700 Great Summer Reading: “Belief” by Francis Collins

If you’re enjoying our exploration of “Science vs. Religion” this week, then you’ll enjoy this, too: Francis Collins’ “Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith,” is a masterfully edited 300-page collection of “greatest hits” from famous writers and thinkers over thousands of years.

We’re going to recommend this book, first, by quoting from Elaine Howard Ecklund’s recommendation of Francis Collins as a central figure in bridging the gap between faith and contemporary science. Ecklund did not interview Collins in her study of 1,700 elite scientists, published in “Science Vs. Religion.” Collins’ name didn’t wind up in her scientific sampling of names. But she writes about him this way:

“When I talked with scientists at our nation’s elite unviersities about their religious colleagues, no one was mentioned more often than Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. At the time of these interviews, Collins was at the helm of the Human Genome Project, the largest effort ever to map the intricacies of DNA, the road map of life. Collins is also an outspoken evangelical Christian. … Collins represents a group of scientists for whom religion is important now but was not an important part of childhood. These individuals came to faith—and particularly an understanding of how their religious traditions connected with their lives as scientists—over the course of a struggle. … Collins is not so much a boundary pioneer because of his ability to reconcile his own faith with the work that he does as a scientists; I met many scientists who have found a similar peace. Collins is a boundary pioneer because of his willingness to talk openly about such reconciliation.

ReadTheSpirit Review of “Belief” by Francis Collins

Collins is such a remarkable bridge between faith and science in 2010 that reading his book is an essential step in understanding where this historic debate is headed. “Belief” is structured as a “sampler” or “reader” of short selections that Collins sees as milestones in understanding why he and a growing number of other scientists are urging that our “debate” become more of a constructive “conversation.”

Why did he format his book like this? As an educator himself, Collins understands that the biggest chasm Americans need to cross is our own lack of education in religion. We agree; and we have strongly recommended books by Boston University’s Stephen Prothero, including Prothero’s latest “God Is Not One.” Prothero’s clarion call is also for more and better education. A lot of global conflicts, Prothero argues, are fueled by misundertandings and stereotypes about religion. We must recognize the depth of religious ignorance in America and do something about it, Prothero argues. In Collins’ new book, he is taking a page from Prothero’s gospel. Collins has gathered essential religious reflections from 32 key figures.

This isn’t a neutral pro-and-con about the nature of religion that we might expect from a comparative-religion textbook. Collins’ overall goal is to show that rational thought and belief can co-exist. However, considering that the vast majority of Americans say their faith is an important part of daily life, Collins’ bias will be warmly welcomed by most readers.

Best of all, this book is flat out fun to read in bits and pieces. Talking about religion over dinner, for example, friends may occasionally toss around famous names like Plato or Augustine, Desmond Tutu or the Dalai Lama, Gandhi or C.S. Lewis. Well, that’s true if you’ve got friends who love some intellectual sparring over dinner. All those famous names appear in this book. And, the fact is that most people who drop these names haven’t actually read the original authors’ works. In Collins’ reader, you won’t find too much depth: Plato gets 10 pages; Augustine gets 13; Gandhi gets 8. But each section is a valuable nugget. The 10-page Hans Kung section, for example, doesn’t even scratch the surface of Kung’s vast work—but it is a very interesting summary of Kung’s critique of Sigmund Freud. In my own reading of Kung over the years, I can’t recall running across this enlightening piece before. Thanks, Dr. Collins, for sharing it here!

This is the kind of book you can read a chapter a day through the heart of the summer. You’ll always have something fresh—and substantial—to mention over coffee or dessert.

 Read all the parts of our “Science Vs. Religion” Series:

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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)









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