Thursday, February 01, 2007

Science and Faith

In a (recently rare) moment of stretching my brain beyond immediate exigencies, I perused through the latest National Geographic sitting on my parents' coffee table last night. You know, that magazine is amazing: first printed in 1888, it continues to fascinate and remains interesting even when you move from the magnificent pictures to the (often-heady) text. So yesterday I learned that you can get Nat-Geo podcasts (and subscribed my mom to The Dog Whisperer), one of Bangladesh's primary industries is derived from their vast mangrove forests, and saw some amazing pictures of artificial hearts (eeew).

Most interesting to me, though, was an interview between John Horgan (who describes himself as "an agnostic increasingly disturbed by religion's influence on human affairs) and Francis Collins, a world-reknowned scientist (if you're in the right circles) and leader of the Human Genome Project. It's called Francis Collins: The Scientist as Believer.

I don't particularly agree with everything Collins has to say about faith (e.g. his description of free will), but he's certainly squarely in the camp of evangelical Christianity and he is a thoughtful voice for God in a field that has either written off faith or driven a sharp wedge between profession in the sense of "job" and profession in the sense of "I believe." (Hmmm... I could get into an interesting exegetical fallacy here if I wanted to digress.) It's an interview that addresses personal faith, the problem of evil, the complexities of genetic engineering and the nature of miracles: all in around 1500 words!

Here's an excerpt that I, wearing my Van Tillian hat, particularly liked:

Horgan: What do you think about the field of neurotheology, which attempts to identify the neural basis of religious experiences?

Collins: I think it's fascinating but not particularly surprising. We humans are flesh and blood. So it wouldn't trouble me—if I were to have some mystical experience myself—to discover that my temporal lobe was lit up. That doesn't mean that this doesn't have genuine spiritual significance. Those who come at this issue with the presumption that there is nothing outside the natural world will look at this data and say, "Ya see?" Whereas those who come with the presumption that we are spiritual creatures will go, "Cool! There is a natural correlate to this mystical experience! How about that!"

Besides his brilliance, Collins seems like a down-to-earth (he's pictured with his motorcycle), humble (he admitted being too quick to assume something about agnostics' motives), and delightful person (in response to Horgan quoting a poet who calls God "semi-competent," Collins replies, "That's delightful—and probably blasphemous!").

I hope you'll check out the interview and enjoy it as much as I did.

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