On my free time I sometimes try to understand religion as best I can. Since I didn't grow up in a religious household, I knew little about religion until my 20s or so, and so now I'm playing catch up. Since there are so many interpretations of religions like Christianity, I wanted to comment on some of the more modern views of it.
Dr. Francis Collins is a well known scientist and geneticist who in 2000 along with Craig Venture helped map the human genome. He was appointed in 2009 by Pres. Barack Obama to head the National Institution of Health. While he's clearly a very smart and talented man, he's also a devout Christian. His coming to the faith is famously told in a story that he was hiking in the Pacific Northwest one day and saw a three-columned frozen waterfall. Upon seeing this as representing the trinity, he fell to his knees and pledged his love for Christ.
As unmoving as this story is to those of us without religious faith, nevertheless I accept his belief as being sincere. Because of his impeccable scientific credentials, Dr. Collins subscribes to a different kind of Christianity than has been traditionally been observed. It is an interpretation much more compatible with modern scientific knowledge. Call it Christianity 2.0 if you will.
His understanding of god and the universe are described below that are taken from a lecture on science and belief that he gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:
Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”
Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”
Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”
Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”
Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”
While I'd much rather deal with this kind of Christianity than the absurdity of fundamentalism, on the issue of morality there is still room for argument. Under naturalism, our moral behavior is a product of our evolutionary history and behavior. Our morality is tuned to the biological nature of our species - if we hadn't evolved and some other species had evolved in our place with different characteristics, our morality wouldn't apply to them. Our moral codes of conduct would only exist in theory with no practical application. In order for our moral codes to have relevance, there needs to exist our species homo sapiens.
This doesn't mean that there is no wrong or right, good or evil. It just means that morality is relative to the species. Even the Christian wouldn't say that the 10 commandments apply to chimps and spider monkeys, because they understand they are only applicable to us. If that is so, there should be no problem accepting that our morality is only a code ethics for human beings. And if it sprung from the evolutionary process, it's inconsequential.
Now I'm not going to settle this debate right here and now, but this disagreement is indicative that there will be challenges going forward for the Christian and atheist alike despite a future with a more scientifically compatible Christianity.