Francis Collins cop-outs

Francis Collins

Francis Collins. Image source:

Francis Collins is one of those rare people that is exceptionally brilliant and exceptionally stupid in equal measures. Not only is he a highly respected geneticist – most noted for his discoveries of disease genes and for heading the Human Genome Project – but he’s also an evangelical Christian.

But his eccentricities don’t end there. He’s also an outspoken opponent of creationism. He thinks that theism and evolution are compatible. And that “faith and science both lead us to truth about God and creation”.

I always get the impression that Collins wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to maintain a worldview that accommodates both his scientific background and his religious beliefs, and then pretend there is no conflict.

Just read some of the comments he made in a debate with Richard Dawkins in Time magazine in 2006. The intellectual gymnastics he has to perform to sustain these conflicting viewpoints is breathtaking.

Collins on when and how God started evolution

COLLINS: “By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.”

‘Entirely acceptable’? It doesn’t make sense. If God had already predetermined the future at the moment of creation, then, by definition, we are all living predetermined lives with inescapable outcomes. Under this theory, human free is simply an illusion.

There’s also the small side issue of why God, in his infinite wisdom, power and love, would choose such a slow and destructive process as evolution to bring about life. We would have to suppose that God sat back with folded arms for about 10 billion years before life eventually started and then waited for another 4 billion years until human beings began to evolve.

Collins seems disconcertingly untroubled by such questions.

Collins on the lack of evidence of God’s existence in evolution

COLLINS: … I don’t think that it is God’s purpose to make his intention absolutely obvious to us. If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation?

How convenient. So the lack of evidence for God’s existence is just part of his plan. If that argument was taken to its logical conclusion we would have to argue that a complete absence of evidence for God is simply evidence that he is cleverer at hiding his existence than we thought.

Collins answers the question, “If God created the world, who created God?”

COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.

That’s just too easy isn’t it? Surely even Collins can’t pretend that this is an adequate answer for how an infinitely intelligent and powerful God could have existed at the very beginning of creation. Why can’t God-believers like Collins just be honest and admit that they don‘t know? What’s so frightening about saying “I don’t know”? Scientists do it all the time.

The difference between scientists and religionists, however, is that scientists use gaps in our knowledge as a basis for further research. Religionists don’t. Instead of trying to actually further our understanding, they prefer to reside in the comfort of their childishly misguided certainty and fill one mystery with another by claiming, “God did it. Mystery solved.”

Collins’s answers show all the signs of someone trying – and failing spectacularly – to find a way to connect his scientific knowledge with his religious beliefs. He may be a brilliant scientist but to say he’s misguided would be giving him too much credit. He’s as crazy as they come.

See also (websites, not blogs)

Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance
Sam Harris reviews Francis Collins’s book The Language of God.

The BioLogos Foundation
An organisation founded by Francis Collins’s to “engage America’s escalating culture war between science and faith”.


Science and reason lead to real knowledge – religion doesn’t

Science is the accumulation of knowledge using objective means in order to understand the history of the natural world and how the natural world works. Observable physical evidence, either from observations of nature or from experiments that try to simulate nature, is the basis of that understanding.

Of course, scientific knowledge changes over time when new evidence becomes available. We can’t know many things with absolute certainty – we only know the observable evidence. However, we can reach the best possible conclusion based on the most complete and modern evidence available. The result is that scientific knowledge is constantly changing and evolving but is proceeding toward a more correct view of the world.

This contrasts strongly with the knowledge claimed by many religious people who claim that they, or a book they endorse, holds all relevant knowledge and that such knowledge is absolutely and unquestionably true. The Bible, for example, is often held up as containing all knowledge, and as being literal and infallible Truth. Some of them will say that the world was created by a certain deity a certain number of years ago. If asked about their level of certainty, these people generally respond that they have absolutely no uncertainty!

Interestingly, many eastern religions are more encouraging of sustained inquiry and less insistent on unquestioning faith than the three major monotheistic religions. The Dalai Lama’s enthusiasm for unfettered scientific study of meditation is an example.