The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

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Cover of Francis Collins' book, The Language of God
The Language of God - A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief was written by Francis Collins and published in July, 2006. It has become a popular citation for many evangelicals and apologists who rely on the scientific credentials of its author to support an argument from authority.

His book, and interviews have drawn attention to Dr. Collins' views on religion and science which has prompted a number of critical responses. Because of this popularity, many have assumed that Dr. Collins is a recent convert, based on his research. In truth, he's been a Christian since the age of 27 and this decision wasn't based on any of his scientific work.


Selected Statements and Responses


"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; you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence; and you are right to hold fast to the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted."

"God, who is not limited to space and time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him. He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey the Moral Law."

— Collins in The Language of God...

Comment: Dr. Collins begins by claiming that believers are justified in accepting Christian dogma, that science offers no answers to critical questions, that science and religion are entirely separate domains (see nonoverlapping magisteria) and that atheistic materialism should be rejected.

The purpose of his book is to justify these positions, though he often makes contradictory claims about the interaction of science and religion and provides only anecdotal personal testimony to support his major claim.

"...of all the possible world views, atheism is the least rational."

— Collins in The Language of God...

Comment: Collins repeatedly denounces atheism and materialism as irrational and implies that belief in God, specifically the Christian God, is a rational conclusion based on acceptance of the evidence. His own conversion story, however, appears to be based on emotional response to a number of factors.

On His Conversion

" my early 20s, I was a pretty obnoxious atheist. Then at the age of 27, after a good deal of intellectual debating with myself about the plausibility of faith, and particularly with strong influence from C.S. Lewis, I became convinced that this was a decision I wanted to make. And I became, by choice, a Christian, a serious Christian, who believes that faith is not something that you just do on Sunday, but that if it makes any sense at all, it's part of your whole life. It's the most important organizing principle in my life."

— PBS Interview

"On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains … the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ."

— Collins in The Language of God...

Comment: A profile in Time magazine adds that a particularly compelling aspect of the waterfall was that it had frozen in three separate streams. This struck Collins as a representation of the trinity, further supporting his desire to convert to Christianity. It's fortunate that he hadn't spotted a waterfall frozen into only two streams and that he was already predisposed to accepting the Christian trinity and not some other triune god.

Neither the beauty of a natural object nor the specific trisection of this waterfall serve as evidence of any god - and they certainly don't confirm the existence of a specific god. Dr. Collins simply turned off his rational mind and, convinced that science could not explain beauty, complexity or order, took a leap of faith to the most comfortable conclusion.

Specific Arguments


"Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species’ behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness."

— Collins in The Language of God...

Comment: Sam Harris' response to this statement is thorough and compelling:

"One wonders if the author has ever read a newspaper. The behavior of humans offers no such “dramatic contrast.” How badly must human beings behave to put this “sense of universal rightness” in doubt? And just how widespread must “glimmerings” of morality be among other animals before Collins—who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes—begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn’t these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?"

Justifying Christianity

Having come to the conclusion that some god must exist, Dr. Collins addresses the issue of determining which specific god-hypothesis is suitable...

"And if that were so, what kind of God would this be? Would this be a deist God, who invented physics and mathematics and started the universe in motion about 14 billion years ago, then wandered off to deal with other, more important matters, as Einstein thought? No, this God, if I was perceiving him at all, must be a theist God, who desires some kind of relationship with those special creatures called human beings, and has therefore instilled this special glimpse of Himself into each one of us. This might be the God of Abraham, but it was certainly not the God of Einstein…. Judging by the incredibly high standards of the Moral Law … this was a God who was holy and righteous. He would have to be the embodiment of goodness…. Faith in God now seemed more rational that disbelief."

— Collins in The Language of God...

Comment: Curiously, Collins says "...this God, if I was perceiving him at all" and then moves on to assert that belief in this God is more rational than disbelief. He thinks God wants some kind of relationship with humans and, ignoring evidence to the contrary, concludes that the God of Abraham fits the bill. He believes that this god is holy and righteous and, without supporting this moral declaration, concludes that this God must be the real one.

In a nutshell, his argument is: I can't explain X. If I consider the possibility of the existence of God, I now have answers - therefore, God is the most rational explanation. This is simply an argument from ignorance. For many believers, God is a panacea - yet God is the ultimate non-answer and serves only to end investigation.

To see this sort of argument coming from a respected scientist and physician is particularly disturbing. If Dr. Collins predecessors had accepted that God made us, evil caused diseases and prayer cured them, simply because they couldn't easily discover good explanations, he may well have been heading the 'Human Prayer and Bloodletting Research Institute' instead of the Human Genome Project.

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