Is Evolution True? A Book Review of Francis Collins’ The Language of God

What could possibly make a man see the incredible complexity of the DNA code in the human genome and still come away with any respect for evolution? Answering that question is Francis Collins’ burden in these 11 chapters although he switches the premises a little by pretending that belief in God is actually an uncommon and difficult position that needs to be nuanced, massaged, and buttressed with caveats in order to be accepted by a thinking audience.

Dr. Collins is obviously a thoroughly disciplined man in regards to his field of expertise (the human genome, chapter 5), but in this book he steps into the areana of theology, philosophy, and history and is not able to match his subject.

For example, he writes that Galileo was heavily criticized by John Calvin and Martin Luther (page 155), yet Calvin died the year Galileo was born and Luther was in Heaven laughing at the pope when Galileo was on trial.

Again writing as a historian, he tells us, “For the first million years after the Big Bang, the universe expanded, the temperature dropped, and nuclei and atoms began to form. Matter began to coalesce into galaxies…” (67). He knows that our sun was formed 10 billion years after the Big Bang (68) even though past events used to be considered as historical questions. Writing just before his death, the apostle Peter wrote that fools would argue against the history and prophecy of the Bible proclaiming that what we see happening today is sufficient to explain everything that happened in the past (2 Pet. 3:3-6).

From the church fathers, Augustine is made to serve evolution on pages 151-152 (and others) without acknowledging either the fact that the church fathers consistently taught literal 24-hour days or that Augustine himself held that the days of Creation were possibly shorter than 24-hour days, not long geologic ages. Further, Augustine believed that Scripture should have the authority to judge conclusions derived from our sense experience. I am not saying that Augustine was a young earth creationist, but I am saying that Collins went to history to use Augustine’s views selectively. Had Collins included more facts about Augustine’s views or the broader views of the church fathers, the author’s case would have looked much weaker.

Even though Dr. Collins cites 45% of American Christians believing in a young earth (less than 10,000 years old), he writes that “it is clear that the ultraliteral YEC views are in fact not required by a careful, sincere, and worshipful reading of the original text” (page 173). He does not interact with YE arguments or proponents. He does not deal at length with any Biblical texts in the entire book. He does not cite any Hebrew scholar believing or otherwise who would agree that Genesis 1-2 is “poetry.” He does not discuss the overwhelming Biblical problems with evolution such as death before sin, the NT teaching of Young Earth creation, the genealogies of Genesis 5 or Luke 3, or even the meaning of inerrancy.

I would like to believe better about Dr. Collins, but when he warns us about the “clear danger in unrestrained forms of ‘liberal’ [scare quotes from Collins] theology that eviscerated the real truths of faith” he immediately follows that pretended sympathy by declaring that Job, Jonah, and Genesis cannot be trusted historically because they “frankly do not carry that same historical ring” as some other unnamed passages of the Bible that can be trusted (page 209).

He was snide and dishonest with the true state of affairs regarding the many credentialed, published, and patented men and women who hold to a young earth (see the whole of chapter 8 and scattered references throughout). “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution…” (page 99). Clever reasoning, Dr. Collins, all those scientists who doubt that chickens came from the Tyrannosaurus just lost their right to be “serious.”  

But even his scientific evidences were weak. Take for example, his evidence for the Big Bang (pages 64-65). In 1965, Penzias and Wilson found “an annoying background of microwave signals.” They “ultimately realized that this background noise was coming from the universe itself, and that it represented precisely the kind of afterglow that one would expect to find as a consequence of the Big Bang…” Collins only offers one other evidence: the amount of deuterium in nearby stars and galaxies. That’s it. Case closed. Less than a page because these outstanding reasons are enough to establish 14 billion years as the benchmark for every child’s historical studies. Into a bucket with Caesar crossing the Rubicon and Washington crossing the Delaware, goes an explosion of “infinitely dense, dimensionless point of energy” because of these two reasons. (And by the way, how could science ever measure something infinite or dimensionless?)

This is a bad book. It is bad because it makes historical, philosophical, and theological errors. And sometimes the dogmatism and terms he chooses cast a shadow even over his motives. Was he simply lazy when he called Augustine to his side or was he intentionally dishonest? Is he culpably unaware of the overwhelming Biblical scholarship regarding Genesis 1 and 2, or is he aware and deceptive?

On every tenth page of 234 pages of text, there was something that a well-read man could object to, and on every third page there was something for a well-read Christian to reject. This brief review just gives a few of the low-lights.

This book does not sell the farm, it hands it away free to the illogical (Collins calls it “counter intuitive”, page 147), unbiblical, unscientific, and ultimately ungrateful theory of history that says DNA wrote itself. That’s a pretty piece of work for a man who has the amazing skill to record the human genome but not the ability to show us its meaning.

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