon itself as an object which knew God which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past...We do not know how many of these creatures God made, not how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become gods...They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God,"This is our business, not yours." But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.(pg. 208) and also(C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pgs 68-71)

The message comes across as "Genesis 1 and 2 don't have to be taken literally. Adam and Eve don't have to be real people.....but The Fall...that is definitely real."

Ok...maybe that's a simplistic evaluation of what Lewis is saying. After all, he wrote that passage many, many years ago and there is no telling how he would contribute to the current conversation in the context of further evolutionary proof and development. He was already ahead of many other Christians during his own time, we can't expect him to answer questions that weren't even being asked in his own context.

There is a problem with Collins using this quote from Lewis. On the one hand, he is unhooking the Creation story from possessing any scientific expectations or content. On the other hand, he is trying to locate the human condition within a real, historical, literal event labeled The Fall. Lewis, strangely enough, also isn't helping Collins' attempt to remove God as a constant interventionist in the evolutionary process. Collins, in his discussion of evolution, has said that tying God to the evolutionary process, and special creative influence upon it, is a bad idea....yet that is exactly what Lewis is talking about in this passage--God intervening to shape humanity, not only into a particular, mental/spiritual shape, but also in a particular physical/physiological shape.

I don't understand why Collins doesn't see this. In one breath, he is criticizing Paley's watchmaker analogy and ID and creationism as forming their arguments on human intuition, and in the next breath he is quoting Lewis, whose entire driving force in his work is predicated on human intuition about the Universe.

Collins doesn't seem to recognize it in Lewis, or in himself.

I still have a couple of chapters to go, and I think that I have at least one more post that I want to get to.


JS Allen said...

Thanks for these reviews. Very well-written. My beliefs are somewhat similar to Collins', but it sounds like he doesn't make the case very persuasively.

terri said...

I don't think that it's that Collins can't make the case very persuasively. I think that he is trying to combine two different realms without making a good transition from one to the other.

Because he doesn't want to tie God to specific scientific arguments, all of his scientific expertise kind of goes to waste. My favorite parts of the book were actually the science parts, especially the Appendix that deals with stem cell research. I found it quite interesting.

evangelically incorrect said...

"The crisis that evolution causes for many people of faith has nothing whatsoever to do with science. It is a crisis of epistemology, a crisis of knowing what information to trust and where to look for the truth."

Very well put!!

You're right. He doesn't seem to understand the modern evangelical mind at all.