Francis Collins – Scientist of Faith

My father-in-law sent me this:

Last week I contacted you about a lecture at Caltech. Several couldn’t attend but asked if it would be available on line. The answer is yes.

Last Thursday, five of us from Calvary attended. Dr. Francis Collins, world-renown geneticist, physician, and Former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health shared his journey from atheism to faith, propelled by science. His talk was followed by a Q&A session. Several of you asked if the talk was available. It is now available at this link: http://www.veritas.org/media/talks/662. (different university, same presentation) Note that you need to download either the audio file or the video file and then play it. The files are big, 50 and 80 MB respectively.

A few comments about this lecture:

I spent 7 years in graduate school at Caltech and since then I have been involved in literally hundreds of on campus events. Never in all of this contact with Caltech have I seen a born again Christian scientist give an address. This event was in Beckman Auditorium which seats maybe 1,400. Every seat was filled and people were standing in the back. Truly amazing considering that it was a cold rainy night and the lecture was at 8 PM.

Dr. Collins gave his personal testimony of how he moved from an atheist to belief in God and then in Jesus. Scientists cover many fields. Those who are the most adamant about atheism are typically the evolutionary biologists. That is why this talk is so important. Collins was responsible for the first complete mapping of human DNA and is a world class expert in biology. He talked about his belief not only in God but also in Jesus and how it changed his life. You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as he spoke. After his talk he responded to questions and this was probably the best part of the evening. Agnostic and atheist students and adults asked polite questions and he responded well. As part of the talk he discussed CS Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” At the end of the talk, free copies of the book were available to all who were interested.

One part of his talk that was certainly controversial from a Christian viewpoint – the method God used to create the diverse species. His position is that: (1) the earth is old, (2) God initially created life, (3) God used the evolutionary process to create diversity of life up to Homo Sapiens and (4) at that point, God infused man with free will in His image.

http://www.veritas.org/media/talks/662
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22 thoughts on “Francis Collins – Scientist of Faith

  1. One part of his talk that was certainly controversial from a Christian viewpoint – the method God used to create the diverse species. His position is that: (1) the earth is old, (2) God initially created life, (3) God used the evolutionary process to create diversity of life up to Homo Sapiens and (4) at that point, God infused man with free will in His image.

    It’s really too bad that this is controversial from a Christian standpoint. This is why atheists think Christians are stupid.

  2. I’ve read Collins’ book. It’s fascinating stuff.

    One reason it’s controversial is hiddin in the summary above, where it says that God “used the evolutionary process.” For many of those who believe in theistic evolution, that usually means that God somehow had a hidden hand in the development of life over a long period of time, but that God was still in control of how things turned out.

    For Collins, that statement means that the development of intelligent life was a matter of chance once God set things in motion. He did nothing to ensure that the world would end up with creatures that stand, have two legs and one head, or whatever. It was a matter of chance, period, how things turned out. The process was one of natural selection, not divinely directed selection.

    That goes far beyond what many theistic evolutionists believe, and that, I suspect, is why Collins is so controversial in some circles.

    His book (I don’t remember its title, and I’m too lazy now to look it up) is well worth reading. He particularly skewers the idea of intelligent design, the current pet theory of many evangelicals.

    In other words, he’s not your typical evangelical scientist. He’s also a genius.

  3. If you by “particular result” you mean creatures that look like we do, then he would say that God didn’t do that (whether he was smart enough to do it or not). He says, for example, that there are parts of our body that are less than perfect in the sense that they turned out to be inefficient or illogically constructed. If there were intelligent design, for example, we might not have an appendix, nor a spinal column that is so vulnerable to problems.

    But if you mean by “particular result” that God set things in motion in such a way that intelligent beings would be one possible outcome among many, yes, than that’s what God did, according to Collins.

    It isn’t really a matter of how smart God is, but the method that he decided to use for his creation. And, according to Collins, he decided to leave more to chance than many Christians (including yours truly) would be comfortable believing.

    Collins draws a fair amount on the thoughts of C.S. Lewis. Collins’ evidence for God is found in humanity’s sense of morality, which Collins sees as a matter of direct intervention by God rather than something that was (or could be) the product of a natural-selection process.

  4. That’s the main beef I have with intelligent design –

    It assumes that God was so incompetent that He was unable to get it right the first time, and has to constantly tinker around with His creation to make it work correctly.

  5. Or, he did it the way he did because it’s the way he wanted to do it. It’s the way he, in his infinite wisdom, thought best. Who says anything about “not being able to get it right the first time?” Here we are–exactly the way he wanted us to be, right?

  6. In the audio I linked to he really glosses over his problems with Intelligent Design. I think his main beef is the anti-evolutionary arguments that are often attached to Intelligent Design. I say this because he uses many of the same arguments ID theorist use in other places. If you check out “The Privileged Planet” DVD or Book, it’s not all that different than what he talks about at the beginning of the lecture.

    Evolution and ID can actually coexist. The idea is that you would see markers of an intelligent cause. Blind evolution and ID are the two things opposed to each other. In the lecture Collins didn’t argue for blind evolution (as it seems he did in his book).

  7. Tim, does Collins think it will be the same evolutionary processes for the new heaven and earth?

    We have Genesis but how can the story be over to create diversity of life.

  8. Kullervo:

    Whenever anyone says they draw on the thoughts of C. S. Lewis, I roll to disbelieve.

    Ditto. Which isn’t entirely fair of me, since I haven’t read all that much Lewis, but what I have read…

    Seth: That’s not really a fair portrayal of ID. It doesn’t have to assume that God was unable to get it right—it might assume that the only way to get it right is to occasionally tweak the system.

    The problem I have with ID—and Collins’ argument—is that they create an ever-diminishing God: one who is always present in that which we do not yet know.

    Tim: What is the difference between “evolution” and “blind evolution”? And what is the difference between “ID” and “evolution” (the kind of evolution you see as coexistent)?

  9. Collins’ belief in God isn’t limited to what he took from “Mere Christianity”. He also is persuaded by the fine-tuning argument, why is there something rather than nothing and the lack of evidence of the organic coming from the non-organic.

    Blind evolution is a process without purpose. It doesn’t know where it’s going. It just happens, randomly. The kind of evolution that sync’s with ID develops diverse species from a common origin due to an intelligence winding up the mechanism and setting it in motion. There is no difference between blind evolution and non-blind evolution in regards to “how”. The differences lie in “why” or “who”. What ID is attempting to do is find testable results that speak to the presence of someone rather than no one in the “who” question.

    Todd, I have no idea what Collins believes in regards to the new heaven and earth.

  10. Kullervo said: “It’s really too bad that this is controversial from a Christian standpoint. This is why atheists think Christians are stupid.”

    I agree with this assessment. Ignoring the most established facts of nature continues to make some Christians look stupid, even to other Christians. Ultimately we should be able to accept truth as truth, even when it turns previous biblical interpretation upside down.

    Watching someone like Kirk Cameron explain why the shape of banana is somehow evidence of unique creation of species will actually make you dumber.

    That said, all believers in the bible believe in some sort of intelligent design in nature. I just don’t think our explanations can really compete in depth and complexity with scientific explanation.

    I agree with Todd Wood’s implied point that much of scientific cosmology and evolutionary biology does require a radical rethinking of a lot of what the bible means if it is true. (I assume Todd strongly resists this reinterpretation. ) As for the “new” Heaven and earth, I can’t imagine how anybody can know anything meaningful about what that is all about, or even what it really means.

  11. Jared ~ Watching someone like Kirk Cameron explain why the shape of banana is somehow evidence of unique creation of species will actually make you dumber.

    Watching Kirk Cameron in general is bound to make you dumber.

    Hmm. Maybe I ought to take Fireproof out of my Netflix queue.

  12. Jared:

    That said, all believers in the bible believe in some sort of intelligent design in nature.

    Not so. One could believe that God is an opportunist who found this earth producing life that he deemed “good.” That requires a radical reinterpretation of the word “created” as found in Genesis, of course. But I wouldn’t underestimate the diversity of biblical interpretation out there….

    Tim:

    What ID is attempting to do is find testable results…

    I have yet to find any ID argument that attempts to state a testable hypothesis—quite the opposite, actually. If you have an example I’d be very interested. (I might have more to say about evolution, but gotta go now–)

  13. I’d like to also comment on one thing Collins said which I think I may disagree with (though I’m not sure). He stated several times that if God made the earth look old when in fact it is not, or if he made all animals to appear to have a common ancestor when in reality they do not, then God is being deceitful.

    As a caveat, I’d like to state I believe the earth is old. But even if it is not, I don’t think it’s necessarily deceitful for God to make it look old. There may be reasons that required him to give it an appearance of age so that it could “work” properly. For example, if we take Genesis as literally as possible, how hold was Adam on the 8th day? He would have been 2 days old, but if we had a group of doctors examine him, they would have concluded that he was an adult (let’s says 23 years old). Is God being deceitful to make Adam appear to be 23, or did he make him appear that age so that he could care for himself?

    Soil takes 100s of years to develop. If God created the earth on Day 1 with soil that could sustain life, how old is the soil?

  14. I agree with Tim, the deceit argument doesn’t make sense at all. If we think the earth is old, and its not, then its our problem of perception.

    God is not telling scientists how old the earth is, in order to deceive you have to have an intentional communication.

    The fact that people once thought that the sun revolved around the Earth is not due to God deceiving them.

    A interesting sidenote: Brigham Young speculated that the old things in the earth were parts of other planets that had been left there when God built this world.

  15. No way. If those doctors examined Adam, they would find that he had the structure of a 23-year old, but lacked any of the physical marks of age, since he was only two days old.

    Otherwise, God is an asshole.

  16. No way. If those doctors examined Adam, they would find that he had the structure of a 23-year old, but lacked any of the physical marks of age, since he was only two days old.

    I’m not even sure how that would distinguish the two in Adam or the Earth. How the heck would you know soil was “new”.

  17. Come on, there must be a way: age takes a toll. Surely 23 years of life leaves marks on a body.

    Soil, no. Okay. It’s inorganic, and theoretically, if it is not radioactive, if you leave it alone it should stay the same indefinitely. Unless all of the crap on a world interacts in a way that you would be able to tell, like oxidization, radioactive decay, erosion, sediment, etc.

  18. I also thought it was a good talk. Much better than I expected actually, especially the Q&A, and I’m an atheist! Though all of his “evidence” can just as easily be interpreted in naturalistic ways. I very much appreciate his trying to communicate that there is ample room for science and belief to co-exist, so long as both sides make sure not to overstep their bounds. Here’s the link to my writeup if anybody is interested in how it looked from the other side: http://is.gd/iGY7

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