Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred

Creating a Community to Explore the Harmony of Science and Faith


Today would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. At her
memorial service last year, family and friends sang “Will the Circle Be
Unbroken.” The verses powerfully captured the loss I felt as a grieving son,
but the chorus offered reassurance: “Will the circle be unbroken, by and by,
Lord, by and by? There’s a better home awaiting, in the sky, Lord, in the sky.”

My mother had an amazing ability to recruit others to a
shared community. Along with my teacher/scholar/director/musician dad, she
created an amazing community of theater, music and art in Virginia’s Shenandoah
Valley. Being included meant being inspired to do more than you
dreamed that you could. It meant being welcomed right away and given an
important task. “Where community is real, there is communion,” mother wrote in
an essay. “Good things can happen. People talk to each other … There is zest. There
is laughter. There is even compassion.”


As I reflect on her legacy, I wonder how we could put those
same principles to work in encouraging a new and vibrant community dedicated to
finding the truth in both science and faith. The shrill voices at the poles of
the science and faith discussion that claim the scientific and spiritual
worldviews are incompatible have their own organized communities. But what about
the vast majority that seeks a third way? What about the people who are
convinced that science is a reliable way to understand the natural world, but
who also seek answers through faith to more profound questions about the
meaning of life and the existence of God?

There are encouraging signs that people who trust both God
and science are beginning to create such a community. In the United Kingdom,
molecular biologist Denis Alexander, biophysicist Alister McGrath and the Rev. John
Polkinghorne, a particle physicist, are turning out marvelously thought provoking
reflections on science and faith. In North America, astronomer Owen Gingerich, Denis
Lamoureux,professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta, and biologists Kenneth Miller and Jeff Schloss are doing the same. And in November, The BioLogos Foundation will bring together scientists, theologians and pastors to pave the way for a science-informed theology that celebrates God’s goodness and creative power and to develop a more cohesive
strategy to explore this “third way.”


These are just initial efforts to help catalyze a community devoted to seeking
harmony in science and faith. We’d love to hear any ideas that could help in
building this community and welcome discussion in the comments section below.

My mother detailed her own struggles to merge her love for the artistic world, her dedication to reason and her intimations of the spirit in her journal. “To believe in God”, she wrote, “is not to comfort your soul with an easy immortality, nor to put aside
the world of the flesh, but to understand that in God’s eyes life or death is
of little consequence.” For a time she was deeply troubled by this realization.
“And I closed the door and went away awhile, pretending I hadn’t seen. And I
went another way, in another direction, running — but soon running toward not away — toward other annunciations, other journeys, other adorations. Only a few days ago, I find I have come upon the closed door from another direction, and the door is open, and there is nothing to fear.”


Dr. Francis Collins is former director of the Human Genome Project and founder and president of The BioLogos Foundation.

Comments read comments(10)
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Lee Herring

posted June 1, 2009 at 10:45 am

Dear Dr. Collins,
Thank you for this post, not only for its sentiment but as a tribute to your mother’s character. I was especially blessed by the last paragraph with the thoughts from your mother’s journal.

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Kathryn Applegate

posted June 1, 2009 at 11:47 am

What a great photo! And a deeply personal and moving account of a woman whose influence continues to affect thousands (millions?) through the work of her son. Today she becomes part of my great cloud of witnesses – grand inspiration on an otherwise normal Monday morning.

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Greg Greene

posted June 1, 2009 at 1:24 pm

As a fan of the Faraday Institute’s resources, I’m very excited to hear about the creation of this kind of community here in North America. I’m eager to hear more.
Dr. Collins, thank you so much for your efforts to bring together the magisterias of faith and science. I have very inquisitive 6-year old triplets who are asking about how God actually created humans. I’m challenged to explain to them the difference between “literal” and “true” in the context of Genesis. Without your work in The Language of God and on, I wouldn’t have so strong a starting point. Your efforts are very much appreciated.

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posted June 1, 2009 at 7:48 pm

I would solicit advice from those rare animals who are accredited experts (doctorates and the like) in both science and theology. They can conceivably serve as the best mediators.
Excellent blog, Frank.
God bless.

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Press to Digitate

posted June 1, 2009 at 10:47 pm

A more effective approach would be formulate and conduct a decisive, rigorous, empirical scientific experiment which conclusively falsifies Materialism. The root of fundamentalist scientific dogma, Materialism is fatally flawed by its logical absolutism; it requires that *Nothing* exist outside of 4-D spacetime. To disprove it does not require a sophisticated and complex defense of ‘God’, merely One Element of Irrefutable Evidence that *Something* else is ‘out there’.
The proposition that Consciousness, at least at the subconscious level, is a Quantum phenomenon is gaining ground because it is supported by a variety of empirical findings. Such diverse spiritual aspects as ESP, EVP, Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Precognition, Psychokinesis, Near Death Experience, Life After Death, After Death Communication, Mediumship, Ghosts, and Reincarnation are all the subjects of ongoing research, and each have hard laboratory data suggesting they are real. The dynamics of each of these are consistent with phenomenology enabled by Quantum Consciousness. If a transcendental human Soul exists – and we know it does – it functions through principles of quantum mechanics, period. This is the why and how that the ‘spiritual’ is as firmly ‘real’ as anything envisioned by science.
*ANY* of the above aspects of the Spiritual, if concretely established by an irrefutable and replicable experiment, would falsify Materialism in its entirety. Richard Dawkins isnt the British Biologist colleague of yours whose contribution matters on the subject; Rupert Sheldrake IS. Dawkins is committed to the atheist ideal that we live a ‘meat bag’ existence, out of dogma alone, whereas Sheldrake actively generates experimental data that such is not the case. His data establishing the Morphogenic Field form one of the best arguments for a ‘fact-based Spirituality’, able to win over the majority of those in science who reject ‘faith’ as mere superstition, but who are open to empirical evidence of a more inclusive “Greater Reality”.
The front lines in the battle do not include the dogmatic fundamentalists of either Science or Religion. Those “Faitheists” arent the ones driving the immediate future of human evolution. The trenches are filled with the Technologists, who seek to create transcendence electronically through neuroscience and cybernetics where they believe none yet exists, and the Spiritualists who deal with the reality of our transcendental nature and its post-mortem existence on a practical basis. Between them – and only them – is a collaborative synthesis possible, or even useful.
Right now, Man is about to become ‘road kill’ on the evolutionary highway from “Animal” to “Machine”. As we approach the technological Singularity, it is crucial to the survival of organic humanity that the trajectory of Artificial [General] Intelligence and Brain/Computer Interface technologies be guided by certain knowledge of the spiritual. ‘Faith’ alone does not equip the Religionists to conduct an adequate battle on behalf of spirituality, since an appeal to faith is lost on the scientific Materialists, by definition.
But Materialism is a falsifiable proposition, and its logical rejection as a result of the scientific discovery of the Soul – or even concrete clues as to its nature – would be the one development which can bring the schism between Science and Religion to a desireable conclusion.

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Your Name

posted June 2, 2009 at 7:21 am


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Leslie Bianco

posted June 9, 2009 at 2:26 pm

I recently attended a talk by Fr. Robert Spitzer (president of Gonzaga University) in which he said that we live in a very exciting era because science will prove the existence of God. It was inspiring.

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Dick Johnson

posted June 10, 2009 at 7:02 am

Your tribute and your calling are both honoring to the special lady many of us knew as a “second mom.” May God bless your efforts to reconcile and unify in His name.

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Your Name

posted June 18, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Thank you for your effort to shed light on alternative explanations for life, God and the intricacies of belief and doubt. Clearly you came by this drive naturally given your post about your mother. I and I think others are hungry for hope that God does have us in the palm of his hand and that we are not simply dead at the end of our existence here. That thoughts of faithfulness to God can be reconciled with what is simply fact, evolution. I know exactly how your mother felt, I am sure that I have traveled some of the same lonely roads as she ( and still do). Each time I wander too far I look to the skies for a celestial navagation sign to bring me home. That sign is seemingly of God since it brings me back to that place between faith and doubt where I apparently must remain until I meet the living God face to face and he calls my name.

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posted January 26, 2010 at 1:21 am

Science tells us what it is, Faith tells us why it is.

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