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Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? Paperback – October 31, 2003
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"Collins maps the entire interface between faithful biblical interpretation and questions of all sorts posed in the name of the sciences. Interesting, fair-minded, shrewd, and clear from start to finish, this will prove outstanding as a pastoral resource."
—J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
"There is something here for just about everyone. Science and Faith is required reading for all who are interested in the relationship between science and the Christian faith."
—J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters
"This is a highly significant book on possibly the most important subject confronting the church today-the neutrality of science. A delightful style makes it easily accessible yet the author never neglects important issues. It is the best book of its kind for decades."
—Ranald Macaulay, Speaker, L'Abri Fellowship; Coordinator, Christian Heritage, Cambridge
"Jack Collins is my kind of guy-a fellow MIT nerd. But he is much more: a brilliant scholar of biblical languages and a keen observer of the interaction between science and the Christian faith. This is a wonderful book, and I recommend it most strongly."
—Henry F. Schaefer III, Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry, University of Georgia
About the Author
C. John Collins (PhD, University of Liverpool) is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He has been a research engineer, church-planter, and teacher. He was the Old Testament Chairman for the English Standard Version Bible and is author of The God of Miracles, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?, and Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. He and his wife have two grown children.
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Trying to find effective ways to communicate the truth about science and religion, in either a secular or religious context, is a perpetual challenge. In addition to tracking the current state of various disciplines (scientific and theological), one must also learn how to communicate on topics ranging from philosophy to hermeneutics, all the while trying to make these things relevant and accessible to a lay audience.
Which brings me to my review of the latest addition to my library, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes. I was interested in this book for two reasons. First, I was already familiar with C. John Collins work from reading Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Second, the title promised to be a comprehensive look at the entire context of the science vs. religion debate. I knew from Dr. Collins treatment of Adam and Eve that he is thoughtful scholar and a gifted communicator.
In this book, the Christian who is not familiar with any aspect of the modern debate between science and religion will experience a comprehensive treatment of the subject. His goal is to not only help Christians overcome the fear that the study of science can undermine faith; he believes Christians should embrace the natural sciences:
“… in fact, if we have a proper hold on Christian belief we will love the natural world and respect the study of it; and by it we will also come to these studies with full mental vigor, confident that God’s truth can hold up under any challenge—and not only that, but also that his truth will both illuminate and enrich those studies.”
Collins’ book is divided into three sections. In the first, “Philosophical Issues” lays a foundation outlining the significance of critical thinking, sound argumentation, and the philosophical issues that swirl beneath the surface of this topic. I was impressed with how clearly the fundamental issues were communicated without resorting to the technical jargon that usually accompanies this topic.
The second section, “Theological Issues” is where this book is truly valuable. For many Christians, the biggest impediment to science is the Bible itself. That is to say, certain interpretations of the Bible create a necessary conflict between science and Christianity. Several chapters in this section address passages associated with the age of the earth, animal death prior to the Fall, and the idea that creation itself was altered by the rebellion of Adam and Eve. Collins’ arguments are based on sound hermeneutics based on his extensive experience teaching Greek, Hebrew and Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary.
There are also wonderful discussions on the nature of God’s providence, the nature of man (before and after the Fall), natural revelation, and the biblical mandate to care for creation. All these topics offer the Christian a deeper connection to God through a biblical understanding of creation and the role God intended for humanity as caretakers of this world.
We also learn how our capacity to understand the natural world, via science, plays an essential role in understanding how God interacts with creation. In brief, everything in creation while being sustained by God, behaves according to the properties or nature it was given.
“…[T]he Bible supports the idea that created things actually have natures, or properties that make them distinct from other things. It is the nature of wheat plants to produce more wheat plants, of fig trees to bear figs and not olives, and of salt ponds to yield salt water and not fresh. The reason is that each thing is the way God made it to be.”
The more complete our knowledge of the properties or “laws” of nature, the more equipped we are to know a natural event from a supernatural one.
“… this gives us a way of thinking about how we can tell whether a supernatural event has taken place: not because we don’t know how it happened, but because we do know the properties of the things involved, and we know they couldn’t have produced the event on their own.”
Finally, in the third section, “Science and Faith Interact” Collins gets into the practical and significant discussions that make this book so valuable. Consider just a sampling of the questions addressed: How does one reconcile science and miracles? How old is creation according to geology and cosmology? What is Darwinism? What is intelligent design?
Collins does an admirable job of explaining the distinctions between what the various sciences can actually establish versus the anti-theistic worldviews that attempt to coopt various scientific fields. Collins gives the reader a thorough understanding of several issues within the philosophy of science, the intrinsic weaknesses within neo-Darwinian theory, and how intelligent design offers an alternative to the failed scientific dogmas being taught today.
As I bring this to a close, I want to offer some practical opinions as to who should read this book and why. For the engineer, scientist, or merely scientifically literate Christian who has never studied the topic of science and religion, this book is the perfect introduction. When I first read this book over 10 years ago, it would be fair to say I was as concerned about this topic as I was confused and uninformed. It is quite readable and devoid of footnotes. This makes the first 347 pages go rather quickly. If your interest is piqued by any topic, there are 67 pages of notes and bibliography organized by chapter.
For the apologist who is well read in this area or one who wants to start learning about it, I believe this book has a lot to offer in terms of how to communicate the seemingly complex topics of science, philosophy and theology. Christianity and science are not just compatible they are necessarily linked. Science cannot exist without the Christian worldview. Christianity is terribly impoverished if it ignores the glory of God found in creation.
Collins tackles a formidable enterprise in his endeavor to show that the Christian faith and much of what we learn as science are not in opposition with each other. The first two chapters of the book are a basic philosophical discussion of the intention of the book. Collins then undertakes to discuss the creation narratives with a scientific perspective, especially addressing his preference for viewing the days of creation as days in God's time, not ours. He has a chapter discussing the problem of man's fallenness in observing the world. He discusses the issues of God's providence and miracles in the face of the post-Hume worldview of the impossibility of miracles. He even includes a chapter on environmentalism and how Christians should view the world. Subsequent chapters deal with the age of the earth (he is in the "old-earth" camp), evolution and the development of animals. Two chapters are devoted to the defense of intelligent design. He concludes with thoughts on the social sciences. Finally, the book is ended with a discussion of the culture wars and our approach to the sciences. Though the entire book was excellent, the last two chapters were the best, and it is worth sticking with Collins to the end of the book. He especially notes how Christians have been in bitter attack against each other over minor differences in their view of the entire creation scenario. About the only thing I wished he would have discussed would have been flood theories, the tower of Babel incident (especially since Collins is a philologist), and some of the other Biblical miracles that often come under attack by the scientific community (eg., Jonah surviving being eaten by a big fish). This book is one of the must-reads for anybody strongly engaged in the sciences to help form a Christian basis for their scientific thinking.
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