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The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

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A head of the Human Genome Project and former atheist presents a scientific argument for the existence of God, revealing how science can support faith by citing the areas of nature that can and cannot be fully explained by Darwinian evolution, and sharing a tour of the genome to demonstrate how it reflects God's purposes. 75,000 first printing.

294 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

Francis S. Collins

19 books249 followers
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. is the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). On August 17, 2009 he was sworn in as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Dr. Collins received a B.S. from the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Yale University, and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina. Following a fellowship in Human Genetics at Yale, he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he remained until moving to NIH in 1993. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,185 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
October 8, 2014
Francis Collins comes across as such a nice guy! He's clearly a very good molecular biologist - he led the Human Genome Project to a successful conclusion, no mean feat - and he has strong Christian ideals that he's thought about a lot and tried hard to realize in practice. Here, he outlines his philosophy, a kind of theistic evolutionary creed which he calls BioLogos. It's intended to combine his scientific and religious beliefs into a harmonious whole; although it appears to work for him, I remain unimpressed, and I fear that both sides of the faith/science divide are going to see him as what Richard Dawkins memorably described as a "compliant quisling". But more about that shortly.

The core message of BioLogos is that God created the universe in order for it to contain living beings with souls - us, and any other sentient creatures that may happen to exist - and cares deeply about His people. As you can see, for example, in Martin Rees's Just Six Numbers and Before the Beginning, the idea that the universe was designed is right now perfectly respectable, though I thought Collins's cosmological arguments were on the superficial side. In particular, he in no way gives proper consideration to the multiverse theory that Rees prefers; though the comparison with Dawkins's The God Delusion is amusing, Dawkins doing the exact opposite and dismissing the design theory in equally summary fashion. It would be nice to see a balanced presentation here some time. At any rate, the modern Argument from Design in terms of fine tuning of the universe's physical constants is one of the main planks of Collins's argument to the non-believers.

The other key component is derived from C.S. Lewis (Collins is a huge admirer), and is based on universal ethical norms, altruism, and the human hunger for religion which, Collins claims, can be observed in all cultures. If God doesn't exist, why do we all feel a need for Him, and why do we all agree on the important issues about what constitutes the difference between right and wrong? Here, again, I felt that Collins was on shaky ground, and the reasoning did not convince me. Many people have tried to explain the emergence of altruistic behavior in humans using an evolutionary perspective, but these ideas are hardly discussed at all, and there is almost no comparison with other social species. Yes, it's probably relevant that ants and bees are haplodiploid, and humans aren't, so "altruistic" behavior of insects may be misleading; but naked mole rats, which are not mentioned, are also a social species, and they are not haplodiploid.

So the first third of the book was disappointing, but it picked up again when Collins turned around and started explaining to the creationists and Intelligent Design people why their criticisms of evolutionary theory were misguided. This part was excellent, and if you want an authoritative dismantling of ID I have never seen it done better. Collins first explains the holes in the often-quoted "flagellum" argument, showing how the bacterial flagellum could indeed have been created by evolution; he then quotes St. Augustine and other luminaries of the Church on the dangers of Christianity making itself look ridiculous by trying to maintain logically untenable positions. He does his best to sweeten the pill, emphasizing that he respects the motives that have led people to believe in ID, but I can't think that many of them like it. Indeed, he describes talks he's given to American Christian audiences where he's tried to explain this stuff, and people often leave the room before he's got properly started. I can see why.

At the end, he tries to wrap it all up in his vision of BioLogos. Christians, be reasonable and admit that evolution is a simple fact that reveals God's power and glory with even greater clarity! Scientists, look into your hearts and admit how much you want to feel His love! I fear very few people on either side are buying it. But, blessed are the peacemakers, and Dr. Collins is doing his damnedest to spread peace and understanding. Who knows, maybe it will do some good in the long run.

I just have to include this wonderfully snarky quote from Russell's Science and Religion. Despite being written several decades before Collins was born, it is a perfect comment on his book:
Sir J. Arthur Thomson, as we saw, maintained that science is incomplete because it cannot answer the question why? Religion, he thought, can answer it. Why were stars formed? Why did the sun give birth to planets? Why did the earth cool, and at last give rise to life? Because, in the end, something admirable was going to result -- I am not quite sure what, but I believe it was scientific theologians and religiously-minded scientists.

Profile Image for Ellis.
279 reviews2 followers
April 8, 2008
This book was Fantastic. If it were up to me, this book would be required reading for every college freshman or senior in high school. I listened to Dr. Collins speak at last year’s scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to listen to the head of the international group responsible for sequencing the human genome. I was impressed with his clear forward-thinking mind. Probably because I'd heard Dr. Collins speak, knew his work, and had a very good impression of him, I was a little dismayed when I saw the title of his book. I thought maybe he was a little off track. Personally, science hasn't shown me anything that confirms, OR DENIES, the existence of God. I figured I had to read his book just to see what he had to say on the matter.

Fortunately, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find what this book contained. This book isn't an attempt to use scientific knowledge and proofs to demonstrate that God exists, but it contains a very beautifully laid out reconciliation of religion and science. (Reconciliation is really a terrible term, because religion and science never have been at odds. Unfortunately, some religious people have attacked science because they felt threatened by its findings and chose to fear it rather than understand it. Likewise, some people thought that scientific theories, such as the Big Bang and the evolution of species, proved that God didn't exist. Anyway, some people have wrongly put science and religion at odds when, in fact, there was no need for the two to be mutually exclusive. All truth is good for man: whatever its source.)

I was extremely surprised to find in this book the nearly exact conclusion I have come to after years of considering how the scientific theories on the origin of the universe, the origin of man, and of religion may fit together. I struggled over these issues for a long time, because I felt that it was my duty to not ignore two seemingly incompatible (big bang/evolution and man created by God in his image) things that I knew (as strongly as a scientist can ever claim to "know" that a theory actually represents reality) to be true. I knew that it wouldn't be right to reject either of these truths because it was inconvenient to have them together. This conundrum caused me to spend plenty of time thinking about this issue. Thus, I was very surprised to see that Collins had come up with basically the exact same conclusions that I had come to. (In fact, this is exactly the book I would have written on the subject if I just weren’t so lazy and had the ability.) Did this happen because the world-renowned scientist, Francis Collins, and I are on the same intellectual playing field? No, unfortunately no... I think that we came to the same conclusions because if one puts him/herself to thinking on the matter for long enough and uses the best material to aid in the process, then the conclusion comes very naturally and logically.

I would suggest that everyone read this book. There is no contention between science and religion. Science and religion have no disagreement or incongruities on how man came to live on earth. Of course, the most important thing to remember is that it doesn't matter how man came to earth, but why man is on earth and what we do while here. However, understanding how this process occurred is extremely interesting and gives me so much more appreciation for the creation of mankind than the traditional "poof theory" that many cling to tightly with eyes and ears closed to avoid being tainted by scientific theory. (Oh yes, and thank you very much, Dr. Collins, for spending appropriate time on what it means for something to be a scientific theory.) This book is very stimulating and satisfying to the scientist because shows that religion need not be discarded because of scientific theory, and to the religious person because it shows that the greatest and most proven and unifying scientific theories need not be discarded to protect religious beliefs.
Profile Image for Heather.
24 reviews
June 25, 2007
Let me preface this review by saying that I read this book as part of a discussion with my intelligent and faithful (not to mention extremely good looking - its a genetic thing) family members, who are open-minded to both science and religion. I hope that I can be likewise. They asked me for my sincere opinion about this book, and here is the result of that request. If they write a review, I will provide a link to it.

Collins seems like an intelligent, decent person with a sincere desire to help people overcome dissidence between two ways of understanding the world: science and religion. I admire his sentiments, and I appreciate any calm voice that enters the debate. He provides a nice summary of the evidence for evolution, and is obviously a highly qualified scientist (e.g. he was project manager for the human genome project).

I rate it as only OK because I found his arguments unconvincing. Here's why:

1) Collins did not provide data supporting the existence of a universal moral law, a law which he felt deserves the title of law, just like the law of gravity. He instead assumed that we would all agree that there is an absolute moral law that persists across time and cultural boundaries. While I imagine there are consistent moral codes, I would like a better description of what those are, especially if one is going to use that as the main support for one's belief in God. He cites the attributes of fairness and altruism, but doesn't define those terms well, nor does he describe their distribution within and among cultures. Those data are out there.

2) So let's say there is a moral "law", and it is reliable and persistent as any real law should be (a huge assumption). How can it be explained? While he belittled a "God-In-The-Gaps" approach to the study of creation/evolution, Collins advocated that approach for the study of human behavior. He invoked the existence of a supernatural power to explain the existence of morality in humans. His argument seemed to be that since science couldn't explain it (an argument that wasn't very strong, in my opinion), God must have given humans morality.

3) His other arguments for God include a distinct beginning to the universe (the big bang), and a hefty set of universal constants, constants that he finds extremely improbable without an intelligent creator.

The distinct beginning struck me as an idea consistent with his conception of God, but not really evidence for his conception of God.

In the case of the universal constants, Collins is committing the same errors he accuses the proponents of intelligent design of using.

Proponents of Intelligent Design claim that there are some parts of living things that are so complex that natural selection on random mutations (i.e. evolution) could not have made them. These parts (such as the complex eye and the bacterial flagellum) indicate an Intelligent Designer.

Likewise, Collins says that the development of so many universal constants is so improbable, that they provide evidence for an intelligent designer. As he said about Intelligent Design, this is another "God-In-The-Gaps" argument, one that is in danger of being explained by science as our knowledge progresses.

In short, Collins' use of the word evidence in the subtitle is premature. As the religions I am most familiar with would attest, belief in a supernatural being is ultimately a matter not of natural evidence, but of revelation. Therefore belief in that supernatural being comes down to a person's willingness to accept revelation, whether it be through scripture or prayer, as a valid way of understanding the world. Natural phenomena can be considered consistent with ones conception of the Almighty, but not the ultimate evidence for God.
8 reviews
November 3, 2007
I have no doubt in the sincerity of Dr. Collins's beliefs, but I found this book insufferable. I picked it up at the store, hoping to catch a glimpse of how an established (and wildly successful) scientist reconciles his faith with the tradition of scientific rationalism. Instead, I found a lot of C.S. Lewis fan-dom mixed with a clumsy rehashing of pretty tired theological arguments hinging on a mysterious intrinsic "Moral Law". To be honest, it reads like Collins is trying to convince himself more than the reader. In retrospect, I think it'd been more worthwhile to have skipped this book and jump into "Mere Christianity" and whatever the latest Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens book is.

Reading (and suffering) through this book did make me wonder if it's at all possible to honestly be both a scientist and a spiritual person. Ironically, before I read this book I would've said maybe, but now I think I have to say no. A career as a scientist necessarily requires a dedication to rational observation, and most importantly, the flexibility to change models to incorporate new information. Religion (at least organized religion) requires a rigid flexibility to fixed beliefs. In other words, as Collins describes it, science is an inherently humbling study - somebody, someday will find a clever exception to your work, and these acts (with time) are the stuff of legend. There aren't "paradigm shifts" (it pains me to use that buzzword) in religion - I mean, how can "eternal truth" be mutable?

Personally, for me, the most troubling part of religion is that at its core, it reads like an exercise in vanity - no matter what other people say, the key endpoint of religion is to stratify people - some people will get rewarded (whether that's enlightenment, heaven, ...) while other won't (reincarnation, hell).
Profile Image for David.
263 reviews10 followers
August 17, 2009
This is a long review, so here’s the shorter version first. There are atheists who believe science is inconsistent with religious belief. There are religious people who don’t believe in science. There are religious people who do believe in science, compartmentalizing the two and judging them by different standards. Okay, fine. I don’t want group two allowed on any boards of education, but aside from that, fine. Collins is in group three, but the thing that really irritates me is that he won’t admit he’s in group three. He thinks he’s in group four, people who have completely and logically reconciled science and religion. This book is a very smart guy arguing for group four, and is completely embarrassing, because he can’t do it without getting tangled up in logical fallacies and misinterpretation of evidence. As far as I can tell, he never really thought about religion for a long time, and then the first time he read anything erudite and well-written on the subject (C.S. LewisMere Christianity), he said, that makes sense, and froze his brain there. New input is not fully processed anymore.

I like that he, and people like him, like science. But I really wish they would just admit that their faith is irrational and not empirical, and then we could all get on with our lives. I would still disagree with their faith, but it would be philosophical and in terms of utility. It would no longer be in the realm of science and logic, and wouldn’t make me nearly so mad.

I approached this book with some trepidation, as a lot of people I respect have looked at it and declared it all bollocks, but I wanted to give Collins a fair hearing.

He did not make this easier by making an obvious arithmetic error literally on page 1.

Then in the introduction he makes the inexplicable (though common) assertion that religion is needed because science can't answer questions like "what is the meaning of human existence?" and "what happens after we die?" He's assuming there's an answer to the first question - which is bizarre if you think about it. What is the meaning of the asteroid Pisarenko? What kind of question is that? You can ask "what is the meaning of the president's last speech" because you know there is an intentional being behind it. I know the president exists. However, asking the question "what is the meaning of human existence" assumes something gives it meaning - that would be assuming the existence of a god, unless you're a humanist who thinks people give it their own meaning. This is not a question you can ask if you're trying to establish the existence of God and argue for religion in the first case. Teleology went out the window when we stopped using Aristotle as the ultimate authority.

Of course, science has answered the second question (what happens when we die), but Collins doesn't like the answer, so he ignores it.

This is not a promising start to a book advertised as a rational look at faith and science.

That Collins found (and still finds) the existence of human morality evidence for God appears due to the fact that he approached biochemistry from the chemistry side. He does not appear to have really listened to his biologist colleagues who are working on the question of why morality actually exists, and have indeed come up with some answers. I can't believe Collins has never heard of, e.g., mirror neurons, but he doesn't show any evidence he has. Most remarkably, at one point he says, "for the evolutionary argument about group benefits of altruism to hold, it would seem to require an opposite response, namely, hostility to individuals outside the group." And... that's never seen in humans, is it? He provides examples of two, count 'em, two people who were not hostile to some other group.

Collins would explain the small number of greatly altruistic people by the fact that we're all imperfect, but some are better than others so there must be some ideal. Okay, but as far as I can tell, this means the ideal is for humans to not use oxygen in our metabolic processes. Sure, we're all imperfect, and use it, but Ed Viesturs can climb Everest without supplemental oxygen, so he's proof there's some airless ideal we all strive for.

Now, I'm not arguing against morality. Marc Hauser, in Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, convincingly argues that there is some sort of universal moral grammar in humans, although its realization is culture-dependent. (One merely has to look at, say, Muslim honor killings to see that Collins' detailed universal morality is bollocks.) However, this occurs in other animals as well - in certain situations, chimps will abstain from rewarding themselves if it means another, unrelated chimp will be punished. (This behavior is not observed in Wall Street firms - perhaps they should hire chimps.)

The problem here seems to be that while Collins is intelligent, he's not broadly educated. He's not aware of even basic recent research in biological morality, or theoretical cosmology (he seems proud of making it through A Brief History of Time, which is nice, but limited and dated). This isn't a failing for most people, and Collins doesn't need to know this stuff to do his biochemistry research. However, if he's going to make these things the root of his argument about the entire nature of reality, he really does need to know what he's talking about, and he can't just parrot C.S. Lewis continually. Lewis may have been bright and articulate, but at the very least he lived before many of these scientific advances that really do undermine his arguments.

It does feel weird lecturing someone smarter than I am, but good grief, Collins, on the subject of the anomalous compassion of Oskar Schindler and Mother Teresa, go look up "outliers" and "regression to the mean". And does he not understand evolutionary byproducts? Humans didn't evolve to see faces in trees and the Moon because it was useful - it's a byproduct of other things that are themselves useful. If in-group altruism is useful, evolution is not a scalpel that can cleanly separate that from out-group altruism. (An expert in DNA must understand this, so is he willfully blind?)

And then Collins says that, "This was a God who was holy and righteous. He would have to be the embodiment of goodness. He would have to hate evil." Of course, if you say God is good judging from an independent rule (as Collins appears to), then God is not the source of that rule and your argument about needing God to explain morality is fail. If good is good because it's what God is and made... that's scary. Because God could decide tomorrow that it's good to kill your children, and it would be good, by your definition. (Hang on... according to the Bible, God did decide this sometimes.)

That's not even addressing theodicies, which have never been satisfactorily resolved. And Collins thinks science has a hard time explaining morality?

"The ultimate decision would have to be based on faith, not proof." So he admits on page 30 that science does not in fact find God, then proceeds to explain how it does for another 253 pages?

Collins (he thinks) turns the wishful-thinking argument on its head: "why would such a universal and uniquely human hunger (for Something Greater - read, God) exist, if it were not connected to some opportunity for fulfillment?"

Well, I'm glad you asked. Daniel Dennett wrote a cogent book on why (Breaking the Spell), but this is just a silly argument to begin with. Because lots of people would like to fly on their own power that means humans can fly? If humans universally don't want disease, does that mean disease doesn't actually exist? Apparently, Collins continues to ride the "I just wrote down whatever was in my head without thinking about it" train. (And if it’s a universal desire, how do you explain atheists? It’s not universal, but Collins happily goes on with his false consensus bias, just one in a host of cognitive errors.)

"The prophet Muhammed never himself used violence in responding to persecutors." What the hell, did Collins do any research for this book? (Come on, google, say, the Battle of Hunayn.) Or is this just legalese, because Mohammed waited until he had an army before slaughtering people who didn’t agree with him, so by that point they weren’t persecutors? I don’t think so, because Collins is arguing religions are fundamentally peaceful (only some imperfect followers are violent).

Summary of page 46: "Don't see rape as a bad thing, look at it as an opportunity!" When you have to go through contortions that messed up to justify your belief in God, it's time to rethink that belief. (I know this is well intentioned and stoic, but step back from it and take a look... it’s fucked up!)

And then Collins ties up and gags Bayes' theorem, and beats it with a stick until it says, "miracles!" It's really quite amazing what you can do when you assume priors of 1 (implicitly, of course - otherwise it would be obvious that you're pulling a sleight-of-hand). Especially when your prior of 1 is for the existence of God.

"The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation", says Collins. This is the exact same argument used by Intelligent Design proponents. It's complex, it's intricate, we haven’t got a complete theory yet, therefore God. Collins bashes ID, but turns around and uses the same argument in physics. Again, how can someone so smart be so intellectually inconsistent?

Now Collins is arguing that there might be a deterministic theory that underlies quantum mechanics, and therefore the randomness isn't random to God. (This is from someone who took QED from Willis Lamb - and after Bell's theorem, so he has no excuse.) But he was just arguing that QM overturned the deterministic universe of Laplace (which left no room for God), and now he wants determinism again? I'm confused... and so is Collins.

Collins at various points argues against "God of the gaps" and what he calls the compartmentalization of Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA. (Note that in Gould’s conception, NOMA is not compartmentalization - there actually is no conflict between the religion and science. I agree this doesn’t work in practice, however, and would end up requiring compartmentalization.) Which I find astonishing, as his book is one long exercise in God of the gaps, and he clearly compartmentalizes things because he judges religious ideas by entirely different standards than scientific ideas. (I doubt he would fund a grant application whose methods section includes the phrase "then we leap beyond the evidence and just believe our answers.") I understand he doesn't believe in NOMA. But he is a confused, confused man.

I can't read any more. I'm on page 96, and we've gotten into intro biology lectures, which is boring. Collins has already utterly failed on philosophical and physical grounds, and I don't need a DNA 101 lesson.

But I did skip ahead a bit to where Collins lashes out at Richard Dawkins. He uses the standard argument that Dawkins is attacking some straw man of God, and not God as Collins (and Augustine, C.S. Lewis, etc.) have seen him. Francis, old buddy, it's not a straw man. There are lots, and lots of religious people who are antirational, don't believe in evolution, take the Bible literally, etc. Dawkins did not make them up. They really exist, and probably make up half of the religious people in the US. They also dominate the political-religious discourse in this country, so it's not like we can ignore them. They are senators and governors, not straw men.

Then Collins spirits God out of the world, so science can't look at it. This is a cop-out. If God is accessible to our senses and/or our mind - as Collins believes it is - then it's accessible to science. Special pleading about God, despite being a favorite past-time of many religious people (and a standard theodicy), is not convincing.

This book includes one great quote of C.S. Lewis', though. "Nonsense remains nonsense, even when we talk about God." Yes, it does.
Profile Image for Linda.
379 reviews
September 28, 2007
While I am not usually a big fan of non-fiction (takes too long to read) this book really affected me. As a scientist I was ready to disagree with the ideas of this evangelical Christian, but his arguments were well, scientific. His rational arguments struck a chord with me and he convinced me that theistic evolution is a valid possibility as to where we came from.
Profile Image for Amora.
189 reviews142 followers
September 25, 2022
Glad I finally got introduced to BioLogos! Collins present us with an alternative to creationism and intelligent design beliefs: BioLogos. Science and theism are in harmony with BioLogos and, thankfully, the premises of BioLogos are easy to defend.
Profile Image for Brooke.
537 reviews292 followers
September 7, 2010
I picked this book up because I thought it would be interesting to read about the religious views of the head of the Human Genome Project. What does someone who has his scientific credentials think about God and spirituality? Some of the reviews on GR attempt to attack perceived fallacies in his arguments and prove him “wrong,” but I was less interested in that than I was getting inside his head and listening to his personal story, whether I agreed with him or not.

The Language of God is a well-written, easily-read rumination on the conflict between science and religion and why the author (along with many in the scientific community) feels this conflict doesn’t need to exist. Despite arguing from a believer’s point of view, Collins spends quite a bit of time shooting down creationism, Biblical literalism, and Intelligent Design. He advises against using God to “fill in the gaps” in current scientific knowledge and instead encourages believers to base their faith on something more stable. He points to history to illustrate that current arguments that require a literal reading of the Genesis are relatively new and that pre-Darwin religious thinkers didn’t hold the same views that current conservative religious folks do.

The only downside from my point of view is that Collins is Christian; I feel like I've spent enough time reading about how people arrived at their faith in Jesus. I'd love to read something written from the perspective of someone who became just about anything else, just for the sake of hearing some different experiences. To Collins' credit, though, in the few times he discusses the Bible, he refers to the original Hebrew. He also acknowledges several times that although his exploration of his personal beliefs brought him to Christianity, that every person will find what is right for them. A strike against him, though, is his use of the phrase "Judeo-Christian" several times, especially in reference to religious texts. That phrase needs to be disposed of and never used by anyone ever again.

The book ends with an appendix detailing some current bioethics concerns, and while it's interesting (especially since a bioethics class I took with Lori Andrews was one of my more interesting law school classes), I'm a little puzzled about its placement in this book.
Profile Image for Dave.
199 reviews8 followers
March 28, 2007
It was very refreshing to hear a reasonable person discuss these issues without trying to overemphasize controversy. There are two portions of the book: Collins personal story of how he came to faith in God, and his views on a number of controversial issues in the overlapping worlds of science, ethics and faith. The first is particularly intriguing to scientists who are interested in faith. The second portion is more technical but valuable to anyone who wrestles with these issues.

Profile Image for Dan.
248 reviews
July 13, 2009
This book is now my recommended first read for anyone who is asking the question, "Can a scientist be a Christian or even believe in God?" Collins, best known for being director of the human genome project, has impeccable credentials in the scientific world. He began as an agnostic. Feeling that agnostics who have not really tried to find God have no basis to defend their position or criticize others, Collins endeavored to see whether belief in God is possible. He leads the reader through the process by which he has concluded that not only is belief in God possible, he believes it is the most likely explanation for his cumulative observations. He further goes on the conclude that for him Christianity has the most credibility of the religions.

Collins addresses evolution, creationism, and intelligent design. He concludes that evidence for evolution, including the evolution of man from a common ancestor with the apes, is becoming more and more convincing as time goes on. He feels that seven twenty-four-hour days of divine creation is not the most likely explanation of the origin of the earth based on both scientific evidence and scripture. He feels that intelligent design makes a god who is too small, being reserved only for the gaps; he further feels that more and more of those gaps are being explained by already established scientific principles as we learn more.

Collins adds an appendix in which he discusses several controversial topics involving ethics and genetic research. This appendix is a great source for discussion.
Profile Image for J. Aleksandr Wootton.
Author 8 books134 followers
October 13, 2022
A decent introductory-level book challenging the mindsets of people who assume that "science" has disproved (or proved irrational) "faith" / "religion", as well as people who assume that "faith" should trump "science" whenever and wherever a superficial reading of religious texts seems to contradict scientific theories and discoveries. Collins does a pretty good job challenging both perspectives and demonstrating why clinging desperately to either position and opposing the other is unnecessary and unwarranted. However, if you're inclined to really dig into these subjects, this book may get you started but won't satisfy.

Collins' sheer prominence makes this book an important contribution, and his calm approach is refreshingly welcome in a conversation that too often seethes with vitriol. He debunks "scientific" atheism at a basic or high level pretty well, laying out the probability of theism given the evidence without overstating his case. On the other hand, his treatments of biblical literalism and of intelligent design are a little thin, and might even come off as dismissive - unlikely to change the minds of readers already dwelling in those camps (notwithstanding at least one relatively notable exception).

Still, Collins succeeds at what he set out to do, which was to provide a personal example of reconciliation and mutual reinforcement between science and faith. I might have rated the book four stars but for its title. What exactly is "the language of God" referring to? I assumed DNA, but Collins makes no such claim, and he is much too familiar with DNA's imperfections to call it divine.
Profile Image for Hussain.
85 reviews5 followers
July 19, 2019
هذا الكتاب مصداق لقوله جلى وعلى {إنما يخشى الله من عباده العلماء}

يعترف العالم فرانسيس كولينز انه نشأ نشاة لا دينية [لم تكن بداية حياتي تقليدية في عدة جوانب ، ولكن كأبن لمفكر حر كانت نشأتي حديثة تقليدياً تماماً في موقفها من إن الإيمان ليس أمراً مهماً].

حتى ان والده عندما ارسله للكنيسة لتعلم الموسيقى قال له لا تأخذ التعاليم اللاهوتية على محمل الجد، ولانه شغف بالعلم منذ صغره بسبب راعية والدته له وشرحها المواضيع العلمية بطريقة مبسطة احب العلم وترك عقله ليقرر إيمانه بوجود اله لهذا الكون ، لقد تحول من اللا إيمان إلى اللا ادري عندما استغرب تسليم المرضى الميؤوس من شفائهم بان الإله يرعاهم وهذا ماتسبب له في صدمة محاولة تفسير تاثير الإيمان بالله على حياة الإنسان ، نفسي احتارت حتى الآن بسبب مزيج من " العمى الإرادي " وشيئي أخر يمكن وصفه بانه غطرسة بحيث أتجنب التفكير جدياً بأن الإله يمكن أن يكون حقيقة ممكنة . فجاءة وجدث أن كل حججي بدت ضعيفة ، وتولد لدي شعور بأن الجليد تحت قدمي بدأ يتصدع . هذا الإدراك كان تجربة مرعبة . في النهاية ، إذا كنت أستطيع التعويل على متانة موقفي الإلحادي هل استطيع تحمل مسؤولية الأفعال التي أفضل أن تظل دون تمحيص ؟ ألم أكن أجيب على اسئلة الآخرين وأهمل نفسي ؟ أصبح السؤال الآن أكثر إلحاحاً بحيث لا يمكن تجاهله . في البداية ، كنت أعتقد أن البحث الشامل للأساس العقلي للإيمان سوف يفقد الإيمان ميزته ويقوي إلحادي . ولكنني قررت أن أبحث في الحقائق مهما تكن النتائج .

عندما بداء سؤال الإيمان والإلحاد يطارده [ذهبت لزيارة أحد رعاة الكنيسة الذي كان يسكن بالقرب مني لأسأله إن كان للإيمان أي أساس عقلي . لقد استمع بصبر إلى تساؤلاتي المشتتة ثم أعطاني كتباً صغيراً ونصحني بقراءته . كان عنوان الكتاب " Mere Christianity " للفيلسوف لويس . C . S Lewis . قضيت الأيام التالية في تصفح الكتاب في محاولة لاستيعاب عمق وشمولية الحجج الفكرية لأحد أشهر مفكري أكسفورد ، وأخيراً أدركت أن موقفي ضد عقلانية الإيمان لا يعدو عن كونه أفكار طفل في المدرسة . كان من الواضح أن علي أن أفتح صفحة جديدة للتفكير في أهم الأسئلة التي تشغل الإنسان.

سوف يصل الناس العقلاء إلى نتيجة مفادها أن عليهم أن يختاروا بين طرفين لا يلتقيان ، لا يوفر أي منهما الراحة . في ظل خيبة الأمل من حدة كلا وجهتي النظر ، فإن البعض يختار رفض كل من الحقائق العلمية الموثوقة وقيم الدين ، وبدلاً من ذلك ينساق إلى تفكير غير علمي وروحانية ضحلة أو ببساطة إلى اللامبالاة . البعض الأخر يقرر قبول كل من العلم والروح ، ولكن يفصل بين الوجود المادي والروحي لتجنب الاضطراب الناتج عن التعارض بينهما . في إطار هذا الاتجاه ، يؤيد عالم الأحياء الراحل ستفين جاي Stephen Jay فكرة أن يحتل كل من العلم والإيمان مساحات منفصلة " غير متقاطعة ، ولكن ذلك سوف يحدث صراعاً داخلياً ويحرم الناس من فرصة تقبل العلم أو الروح بفهم كامل .

ولذلك فإن السؤال المركزي لهذا الكتاب : في ظل المرحلة الحديثة من علم الكونيات والتطور والجينوم البشري ، هل تبقت إمكانية لتوافق ثري بين النظرتين العلمية والروحية ؟ حسب وجهة نظري ، ليس هناك تعارض بين أن أكون عالماً صارماً وبين أن أكون شخصاً يؤمن بالإله الذي يهتم بكل واحد منا . مجال عمل العلم هو اكتشاف الطبيعة . أما مجال الإله فهو العالم الروحي وهو الحقل الذي لا يمكن اكتشافه بالأدوات أو بلغة العلم . هذا المجال يجب اكتشافه عن طريق القلب والعقل والروح - وعلى العقل أن يجد طريق للتوفيق بين كلا المجالين . سوف أتبنى وجهة النظر التي تقول بأن كلتا وجهتي النظر ليست فقط يمكن أن توجدا في إنسان واحد فحسب ، وإنما تعمقان أيضاً من التجربة الإنسانية . العلم هو الوسيلة الوحيدة لفهم العالم الطبيعي ، وعندما يتم توظيف أدواته بشكل صحيح فإنه يمكن أن يقدم للوجود المادي رؤى عميقة ، ولكن العلم عاجز عن الإجابة عن اسئلة من قبيل " لماذا وجد العالم ؟ ما معنى الوجود الإنساني ؟ ماذا يحدث بعد أن نموت ؟ الإجابة على مثل هذه الأسئلة العميقة هي من ضمن أقوى محفزات التفكير لدى البشر ، ولذلك علينا أن نستعين بكافة قدرات كل من الرؤى العلمية والروحية للحصول على فهم لما هو مرئي وما هو غير مرئي . هدف هذا الكتاب هو البحث عن طريق يوصلنا إلى تكامل بين وجهات النظر هذه .

مقدمة الكتاب: في يوم من أيام الصيف الدافئة من بداية الألفية الجديدة ، وعندما كانت البشرية تعبر الجسر إلى مرحلة جديدة انتشر في أنحاء العالم كله وفي كل الصحف المعروفة بشكل مبهج خبر الإعلان عن النسخة الأولى من الجينوم البشري ، حيث تم اكتشاف كتيب طريقة عمل الإنسان . يحتوي الجينوم البشري على الحمض النووي لكل الأصناف البشرية وشفرة الوارثة للحياة . يبلغ طول النص الجديد المكتشف 3 بلايين من الأحرف ، وقد كتب بطريقة غريبة ومشفرة على شكل نسق رباعي . تعقيد المعلومات التي تحتوي عليها كل خلية في جسم الإنسان تجعل من قراءة هذا النص بمعدل حرف لكل ثانية تستغرق 31 سنة حتى لو استمرت القراءة ليلاً ونهاراً . طباعة أحرف هذا النص بالبنط العادي بالحجم المتعارف من الأوراق سوف ينتج عنه برج بارتفاع النصب التذكاري في واشنطن . لأول مرة في ذلك الصباح الصيفي أصبح هذا النص العجيب الذي يحمل في طياته كل التعليمات التي يقوم عليها الإنسان متوفراً للعالم أجمع .

في هذه اللحظة ، قد يشعر الماديين الملحدين بالفرحة . إذا كان الإنسان وجد من خلال التطور والانتخاب الطبيعي ، فلماذا نحتاج إلى الإله ليشرح لنا كيف تكونا ؟ هنا أجيب بالقول نعم نحتاج الإله . مقارنة تسلسل كل من الإنسان والشمبانزي لا تجيب على السؤال ماذا يعني أن نكون بشراً. إعفاء الإله من مسؤولية الخلق الخاص لا يعني عزله عن أن يكون مصدر في كون الإنسان كائن مميز بالنسبة للكون ككل . هذه الآلية تدلنا نوعاً ما على الطريقة التي يتصرف بها .

قال تعالى {قالت رسلهم أفي الله شك فاطر السموات والأرض يدعوكم ليغفر لكم ذنوبكم}
وقال تعالى {هذا خلق الله فأروني ماذا خلق الذين من دونه}
وقال تعالى {إن الذين جاهدوا فينا لنهدينهم سبلنا}
Profile Image for Sean.
297 reviews101 followers
April 18, 2014
Full disclosure: I didn't read this whole book, as I was principally interested in Collins's arguments against Intelligent Design, so that and his arguments against atheism were the only two sections I have read so far. I will therefore confine myself to addressing those two sections.

Collins is a world-renowned scientist, a geneticist who headed the Human Genome Project, and as such his words carry a great deal of weight. In the cases where he gets it right, this is a good thing; where he gets it wrong, this is a terrible thing, especially since many of his readers will depend on him and his reasoning (instead of their own) to reach his conclusions. Where he gets it right is in the case of Intelligent Design: Collins argues that ID is simply not science, because it fails to solve any scientific problems, because it is unverifiable, because it fails to make any sort of useful prediction, and because it is ultimately a "god of the gaps" hypothesis. The fact that Collins is arguing this as an avowed theist who does not want to see faith fail because of a weak reed like ID does not undermine his arguments. Collins is a scientist, and—when he is not blinded by his own agenda and preconceptions—he can recognize science when he sees it.

Unfortunately, his arguments against atheism are utterly specious. In fact, they fail to be arguments at all: he merely cites passages by Dawkins (an atheist) and Gould (an agnostic) and pits them against each other. Sadly, he misquotes and mischaracterizes Dawkins's position (ironically calling it a "straw man"), and simply accepts Gould's (controversial, to say the least) position on "nonoverlapping magisteria" at face value.

Collins apparently has traveled from atheist to evangelical Christian, a journey that I can only describe as irrational in the extreme. I don't deny that he has thought long and hard about his beliefs, but it seems perfectly ludicrous to me that a person starting from square one, blank slate, as it were, could possibly narrow down the religious field to a specific set of beliefs using any kind of logic. And, reading ahead in his book, I find that this is the case: in his chapter on "Truth Seekers" he talks about reasoning, but that peculiarly religious kind of reasoning that is based ultimately on feelings instead of on empirical evidence. This is the same kind of apologetic, feel-good nonsense that C.S. Lewis churned out by the pound, and it is irrational, unscientific claptrap unworthy of one of the greatest geneticists of our age.

NOTE ON COMMENTING: Comments telling me to read the whole book will be deleted. Comments from people who clearly didn't read or understand my review will be deleted. Comments that annoy me for any other reason will be deleted. Basically: think twice before hitting the "post" button, please.
5 reviews
January 23, 2010
The Good: Collins at least encourages fellow evangelicals and other fundamentalist believers to leave behind the bronze age science of religion and cross over into the 19th century. As the head of the Human Genome Project, he dispels the myth that science is a godless, liberal conspiracy to destroy religion.

The Bad: Collins' arguments for god are lacking. Human morality has a perfectly legitimate, natural explanation. Collins feels the desire to reach out and help that starving African child on the television because the genes and epigenes that built his brain evolved in hunter-gatherer societies without televison and where any suffering child that was witnessed was overwhelmingly likely to have shared genes. It's kin selection and reciprocal altruism. This guy was the head of the Human Genome Project and is now the head of NIH. Come on, Dr. Collins, don't insult our intelligence.

The Ugly: Nearly everything. How someone as bright as Dr. Collins (theoretical physics in undergrad, medical school, genetics fellowship, Human Genome Project, etc.) can say that non-theism is the weakest possible philosophical position is anathema to reason. I read this book as an overture to my wife after she threated me with divorce for declaring my unbelief. I was literally nauseated by the ignorance and half-truths contained in its pages.
Profile Image for Lynn Hay.
29 reviews1 follower
June 28, 2007
This book was a disappointment to me, i did not gleam any new insight from it. It was the old circular 'I believe because I believe' argument meets an ode to C.S. Lewis. This guy obviously LOVES C.S. Lewis! He quoted him so often it started to feel a bit plagiarised.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,301 reviews174 followers
February 26, 2015
Frustratingly flawed. Naively blind and biased. Theologically shallow. There are some great insights here, and the writing is very personable and easy to understand, but despite his belief in God, Collins is still stuck within the macroevolutionary paradigm of the current naturalistic age.

Collins inserts lots of great rhetorical questions, but never seems to answer them -- or actually get to the point. Before he can develop any of his profound philosophical questions, he's off explaining a scientific theory that barely seems relevant to the chapter. When he does devote sections to philosophical questions, he never pursues lines of logic to their inevitable ends.

So wrapped up in his love of the Big Bang and Evolution and DNA structure, Collins ignores the fundamental conflicts that lie between the two predominating belief systems about the origin of life. He never describes the differences between the Big Bang, and God's act of creation in Genesis -- instead he's infatuated with their similarities (okay, true to some degree), but he never stops the train of thought from charging off to to macroevolution and derailing from there. He never describes details for why Young Earth Creationism is flawed: he just tells his readers that it is wrong and deceptive, and goes on his way. He brushes off the differences between microevolution and macroevolution in one paragraph, claiming it's insignificant. And earlier he avoids the language of Genesis by calling it "poetry" and claiming we don't need to take it literally because there's other poetry in the Bible, and... tradition can be flawed. He tears down the argument for Intelligent Design, but a chapter later he says that God is specifically, completely, "intimately involved" with evolution?

So many of his ideas have such potential, but Collins simply can't see the contradictions in his beliefs. If God did act through evolution, where does he draw the line between the monkey ancestor, and man's ancestor? Does moral law (which Collins heavily relies upon) apply to monkeys as well as man, if there is no line between man and animal? What right does God have to expect certain behavior from us, if we're just a more developed type of animal? Why didn't he wait for a more developed "man" to evolve in another million years, before beginning his plan? How could man be created in "God's image" if he happens to be only a highly developed type of animal? What makes him innately different, if he is just an animal? How could there be any death before the fall? What kind of "men" did Jesus come to save? Only those after Adam, and none of the ones before him who "almost made it," but weren't quite developed enough? Collins needs to pick one side and follow it through, and see where it leads him.

He's tried to interweave faith and science (as they should be!) in this book, so his goal is admirable, but the execution is abundantly flawed. Somewhat enjoyable, but annoyingly stunted. Dropped down to 1 star because the latter part of the book dove even deeper into his faulted worldview.
Profile Image for Paul.
692 reviews66 followers
February 3, 2019
As someone with a deep skepticism for Christian apologetics, I wasn’t sure how much I would like Francis Collins’ apologeticy-sounding Language of God, though it came with high recommendations from people I trust. Thankfully, Collins spends much less time trying to convince his readers that God exists than in trying to convince his readers of the more modest argument that science and faith can coincide.

To that end, Collins – director of the National Institutes of Health, head of the project that first mapped the human genome, and an evangelical Christian – is an ideal spokesperson both for the universally attested scientific facts of Big Bang cosmology and Darwinian evolution and for the rationality of faith in God while still accepting those facts.

Most helpful, Collins has that rare gift of being able to translate complex scientific concepts – such as human genetics, evolutionary theory, Intelligent Design, bioethics – into layperson’s language. It’s unlikely that this book would convince a Ken Ham or a Richard Dawkins, but for those just beginning to think through these questions or who have begun to wonder whether the hostility they’ve been sold by both religious and atheistic fundamentalists can really be justified, this is an excellent introduction calling for a middle way that doesn’t get too dense or technical.

It’s not a perfect book; the parts where he veers into apologetics, including the first chapter, are not great and rely much too heavily on C.S. Lewis, who has important things to say but is granted way too much authority in these matters by evangelical Christians who don’t seem to realize his arguments have become increasingly dated and increasingly unconvincing. I think Collins probably needed to spend more time unpacking exactly what he thinks the Moral Law is, and why he believes it couldn’t have arisen through undirected evolutionary processes (right now, it reads too much like a “God of the gaps” argument that he rightly decries when he picks apart Intelligent Design).

But that aside, there’s much more good than bad here, and something well worth reading, especially for those Christians afraid they must choose between scientific findings and their religious beliefs.
Profile Image for J.L. Neyhart.
416 reviews148 followers
October 15, 2018
This was a book I read for my seminary class on Science and the Christian Faith. I liked it enough that I would choose to read it again in the future when I'm not needing to speed through it for class. I think it is an important book in the conversation regarding Science and Christianity and how the two do not need to be at odds with one another.
Profile Image for Philip Yancey.
Author 266 books2,092 followers
March 25, 2023
The Jesuit priest Walter J. Ciszek spent 23 years in the Soviet Gulag, during a time of religious persecution. Yet his faith emerged not only intact, but strengthened. I've read a number of such stories; Ciszek's is one of the very best.
Profile Image for Katrina.
395 reviews101 followers
July 16, 2022
"I found it difficult to imagine that there could be a real conflict between scientific truth and spiritual truth. Truth is truth. Truth cannot disprove truth."

Fascinating stuff. Admittedly this is not my usual choice in reading material so I'm not sure how best to rate it. I wasn't terribly enthusiastic reading this book but I'm glad I did. Not sure I would recommend it for everyone. I have always been a huge believer in science, and I think you can also have a strong faith if you can get past all of the nonsense that comes along with many in the church these days.
Profile Image for Phil.
103 reviews58 followers
May 21, 2023
have nothing but good things to say about Francis Collins. He is the very embodiment of Christian humility. Every time I have heard him speak, he has struck me as uncommonly intellectually honest, very kind-hearted, and impressively knowledgeable. He is also strikingly accomplished both as a scientist and as an apologist. In the span of a couple of decades, he headed the Human Genome Project, became director of the National Institutes of Health, and founded the BioLogos Christian advocacy group. I have a lot of admiration for the man. It therefore pains me to say that his The Language of God (2006) is mediocre at best.

Written at the height of the New Atheist phenomenon, Collins’ book tries to show, contra Dawkins, Harris, & co., that theism is compatible with our most up-to-date understanding of cosmology, biology, and genetics. His central argument for this view is a version of the Teleological Argument for the existence of God: The complexity of the natural world provides evidence of a Creator. What distinguishes Collins’ variant of the argument is the amount of detail that he, as a geneticist, is able to provide about the intricacies of DNA and RNA, which he suggests represents, alongside mathematics, the titular “language of God.”

Another highlight of Collin’s book is his defense of “theistic evolution,” which aims to reconcile Christian theism with Darwinian evolution. Here Collins strikes a middle ground between, on the one hand, his New Atheist opponents, and on the other, his Christian Fundamentalist compatriots. Against the latter, he insists that all the best scientific evidence points to evolution by natural selection as the most plausible explanation of the origin of species. Against the former, he maintains that theistic belief does not preclude belief in evolution: The latter is merely the mechanism by which God creates the natural diversity we observe.

So far so good. The problem is that Collins’ scattershot approach to meeting the New Atheists’ objections sees him spending most of the book re-treading tired old arguments about origins of the universe, the existence of evil, the foundations of morality, etc. without adding anything to them. And while he presents these with admirable intellectual humility, his discussion is often very superficial. That said, there are definitely interesting insights throughout, e.g., his comparison of the spiritual with the artistic sense, and his discussion of the psychological link between beauty, morality, and mystery. If nothing else, he provides a convincing defense of his central thesis: That scientific knowledge and theistic belief can and do coexist.
Profile Image for Dawn.
356 reviews8 followers
January 10, 2013
I highly recommend this book! Francis Collins is a well known, highly respected scientist. He is a medical doctor and also a research scientist. He was head of the Human Genome Project and is now the director of NIH. Collins tells the story of his conversion to Christianity as an adult. He is brilliant and he truly loves science. But he also finds vital meaning and, indeed, salvation in religion. The point of his book is to show that science and religion are not opposed to each other, as some people assume. Instead, they are complimentary. I find this to be true in my personal experience, as well. Faith explains the "why" and science explores the "how" of this wonderful universe we are part of. We need both.

I agree with most of what Collins says, and he explains it so well. His personal story and insights come at the beginning and end of the book. The middle of the book is Collins' explanation of fascinating topics in modern science. His expertise is in genetics, so an important section of the book is devoted to evolution. He argues decisively that 1) evolution is real and 2) the reality of evolution need not threaten faith. The book also includes an a very good, thought provoking discussion of medical and scientific ethics in an appendix chapter, so don't miss it. If you are religious and distrust science, this book is for you. If you love science and dismiss faith, this book is also for you.

Collins strongly makes the point that both sides need to come together in mutual respect for their different kinds of knowledge. Both viewpoints need to be valued at the table because we need to work together to find solutions to the pressing problems of our time. I find appreciating the blessings of both faith and science in my life to be very satisfying. To adhere only to one extreme or the other leaves important parts missing.

This book requires thought, but it is designed to be accessible to the lay reader. I learned a lot from it. I was struck by Collin's palpable enthusiasm for science, and also by his humanity and caring. He likes C.S. Lewis and includes good quotes by him. My scientist husband read this book several years ago and it has been on our bookshelf since then. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it! It is excellent.
Profile Image for Julie Reed.
164 reviews5 followers
April 6, 2011
Excellent book! I found myself cheering throughout. Every believer, unbeliever, and everyone in between should read this book. In a very eloquent, gentle way, he tells believers "don't be so stupid and closed-minded about science" and to the unbeliever he says "don't be so closed-minded and think you are too smart for belief in God." In other words, he puts both extremes in their place and shows us the error of our ways. I hope there are many more Francis Collinses in the future who continue to bridge the gap between both extremes of scienctific unbelievers and non-scientific believers. I also found this book deepened my faith as I learned the SCIENCE behind life on earth.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,403 reviews462 followers
Shelved as 'stricken'
September 4, 2012
There is no evidence for belief, that's why it's "faith". I would guess that most US scientists also have faith, and no trouble reconciling their faith with their work. The only people who seem to have trouble reconciling the two are religious fundamentalists.
Profile Image for Ahmed .
4 reviews
July 23, 2019
I read the arabic translated Copy,
And i feel sorry to say it was an unpleasant experience.

This book failed to match my expectancies, judging from the title and the cover, you expect some answers or explaination to the the question of: does science contracts Religion? Regarding intrinsic points such as the evolution theory, But not even scratches were stripped to come close the answer.

The second half of the book, However, did deliver some good and important informations about the Human Genome project, And the ethics related, Which was required, useful, And quite entertaining, Unlike the First half of the book.

I wouldn't say i was mislead, Bit Francis did not provide convenient arguments, Not enough at least, regarding the topic discussed in a 300 Pages of text.
Profile Image for Stephen Bedard.
406 reviews6 followers
August 9, 2020
Those who struggle with theistic evolution will not like this book. But overall this book is a nice presentation of why one of the most intelligent men in our world is a Christian. His style of writing is engaging and this book is a very helpful resource for the right kind of person.
Profile Image for Neil R. Coulter.
1,064 reviews104 followers
July 25, 2020
I love that one of the nation’s top scientists is a fellow Christian—and not only that, but he is willing to talk about his faith and connect it to his delight in science. Francis Collins is a great guy, and I was happy to finally read through this book, which had such a part in launching the organization BioLogos, along with many good discussions. Collins’s main point in the book is to encourage all readers, whether faithful or atheist, to stop the angry, vitriolic tone that so plagues discussions about science and faith. As he writes in the conclusion,
It is time to call a truce in the escalating war between science and spirit. The war was never really necessary. Like so many earthly wars, this one has been initiated and intensified by extremists on both sides, sounding alarms that predict imminent ruin unless the other side is vanquished. Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible. So let us together seek to reclaim the solid ground of an intellectually and spiritually satisfying synthesis of all great truths. (233–4)
I wholeheartedly agree. I was raised in a Christian environment that cautioned against science, fearing that it was some kind of conspiracy against Christianity, or that to entertain the notion that God may have used evolution as part of his creation process is just a slippery slope toward total loss of faith. That perspective held me back from thoroughly enjoying science as I might have otherwise. In adulthood, I learned that there is no reason not to celebrate faithfulness to God and delight in science (including evolution)—and I feel in no danger whatsoever of losing my faith.

In an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith , Timothy Larsen showed how the science-vs.-faith conflict was manufactured in the nineteenth century, for reasons that have little to do with any actual conflict between science and faith. The wonder is that both sides bought into the conflict so wholeheartedly that it has continued to today, such that people assume this was always the way things have been. Collins concurs with Larsen, saying,
Believers have led science at many times in the past. Yet all too often today, scientists are uneasy about admitting their spiritual views. To add to the problem, church leaders often seem to be out of step with new scientific findings, and run the risk of attacking scientific perspectives without fully understanding the facts. The consequence can bring ridicule on the church, driving sincere seekers away from God instead of into His arms. (230)
I hope books like this one will continue to help people see the science-vs.-faith conflict as artificial and unnecessary, and that we can move ahead in more fruitful ways.

My rating for Collins’s book is tempered by the fact that I don’t think he quite accomplishes the promise of the subtitle: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. The book works best when it’s a memoir of Collins’s personal experience (and I hope that someday he’ll write a full-blown memoir, as I suspect he has a lot of great stories and can tell them well), but it’s less good as “evidence for belief.” Taking down the ridiculous arguments of people on extremes—Richard Dawkins as a representative of atheist perspectives, for example, or Ken Ham for young-earth creationism—is not difficult. Such arguments are full of holes in logic, even apart from the ugly, combative tone that people on the extremes tend to employ. And besides, people with the more extreme views are not likely to be interested in any kind of evidence from another perspective. But people in between are perhaps more open to learning though also more difficult to convince.

Collins’s apologetics for faith rely heavily on C. S. Lewis. I love Lewis, and I’m glad he still speaks to clearly to people today. But I wonder if his kind of logical argument is really the most helpful for contemporary seekers. I’d like to see “evidence for belief” drawing on a broader set of source material. Other books on this topic have done better in this regard—I would recommend anything by John Walton, for example, as a very good way in to other ways of understanding Genesis, and thus dismantling the war between science and faith.

Still, I appreciate Collins’s writing because he is at the very top of the game in science and he’s a good writer, willing to share his deepest, most personal feelings like this.
Profile Image for John Wiswell.
Author 39 books405 followers
November 15, 2010
A better title would be A Smart Guy Discusses Briefly a lot of Topics in Science and Religion. He makes and assesses several arguments for and against belief in God, but they make up less than half the book. Justifiably tired of religious fundamentalists and anti-theists polarizing discourse, Collins sets out to harmonize and inform on a range of topics. Two sections explain the Big Bang and basic genetics in some of the clearest expert-to-laymen descriptions I’ve come across. Another addresses the ethics of cloning, stem cells and invitro fertilization. He summarizes the careers of Darwin and Galileo, attempting to dispel untruths about their lives as well as illustrate the history of science. He also gives a cursory biography of what led him from childhood to agnosticism, from agnosticism to atheism, from atheism to Christianity, from chemist to biologist, from researcher to government employee, and from that position to his work in the Human Genome Project. The whole is so readable that I went through it in a couple of days.

Collins is remarkably calm and conversational, which renders his great breadth of topics universally understandable. Selected chapters would make fine introductory reading for basic science and theology courses. He is also well-read and perhaps tries too hard to let you know it – two pages seldom pass without him quoting Sigmund Freud, St. Augustine, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould or some other notable thinker. But his biggest flaw lies in that giant library for he has so many topics to address that he sprints through them. He reduces Michael Behe’s arguments for Intelligent Design and Richard Dawkins’s arguments for a connection between evolution and atheism into a few pages. As rubbish as those men can be, they won’t go away that quickly (which is why other authors dedicate entire books to picking them apart). No serious agnostic is going to be convinced by the couple of pages he devotes to arguing against it, and it would be a pleasure to get more detail from the man himself on the struggles of the Human Genome project.

His favorite argument for belief in God is “The Moral Law,” that fundamental impulse towards good that he borrows from C.S. Lewis. Yet in discussing how evolution might not produce such complex altruism in its subjects, he ignores theories of reciprocal altruism and modern neuroscience. He seems to believe that its emergence speaks to a creative force that cares, but doesn’t clarify if this is mechanically similar to Intelligent Design, or if his God put it there physically, or if this a universal constant we evolved towards, or how his beliefs are affected by brain studies that show how habits start, form and are chemically reinforced. With its appendices his book is over three hundred pages, but you have the urge to slow him down and get him to expand. There is volatile complexity here that will not go away just because you breeze over it.

The avoidance of neuroscience does not ring as dishonest, however. Collins is not blindly faithful. He advises healthy skepticism towards miracles, with a scientific emphasis on pragmatic explanations. Science is the only way to study the natural world, he declares (and rankles me, as an artist). He disarms the arguments for God by way of the second law of thermodynamics, rightly pointing out that the equation itself is open for increased order or complexity in a system (like our planet’s) if there is an increase in energy – and gives succinct examples, that if you exert yourself you can clean up the kitchen, and that with all the light we get from the sun, our system has the potential for increased order.

He makes convincing pleas for the religious to remain open to science, and scientists to at least tolerate religion. It’s a book of strengths and weaknesses. When you are ignorant, he gets you up to speed quickly. When you agree, his speed is pleasant. When you disagree, you yell at him for selling somebody short. So if he planned to convert people with this book, Collins may have failed, but attempts to bring harmony to the discourse over modern science is still commendable.
Profile Image for Steph.
257 reviews7 followers
April 1, 2021
This book was like talking to someone at a party that you'd usually never talk to. It was super interesting and gave you insight into things you might not usually think about, but there were also times when it was a tad hard to relate.

I really enjoyed learning more about evolution, genes and DNA. Collins did a great job explaining all of that but the subheading of the book being "A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" I would say is inaccurate. To me, Collins did an excellent job of demonstrating how science and faith can exist harmoniously together but did he provide "evidence for belief"? No.

This book touched on a lot of similar beliefs I inherently resonate with and I appreciated Collins making a clear distinction between religion and spirituality.

I feel like this book could be quite controversial depending on the beliefs of the reader.
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