Book review: The Language of God

by Francis S. Collins


Current-day proponents of the New Atheism like to push the idea that atheism is the only rational belief, and believers are weak-minded non-thinkers who hide from science. This just simply isn’t so. Some very accomplished scientists in many different fields are believers.

Here’s one. Francis Collins is a devout believer and distinguished scientist (he is the head of the Human Genome Project) with a questioning mind and a reverence for reason … and for the merger of science and religion. From the cover flap, “In short, Dr. Collins provides a satisfying solution for the dilemma that haunts everyone who believes in God and respects science. Faith in God and faith in science can be harmonious–combined into one worldview. The God that he believes in is a God who can listen to prayers and cares about our souls. The biological science he has advanced is compatible with such a God. For Collins, science does not conflict with the Bible, science enhances it.”

That’s a pretty intriguing claim, and it aroused my curiosity. In this book, Collins wrestles with questions like “What came before the big bang?” and “How did life originate?” I should set things in perspective before continuing; Collins is not promoting some flaky version of pseudo-science. He’s for real. He praises Darwin and admits that no serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution. “The relatedness of all species through the mechanism of evolution is such a profound foundation for the understanding of all biology that it is difficult to imagine how one would study life without it.” A lot of effort is spent explaining “biological truth,” and in a chapter titled Deciphering God’s Instruction Book, Collins introduces–no, not the Bible–the lessons of the human genome.

Still, Collins respects the Bible. He dives into the debate about what Genesis really says, and why we have contradicting versions of the creation in the Bible if this poetic and allegorical writing was really meant to be read literally. Young Earth Creationism just simply isn’t compatible with modern science; neither, really, is the trendy Intelligent Design explanation. Thankfully, Collins finds an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis unnecessary. Collins proposes a solution for compatibility, which he calls BioLogos. He finds harmony between science and religion in “theistic evolution.”

Finally, having dispensed with our concerns regarding the science-versus-religion conflict, he brings up the crux of the matter. Regardless of where else we are to read the Biblenonliterally, evidence supports the fantastic story of a unique individual, Jesus, who lived, died, … and rose from the dead! Collins leans a bit on C. S. Lewis as he builds toward the climax: he, a rational scientist,logically concludes that the Jesus story is true and literal. God came down to earth in the form of a person. Wow!

While not convincing enough in itself, and leaving many other questions about the believability of the Christian God unanswered, I do highly recommend this book! It will never turn a nonbeliever into a believer, but it will definitely refine the faith of believers, helping them to overcome the dogmatism of outdated theology. Besides, it’s a fun, educational read!

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