Today, a little late on the story, CNN.com posted this commentary from Collins that begins, "I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views."
Collins is not alone among scientists -- just a dramatic minority. Several polls have found about 40 percent of scientists believe in God -- but only 10 percent of those elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
"It never seemed to me there was a contradiction. ... They are both different ways of knowing about the world,'' Kenneth R. Miller, a prominent biology professor at Brown University and author of Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, told me last fall for a story about Moorpark College's Year of Science and Religion. "Science is the best method we have, the only method we have to understand the nature of the material world, how it works, what the history of this planet has been like. And what religion tells us is the meaning of our place in that world. It's different sides of the same coin.''
Miller's name comes up in a book I'm currently reading called Monkey Girl by Los Angeles Magazine writer Edward Humes. Centered around the 2005 Dover school board debacle, Humes tries to separate myth from fact when it comes to the tenants of evolution, and science from faith when it comes to the origin of species.
Miller, Collins and most other God-fearing scientists have little in common with the Dover board members who decided every student should be taught the gaps in evolutionary theory and be given a supplementary text called Of Pandas and People. Dover was a case study for the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank pushing Intelligent Design, which critics called Creation in new clothes. Dover science teachers, vehemently opposed to Of Pandas, wanted to use a text book written by Miller.
Monkey Girl is a good, fair book, a crash course in the histories of evolutionary theory, creation science and the to-the-grave opinions that separate their polarized faithful. Here is what Collins had to say about evolution in an interview seven years ago with PBS' Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly:
ABERNETHY: What do you say to your fellow Christians who say, "Evolution is just a theory, and I can't put that together with my idea of a creator God"?
COLLINS: Well, evolution is a theory. It's a very compelling one. As somebody who studies DNA, the fact that we are 98.4 percent identical at the DNA level to a chimpanzee, it's pretty hard to ignore the fact that when I am studying a particular gene, I can go to the mouse and find it's the similar gene, and it's 90 percent the same. It's certainly compatible with the theory of evolution, although it will always be a theory that we cannot actually prove. I'm a theistic evolutionist. I take the view that God, in His wisdom, used evolution as His creative scheme. I don't see why that's such a bad idea. That's pretty amazingly creative on His part. And what is wrong with that as a way of putting together in a synthetic way the view of God who is interested in creating a group of individuals that He can have fellowship with -- us? Why is evolution not an appropriate way to get to that goal? I don't see a problem with that. The only problems that get put forward are by those who would interpret Genesis 1 in a very literal way. And that interpretation in many ways is a -- is a modern one. Saint Augustine in 400 AD, without any reasons to try to be an apologist to Charles Darwin, agreed that that was not a particularly appropriate way to interpret the words that are written in that first chapter of the Bible.