Questions by the staff of The Ichthus
You are well known for advocating a view called theistic evolution. Could you tell us briefly what theistic evolution is and what guiding principles led you to this view? What is the relationship between God and evolution? Did God somehow “guide” it? What would you say to Christians who don’t believe in evolution?
How certain is the scientific evidence for evolution? Is it a “cop-out” not to interpret the Genesis creation story literally? Theistic evolution, or BioLogos as I prefer to call it, embraces the evidence of biological evolution. That evidence grows more overwhelming every day, especially on the basis of the study of the genomes of many organisms, providing the kind of digital record of descent from a common ancestor that Darwin could never have imagined. But that answers the “how” question about the marvelous diversity of life on earth, it doesn’t answer the “why” question. In my book The Language of God, and soon to
be further explored in a web site addressing the most frequently asked questions about science and faith (www.biologos.org), the case is made that evolution was God’s mechanism for creation, including the ultimate development of human beings. As for the marvelous and profound Genesis creation story, it has much to teach us about the nature of God and the nature of humans. But thoughtful and highly educated believers like Augustine in 400 AD did not consider it appropriate to interpret Genesis 1 and 2 literally, so it is perplexing indeed that many conservative Christians have found it necessary to do so for the last 150 years.
Can you describe the argument for a moral law that drew you to Christianity? Why was it so convincing? Do you think that evolution can adequately account for morality? What would the consequences for faith in God be if evolution could account for morality?
One of the most notable characteristics of humanity, across centuries, cultures, and geographic locations, is a universal grasp of the concept of right and wrong, and an inner voice that calls us to do the right thing. This is often referred to as the Moral Law. We may not always agree on what behaviors are right (and this is heavily influenced by culture), but we generally agree that we should try to do good and avoid evil. When we break the Law (which, if we are honest, is frequently), we make excuses for ourselves, only further demonstrating that we feel obligated to the Law. Evolutionary arguments, which ultimately must support reproductive fitness as the overarching goal, may explain some parts of this human urge toward altruism – especially if your sacrificial acts are offered to your relatives, or to those from whom you might expect some future reciprocal benefits. Martin Nowak has recently extended those models to show that evolution could even favor altruism directed at all members of your own group. But these evolutionary models all require hostility to outgroups within your species. Somehow we humans didn’t seem to get that memo – in fact, we especially admire examples where individuals act sacrificially for others from outgroups that they don’t even know – think of Mother Teresa, or Oskar Schindler, or the Good Samaritan. Dismissing these acts of radical altruism as some sort of evolutionary misfiring, which is the usual response from an atheist, ought to at least be viewed skeptically as a bit of a “just so” story. And if these noble acts are frankly a scandal to reproductive fitness, might they instead be a pointer toward a holy, loving, and caring God, who instilled this Moral Law into each of us as a sign of our special nature, and as a call to relationship with the Almighty? Don’t get me wrong, or interpret this argument as an example of “God of the gaps”. If evolutionary mechanisms turn out to be sufficient to explain the Moral Law, that still doesn’t rule out God’s hand in the process. After all, if God is the author of evolution anyway, it would make sense that a holy God who cares about good and evil would have
used the evolutionary process to instill the Moral Law into humanity.
In your book, The Language of God, you explain how your intellectual quest to confirm your atheism resulted in belief in the God of the Bible. What were some of the most significant turning points along this journey? Why did you leave atheism for Christianity?
I realized that there were compelling signposts to God in nature. Here are just a few examples: the fact that there is something instead of nothing; the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” (Wigner’s phrase) to explain the behavior of matter and energy; the need to answer the question “what came before the Big Bang?”; and the finetuning of physical constants in the universe to have just the value they need to make complexity possible. With my eyes opened by the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity”, I also realized that there was no simple materialistic explanation for the existence of right and wrong, nor for our universal human calling to be moral beings. While these are not proofs of God’s existence, and I believe no such proofs will be found, the combination of these arguments led me to realize that atheism is the most fundamentalist and least rational of all of the worldview options. In Chesterton’s words, “Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas, for it is the assertion of a universal negative.” Having come to the point of seeing the existence of God as a compelling conclusion, I then was curious to discover what God was like. For that purpose I studied the world’s religions to see what they had to say. When I encountered the person of Jesus Christ, my life changed. I could see that this was a man like no other – who not only claimed to know God, but to be God. I was astounded to learn that the historical evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was compelling. And I realized that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross provided a solution to my increasing distress at never being able to approach a holy God because of my own unholiness.
Francis Collins is a former leader of the Human Genome Project, current director of the National Institutes of Health, and founder of The BioLogos Foundation.