Collins versus Dawkins

NPR’s Fresh Air ran two major interviews on faith and science last week: Richard Dawkins (last Wednesday) followed by Francis Collins (Thursday). Dawkins, of course, made his name as an evolutionary biologist and has recently published The God Delusion, an atheist’s manifesto for the 21st century. Collins is an evangelical Christian who headed the Human Genome Project, now working with the NIH, who has himself just released a defense of scientific Christianity titled The Language of God. The contrasts between the two are informative.

Dawkins comes across as more moderate than I’ve heard him in other interviews; his argument is basically that science explains the physical world better than religion, religion comes with a built-in danger of extremism, and we can find all the meaning we need in science’s explanations of the world. Quoting Douglas Adams, he says that his teenage discovery of evolutionary theory “about wrapped it up for God.”

Collins makes a (to me) highly familiar defense of a theistic scientist’s worldview, making much of his awe before the wonder of the human genome. He points out that science is not necessarily equipped to prove (or disprove) the existence of God, but also persists in talking about “evidence” for the Divine. Citing C. S. Lewis, he argues that faith and evidence are not only compatible, but actually pretty close to the same thing.

My conclusion, after listening to them back to back: they’re both wrong. In this exchange, Dawkins is the more lucid of the two, but his argument founders on his absurd insistence that science’s explanations of the physical world are also adequate to provide that world with meaning. Just because I know why the world is the way it is doesn’t tell me how it should be, especially as regards the best ways for human beings to live together.

Although I’m more in agreement with Collins, his argument feels mushy to me. I can’t agree with his (and Lewis’s) assertion that faith is somehow ultimately based on reasoning from scientific evidence. My judgments of what is (and is not) in accordance with the example of Jesus Christ are far more aesthetic than logical. I can’t quantify why a given behavior is Christly – but I trust that, with prayer, I can make that decision. Likewise, my “evidence” for belief in the Divine is so different from scientific evidence that it probably doesn’t deserve the name. What I have are feelings that are evoked by my experience of Creation and the people in it – this, not scientific fact, is the substance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things unseen.