International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

by Francis S. Collins

Introductory Essay by Denis Alexander

This best-selling book by Francis Collins, now Director of the National Institutes of Health, recounts Dr Collins’ own pathway from atheism to faith; the properties of the universe and of life that are best explained by belief in God as creator; and the objections to faith that arise from science. The book is written in a popular and personal style, aimed at a non-specialist readership.

The book is divided into three Parts. In Part One the author describes how his atheism was challenged by the questions and comments of Christians in the hospital where he was completing his medical training. This led to his own spiritual quest in which the classic book by C.S.Lewis Mere Christianity played an important role. Collins was impressed in particular by the universality of the Moral Law. This account leads on to a chapter that addresses the common arguments that are raised against belief in God, such as the supposed evil carried out in the name of religion, the dilemma of suffering and the question of miracles in the light of science.

In Part Two the author addresses the great questions of human existence. The physical properties of the universe are clearly described, and he presents a discussion of the anthropic principle - the idea that the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe are such as to render the emergence of life possible. From the universe as a whole, the author moves to consider the biological properties of life, reviewing current ideas about the origin of life, the fossil data and providing an introduction to the role and structure of DNA.

Collins then proceeds to a more detailed description of the human genome, drawing on his own personal experience as Director of the Human Genome Project, a position that he held at the time of writing this book. The section begins with an account of the way that Collins himself was involved in some of the early key discoveries in genetic diseases, such as the identification of the mutation in DNA that underlies cystic fibrosis. The great length of time taken to characterise human mutations in these early studies is then contrasted with the ease and speed of genetic discovery now that the human genome sequence has been elucidated. The race with the private company Celera to sequence the genome is well described by the author, himself a key player in the drama, together with the surprises and insights that arose from the unveiling of the first human genome sequence.

Part Three of the book focuses on the broader discussion between science and faith. Collins provides some historical background, drawing on Galileo and Darwin, to help understand why evolution is opposed by some in the USA today. The author then argues that science cannot be used to support atheism or agnosticism, but nor do creationism or Intelligent Design provide satisfactory answers either scientifically or theologically. Instead Collins argues persuasively for theistic evolution, a position which he renames ‘Biologos’, the idea that God’s intentions and creative activity are present throughout the evolutionary process.

In addition there is a very useful Appendix on the bioethical questions raised by genetics, which forms a good general introduction to anyone not familiar with this field.

Overall this book is a very useful and readable introduction to questions of science and faith, and to the field of genetics that remains this author’s passion.