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Old 04-04-2007, 04:23 PM   #1
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Collins: How a scientist can believe in God

This was on CNN.com. Interesting stuff.

By Dr. Francis Collins

Editor's note: Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. His most recent book is "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief."
ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views.
As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan.
I did not always embrace these perspectives. As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers.
I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as "What is the meaning of life?" "Why am I here?" "Why does mathematics work, anyway?" "If the universe had a beginning, who created it?" "Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?" "Why do humans have a moral sense?" "What happens after we die?" (Watch Francis Collins discuss how he came to believe in God )
I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments, and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds. My earlier atheist's assertion that "I know there is no God" emerged as the least defensible. As the British writer G.K. Chesterton famously remarked, "Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas, for it is the assertion of a universal negative."
But reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.
For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search to learn more about God's character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God's son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus.
So, some have asked, doesn't your brain explode? Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren't evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection?
Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers. Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.
But why couldn't this be God's plan for creation? True, this is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, but long before Darwin, there were many thoughtful interpreters like St. Augustine, who found it impossible to be exactly sure what the meaning of that amazing creation story was supposed to be. So attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer.
I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.
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Old 04-04-2007, 04:30 PM   #2
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Again it comes back to a need for meaning and a need to have answers, however unfounded.
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Old 04-04-2007, 04:36 PM   #3
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Are you talking about science, or faith?
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Old 04-04-2007, 04:47 PM   #4
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Faith; science starts from the position of not knowing anything and striving to get closer to the facts with the understanding that whatever model exists is an approximation and may be false.

Faith starts with the promise of revealed truth, unchanging and supreme - if you begin with the presumtion of a higher order then mentally you will affirm this with all your evidence.

For instance the supposedly slim chance of life emerging (I say supposedly because we don't know how common or uncommon life is in the universe) is taken to mean that Earth must be deliberately special; but it overlooks the minor detail that any sentient species that arises in any scenario in the universe can take the same point of view on the basis that their existence also required innumerable factors to come into play. The origination of life and evolution of intelligence is the precondition, it's self selecting because on lifeless worlds (however numerically unlikely their situation is) there is no observer.
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Old 04-04-2007, 05:16 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer
Faith; science starts from the position of not knowing anything and striving to get closer to the facts with the understanding that whatever model exists is an approximation and may be false.

Faith starts with the promise of revealed truth, unchanging and supreme - if you begin with the presumtion of a higher order then mentally you will affirm this with all your evidence.

For instance the supposedly slim chance of life emerging (I say supposedly because we don't know how common or uncommon life is in the universe) is taken to mean that Earth must be deliberately special; but it overlooks the minor detail that any sentient species that arises in any scenario in the universe can take the same point of view on the basis that their existence also required innumerable factors to come into play. The origination of life and evolution of intelligence is the precondition, it's self selecting because on lifeless worlds (however numerically unlikely their situation is) there is no observer.

Yes, but see the questions you're raising here. Out of the planets we know of, why is there only life here? Why is there no observer elsewhere? I know you can answer those questions from a scientific point of view — you've proven your good at that. However, why is it simple minded to look beyond science when science can't answer everything — and when the sum of the questions science can't answer is so great? When you look at the detail of life/existence and how it all works together and how if things were slightly different, life wouldn't exist here, how is it such a leap of logic to assume there's something behind it? Isn't it OK to assume there's just some things science can't get to?

BTW, that statement of mine above was meant to be kind of a joke. I know the difference between science and faith. That said, why can't they coexist like this guy is saying? I think his quote about the study of science being a form of worship is a beautiful truth.
Also, faith isn't just blind belief. Like Collins said, reason alone can put together a strong enough argument for God. Throw in the historical evidence of Christ, the many prophecies about him made in the OT and fulfilled in the NT, and the evidence for his miracles outside of the Bible, there's more of a solid foundation than many might think.
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Old 04-04-2007, 07:17 PM   #6
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Old 04-04-2007, 08:58 PM   #7
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I've never found it particularly difficult to believe in science and have religious faith. They're not mutually exclusive. If one believes in a god that is supposedly all-knowing and all-powerful, doesn't it simply make sense to say that science is science, but it's just one part of the god's creation? I suppose I have a bias because of how I was raised. I went to private schools but was always taught things like evolution and Big Bang in science classes. The only difference between my scientific beliefs and the scientific beliefs of my atheist peers is that I just assume that all scientific theories/processes are God-willed and that's really the extent of it. Faith is faith. You can't prove or disprove a faith. I'm always slightly irked that scientist are so quick to assume that a religious person believes what they believe about science because of their faith, but then try to disprove a faith with a scientific process. Religious people should NOT be using Scripture to undermine science, just as scientifically inclined people should NOT be using science to undermine someone's spirituality and faith. I have my science and I have my faith. Science informs what I know about tangible things and faith influences my spirituality. Pretty much all of my experiences with science have overlapped because they teach me about God's creation and thus are a spiritual experience in themselves.
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Old 04-04-2007, 11:20 PM   #8
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I’ve been thinking about this and some of what A_Wanderer said throughout the day. Then this an idea came to me and led me to do a little research. I found that up to 60 percent of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70 percent water and the lungs are nearly 90 percent water. About 83 percent of our blood is water.
In comparison, most fruits and vegetables contain up to 90 percent water.
However, anyone can see when you compare the human body to a tomato, the differences are staggering.

Fruits and vegetables don't have brains, beating hearts, sex organs, an incredible feeling that comes with sex, the capacity to love, a built-in moral compass, the capacity to heal physically on their own, the ability to see, hear and feel, cognitive thought, the ability to move out of their own will, the ability to cry tears based on emotional feelings, the ability to laugh after emotional feelings, the ability to feel pain, the ability to have babies, the ability, for some of us, to breastfeed important nutrients to the baby (which many scientists say can't be reproduced), the ability to breath, and, among many other things, the ability to taste and enjoy, chew and swallow, digest and obtain necessary nutrients from, and poop and pee the left over stuff (probably largely water) from fruits and vegetables. A tomato is just a tomato (no matter how you say the freaking word).

Then, on top of it all, there's the questions as to why fruits and vegetables exist and how they're able to be grown from seed to the end result. It seems as if their existence and our existence together, and how one needs the other (or food in general) to exist, has something behind it other than chance.

I guess my point is this: I don't understand why asking "why" is any less important than asking "how." I would argue it's more important. If there is no reason to ask "why" then, really, there's not much of a reason to ask "how," ultimately. It's all chance, so so what. I then have as much value as a freaking tomato. (Which, I know can be used in everything from ketchup to salsa, so there’s hope for me.)
However, if there is a reason to ask "why," there has to be value in asking it . . . and discovering what the "why" is.

It’s been my experience that doing this reveals a “Who.”
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Old 04-05-2007, 12:55 AM   #9
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i also don't think religion and science can't be paired together. Like Lies said, people who are religious just believe that whatever gets find out is just gods will or whatnot.

But to me, I believe that 1. we are still so primitive to ever really know the answers of such complexity (if there are even answers to be found) and that some people are ok with that, while others don't like having an unknowning void out there, and fill it up with a faith that makes them feel better. Faith is really a tool to make you feel like you have a purpose, and an ending. That you are a higher being then the tree or the cow in the field that will die and rot away.
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Old 04-05-2007, 01:03 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by dazzlingamy
Faith is really a tool to make you feel like you have a purpose, and an ending. That you are a higher being then the tree or the cow in the field that will die and rot away.
I personally don't agree with this. That's not why I have my faith at all. I have my faith because I believe Christ is who he said he was and I find his life and teachings, and the evidence for his divinity, compelling. My faith starts with Christ's significance, not my need to feel significant.
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Old 04-05-2007, 01:10 AM   #11
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But WHY do you believe in him? Why are you compelled to believe in some divinity? What is the purpose of your belief?

See this is why I fundamentally don't understand. If your faith is not to make you feel better about dying and purpose in life, which so many people question etc, then why have it? What does it offer you?
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Old 04-05-2007, 02:45 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by coemgen
It's all chance, so so what. I then have as much value as a freaking tomato. (Which, I know can be used in everything from ketchup to salsa, so there’s hope for me.)
The irony is, I suspect either you or I would be readier to grant certain limited rights to some 'lower' life forms as they possess their own inherent dignity and that's not for us to dismiss than A_W would. Although to be fair, that kind of thinking can't really be correlated to religious belief or nonbelief in any consistent way.

I can't speak for coemgen, amy, but from my own POV asking what faith 'offers' is probably a misguided starting point for understanding it. I don't personally suppose my life would seem worthless and empty or burdened by existential angst about the meaningless of being, that we're all just bags of blood and lymph waiting to be rudely squashed by the callousness of nature etc. etc. etc., without it. In the end it really and simply just is. That said, you will find plenty of religious people who will say they'd go mad if they thought there was no intelligence underlying and guiding the universe, or that existence would seem like torment if they didn't trust that some form of it continues on after death, etc. I can't say I really understand that kind of thinking any better than you would, but I will say not everyone shares your self-confidence or intuitive faith in their own value before others and the world; self-contempt seems as uniquely and characteristically human a trait as religion and I think for those who struggle with that, coming to believe there's a reason to trust in their own value and worth that's not contingent on anything quantifiable, and in particular on other people and anything they can say or do, can free them from withdrawn contempt for themselves and others and enable peaceful acceptance of what it is to be human to fall into place. That doesn't have to hinge on any one religious concept, anthropomorphic personal god, heaven, reincarnation, nirvana or whatever, it could take various forms. I just don't think it ultimately makes any more sense to pin the 'validity' (or lack thereof) of that on self-referential attribution to some ongoing existential crisis they're struggling with, than it does to contemplate how an atheist can possibly maintain any sort of moral code or sincere enjoyment of life and pin that all on some exquisite fiction about reason-based categorical imperatives or the culturally conditioned power of narrative and our helpless compulsion towards it, or whatever other interpretation one might come up with.
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Old 04-05-2007, 05:15 AM   #13
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While I sort of understand what you're saying (you write so well!) I guess for me, I just don't see a place in my life for religion, either want or need. I do understand its hard to explain things that are ingrained in you, and complex like religious beliefs, but it has always seemed to me that religion is a way of making life worthwhile. That some religious people see that the end product rules their life and if there was no religion the world would turn into some degenerate sess pool of evil or somesuch and that religion is the only thing holding back people from going mental or somesuch.

But then, religion to religious people is as different as peoples view on everything else.

btw, you're not saying im arrogant by having self importance are you? I hope i don't come across that way!
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Old 04-05-2007, 07:20 AM   #14
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On the contrary, I take it as a sign of a healthy and productive person who's got the essentials of their life in sound order, and I always admire and take heart from it when I see it in yours and some other people's posts.

I understand what you mean by 'a way of making life worthwhile,' and as far as it goes, I'm sure if I had to sit down and make a list of reasons 'why I find life worthwhile' there would be some distinctly religious-inflected ones on there. I think I was more trying to suggest that the reverse isn't necessarily true: it doesn't follow that I couldn't feel that way anymore if I didn't believe in those particular reasons--that I must have suffered some kind of existential trauma or warping which drives me to believe I 'need' them. Like you, I'm sure, I've known suicidally depressed and despairing religious people as well as optimistic and content atheists, and vice versa, in addition to plenty (most, really) from both categories who fall somewhere in between.

I might regret using this analogy later, but for me, religious belief is a set of apprehensions I have (Collins' "music one hears") and the particulars of my own faith (Judaism) are the language I convey those through. And as most any philosopher of language will tell you, ultimately it's delusory to think that relationship only works in one direction--the language we have for talking about the world inevitably affects to some extent how we perceive it; for example, how many colors you've learned to identify by name has been shown to affect how many you can discern compared to others. And that much is true for everyone; if we weren't able to form expectations, identify conceptual parameters and make certain qualified assumptions about the 'meaning' of all kinds of things, none of us would be able to function--religious thought isn't unique in that regard, and IMO there's nothing singularly noble or 'revealing' about either buying into or rejecting that mode of contemplation compared to others. On the other hand, no one exists in a vacuum, and the experiences you might have in one chapter of your life don't place absolute limits on what perspectives you'll arrive at in others--I don't believe there's any one generalizable, hard-and-fast Great Divide you could identify between how religious people categorically experience, analyze and understand life and their place in it vs. nonreligious people. For example, the fact that an atheist could see life as filled with value and things to feel grateful (to fate, family, country, etc.) for and committed to doesn't seem mysterious to me at all, whereas the fact that a religious person could imagine that no one who doesn't 'have' what they do could possibly experience those things is quite mystifying to me--intellectually, anyhow, and to the extent that *I think* I can understand that emotionally, it's based on observation, not personal experience. I'd be lying if I said I always feel happy to be alive, but I've never feared the possibility (which I certainly acknowledge exists) of ceasing to exist altogether as some type of self-aware being/Being, nor seen existence as some kind of innately debased condition which it must inevitably be torment to miss out on 'liberation' from, or really understood why anyone would. I think the danger of 'the end product ruling your life', as you put it, has more to do with a kind of nihilism--another uniquely and characteristically human habit, and likely prone to entanglement with others in similar fashion to how religion and self-contempt can become entangled--than anything inherent in being religious (whatever form that might take) per se.

But, that's just me, and I'm sure there are plenty of people on both sides of the religious fence would find some or all of the above incomprehensible, woefully inadequate or just in general a crock.
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Old 04-05-2007, 08:18 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by coemgen
Fruits and vegetables don't have brains, beating hearts, sex organs, an incredible feeling that comes with sex, the capacity to love, a built-in moral compass, the capacity to heal physically on their own, the ability to see, hear and feel, cognitive thought, the ability to move out of their own will, the ability to cry tears based on emotional feelings, the ability to laugh after emotional feelings, the ability to feel pain, the ability to have babies, the ability, for some of us, to breastfeed important nutrients to the baby (which many scientists say can't be reproduced), the ability to breath, and, among many other things, the ability to taste and enjoy, chew and swallow, digest and obtain necessary nutrients from, and poop and pee the left over stuff (probably largely water) from fruits and vegetables. A tomato is just a tomato (no matter how you say the freaking word).
Fruits from tomatoes and pumpkins to apples and pears are the reproductive organs of the plant they come from, they are the ripenened ovaries of the plant containing the seeds. So yes the tomato plant has sex organs, they can heal, plants can move in a limited fashion, they will always turn to face the sun, they can feel, does a venus fly trap for instance just guess when a fly has landed on its leaf? They have 'babies' that would be their seeds. Plants breathe all the time, they respire just as we do, they need oxygen, but they also create more oxygen which keeps this planet alive. The tomato plant will also digest food, and excrete waste.

Vegetables are also just food stores for the actual plant we get it from, a potato is basically like our own fat reserves in our body.

Flowering plants are really the pinnacle of plant evolution, they can utilise sexual and asexual reproduction depending on how conditions suit them, their spores (pollen) can survive for thousands of years....something we cannot do.

I find it more interesting how similar we actually are, than how different everything is, from the earthworm up the basic body form for all animals is very similar...people can either see that as a godly plan or evolution keeping the things that work

On a whole plants are a lot (probably by a couple million times) more important to life on Earth than people are...they convert engergy from the sun into the source of food and energy for all life, while also providing us with what we breathe....so plants are much more amazing than us
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