Book Review of Language of God

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by Melanie Pearlman

Okay, I admit it, I do problems in my college physics textbook for fun.  Will you trust a book review by me?  I’ve got one to recommend “for non-majors”, though, that doesn’t require vector calculus:  The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis S. Collins.  The author was a leader in mapping the human genome (that means he figured out and wrote down the 3 billion-letter code of DNA that makes up all humans).  And he loves Jesus.  This book tells of how he came to faith, and of the manner in which he believes God brought about life on the earth, through the process of evolution.

My first experience with the evolution/creation debate was in my ninth grade biology class, months after I became a Christian, when my poor teacher mentioned the word “evolution” and I blurted out, Isn’t evolution just a theory?  I asked this, not because I had already developed my Young Earth Creationist theology based on Scripture and study of the fossil record, but because I knew that’s what Christians said.  I had been part of a church long enough to know that Christians did not believe in evolution.  There seemed to be some “us and them” sentiment between scientists and believers.  Then I entered the scientific community because my high school physics class was so fascinating to me, only to find that every new thing I learned about the world and how it worked drew me into worship of our Creator and not questioning His existence.  When I became a high school science teacher, I continually heard complaints from my colleagues about the Christian kids in their classes arguing and refusing to listen when the evolution chapter came up.  It was an opportunity to talk about God, but there was a lot of negative Christian witness to undo first.  I was further disheartened when those Darwin fish on the rears of cars became popular.  And even worse, I think, the Darwin-fish-eating “Truth” sharks.

Collins’ book does a great job, in layman’s terms, telling about how scientists believe life evolved on earth (the most technical of sections is understood with just a high school biology class background, I think).  He then outlines other theories of how and when we as humans came to be in a really comprehensive way.  He looks at all angles and deals with all arguments respectfully and peaceably.

The first couple of chapters in this book were tough for me to get through.  He tells his story (and he’s not a terrific storyteller, he’s a terrific microbiologist).  And he quotes C.S. Lewis so much, I found myself thinking, why not just read Mere Christianity again?  But chapter 3 picked up with the amazing scientific numbers and details of the complexity of God’s creation, similar to another favorite of mine, The Creator and the Cosmos, by astrophysicist, Hugh Ross.  And in chapter 4 and beyond, I was being convinced.  His explanations of biology were clear.  His arguments were sensible.  His insight into the current “battle” between evolutionists and evangelical Christians was keen.  Let me share a few points of his that I thought were profound.

•    We need to be wary of a “God of the gaps” theology.  This is one that says we don’t know every detail and thus only a one-time God intervention could have accomplished it.  He’s talking about the argument for the existence of God because there’s no other explanation for something.  The danger here is when (and if) science does figure something out, then what?  For example: eclipses were once thought to be gods or spirits making omens, because no human could effect the “heavenly bodies”… then planetary motion shows the earth making a shadow on the moon, and a belief system is squelched.  And remember, just because science can explain the “how,” that doesn’t discredit God for it, not does it give a “why” – not to mention the power to accomplish it or the creativity behind thinking it up.
•    I learned the meaning of words that made evolution seem like a weird fairy tale, words like “mutation” and “natural selection.”  Mutations of DNA are not as freakish as I previously thought.  “Mutant” sounds so weird and rare, but my offspring each have 60 (on average) mutations in their DNA sequences (deviations from the code passed on to them) that are not from Justin or me.  In just one generation!  That makes changes in species not seem to be so impossible.  Darwin’s theory of natural selection is clearly seen (and accepted as sensible) in mutated strains of viruses that have become unaffected by vaccines.  The strains that have changed are the ones that survive and pass on their genetic code.
•    Science is nothing to be afraid of:  Many believers in God have been drawn to Young Earth Creationism [the literal interpretation of the 6 days of creation in Genesis, which makes the earth only 6,000-10,000 years old] because they see scientific advances as threatening to God.  But does He really need defending here?  Is not God the author of the laws of the universe?  Is He not the greatest scientist?  The greatest physicist? The greatest biologist? Most important, is He honored or dishonored by those who would demand that His people ignore rigorous scientific conclusions about His creation?  Can faith in a loving God be built on a foundation of lies about nature?”  Towards the middle of the book, Collins gets pretty bold and frank about the error he sees in discounting the evidence that 100 years of scientific research has compiled, pointing to the evolution of life on earth.

Through reading this book, I have taken away a more detailed understanding of evolutionary theory.  (Collins points out, by the way, that yes, evolution is a theory, but that word is used in the scientific community differently than you might use it otherwise.  Darwin put forth his evolutionary theory in the way that Newton put forth his theory of gravitation).   When I had the opportunity to learn about this (back in the 9th grade) I was closed to it and rejected the information.  I found learning it in my 30s much more fascinating.  I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject, and especially to high school or college students who have taken, are taking, or will take biology.  (Psst, kids, if you want, I can give you the Cliff’s Notes version, or tell you which 3 or 4 chapters to read… it is almost 300 pages long)

I also have a greater awe for God’s handiwork.  Don’t you think God forming man from the dust of the earth sounds ludicrous?!  How about from the DNA of bacteria, slowly morphed and altered to our present state?  Crazy!!  While the added information was fun for me, I am holding loosely to specific ideas of how God did it.  I just know that He did.  And He took such great care in doing it.  I love that creation is so complex that it’s taking us so long to figure everything out.  I hope we never run out of things to discover.  I don’t think we will.  (Hallelujah, Lord, keep us humble!) After pondering all these things – and some of these pages did make my brain hurt – it boils down to something we say with our kids almost every evening before dinner, The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.