on July 31, 2006
You have to hand it to Francis Collins, he is no fence-sitter, though some may mistakenly so perceive him. Some may think he is trying to win friends and influence people of all types--those who love science and those who love Scripture. In reality, a book like this is sure to displease more die-hards than please them. Evangelicals are sure to get squeamish about Collins' support for the big bang and evolution and his beliefs in a non-literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. On the other hand, as previous vitriolic reviews clearly indicate the so-called loving left will and have attack Collins for daring to value Scripture and claim that believe in God, the Christian God no less, are not only faith issues, but supportable by science. So, he's attacked if he does and he's attacked if he doesn't.
And what does he do? Using his personal faith in God and his professional expertise as an internationally-known scientist, Collins presents a case for the integration of science and Scripture. Both disciplines require the use of reason and logic, as well as faith and experience. Both must interpret the evidence. In Collins' skillful hands and able prose, "The Language of God" is sure to challenge the intellectually honest reader who will read it with an open mind, rather than a defensive heart.
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Soul Physicians," "Spiritual Friends," and "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction."
on August 3, 2007
In this deeply personal book, Francis Collins tackles the "science vs. religion" debate. Since at least Immanuel Kant, we have known that this is a false dichotomy. However, modernity has in effect turned a deaf ear to Kant. In this book, Collins follows in the footsteps of the Kantian tradition, attempting the great synthesis of the empirical and the spiritual, the pure reason and the practical reason. Like Kant before him, Collins is sure to raise the ire of both sides of the aisle. And that is usually a good sign one is doing something right.
Collins reviews in the first part of the book his personal journey from atheism towards a theistic worldview, and the classical objections against it. His answers are mostly based on the apologetics of C.S. Lewis. This debate is much older than C.S. Lewis of course; most of his ideas can be found in St. Augustin, the Stoics, Pascal and Kant. However he does manage to present those arguments from a modern perspective, in an accessible conversational style.
The second part of the book is a popular science exposition, where Collins draws extensively on his considerable scientific background in both physics and biology and, in particular, the leading role he played in the Human Genome project.
The third part of the book is where Collins tries to reach a final conclusion about the issue of "faith in science and faith in God." He reviews his options, from Creationism to Atheism, and settles on the middle -of-the-road worldview he calls BioLogos. He expounds this theistic evolutionary view, according to which orthodox evolution theory is a fact, but also a divine means of creation. Here is where Collins slips a little, by trying to chew too much. While evolution from lower lifeforms seems to be an indisputable fact, the orthodox theory of evolution by natural selection operating on pure chance presupposes a metaphysical naturalist worldview, which is very contrary to a personal God model. From a scientific point of view alone, while evolution is a fact, it is clear that the mechanism of evolution is not yet completely understood (e.g., like Collins himself points out, the evolution of moral behavior has not been satisfactorily explained; but we can also mention the riddle of "junk" DNA, the various observed cases of puzzling "exadaptation," and so on).
One omission that stands out is that Collins never once mentions Martin Gardner, the contemporary philosopher and essayist, also Kantian, who has written extensively on the issues examined in this book.
All in all, I applaud Dr. Collins' courage and clarity in writing such a timely and important book. I have no doubt that it will leave creationists and atheists alike scratching their heads. It is a must read for anyone who wants a balanced and informed opinion on this subject.
on April 1, 2007
I bought this book, hoping it would describe, in detail, hard scientific reasons to believe in God. The cover, with its picture of DNA, led me to believe this.
It did not. Instead, it recycled the old arguments of C. S. Lewis. Don't get me wrong, I love Lewis and he largely helped me to remain Christian in college. But I have never been convinced by the particular argument that Collins recycles here.
I can summarize the main argument quite rapidly: We have a sense of morality within us. Therefore, God supposedly exists.
Collins tries to argue against the so-called "God of the gaps" fallacy. What people don't seem to realize is that if the gap is large enough, so that there is simply no way for blind natural forces to jump across it, it is not a fallacy to point this fact out.
There happen to be multiple huge "gaps" that there is simply no way for blind forces of nature to bring into existence without God's help. It is not a "fallacy" to point out these huge gaps. For example, it has recently been calculated that the absolute minimum size of DNA required for the simplest life forms is roughly 180,000 base pairs. And without God, supposedly dead chemicals just happened to randomly arrange themselves into the correct sequence? This is a major huge gap, and it simply points straight to God.
If you are looking for serious, hard science to back up your belief in God, I recommend that you read two books that made lifelong atheist Antony Flew recently convert to Deism. The two books are:
"The Wonder of the World" by Roy Varghese.
"The Hidden Face of God" by Gerald Schroeder.
The above two books are excellent, giving you nothing but hard science and great scientific details. This book by Collins pales in comparison, even if Collins happens to have impeccable scientific credentials.
on September 6, 2006
I will try to be brief. Being a scientist myself I was looking forward to reading this book by a well known scientist. Overall, written well. I would not call it " a scientist presents evidence for belief" though, but " a believer presents evidence for science". The book feels more like a desperate search of a believer, with a strong need to believe, rather than the writing of a scientist reaching a realization.
In the book the author constantly quotes writings of C.S. Lewis as proof to satisfy his own questions. That is not proof and an author should present their own arguments on a matter.
The author bases his belief on God on the existence of the "Moral Law" and man's search for God. i.e. since man distinguishes right from wrong and since man has always searched for God, then God must exist. No, that is not enough "proof".
The author accepts evolution and accepts the big bang as the beginning of everything. So he argues that God knew all that would happen, made the big bang happen knowing that evolution will take place and all that we have today and will have in the future were known to God...This needs to be accepted, of course, as there is no proof. That is an easy way out to accept evolution as a fact, but also to accept God.
On human suffering he says: "hard though it is to accept, a complete abscence of suffering may not be in the best interest of our spiritual growth"...Once again, an easy way out to "explain" what cannot be explained.
Regarding Jesus Christ and whether he existed and whether he was God, the author claims that while hiking one day he saw a frozen waterfall that was so beautiful that "the search was over" for him and "he surrendered to Jesus Christ" -- that is completely against any scientific attitude.
This book was an interesting read, but if you are a scientist with questions about God, I doubt the answers are here.
on January 14, 2007
Collins' book is a good introduction to its subject matter but is unlikely to be satisfying to anyone who has spent any time reflecting on the issues discussed. If you are an atheist/agnostic who assumes belief in God is irrational or a Christian who assumes that Darwinism is incompatible with your faith, the book makes some thought-provoking arguments to jog you from your "dogmatic slumbers." But for people in both camps who have already spent some time reflecting on the issues, Collins' superficial treatment is disappointing. One question that both atheists skeptical of Christianity and Christians skeptical of Darwinism might want an answer to -- and the reason I bought the book -- is the question of how a process of evolution fraught with death, suffering, sub-optimal "design" and waste is compatible with the existence of a loving God. Collins doesn't even bring this question up, despite his discussion of Christian objections to Darwinism. Given his scientific stature, I encourage Collins to write a second more scholarly book to flesh out the arguments begun here.
on July 16, 2006
I read Dr. Collins' book with great anticipation, because of the his scientific reputation (one of the most respected research scientists in the world and the head of the Human Genome Project). I figured he'd offer a balanced approach to scientific and theological issues. I think that's why many people will read this book.
So, to the text. A large portion of the book is devoted to the basics of science such as the Big Bang, the theory of evolution, etc... In my opinion, this part of the book is probably one of the better overviews of the contentious issues in science today. Dr Collins makes an extremely convincing case for the plausibility and likelihood that the Universe was created through the Big Bang and that life on earth was created through evolution. This is the part of the book I have no qualms with.
The second part of the book is where my quibbles begin. At the beginning of this section Dr Collins lays out the case for the "Anthropic principle", a hypothesis that points to various aspects of the universe and suggests that they may point to God. Many of these points are very interesting and make for some thought-provoking discussions.
The more dubious part, to me, is where Dr Collins points to parts of the human psyche as evidence of Godliness. While initially deploring any explanation that suggests "God's in the Gaps", Dr Collins continues on to suggest that the human altruistic drive along with the collective search for spirituality is evidence of God. With this, Dr. Collins falls prey to the very philosophy he deplores, the "God in the Gaps" theory. It's unclear to me if he realizes that he's fallen prey to it, as he does not address this potential problem in his philosophy. He does point out that some suggest alternate reasons for the humans altruistic drive and search for spirituality, but ultimately rejects them because of the science, not the philosophy, behind them.
After this there are some middling attempts to synthesize parts of the bible with science, but they fall pretty short in my eyes. Dr Collins seems to be in favor of a semi-literal interpretation of most of the bible, but makes halfhearted attempts to convince the reader of his position. This largely continues until the end of the book where Dr Collins discusses some interesting ethical dilemmas.
So to summarize, this is a really great science book and has some decent theological points, but there's nothing too conclusive in it.
on June 17, 2007
Francis Collins, a devout Christian who is director of the Human Genome Project, is surely one of the most distinguished proponents of theistic evolution (the idea that God created life by means of evolution) in recent years. His outstandingly clear and compelling prose will, no doubt, be a great comfort to many Christians who are having difficulty reconciling their faith with the revelations of modern biological science.
What's in this book for nonbelievers? Collins claims to have been an atheist who, through his personal experiences and study, eventually became a believer. With some 85% of the National Academy of Sciences rejecting the notion of a personal God, that places him in a minority. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, recently remarked that, rather than asking why so many scientists reject the notion of a god, we should be asking why 15% don't . Beyond Collins' very readable and concise refutations of creationism and intelligent design, and beneath the largely reused Christian apologetics, lies a highly personal and emotional account of the events that ultimately shaped his worldview.
The dialog between believers and nonbelievers so often focuses on elaborate reasoning that ultimate personal motivations remain undiscussed. This is not surprising, since few individuals are courageous enough to expose their most guarded life stories to the scrutiny of skeptics, indeed, the Bible warns against doing just this: (Matt 7:6). An honest meeting of minds, however, demands courage. Collins' efforts, with his life story laid out before the reader, are highly commendable in this regard.
Readers looking for novel Christian apologetics will be somewhat dissapoined by this book, though there are certainly a few nuances to be considered. Collins relies heavily on "no less an intellect than C. S. Lewis" (p208), quoting Lewis liberally throughout the book. Readers may want to simply skip Collins and go directly to C. S. Lewis for more complete versions of the theological arguments. In the acknowledgments, Collins readily admits that "few if any original theological concepts are portrayed within these pages."
His main evidence for belief, following Lewis, is the existence of common or universal moral principles, though Collins stays clear of making any claims of Christian moral superiority. Citing a biomedical ethics text, the appendix of the book actually lists four central ethical principles "common to virtually all cultures and societies" (p243). Some time is spent addressing the new field of sociobiology, which claims that behavior is a natural product of evolution. Here Collins faces off against no less an intellect than E. O. Wilson. To Collins "selfless altruism presents a major challenge for the evolutionist. It is quite frankly a scandal to reductionist reasoning" (p27). He is not talking about simple reciprocity, but rather pure altruism in which there are absolutely no secondary motives. Oskar Schindler and Mother Teresa are pulled out as two presumably inexplicable examples of pure altruism, but it seems that the argument is not that there are no motives, but rather that the motives are somehow divine in origin because they are not subject to evolutionary pressure. Humans may well have compulsions that sometimes run counter to their own long-term survival (think about the Shakers failure to reproduce). Evolution simply dictates that there can't be very many such persons in a population ... and there certainly aren't. That benevolent persons are highly valued by society is no surprise at all, nor is it surprising that persons want to be valued by others, including gods. While group selection remains a controversial subject in biology to be sure, it seems that the reader is still left with an argument from ignorance.
Collins similarly argues against the notion of religion as wish fulfillment originally posited by Sigmund Freud. Citing Armand Nicholi, a professor of clinical psychology at Harvard and author of a book contrasting Freud and Lewis (also a PBS series), Collins dismisses the notion that God might arise out of our ability and need to relate to parents. Nicholi, by the way, was a founding member of the Family Research Council, a controversial Christian right wing think tank and lobbying organization formed by James Dobson. It seems dated to focus on historical figures while the rich body of contemporary thinking in the psychology of religion, sociology, and anthropology seem not to be discussed at all this book. Skeptical readers may seem absolutely puzzled as to why Collins thinks the compulsion to seek a favorable relationship with a god is difficult to explain on natural grounds when the world is full of people who worship, fall in love with, and cozy up to powerful leaders, sports heros, and famous personalities. On the surface, this book rejects "God of the gaps" arguments, yet it seems to rely heavily upon the inability of current science to fully explain human behavior.
One may wonder why moral behavior counts as evidence of the divine, while immoral behavior does not count as evidence against the divine. This, of course, is the famous problem of evil which Collins attacks early in his book. The Universe appears, to the objective observer, to be unsupervised. The innocent, the pure, the devout, and those deeply loved, all occasionally suffer the same terrible, tragic, and unjust events as everyone else. Following C. S. Lewis once again, Collins mainly appeals to free will, claiming that too much divine intervention would result in chaos, that suffering builds character, and that God sometimes teaches us something through severe misfortune. Despite its simple appearance, the problem of evil is a complex topic of debate with a long history. Simple arguments such as those offered by Lewis have already been addressed many times over in philosophy. At least a reference or two to the modern lines of argument would have been helpful . Logic is little consolation though, for those suffering. Collins tells the tragic story of his daughter's violent rape and his personal search for meaning in that event. Skeptical readers should at least appreciate in this story the magnitude to which humans depend upon their interpretation of reality to ease pain and restore wellness. It is no wonder that religious ideas are zealously defended when so much is at stake.
Collins argues that the paradoxical findings of modern physics should convince people that materialism is not simpler or more intuitive than theism. "Today, Occam's Razor appears to have been relegated to the Dumpster by the bizarre models of quantum physics" he proclaims (p 61). This is a peculiar statement coming from a scientist, though he admits that the principle is still evident in the mathematical descriptions of the phenomena. Occam's Razor, the philosophical principle that the simplest answer is more likely to be the right one, does not demand that the simplest answer must itself be simple or intuitive. It is simply a statement that unnecessary and unjustified complexity should be trimmed from any explanation. It may seem simple and intuitive to say "God did it", but a great deal of complexity has been swept under the rug in doing so. While Collins' razor is headed for the dumpster, it does get a good slice out of William Dembski's Intelligent Design theory before the end of the book (p194). "In addressing philosophical issues, I speak mainly as a lay person" Collins reminds readers (p34).
The more interesting parts of this book, in my opinion, are the more personal ones. Collin's voyage of spiritual discovery seems to have begun in graduate school. Within sight of obtaining a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics, he became discouraged with his career path, even doubting his ability to do independent research. Collins does not give details as to exactly what turn of events led to this situation. Many former graduate students will relate (myself included), having considered alternative service-oriented careers at some low point in their education. For Collins it was a switch to medical school. There, his apparently atheistic worldview was put to the test in unexpected ways. When cornered into giving a statement of his own belief by a seriously ill, but very devout Christian, he recounts a dramatic sense of relief as he admitted "I'm not really sure." Evidently, this event caused him to feel that he had never really given fair consideration to theism and that perhaps he had been "willfully blind" or even "arrogant." Who wouldn't have an ethical crisis telling a very sick individual that you do not share in the beliefs that help them to find meaning, assurance, and comfort in their suffering? It would be very difficult not to be humbled in that situation and to wonder whether or not one's own worldview would do so well in the same circumstances. One wonders, however, if the experience would have been different had he been cornered by a critically ill Buddhist or Hindu. This would not be the last time in his career in which Collins was both humbled and deeply touched by the generosity and equanimity of a critically ill, but devoutly religious person. His poignant encounter with a poor Nigerian farmer near death with little hope of long-term survival was the most potent experience he describes. As a discouraged doctor in emotional turmoil, he experiences a dramatic transformation of heart and sense of relief by the calm insightful words of the Bible-toting farmer who, in a profound moment, switches the role of healer and patient. Though Collins doesn't explicitly draw the parallel (and may not even be aware of it) , astute Christians will immediately identify the farmer's behavior as "Christ-like." It is precisely this reaction to altruism that lies at the heart of how many Christians develop a relationship with the perceived divine being of Christ.
Collins makes brief mention of another key experience in which, hiking in the Cascades, he is now wrestling with his newfound belief in God and the claims of Christian scripture. Citing the famous "trilemma" of C.S. Lewis (Jesus must be either lord, lunatic, or liar), Collins finds himself forced to make a choice. Primed for a moment of synchronicity, he happens upon a breathtaking three-tiered waterfall which, for him, becomes a much-needed sign. It may seem odd to readers that seeing a waterfall, however beautiful, could be a major turning point in someone's life. His account of this experience is an abbreviated version of a more complete testimony that appears elsewhere in print . There, it is revealed that the three-in-one waterfall reminded him of the Christian concept of the trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and so must have helped confirm the divinity Jesus and the veracity of scripture in his mind.
Skeptics familiar with the apologetics of Lewis believe, of course, that the trilemma is really a false trichotomy. The fourth possibility, is that the accounts of Jesus, collected years later by gospel writers, are mostly "legend", faithful exaggeration, and midrashic retelling of the best Old Testament stories with Jesus as the hero. Collins sites a few popular apologetic authors such as Strobel, Habermas, and Bruce, but never any critical biblical scholarship [4-6]. This is, of course, a book of "evidence for belief", so one can hardly expect a balanced treatment. In all fairness, this is also a book about science and belief in God, not specifically Christian doctrine or scriptures.
Collins apparently does not believe in intercessory prayer, but rather prayer as a way of "seeking fellowship with God, learning about Him, and attempting to perceive His perspective on the many issues around us that cause us puzzlement, wonder, or distress" (p220). It is in this sense that Collins sees God acting in the natural world rather than through miracles. He does not altogether dismiss miracles, but sees them more as rare revelations to humanity. He also views the Genesis creation accounts as alegory. While his views may seem theologically liberal at times (he even cites Paul Tillich), he has strong words for "many churches of a spiritually dead, secular faith, which strips out all of the numinous aspects of traditional belief, presenting a version of spiritual life that is all about social events and/or tradition, and nothing about the search for God" (p41). Such churches are "insidious and widespread", in his words, but, diplomatically, he doesn't name names.
No book that addresses atheism these days is without mention of Marxism or Mao's China. Of these regimes Collins says "In fact, by denying the existence of any higher authority, atheism has the now-realized potential to free humans completely from any responsibility not to oppress one another." Collins stops short of directly blaming the violence and oppression of secular regimes on godlessness, but urges readers of overlook the violence and oppression of religious regimes as merely a case of "pure water in rusty containers" (p42). So much for the Fruits of the Spirit.
The appendix, in my opinion, is the best part of the book, and well worth reading. Collins covers a short but fascinating list of current and future bioethical dilemmas, including DNA testing, cloning, and genetic enhancement. He takes a firm stance against human cloning ( "making human copies in this unnatural way") but never makes clear the details of his moral and theological objections beyond pointing out that the current techniques result in a high level of miscarriage and abnormality. Since some 20% of recognized natural pregnancies end in miscarriage and possibly as many as 50% of natural human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion , the ethical bar may not be as high as we think. What if cloning becomes safe in the future? What are the real moral objections, if any? Collins is too brief here. He says, "I hesitate, however, to advocate very strongly for faith-based bioethics. The obvious danger is the historical record that believers can and will sometimes utilize their faith in a way never intended by God, ..." The appendix seems almost out of character for Collins. While he sees God as a being with which one may establish a relationship, that relationship is admittedly rather one-sided. With the occasional rare sign of assurance, and with prayer being only an attempt to perceive God's perspective, Collins is reluctant to let faith be a guiding principle in major life-and-death bioethical decisions. Evidently, faith can be mistaken.
 Beyond Belief 2006 symposium
 Nicholas Everitt, "The Non-existence of God"
 Collins interview with Salon.com
 Bart D. Ehrman, "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why"
 David Friedrich Strauss (1892) "The Life of Jesus Critically Examined" (ed. Peter C. Hodgson, 2002)
 "The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave" (ed Robert M. Price & Jeffery Jay Lowder 2005)
 Sam Harris, "Letter to a Christian Nation" p 38
on March 12, 2007
Dr. Collins is an accomplished geneticist, and from reading his book I can say that he is also a clear and able writer. But one thing he is not is a theological or intellectual heavyweight. This book will convince no one who has not already given this sort of topic some consideration, one way or the other. He adds little to the discussion but a friendly and civil manner - not that that is a bad thing. The key to the book, and the signpost to its downfall, is the subtitle, "A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief." In the end, we are left asking, "what evidence?"
For more than two thirds of the book, Collins lays out the basic facts of genetics and the human genome, denounces Creationism and rejects Intelligent Design theory, rebukes Richard Dawkins, and sets a tone for reasonableness - the voice of reconciliation between science and belief (and by "belief" he means Christianity). As with the late Steven Gould, whom he quotes, Collins believes that science and religion operate in largely separate spheres, the natural and the supernatural, so that most instances of supposed conflict are actually misunderstandings or misapplications of one or the other. He argues that God and nature cannot ever be in true conflict, since God is the author of nature to begin with. Pretty standard, ho-hum stuff.
More importantly, none of this constitutes "evidence for belief." Instead, he has merely shown us that science does not rule out belief, so long as you are willing to grant science its due dominion in the natural realm. As long as your religious belief can accommodate evolution by natural selection and other well-founded scientific theories, your religious belief is OK. So far, we have no evidence for a Biblical God, only the plausibility of an impersonal philosopher's God who is the author of natural laws.
After two thirds of the book, Collins finally presents his theistic evolutionary point of view. Here's where Collins starts to get in over his head. Collins argues that the widespread human feature of a "moral impulse," along with the near universality of religion as a cultural and personal phenomenon, is evidence for the existence of God (the Christian God, of course). But what happens when science starts to explain the psychology and evolutionary origins of morality and religious belief - as it has already begun to do? What evidence does Collins have left for his belief in God? As much as Collins criticizes the old God of the Gaps, I am afraid he has created a Gap of his own! Other than the human traits of morality and religiosity, what reason does he give to believe in his Christian God? What evidence?
Another problem for Collins is that he is too good a scientist, and he realizes the vast scope and explanatory power that science encompasses. The natural world functions by itself so well that God is reduced (without Collins meaning to do so) to little more than the author of natural laws. The natural laws do all the actual work of making the universe go. This is not the Christian God, so what is it? His faith tells him that miracles are possible, but his training and his experience tell him otherwise. All the evidence, it seems, is on the wrong side.
Finally, and perhaps most devastatingly, if natural selection created human beings, what is the consequence of saying that God set up the natural laws that made natural selection possible? Doesn't that still mean that our origins are based every bit as much on pitiless luck, amoral competition, selfish genes, and eons of blind and wasteful trial-and-error tinkering as the Darwinians have been saying all along? If the human genome is the "Language of God," then what does it mean that it was created by natural selection? I'm afraid I just don't see the appeal of theistic evolution, to either theists or scientists - or to scientists who are also theists.
In the end, it may be intellectually and philosophically possible to reconcile belief in some kind of a God with the findings of modern science, but unfortunately Dr. Collins has not given us much in the way of evidence, least of all from the field of genetics or evolutionary biology.
on October 4, 2006
By the leader of the Human Genome Project. A most important book for any curious person, scientist or layman.
Francis Collins is one of the most distinguished scientists in the world. This book is a call to end the wars between science and faith. The author proves that the theory of evolution is not an impediment to faith in God (theism). On the contrary, evolution is the language by which God spoke life into being.
Science will never be able to explain the big truths that humans are most concerned of: Why was the universe created? What is the meaning of life? In the first place because that is not the purpose of science, but to study empirical data.
The author claims that "Theistic Evolution" is the best option to stand by in this world of clashes between atheists, agnostics, creationists, proponents of ID, etc. He also intends to rename this synthesis of creation/evolution as BioLogos. Beautiful name, if may say.
Here are the premises on which he and many other scientists (at [...]) rest their proposal:
1. The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.
2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life.
3. The mechanism of the origin of life remains unknown. Development of biological diversity and complexity through evolution and natural selection.
4. Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required. (Evolution was part of God's plan).
5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.
6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of the right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.
This book is a very easy read for anyone. Science exalts God's creation; it does not dimish His work.
This book is also, partly, a testimony of a man who found his personal relationship with God after being an atheist, later agnostic and, finally, accepting Jesus Christ.
on August 1, 2006
Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project, has written a book presenting his case for belief in theism. Having read the pre-reviews, I was looking forward to reading a fellow biologist's viewpoint on the evidence supporting the existence of God. Although Collins presents much of the evidence supporting a Christian worldview, he discounts nearly all of it in his discussions. For example, although Collins fully accepts the anthropic principle (and devotes an entire chapter to it in "The Language of God"), he rejects the origin of life as requiring any input from God. Collins present the standard high school textbook version for the naturalistic origin of life and seems unaware of the wealth of evidence that contradicts all naturalistic scenarios, saying "this is not the place for a thoughtful person to wager his faith." Collins goes on to reject creationism (but seems to restrict the term primarily to the young earth variety), relegating virtually all of Genesis (other than Genesis 1:1) to being "poetic" and "allegorical." Another chapter is devoted to criticizing intelligent design, indicating that it is a "God of the gaps" approach "ironically on a path toward doing considerable damage to faith." Ultimately, the entirety of Collins's appeal for faith falls upon the design of the universe (which is covered rather superficially) and the existence of "moral law" among human beings. Collins rejects the idea that moral law is not universal, although he does not mention that things such as human sacrifice were once widely practiced among different societies.
Collins proposes that God designed the universe with such precision that humans would be the end result. Thus, although Collins believes in "theistic evolution," the only part he accepts as being theistic was the original design of the universe. All subsequent events were the result of naturalistic processes (although the end result was guaranteed to result in the evolution of humans because of God's specific initial design). At some point in the process (Collins identifies it as occurring ~100,000 years ago) God put a soul into a group of hominids, creating modern humans. This kind of creation would be indistinguishable from naturalism and, therefore, would provide no evidence for God's existence. Also, it could never be falsified. Collins calls it "BioLogos" ("bios" through "Logos"). Accordingly, "BioLogos is not intended as a scientific theory. Its truth can be tested only by the spiritual logic of the heart, the mind and the soul." Although Collins calls it "spiritually satisfying" and "intellectually rigorous", I think most believers would find it biblically troublesome and scientifically irrelevant.
Collins experience in coming to faith was interesting and is detailed in the beginning and end of the book. He grew up in an agnostic family, and knew at an early age that he wanted to be a scientist. At first, he was interested in the physical sciences, since "biology was rather like existential philosophy: it just didn't make sense." However, nearing the end of a Ph.D. program, Collins took a biochemistry course and was hooked. He applied for and was admitted to medical school, from which he graduated and began genetic research and a clinical practice. During one clinic, Collins was confronted by a Christian patient who asked him about his spiritual beliefs. He didn't really have an answer, but determined that he should confirm his atheism by studying the best arguments for faith. A pastor directed him to Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Collins found the arguments compelling, and cites C. S. Lewis as the principle basis for his conversion. Why did Collins choose Christianity over all the other monotheistic religions of the world? Although he came to faith on the basis of evidence that is generally agreed upon by deists, Collins rejected deism because of the presence of the moral law, which seemed to represent God's personal involvement with His creatures. He recognized that the presence of moral law meant that God was holy and righteous, but was extremely concerned about his inability to live up to the demands of moral law on the basis of his best efforts. The answer that seemed best to him was Christianity, which is the only religion that claims to have a solution to the problem of sin that makes one absolutely righteous and justified before God.
Although the "The Language of God" is an interesting book to read, I don't think it will be satisfying to believers or convincing to non-believers.