The Language of Science and Faith – Book Review

Author: Kawl W. Giberson & Francis Collins
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
ISBN 13: 978-0-8308-3829-5

Reviewed by Daniel Button, Lecturer and Head of Theology, Redcliffe College.

Truth. Beauty. Wonder. Are these concepts the province of science or of
faith? Christians, and indeed people from other faiths, are often accused
of having lost the sense of wonder that propels science to ever more
amazing discoveries about the universe. Yet science too easily forgets
that its own self-imposed naturalistic methodology can constrain its
search for truth to the narrowly empirical. In fact, the common values of
truth, beauty and wonder are the very concepts that allow science and
faith to engage in constructive dialogue, enabling each to hold a perspective on God’s creation that can be recognised, respected, and valued on its own terms, while also contributing to a greater conception of reality possible only by consolidation. But sadly for many Christians, the constant media portrayal of ‘science and faith in conflict’ creates an undercurrent of suspicion, too often resulting in either an impaired faith or a rejection of science. This dilemma becomes abundantly apparent in trying to engage a diverse group of students in a course such as ‘The Christian Response to Secularism and Modernism’. The Christian response to science generally alternates between defensive mode and attacking mode (or a third head-in-the-sand mode), with very little sense that commonality or unity of purpose is desirable, let alone possible. It is actually the third response, arising from a sense of anxiety or even fear that science and faith are a volatile combination best avoided, which is perhaps the most tragic.

For that reason alone, Giberson and Collins’ new book deserves the highest commendation. Numerous works have been written on science and faith from every conceivable perspective, yet for the general public, and Christians in particular, the very language of science (not to mention academic theology) often constructs immediate and insurmountable barriers. Take the word ‘evolution’ for example – or even ‘creation’. Immediately we are divided into camps, and the defences go up. Getting to the core of the matter without alienating the very person one hopes to engage is no easy task, and it takes a rare perceptive ability – grounded not only in both science and theology, but in the conscious or unconscious (yet deeply-held) beliefs of biblically-minded Christians – to succeed in creating a safe context for a real engagement. The Language of Science and Faith does this brilliantly. Almost like a Socratic dialogue, the authors pose questions that virtually everyone asks at one time or another (or has wished they could), and then proceed to respond to those questions in a remarkably simple and straightforward manner, yet respectful of the diversity of views held by Christians and non-Christians alike. Chapter titles give a clear sense of the tone and style, from: ‘How Do We Relate Science and Religion?’ and ‘Can We Really Know the Earth is Billions of Years Old?’ to ‘Do I Have to Believe in Evolution?’

While the style is simple, the content is anything but simplistic. The credentials of the authors are formidable. Francis Collins was the leader of the Human Genome Project, founder of the BioLogos Foundation, and currently director of the National Institutes of Health in the USA. Giberson is a professor of physics and the director of the forum on Faith & Science at Gordon College. For a geneticist as renowned as Francis Collins to write a book as accessible to the non-scientist as this one is a great achievement in itself. But the particular advantage of this book over many others of the genre is the seriousness and respect with which it treats the biblical considerations and concerns of Christians who are keen to understand the scientific explanations of life – without compromising their faith.

This is a particularly delicate task in the US, where young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, as well as Intelligent Design and other views, still vie with evolution (both theistic and atheistic) in an ongoing battle for cultural dominance. The authors even affirm that ‘young earth creationism is held by the majority of evangelicals’ [in the US]. This shows just how far this book attempts to go in explaining current scientific theories and concepts in a biblically respectful and non-threatening manner. In the UK, the battle is generally perceived to be over, but the casualties are the many who have lost their faith or turned their back on science because of a perception of irreconcilability. This book shows, from two very eminent scientists, that the Bible and science can (and perhaps must) be reconcilable after all. Each generation needs to be able to return to these questions anew, without being made to feel silly, uneducated, or that their cherished beliefs should be simply discarded like yesterday’s news. This is a book that can create fascinating classroom discussion without making anyone feel their view is being ridiculed or undervalued. In such a context, thoughtful reflection and positive transformation can truly take place.

I never imagined I would find a book in the science-faith genre that I could recommend to my students above those of the British science-theologian John Polkinghorne, but The Language of Science and Faith now tops the list. In its respectful, careful, yet lucid way, it reshapes old arguments with fresh insights, providing solid and rational evidence for a constructive partnership of science and Christian faith; and it whets the appetite for a science which points to the truth, beauty and wonder of God’s Creation as surely as the Bible points to the truth, beauty and wonder of its Creator.

Please Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Redcliffe College.

Return to Issue 46.

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