Book Review: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
by Rich Deem

The Language of God : A Scientist Presents Evidence for BeliefFrancis 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 Language of God is an interesting book to read, I don't think it will be satisfying to believers or convincing to non-believers.
Last Modified August 1, 2006


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