Book Review: George Cunningham, Decoding the Language of God

Can a scientist really be a believer?  George Cunningham answers this question with a resounding No.

An accomplished geneticist, Cunningham now writes for a broader audience in this rebuttal to Francis Collins’ 2006 book The Language of God.  Cunningham deconstructs the chief arguments used by Collins to make the case for belief in the Christian God, and attempts to show that these arguments don’t necessarily lead to the same conclusions that Collins has reached.

Cunningham does an excellent job of presenting complex scientific concepts in a manner which is accessible to the layperson.  His points are well laid out, and it is easy to follow the flow of his arguments.

Cunningham begins with an account of his own personal faith journey–how he grew up in the Catholic church, how he studied science and found it to be inconsistent with religious belief, specifically the question of miracles and the problem of evil, and how he ultimately stopped believing.

One of the key issues here is the problem of evil.  How can a good God permit evil in this world?  A goodly portion of the evil in the world exists because God gave humans free will.  But what kind of God would give humans free will, knowing the evil and suffering that would result?

Next, Cunningham turns to morality–the idea that some things are right and others are wrong.  Cunningham takes issue with the idea that there is a Moral Law created by God which guides humans’ views of what is right and wrong, and argues instead that this is a product of nature and culture.

Next, Cunningham looks at cosmology.  Does the Big Bang point inexorably toward God?  Do the finely tuned physical constants of the universe point inexorably toward a God who is working things for the creation of human life?  Not necessarily.

Next Cunningham questions the validity of the Bible and concludes that the weight of scholarly analysis shows it to be unreliable as a historically accurate description of events.  Looking at the New Testament alone, there is a gap of at least thirty to fifty years between the events depicted in the Gospels and the appearance of the first portions of what would ultimately become the New Testament.  Cunningham contends that this is ample time for legends and fantastic distortions of the truth to crop up (don’t know if I would agree with that).

The debate between belief and atheism is one which has been taking place between people much smarter than myself for a very long time.  It is not the place of this book review to attempt to settle this debate, or to provide the definitive response to the arguments for atheism–or for belief, for that matter.  Collins’s book did not settle the debate between belief and atheism, and neither will this book.

Christians, you would do well to consider this book because the arguments which Cunningham makes are arguments which you will come across at some point in your life, if you have not already.  You need to engage this material honestly and know why you believe what you believe.  And even if you read this and become convinced that it is no longer reasonable to believe in God…well, better an honest unbeliever than a believer who is lying to himself or herself.

[The reviewer was furnished with a copy of this book.]

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: George Cunningham, Decoding the Language of God

  1. I happened to be in a bookshop today and came across Cunningham’s book “Decoding the Language of God” containing his rebuttal of Collin’s Christian position. One thing that struck me, from a Christian’s perspective, was his challenge regarding why we believe. If it is to escape Hell, if it is to satisfy our parents, if it is for any other reason than to glorify God in our lives, we may as well not believe. I find the logical argument for an Intelligent Designer from an Information Systems perspective a compelling one, i.e. that DNA is coded information, and that no information has ever arisen spontaneously but requires a mind, a message, and is intended for a recipient. Recent studies suggest that organisms may have a designed capacity to modify DNA in response to environmental pressures (Lamarckian evolution!). Hence the plausible idea of planned evolution. We live in an exciting world.

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