Book Review: The Language of God

Ok, well here it is. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S Collins

I would rate this as a good read, though it did not live up to my expectations. First off, let me explain why I expected more. Francis Collins is the head of the Human Genome project, so when I heard he wrote this book, as a Christian and a scientist, I was very interested. I figured he would illuminate some amazing information about the structure of DNA that would truly amaze and wonder (and he did…sort of). I wasn’t expecting a philosophy text.

I am a Christian, but I wasn’t always. In fact I came from a family of atheists and wiccans. I am grateful for my journey, because I really had to think things through for myself, and now I feel sound in my world view. Collins had a similar experience. In his book he basically outlines his own journey and beliefs by citing the common Christian philosophers such as St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis. Collins primary contribution (though not new) is the irrefutable argument that belief in God does not conflict with the belief in scientific method, especially evolution.

Collins lays out this argument in an easy to understand and elegantly written way. Here is the basic idea: Science works as a combination of induction and pragmatism. Period. The scientific method is a self correcting organism that relies on disproving everything it can. Think of it this way: Science is incapable of proving anything for certain, that is the basis of induction. If I say that there are no purple polar bears (to quote my cousin-in-law) then to state that as fact, I must observe every polar bear that has ever existed. I cannot know with out a doubt that there are no purple polar bears, even though I can pretty much say that there isn’t. That “assumption” that there are no purple polar bears is the function of pragmatism. Now, Collins extends this argument to God. Science can neither prove nor disprove that God exists, so therefore there can be no logical conflict between the two. In addition, if one does believe in an omnipresence benevolent God that exists through all time, then by logic evolution, the laws of physics, and life can all be incorporated into this belief without issue.

Collins refutes atheist authors like Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion, The Blind Watchmaker, and others) on the fact that they approach the denial of the existence of God from a scientific standpoint, which is a logically flawed argument. Collins presents some evidence for the existence of evolution using the genome by showing examples of “relic DNA” sometimes referred to as “Junk DNA” that serves no purpose for the present day animal in question. He shows how this DNA gets passed from species to species via evolutionary processes and how it gets “mucked” up in the change. The puzzle pieces line up very well, and Collins’ argument is very strong.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with spirituality in the modern scientific revolution. Though there is nothing new presented in the book, Collins does make several cogent arguments using the common literature, and he has a decent reference list so if you are inclined, you can read the pretexts for yourself. The science content is not as meaty as I was hoping for, but I think this was Collins’ intent. He wanted to write this book for the common modern day person, not a Harvard science guru.

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3 responses to “Book Review: The Language of God

  1. I suppose it helps if I read the following posts before I comment on the previous ones. Stupid Nyet.

    You give the same impression that the other reviews I have read does, that this book rehashes a lot of old arguments and then heaps on some redundant anecdotes from Collins himself (something about a frozen waterfall). I will still check it out on your rec,t hough.

  2. The thing that bothers me about “The Language of God” is that Collins says nothing has been contributed by atheists. In one fell swoop he eliminates Einstein, Darwin, Watson, Freud, Abraham Lincoln, President Madison, and how many others. Collins has an ego problem.

  3. Papa Don,

    I totally agree. Collins has WAY too much hubris, also his arguments are not original. He relies almost entirely on CS Lewis to do his dirty work. Though I liked it when I read it, that is because I am already a Christian. The book probably would have no sway on an atheist if only for your stated reason. Collins just brushes it off.

    After rereading this review, I agree I was a little too nice.

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