The Language of God
Francis S. Collins
Response by Ted Loy
*Page references to The Language of God will be included in the text as they relate to statements in Dr. Collins’ book.
Positive Observations: As leader of the successful International Human Genome Project, Dr. Collins has the respect of scientist and layman alike. What was thought to be possible only in the dim future, Dr. Collins and his team of more than two thousand scientists accomplished in 2003.
His altruism is demonstrated by the fact that he worked hard to prevent any of the human genetic code from falling into the hands of those who would profit financially by this knowledge. Also, Dr. Collins is profoundly grateful that he and his team accomplished what will hopefully be for the benefit of those who are suffering and will suffer from incurable diseases. He is quite confident that future genetic research will shed light on modification of disease-bearing genes .
Dr. Collins gives clear testimony to his conversion from atheism to Christianity – giving much credit to the writings of C. S. Lewis – especially Mere Christianity. Most telling for him was Lewis’ explanation of Moral Law – something which has always been true universally for humanity. That is, all people have a sense of “oughtness” which cannot be explained culturally or in any way other than its origin having come from God. Collins also cites the universal human longing for God which also points to the Creator.
Most encouraging is Collins’ acceptance of the historicity of the four gospels (p. 223).
As a consequence he believes what the Son of God taught is true, and because of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ the gap between himself and God is bridged (p. 223).
Collins clearly believes God is the Creator of the universe – a universe of mathematical order and exquisite design reflecting its divine origin (p. 61-3). He is convinced God created the universe by means of the Big Bang 14 million years ago – and that the universe could not have created itself (p. 67). Further, Collins supports the Anthropic Principle which states that the fifteen universal physical constants must have been specifically tuned for life by God. “The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal.” (p. 74). “This general conclusion is referred to as the Anthropic Principle: the idea that our universe is uniquely tuned to give rise to humans.” (p. 74). Collins quotes Stephen Hawking, not generally known for his support of theism: “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.” (p. 74).
Because of his clear Christian/theistic position, Dr.
Collins has debated high-profile atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and has been
invited to speak at various university campuses. (I viewed a talk sponsored by Inter-Varsity
When someone of Dr. Collins scientific stature clearly supports the Gospel message of salvation in Christ and argues for theism in the public arena, all believers should rejoice.
Dr. Collins’ position in his own words (p. 200):
The basic inconsistency within Collins’ position:
Although Dr. Collins openly acknowledges God’s creation of the physical universe replete with order and design which reflects the divine nature, he believes the biological world is different. He is not willing even to “wager his faith” on the idea that God created life (p. 93). Furthermore, God had nothing to do with the formation of basic life forms -- their order, design and complexity being the result of random genetic mutations and natural selection. The inconsistency is obvious: in the physical realm, order, design and complexity point to a Creator, but in the biological realm, order, design and complexity do not point to a Creator but to Darwinian evolution.
In a way, Collins seems to have been able to neatly divide his mind between his observations of the physical realm and the biological realm without realizing it – a kind of cognitive schizophrenia. In fact, Dr. Collins goes out of his way to discredit any argument from design regarding the biological world (pp. 181-195). He does not see this to be inconsistent at all! (His discreditation of Intelligent Design will follow.)
What is truly strange about the duality of Collins’ thinking is his willingness to accept huge odds against the universe creating itself to support life – while at the same time not accepting huge odds against life creating itself and developing itself naturally without divine intervention. This is totally inconsistent. Anyone applying the mathematical science of probabilities to the spontaneous appearance and development of self-replicating life is struck with the extreme remoteness of such an occurrence. This is perhaps one of the most serious objections to Darwinism. Yet, evolutionists persist in their undying faith against all odds.
Collins treatment of the Intelligent Design movement is rather brutal, although he does say he thinks its adherents are sincere (p. 195). You can see he is quite pejorative right from the start when you read the title of Chapter Nine, “Option 3: Intelligent Design (When Science needs Divine Help) (p. 181). This title is written with tongue in cheek. When Collins uses the word “science” here he is equating it with “evolution.” He thinks ID thinkers are inserting their “God of the gaps” into lacunae left by evolutionary study. So, the ID movement is accused of using God to explain any biological puzzle which has not yet been solved. Although all is not clear now, Collins is convinced evolutionary investigation will provide naturalistic answers, and we will see someday how nature developed life by itself. Collins does not want to be left with a “God of the gaps” when science unravels yet unsolved puzzles, so he rules out any possibility that the design and complexity of life could in any way point to God.
This is extremely strange when one considers his own
description of the human genome: “The human genome consists of all the
Dogmatic dismissal of any biological understanding other than his own:
Frankly, Dr. Collins evolutionary dogmatism is the most disappointing aspect of his book. The following statement is unworthy of a man of his stature: “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life.” (p. 99). He apparently disregards the following statement signed by 700 scientists from around the world: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” (Please see “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” www.discovery.org.) Granted, not all of these scientists are biologists, but many are, for example, our own Dr. Pattle Pun, Wheaton College Professor of Biology. If Dr. Collins would take the time to look at this list, he would find recognized biologists from the University of Georgia, Rutgers University, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Iowa, MIT, King’s College, Cambridge University (UK), Saint Louis University, Princeton University, Baylor University, Texas A & M University, UCLA, University of Calgary Medical School (Canada), University of Illinois, Ohio State University, The George Washington University, University of Pennsylvania (post-doctoral fellowship, Harvard Medical School), State University of New York, University of London (UK), University of Nebraska, University of Saskatchewan (Canada), Pennsylvania State University, University of Ibadan (Nigeria), University of North Carolina, University of Helsinki (Finland), University of Minnesota, University of Colorado, University of California Berkeley, State University of New York, University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Missouri, Purdue University, University of Texas Austin, University of New Mexico, Glasgow University (UK), Old Dominion University, University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), Michigan State University, University of Nottingham (UK), McGill University (Canada, Ph.D Harvard), Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cornell University, Bristol University (UK), University of Oslo (Norway), University of Idaho, University of Oregon, University of Washington, Lomonosov Moscow State University (Russia), City University of New York, University of Virginia, University of London (UK), University of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK), University of Nebraska Medical Center, Autonomous University of Guadalajara (Mexico), et al.
For Dr. Collins to paternalistically demean all of these
biologists as those who are not “serious” is quite unacceptable. They are his qualified peers and deserve
better from him. Further he makes other
dogmatic statements such as: “Truly it can be said that not only biology but
medicine would be impossible to understand without the theory of evolution.”
(p. 133). According to Collins, then,
none of the scientists working at the universities listed above really
understand biology or medicine. This is
truly remarkable since they are recognized scientists in their respective
universities! Again Collins asserts that
“virtually all working biologists” agree that “
When seeking to win an argument, portraying those skeptical of your position as inferior is not uncommon, but we should expect Collins to take the higher ground. He should instead humbly recognize that significant problems still remain for those who wish to prove Darwinian evolution. Science exists to take the challenge of honest inquiry. Unfortunately, evolutionary scientists have often taken the position of squelching honest inquiry when it comes to their position. This is the opposite of academic freedom and not worthy of true scholarship. In fact, some biological scientists are reticent to express lingering doubts about the validity of Darwinism for fear of losing their jobs. This has already happened to some.
Undoubtedly, Dr. Collins is a brilliant and accomplished scientist; however, this does not give him the authority to demean others in his field who has also accomplished much in the field of biological science.
Faith in Darwinian evolution:
I purposely use the word, “faith.” Dr. Collins is fond of accusing those who see
divine order and design in the biological world as those who insert the “God of
the gaps” into unproved Darwinian lacunae.
It is just as proper to say that evolutionists insert “
Collins holds to the classic definition of Darwinian
evolution, i.e. randomly occurring variations preserved by natural selection
due to a favorable environment account for the unguided development of all life
from the most primitive of life forms to the most complex (pp. 128-9). Applying this theory to the human genome, Dr.
Collins further amplifies that the mechanism of randomly occurring variations
is the “naturally occurring mutations in
Taking this definition at face value, there are logical
questions which arise. First, since
harmful mutations are eliminated due to natural selection, why are genetic
mutations which carry disease passed on from generation to generation? According to Darwinian theory,
beneficial mutations remain due to natural selection and are passed on to the
species, but this is not supposed to happen with harmful mutations. On p. 238 Collins speaks of a family with
hereditary breast cancer. He concludes:
“The universal presence of mutations in
Another logical question occurs to anyone taking Darwinism at face value. Since every species is always producing mutations – some of which will prove to be favorable in the process of natural selection – every species, then, should be ascending the evolutionary ladder as favorable mutations are mutually passed on to benefit the species. No species should be left behind in its more primitive state. Yet, whether by means of the fossil record or by means of current observation, there is a fixity of species from the most simple to the most complex – a fixity which is not changing – only in minor ways (microevolution). Taking Darwinian Theory for what it claims, this fixity should not have occurred over the very long time Darwinian evolution is supposed to have taken place. Primitive life forms which lived millions of years ago still exist in their original form. Of course, evolutionists will say these primitive life forms still exist in their original state because the species has found its ecological niche and therefore needs no further improvement. The problem, of course, is that Darwinists cannot have it both ways. Either a species naturally evolves from simple to complex forms due to constant mutations -- or it doesn’t!
Collins’ “ace in the hole” is his observation that the human
and chimpanzee genome are 97% similar.
He concludes that this must mean that each species has arisen from a
common ancestor. Even more compelling to
Collins is the existence of AREs (ancient repetitive
elements) which appear in roughly the same place in both the human and chimp
genomes. He gives these AREs rather unflattering names, “junk
Although Dr. Collins doesn’t think so, the Cambrian
Explosion which occurred about 550 million years ago is a significant obstacle
for Darwinians. He refers to the late
Jay Gould of Harvard who “questioned how evolution could account for the
remarkable diversity of body plans that appeared in such a short span of time.”
(p. 94). In fact Gould had to invent a
new kind of evolution which would account for the appearance of distinct phyla
body plans occurring within approximately 15 million years – not nearly enough
time to elapse for the very slow process needed by classical Darwinists. This new kind of evolution became known as
Neo-Darwinism because the old model would not fit. Regardless of very logical evolutionary
problems relating to the Cambrian Explosion, Collins still believes in the old
model (p. 96). Although no Darwinist,
including Gould, has been able to say how it happened,
Biblical and theological problems with Dr. Collins’ Darwinian position:
Dr. Collins personally addresses us as believers: “As believers, you are right to hold fast to the concept of God as Creator; you are right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible;…”
(p. 178). Unfortunately, if we do hold fast to the concept of God as Creator, and if we do hold fast to the truths of the Bible, Collins’ Darwinian position becomes untenable when compared with Scripture. He desperately wants a synthesis between Scripture and evolutionary thought, but there are direct conflicts which cannot be swept under the rug.
First, there is his admission that he is not sure how life began. He does not want to wager his faith that God created life because he might be invoking a “God of the gaps” if science should come up with a reasonable naturalistic explanation. To believe God created life would not be proper for a “thoughtful person.” (p. 93). This is a truly amazing statement for Collins to make since he encourages us to “hold fast to the truths of the Bible.”
Numerous Scripture passages could be referenced, but here are a few: “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” (Nehemiah 9:6); “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17); “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11). For those of us who are convinced of biblical truthfulness there can be only one conclusion: God created life. Dr. Collins, however, thinks those who believe God created life are less than “thoughtful” people (p. 93).
On the one hand, Collins says God is the Creator (presumably of all things), but on the other hand he is not sure God created life. Further, he is very sure God did not create life in its evolutionary ascent from the most simple forms to the most complex (p. 200). How can this be? How does God create and at the same time not create? Doesn’t this sound like a kind of doublespeak? He claims the answer is that God used Darwinian evolution as his master plan (pp. 146, 198-99). That way evolution could be totally naturalistic – and still be something God somehow does. This really sounds like a kind of linguistic sleight of hand. Again, he can’t have it both ways. Either God created life -- and the various basic forms of life -- or he did not. If God is the Creator, then He is the Creator of all things – including life!
After considering the matter of how life itself came into
existence, we come to the creation of human life. Here there is irreconcilable conflict with
Collins’ position which states: “As noted previously, studies of human
variation, together with the fossil record, all point to an origin of modern
humans approximately a hundred thousand years ago, most likely in
Since Collins has urged us to “hold fast to the truths of the Bible,” and since he has accepted the authenticity of Jesus’ teaching, it is revealing to compare what Jesus taught regarding human creation with what Dr. Collins believes. “Haven’t you read, ‘he replied,’ “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6). By no stretch of the imagination can I somehow make Jesus’ description of human creation conform to Collins’ scenario of 10,000 humanoids. In addition, to say that the Son of God is somehow accommodating himself to a “poetic and powerful allegory” is not acceptable.
It is almost humorous, if not tragic, to think of a wedding ceremony in which the minister would say: “In the beginning God took 10,000 humanoids, infused into them a soul plus Moral Law -- and then conducted a mass wedding at which time 5000 couples stepped out into human life. This is the model we celebrate today.” I’m being a bit facetious here, but how is it possible to reconcile Jesus’ matrimonial teaching with Collins’ ideas?
Besides contravening the biblical assertion of human special creation, Dr. Collins challenges the biblical assertion of special creation for basic life forms – since, according to him, God had no part in the total evolutionary process of ongoing life development. Although the Genesis account of creation is not a scientific textbook, its essential teaching is true. During the creation age-day periods, basic forms of life were created by God. (Yom, the Hebrew word for day, can mean an extended period of time.) Biblically these basic life forms are referred to in a general way as living creatures with a water environment, birds with air environment, and creatures with land environment such as livestock, wild beasts and creatures moving along the ground. Each was created according to its kind – i.e. basic life forms – possibly orders. Variation within those kinds occurs regularly and always has (microevolution). Also by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul describes these basic forms of specially created life: “All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.” (I Corinthians 15:39).
By relegating the biblical creation accounts to myth/legend,
Dr. Collins can make them say almost anything.
However, biblical inspiration takes a beating in the process. It’s instructive to note Collins’ view of
other portions of Scripture which he
views as legendary. “Many sacred texts
do indeed carry the clear marks of eyewitness history, and as believers we must
hold fast to those truths. Others, such
as the stories of Job and Jonah, and of Adam and Eve, frankly do not carry that
same historical ring.” (p. 209). What do
we do, then, with quotes regarding Job, Jonah and Adam and Eve when they occur
in “historical” biblical contexts?”
Let’s consider Jesus’ teaching regarding Jonah found in Matthew
12:40-41: For as Jonah was three days and
three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man, will be three days
and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The men of
Granted, Scripture uses various literary devices, but great care must be given to biblical interpretation when essential meanings are at stake. Again, perhaps some slack must be given to Dr. Collins since he would be the first to admit he is no theologian. It is instructive to note, however, that his statements regarding Job, Jonah, Adam and Eve etc. are similar to those coming out of German rationalism in the 19th century which has continued to influence liberal theology in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Numerous biblical doctrines are seriously damaged by Collins rigid support of naturalistic human evolution – doctrines such as original sin, for example. Paul teaches by inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17). Not for one second do I believe Paul was accommodating himself to a “poetic and powerful allegory” when he refers to the one man (Adam). If Adam is relegated to allegory, then so is Jesus Christ since there is a direct parallel between the one man, Adam, and the one man, Jesus Christ. How 10,000 East African humanoids can conform to Romans 1:17 doctrines are beyond me to comprehend.
To be fair to Collins, he is a scientist and not a biblical theologian – and he does not claim to be. If he would think through the enormous problems caused by making Scripture conform to evolutionary thinking (like Procrustes made his unsuspecting guests conform to his iron bed), he might reconsider. As it is, Scripture comes out the loser as Dr. Collins attempts to forge a synthesis between Scripture and evolutionary thinking.
Collins does delve into theology to try to explain how God can be responsible for the appearance of life in all its forms and at the same time have nothing to do with the process – an impossible task, I might add. Since God is outside of time and foreknew the totally random, undirected process of evolution from one-celled animals to trillion-celled humans, we can say in some sense that God used evolution to create humankind (pp. 205-6). This is very shaky theology. It would be entirely against the nature of God to “suspend” his sovereignty while evolution supposedly does its work for millions of years. There is no way out for Collins if he wishes to say that God somehow used evolution to bring about humanity -- while at the same time asserting strongly that God did not intervene in the process.
Dr. Collins’ attempt to forge a synthesis between faith and science:
Dr. Collins is to be commended for his attempt to forge a synthesis between faith and science. He believes as I do that all truth is God’s truth. Unfortunately in his attempt to do so, he gives away the “biblical/theological family farm” when he tries to make Scripture conform to evolutionary thought.
Collins is halfway successful. He rightly points out there is a wonderful synthesis between faith and science regarding the creation of the universe. Collins is convinced the universe could not create itself; therefore, a Creator is necessary. Since the Big Bang theory states there was nothing before the Big Bang occurred, there is a perfect synthesis between the Big Bang theory and biblical ex nihilo creation: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 1:3). Collins includes the marvelous quote from Robert Jastrow’s book, God and the Astonomers: “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements and the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.” (p. 67). Jastrow’s startling statement from the same book is precious, (p. 107): “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Dr. Collins’ attempt to say that God used evolution to create all life while at the same time saying that God had nothing to do with it is quite unsuccessful. Collins only succeeds in falling into the trap of doublespeak to forge his synthesis. For honest inquirers, there is a synthesis between faith and science -- since all truth is God’s truth. However, Dr. Collins’ evolutionary dogmatism has closed the door to any scientific inquiry searching for a synthesis of faith and science which in any way might challenge his views. Anyone who doubts his evolutionary dogmatism is not a “serious” scientist – according to Collins (p. 99). This sort of attitude does great harm to unbiased biological research since Darwinian science will only accept an evolutionary framework.
On p. 146 Dr. Collins tells of a gathering of Christian physicians to which he was invited to speak. They were very receptive to the fact that a believer in Christ was also the director of a successful mapping of the human genome. He said there were even a few “amens” to that! However, when he told them evolution was “God’s elegant plan for creating humankind” there was a distinct change in the atmosphere. Collins was taken aback by this reaction and continues to remain puzzled as to why so many believers cannot acccept his BioLogos synthesis of faith and science. Regarding those who are biological scientists, he cannot imagine how any of them could doubt his classical Darwinism which be believes is beyond question.
It is possible for believers to accept Dr. Collins as a brother in Christ while at the same time remain legitimately skeptical of his classical Darwinian position. Unfortunately, Collins does not believe there can be any legitimate skepticism regarding his position.
Hopefully, my response to Dr. Collins’ book will reveal some logical reasons as to why his BioLogos synthesis is not more widely accepted. Fundamentally, those reasons can be subsumed under one statement: he is not consistent! God cannot be Creator of the material universe while at the same time remain uninvolved with the creation of the biological world. The two cannot be separated. If order, design and complexity in the material realm point to the Creator (which he believes), then order, design and complexity in the biological realm point to the Creator (which he does not believe). You cannot have one without the other. God is Creator of all -- or not at all!
A little evolution humor:
Question: what do evolutionists do in their spare time? Answer: they exchange family albums to view their respective protozoan progenitors.
Overheard at the monkey house during a gathering of evolutionists at the zoo, “They could at least give us a call before paying a family visit.”
Believe it or not, this is true! In