Saturday, July 11, 2009

Good God Talk on Evolution

Christianity Today has a magnificent interview with Francis Collins that exemplifies the Baha'i teaching of the harmony between religion and science. It's a long interview but definitely worth reading. As a social scientist in training I found this a refreshing and thoughtful discussion.
It begins with some background on Collins and then the interviewer asking a question and him responding:

The former director of the Human Genome Project, one of the most ambitious ventures in the history of science, Francis Collins recently launched the BioLogos Foundation, which "promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms seeking harmony between these different perspectives." Collins gave a personal account of the harmony between faith and science in his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, published in 2006. Karl Giberson spoke with Collins during a conference at Azusa Pacific University.

You take both the Bible and evolution seriously. Did the harmony you find between evolution and your faith just come naturally?

You know, it really did. When I became a believer at 27, the first church I went to was a pretty conservative Methodist church in a little town outside Chapel Hill. I'm sure there were a lot of people in that church who were taking Genesis literally and rejecting evolution.

But I couldn't take Genesis literally because I had come to the scientific worldview before I came to the spiritual worldview. I felt that, once I arrived at the sense that God was real and that God was the source of all truth, then, just by definition, there could not be a conflict.

You seem like a mirror image of the fundamentalists who struggle with this, as I certainly did in college. Fundamentalists like me grow up with a lot of confidence in biblical literalism and then they encounter evolution, so they are bringing their prior biblical commitments to this new problem. You were interpreting the Bible before you knew there was a biblical issue. You had enough confidence in evolution that when you read about origins in the Bible, you would read as we do today when it comes to those biblical passages that seem opposed to heliocentricity—we don't think of a moving earth as a problem so we don't even notice the biblical references.

Right. I will say, though, that I think evolution is a much tougher problem for a believer to get comfortable with than heliocentricity. Evolution comments on our biological nature, and that's a lot closer to the "image of God" concept than whether the Earth floats around the Sun or the other way around.

Heliocentricity is so well-established that educated people simply can't oppose it any longer, of course. What about common ancestry and evolution in general? How compelling is the evidence at this point?

The evidence is overwhelming. And it is becoming more so almost by the day, especially because we can now use DNA as a digital record of the way Darwin's theory has played out over the course of time.

Darwin could hardly have imagined that there would turn out to be such strong proof of his theory—he didn't know about DNA. Evolution is now profoundly well-documented from multiple different perspectives, all of which give you a consistent view with enormous explanatory power that makes it the central core of biology. Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics. (Read the whole thing)

The Baha'i Writings say this about the harmony of religion and science:

"Any religious belief which is not conformable with scientific proof and investigation is superstition, for true science is reason and reality, and religion is essentially reality and pure reason; therefore, the two must correspond. Religious teaching which is at variance with science and reason is human invention and imagination unworthy of acceptance, for the antithesis and opposite of knowledge is superstition born of the ignorance of man. If we say religion is opposed to science, we lack knowledge of either true science or true religion, for both are founded upon the premises and conclusions of reason, and both must bear its test." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 107)