Collins and religion Notes for November 20–27

Main points

I wanted to discuss Collins for two reasons. First, he strikes me as a thoughtful, interesting author. Second, I think that a lot of what he says throws light on what has taken the place of the image of God doctrine in our society.

The image of God today

On the one hand, the old doctrine lives on. Collins found it natural to describe the Human Genome Project as reading the language in which God created life. In other words, we understand how life works in the way that God did or, at least, in the same language, which is pretty close. That’s the familiar, early modern idea applied to modern biology.

On the other hand, the sciences are firmly established now. I think that Collins sometimes writes as though they encompass all the naturally, humanly accessible knowledge there is. It’s an approach that he shares with Pinker. But while Pinker is inclined to say that what science doesn’t find either isn’t there or isn’t important, Collins is not so dismissive. Instead, he turns to supernatural explanations when he comes to the limits of science.


At the end of class on the 27th, I noted a third approach between science and theology: humanism. Who gives meaning to human life? We do, through the arts and other human endeavors. How do we know things about the meaning of life, what makes music, and where we stand in the world? The humanities offer answers. It would be presumptuous to say that they offer true answers. But it’s equally presumptuous to ignore their contributions and scoot off to theology when science comes up short.

A second area where the humanities are relevant concerns history and the study of other cultures. Is it irrelevant that the various cosmological arguments Collins appeals to have been used, or could be used, to support incompatible religious beliefs? Maybe, but the case has to be made.

Next time we’ll talk about one use of history that strikes directly at the core of Collins’s case for religious belief. This is the study of different moral systems.

This page was written by Michael Green for The Image of God, ID-1, Fall 2007. It was posted November 27, 2007.
The Image of God