“The Language of God” by Francis Collins

This is a very popular book (published in 2007), as apparent from the large number of reviews on Amazon. The author is a respected scientist, and is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This post is based on a review that I posted at the Amazon site back in 2012.

  • I have read numerous books trying to find solid arguments for believing in a Creator. The author has put together the best case he could also using previous ideas of C. S. Lewis and others. The main points in the book can be summarized as follows (not in the order presented in the book):

1. God is responsible for the “Big Bang”, i.e., the creation of the universe, and for creating the just right physical parameters (fine tuning) for the ultimate formation of planet Earth which is suitable for human evolution.

2. The “Intelligent Design” theory needs to be abandoned, since it may actually damage the case for the existence of God.

3. Darwin’s theory of evolution does account for leading to the appearance of a “human-like” creature, even though the evolution of more complex animals is explained by the theory.

  • Whether this creature further evolved by itself to be human or whether at some point God directly instilled human conscience to this creature, he leaves it open.
  • Either way, God is responsible for the existence of morality in humans. This is the theory of “Theistic Evolution”, which he prefers to call “BioLogos”.

4. The existence of “Moral Law” (the ability to differentiate right from wrong) is the fundamental basis for his belief in God.

5. The issue of “pain and suffering” was a difficult issue for C. S. Lewis, and the present author also runs into difficulties in addressing it.

My comments are as follows:

1. Credible evidence is emerging that Big Bang was not just one event, but such events are of common occurrence, and there is no need to invoke a higher power.

  • Stephen Hawking, whose book “A Brief History of Time” that the author quoted to make a case for God’s role, has since come out with a new book “The Grand Design” (2010) where he clearly states that the need for a Creator God is no longer there based on new evidence.
  • Also, in the inflationary theory, there are Big Bangs occurring all the time, and there is no need to invoke a fine-tuning of physical parameters; see, “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch.

2. Actually “Intelligent Design” is a somewhat better theory than the hypothesis of a God, in the sense that the proponents of that theory have actually put forth some formidable arguments for it.

  • Of course I do not subscribe to that theory (which some say is making the case for a Creator God without admitting it), but Collins does not make a better case for the Creator God hypothesis.
  • The problem with the “Intelligent Design” theory is that of course the question arises as to how that designer came into being! This is why many people say it is the same as the God hypothesis.
  • If anyone is interested in learning about the “Intelligent Design” theory, a good book is “Signature in the Cell” by Stephen Meyer (2009).

3. The big question here is “where in this sequence did the God instill moral values in the evolving creature?”. Is there a clear-cut transition from a robotic animal to a human with moral values?

  • The “uniqueness of a human” according to the author is the ability to know right from wrong. It is true that humans have this quality more stronger than in animals. Yet some animals also have at least a glimpse of this quality. If you have a pet, especially a dog, you know that it has feelings and also its own mind to do things, i.e., it is not like a robot.
  • While people sometimes sacrifice their own life to save others, there are also people like Hitler and Pol Pot who have committed unmentionable atrocities over long times (not just on impulse).
  • In Buddha Dhamma, both moral and immoral choices are built into “human psyche”; based on many complex factors (sansaric habits or “gathi”, family, friends, and associates, etc) people choose to be moral or immoral at different times depending on the situation. Of course, greed, hate, and ignorance play a big role; see, “Living Dhamma“.

4. Now on the existence of “moral law”: From #3 it is clear that even though morality is built into human psyche, it does not have a “binding effect” on humans. Humans are, in general,  more “moral” than animals but within the wider world described by the Buddha Dhamma, there are other sentient beings (devas and brahmas) who are more “moral” than humans.

  • If man is to be judged by just one life, why is it that everyone not given the same chance (including “same morality”)? People are born poor, rich, healthy, unhealthy, etc., and some die even before getting a chance to prove their worthiness.
  • This quite apparent “vagaries of life” are a strong argument for the case that this life is only one of many, and the diversity that we observe is due to effects of past actions (kamma vipaka); see, “Vagaries of Life and the Way to seek “Good Rebirths”“.
  • The basis of morality (as well as immorality) comes out naturally in Buddha Dhamma; see, “Origin of Morality (and Immorality) in Buddhism“.

5. Of course, the issue of “pain and suffering” — not only in this life but in the cycle of rebirths — is the basic problem of existence according to Buddha Dhamma.

  • Again, the issue of “pain and suffering” cannot be explained by any approach that is based on just one life. Just like modern science, Buddha Dhamma is based on “causes and effects”. Suffering — as well as happiness — arises due to past causes, and since most of these effects (e.g., disability at birth, poverty) are even apparent at birth, “past” means past lives.
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