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Collins: Why this scientist believes in God


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#1 Hyperion

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Posted 05 April 2007 - 10:33 AM

Collins: Why this scientist believes in God

Editor's note: Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. His most recent book is "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief."

ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views.

As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan.

I did not always embrace these perspectives. As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers.

I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as "What is the meaning of life?" "Why am I here?" "Why does mathematics work, anyway?" "If the universe had a beginning, who created it?" "Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?" "Why do humans have a moral sense?" "What happens after we die?" (Watch Francis Collins discuss how he came to believe in God )

I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments, and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds. My earlier atheist's assertion that "I know there is no God" emerged as the least defensible. As the British writer G.K. Chesterton famously remarked, "Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas, for it is the assertion of a universal negative."

But reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.

For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search to learn more about God's character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God's son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus.

So, some have asked, doesn't your brain explode? Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren't evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection?

Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers. Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.

But why couldn't this be God's plan for creation? True, this is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, but long before Darwin, there were many thoughtful interpreters like St. Augustine, who found it impossible to be exactly sure what the meaning of that amazing creation story was supposed to be. So attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer.

I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.

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#2 mordecai

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Posted 01 May 2007 - 06:38 PM

Scientists aren't immune from making logical mistakes, perhaps he needs to read what jesus clearly believed? You cannot be a christian and at the same time believe humans evolved from lower lifeforms. It's incongruent with the claimed traits of the christian god... think about this...

he claims to be omniscient and all powerful yet he used a process based on...

random variation and natural selection and brutal dog-eat-dog world with limited resources, all animals consume one another, is this his idea of a loving and rational god?

Gods creative process was billions of years of nothing but stars exploding and expanding and then dust congealing into a star with a few planets around it, and then life began to form basic lifeforms and started evolving from "low" complexity to high complexity, over 3 billion years of brutish competition, disease, natural disasters and bloodshed.

Not my idea of a creator or scientists that has his head screwed on straight. The fact is the article author is what I all a "rich white western believer", i.e. he's never had to live in ignorance, poverty or opression, so his intellectual self-massaging is a little unnerving.

Edited by mordecai, 01 May 2007 - 06:41 PM.


#3 Sammo

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Posted 01 May 2007 - 09:52 PM

Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.

Well - I don't know about that. I read Alan Fowler's book recently and from what he was saying the fossil record doesn't prove evolution at all. And the fact that different species can have similar DNA could be used to prove a common creator just as much as it could be used to prove a common ancestor.

#4 Russell

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Posted 01 May 2007 - 10:30 PM

Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.

Well - I don't know about that. I read Alan Fowler's book recently and from what he was saying the fossil record doesn't prove evolution at all. And the fact that different species can have similar DNA could be used to prove a common creator just as much as it could be used to prove a common ancestor.


That's what I used to believe. I used to present a series of pictures of cars that "evolved" from simple old cars to modern cars, which was really a series of designs. One car did not literally evolve from earlier cars.

However if you read Collins book, there is evidence that this idea is not sustainable. It is the DNA evidence that kills the idea. The other evidence I thought (and still think) that I could explain away.

I am now thinking that we (and I) have been mistaken in our approach. The incredible pattern and beauty of the universe is evidence of God.

Rom 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

This was true in ancient times and should be even more true today when microscopic and chemical analysis on the one hand and cosmological evidence on the other hand, point to a universe designed for human habitation.

However to insist on a literal Bible interpretation of how this happened has proved to be a dreadful mistake. "Dreadful" I say because people who believe that you cannot be a Christian whilst at the same time accept the implications of scientific observation, often end up in the dreadful situation of abandoning Christianity.

Alan Fowler and Alan Haywood (and for that matter John Thomas in an earlier generation) did us an enormous service with their books. They did a good job at reconciling the observations of science with scripture to the best of their ability.

But the evidence has moved beyond that now.

#5 Lectron

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Posted 01 May 2007 - 10:53 PM

Alan Fowler and Alan Haywood (and for that matter John Thomas in an earlier generation) did us an enormous service with their books. They did a good job at reconciling the observations of science with scripture to the best of their ability.

But the evidence has moved beyond that now.


Really? Do enlighten us.

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#6 Russell

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Posted 01 May 2007 - 11:03 PM

I am working at the moment, but I'll look up the passages in Collins book later.

#7 Russell

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Posted 02 May 2007 - 11:29 AM

“The Language of God” Francis S Collins Page 133-142

This is too long for me to type out, so I’ll just quote a very small part.

P 134 “… from a creationist perspective, such similarities could simply demonstrate that God used successful design principles over and over again. As we shall see, however, and as was foreshadowed above by the discussion of “silent” mutations in protein-coding regions, the detailed study of genomes has rendered that interpretation virtually untenable – not only about all other living things, but also about ourselves.”

(then follows arguments based on DNA)

P141 “… Yet believers would be well advised to look carefully at the overwhelming weight of scientific data supporting the relatedness of all living things, including ourselves.”

I will freely admit that a scoundrel would be well able to pull the wool over my eyes. However Collins is no scoundrel, and nor is he the only trustworthy voice saying the same thing.

#8 twoofseven

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Posted 02 May 2007 - 03:49 PM

I guess that I would have to read the book to really understand the argument here, but I can't understand the connection between the "relatedness of all living things" and evolution. I can easily accept that there is a connection on a chemical level, even that we share dna with animals...human beings are simply animals after all. But I can't see how that fact would force the conclusion that we are actually evolved from lower life forms.

There is not a single fossil or living creature that is anything close to what could be considered a transitional form, not a single one. That fact in itself is an insurmountable barrier to cross species evolution in my mind.
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#9 Sammo

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Posted 02 May 2007 - 07:24 PM

(then follows arguments based on DNA)

Thanks - I guess I'll need to get the book out though, because that's the bit I want to read!

#10 Netsach Yisrael

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Posted 02 May 2007 - 07:48 PM

Thanks - I guess I'll need to get the book out though, because that's the bit I want to read!

The argument that breached my resistance was endogenous retroviruses.

To sum up, they're the genetic fossil of an ancestor's viral infection. Placental mammals' DNA is riddled with them, and they can be created in a lab environment. Different species have the same ERV at the same spot in the genome, which basically can't happen at random. On the assumption that "has common ERV" means "has common ancestor," a "family tree" can be constructed. This can be repeated for different selections from among the hundreds of known ERVs. In each and every case, the family tree (AKA "cladistic diagram") turns out the same. If two cladistic diagrams contradicted each other, that would tend to falsify common descent, but they don't. The data is consistent with common descent.

What makes this so damaging to the "common designer" argument is that an ERV is not a piece of good engineering that the Designer would want to use over and over. An ERV is a kind of error--it's an example of damage to the genome. Countering with the "common designer" argument amounts to saying that God made the same mistake over and over.

A second objection to the "common designer" argument is that God can reuse design elements wherever they're useful, so you'd still expect cladistic trees to differ from each other depending which design elements you picked. Instead, all attempts to produce "family trees" lead to virtually identical results.

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#11 Guest_steveyb3_*

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Posted 27 October 2009 - 02:31 PM

Is the Evolution discussion ban off now?

#12 Jeremy

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Posted 27 October 2009 - 02:50 PM

Is the Evolution discussion ban off now?

No, it isn't--not until the Forum owner says otherwise. Thank you for highlighting this, which I had missed.

If anyone else tries to get round the ban, official warnings will now be issued. Whay can't people just co-operate and abide by what they know the rules to be?
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