The Mother Divine
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Book Review
Authors: Karl W. Giberson & Francis S. Collins
Reviewed by: Roshan Shah
Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath

The influence of atheism—often in the garb of ‘secularism’, ‘progress’, ‘reason’ and ‘modernity’—is so pervasive that although I studied in a school run by an evangelical religious organization, God had no place at all in what we were taught. God was never invoked at school, except in the daily morning ‘assembly’, which was an onerous ritual that we students were compelled—against our will—to attend. God almost never appeared in the conversations that we children had—with our classmates, our teachers and even our parents. God might as well have not existed as far as we were concerned. God played almost no role whatsoever in what we learnt—in class, in the playground and at home. Taking God ‘too’ seriously was regarded as a major anomaly or even a sign of primitiveness or psychological disturbance, for it was widely believed that ‘modern science’ had finally and conclusively disproved God’s existence.

While this preposterous claim on behalf of science is shared by many people, large numbers of scientists across the world—some of them leaders in their areas of specialization—firmly believe in God, their faith being fortified, rather than hindered, by their scientific investigations. Among these are two prominent Americans, authors of this book. Karl Giberson is a professor of physics and a prolific writer on faith and science, while Francis Collins is a world-renowned geneticist, known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for directing the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest medical research institution. In this amazingly thought-provoking book the duo effectively challenges the widespread belief that science and religious faith are necessarily mutually incompatible. They adduce evidence from the natural world, using scientific arguments, that suggests that the universe has a creator—God.

Religion and science need not be seen as enemies of each other, the authors contend, unlike what hardened atheists as well as some extreme literalist religionists imagine. The changing understandings of the natural world that scientific investigations engender may necessitate, the authors say, continuous reconsideration of some of the ways in which we understand religious texts, particularly sections that relate to the natural world. On the other hand, they point out, the discovery by scientists that the laws of nature are finely tuned for life clearly indicates that people who deny God in the name of science should reassess their understandings of science and the world. Far from disproving God, science, properly understood, actually enriches our understanding of God’s amazing, beautiful creation. Believers thus have no need to fear or even reject science as being incompatible with faith.

As scientists, the authors are convinced that the truths about the natural world must be confronted, no matter how disturbing they may seem to many believers. But as believers they are convinced that there are certain theological truths—such as that God is the Creator—that must be integrated into any meaningful understanding of the natural world. God has provided two distinct, complementary and reliable revelations—divine scripture and the natural world—and both need to be interpreted as being in perfect harmony with each other.

The question of the origins of life lies at the root of the ideological conflict between believers and atheists. The authors insist that scientific explanations of the origin of life do not rule out God as creator—contrary to what some atheists insist. Believing that God created life and the world does not have to mean rejecting scientific explanations for these origins. The theory that the authors propound, which they name BioLogos, is rooted in the belief that the world has been created by God, who cares for, and interacts with, it. At the same time, the theory regards evolution is a reliable explanation for the development of the diversity of life forms on earth.

BioLogos is thus a form of the ‘theistic evolution’, which is rooted in the belief that God created life using natural processes, working within the natural order and in harmony with its laws, which are the handiwork of God. It is not necessary, the authors stress, that one deny God in order to accept evolution as a theory that seeks to account for the proliferation of species. Contrary to widespread misunderstanding, they point out, evolution makes no direct statements about religion and God. You could be a believer in God and believe in evolution at the same time without any contradiction. While this might come as a major relief to some, not all believers, needless to say, will be enthusiastic about BioLogos’ embrace of evolution as an explanation of the diversity of species, which they might regard as contradicting their views on the subject.  

The theory of evolution, the authors stress, does not deal with the origin of life: whether chemicals can combine on their own to produce life is not a part of it. Evolution is a theory of how life forms have changed over time, not about how life first appeared. The origin of life is technically outside the purview of the theory—and so it can well accommodate the existence of a Creator God. The theory of evolution deals with the development of life, not the origin of life from non-life.

The origin of life remains unexplained by evolution, which focuses specifically on what it posits as a process that causes one species to evolve from through mutations, which it claims has led to the diversity of living things today. Most evolutionary theorists, the authors remark, consider the origin of life to be outside the scope of biological evolution. This means that belief in God as the creator of life can be compatible with the theory of evolution. Many scientists, the authors note in this regard, accept the theory of the evolution of species from simpler to more complex life forms as the mechanics of God’s creative plan.

Scientists, the authors relate, presently do not for sure know how life—in the form, or so it is said, of single-cell organisms, began. For their part, the authors believe it was a result of God’s action. The universe, they explain, is so finely-tuned that it points to the existence of an All-Powerful Creator who consciously designed it. As evidence, they point out that if any of the physical constants of nature (including gravity, the speed of light, the mass of the electron, and the electromagnetic force and some other parameters) differed even slightly from their actual values, the result would have been a universe incapable of hosting life. This indicates that the universe has been finely tuned by an intelligent Designer, a Creator, to support life.

The book suggests that religion and science can work together symbiotically. It points out that many of the European philosophers who laid the foundations of what is regarded as modern science were devout believers. Even today, many leading scientists have faith in God—although this is something that is not as widely known as it should be. Religion has not only served to advance scientific discovery in many cases, but can also exert a significant influence on the practical application of scientific discoveries—on the ethical questions of advances in technology and medicine, for instance, for which the scientific method cannot provide an answer. On the other hand, the book suggests, science can also inform religion in useful ways, bringing our understandings of religion in harmony with God’s revelation in nature, reforming and refining believers’ understandings of God’s creation and clarifying the limitations of understandings about the creation that may be based on erroneous or too literal readings of scriptures.

That said, it is important to remember, the authors remind us, that there are questions that only science can address, and religion should allow it to do so. On the other hand, scientists should admit that science cannot answer questions about life’s purpose or the existence of God. Scientists must recognize that science will never fully answer the ‘why’ questions that religion deals with. Science can only tell us how the world is, never the reasons or purposes for why it is that way. Moreover, the authors note, a complete understanding of the mysteries of our existence will probably never be developed by the finite human mind, and so there will always be questions that science cannot answer. We may never know, for example, what happened before the ‘big bang’.

The authors are both Christians, but the book does not seek to prove the distinctive claims of Christianity as such. Instead, it adduces scientific arguments that suggest the existence of God, seeking to explain the origin of life as a result of Divine decree creation and attempting to reconcile evolution with belief in God. As such, then, the book is likely to resonate equally with Christians seeking to reconcile their faith with modern scientific claims as with many non-Christian believers who may not share the author’s Christian faith as well as with others who are searching for meaning and purpose in life.