Francis Collins and the 2020 Templeton Prize
The Templeton Prize, worth UK £1.1 million, is awarded annually by the John Templeton Foundation for work in the intersection of science and religion. The US/UK billionaire John Marks Templeton (1912–2008) established the Foundation in 1987. Recipients have been Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims, as well as Christians and even atheists.
Dr Francis Collins (1950–) is a U.S. geneticist and physician. He led the Human Genome Project, which sequenced the 3.1 billion DNA letters in the human genome in 2003. The Templeton website announcing the award applauded both this achievement and Collins’ 2006 book The Language of God,1 in which he promotes theistic evolution. We published a review a year after publication,2 but the award this year gives it renewed relevance.
Collins studied chemistry and quantum mechanics before attending medical school. As a hospital resident and an atheistic evolutionist, he was puzzled and unsettled that many patients facing death had a faith which “provided them with a strong reassurance of ultimate peace”. He wondered why they were not “shaking their fists at God and demanding that their friends and family stop all this talk about a loving and benevolent supernatural power”. He says he realized, “I had never really seriously considered the evidence for and against belief” (pp. 19–20).
Conversion to theistic evolution
After reading C.S. Lewis’s claim of universal Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) in his book Mere Christianity, Collins says that “Faith in God now seemed more rational than unbelief” (p. 30). Over the next year, he considered the claims of Jesus to be God and to forgive sin; at age 27, he says, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ (p. 225).
Rather than stop believing in evolution, he added God to it: “I settled comfortably into a synthesis generally referred to as ‘theistic evolution’” (p. 199). He lists the usual godless tenets of evolutionary theory and then adds: “But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history” (p. 200).
In 2007, with a US$2 million grant from the Templeton Foundation, he established the BioLogos Foundation, from Greek bios (‘life’) and logos (‘word’), to promote theistic evolution.
BioLogos’s statement of belief includes that:
- “… the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God.”
- “… God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years.”
- “… the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent.”3
But the first of these three points stands in massive contradiction to the rest. The Bible overwhelmingly shows that Genesis is written as history: God’s own statement of His creation of the earth, the universe, and life. The events happened the way, in the order, and at the time that God says He caused them to happen. Crucially, the Gospel depends on the teaching that the rebellion of Adam and Eve caused a once-perfect world to fall into a state of corruption (Romans 8) from which it will one day be restored. However, according to evolution/long-age thinking, there was no “very good” world; death, disease and bloodshed were there long before man. BioLogos’s “God-ordained” process of ‘creation’ depends upon death and struggle.
Collins’ reasons for disbelieving Genesis
Collins: Everything began with the hypothetical model known as the big bang (pp. 63–66).
However, New Scientist published a letter signed by 33 top scientists, titled ‘Bucking the big bang’. It states:
“Big bang theory relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities—things that we have never observed. Inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent. Without them, there would be fatal contradictions between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory. In no other field of physics would this continual resource to new hypothetical objects be accepted as a way of bridging the gap between theory and observation.”4
Collins: The language of Genesis is “Unquestionably … poetic” (p. 83).
Not so. Hebrew poetry involves parallelism, as in Psalm 19:1. This is distinctly different from the historical-narrative style of Genesis. Genesis very obviously was not intended as poetry.5
Collins: The fossil record shows hundreds of millions of years (pp. 93–96), and “Good evidence exists for transitional forms from reptiles to birds, and from reptiles to mammals” (pp. 93–96).
Much evidence demonstrates that the geological layers and the fossils therein do not show millions of years, but were formed rapidly by large-scale catastrophic processes, consistent with the year-long global Flood of Noah. Collins avoids giving a single example of any transitional form. In reality, ‘claimed, disputed, and overturned’ is the norm for intermediate fossil claims.6
Collins: “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvellous complexity and diversity of life” (p. 99).
Not so; dissentfromdarwin.org lists over 1,200 named scientists who “are sceptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” In any case, appeals to authority or consensus are not the arbiter of scientific truth. They have led to much past error.
Collins: Evolution is seen “by the rapid variations in certain disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and parasites” that become resistant to drugs, and without evolution, medicine and biology “would be impossible to understand” (pp. 132–33).
This is the fallacy of equivocation, words used with change of meaning. Variation in bacteria that become resistant to drugs is called ‘evolution’ and the same word is then applied to the origin of humans. Antibiotic resistance can arise from natural selection removing non-resistant bugs, or mutations breaking something so antibiotics can’t attack. These processes are the opposite of what is needed for molecules-to-man evolution.7
Collins: “… humans and chimps are 96 percent identical at the DNA level”, and this shows “a close relationship” (p. 137).
This is poor reasoning; we have the same designer, and would expect external similarities to be reflected genetically. In reality, the similarity is at most 95%, and could be as low as 85%.8 Even a 4% difference would still represent 120 million DNA letter differences. Even if it were possible for random mutations and selection to bridge this gap, observed mutation rates show that there is nowhere near enough evolutionary time available.
Collins: Genesis chapter 2 is “a second description of the creation of humans … not entirely compatible with the first” (p. 150).
Not so. Genesis 2:4 onwards explains the creation of Adam and Eve in more detail, and narrates events in the Garden of Eden. It contains no contradictions to other parts of Genesis.9
Collins: “… no human knows what the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 was precisely intended to be” (p. 153).
Jesus and the NT writers understood Genesis as events that actually happened to real people; the temptation of Eve, the Flood of Noah, etc. Casting such doubt on the intelligibility of this portion of the Bible has no basis in the words themselves; it is driven by its incompatibility with evolution. This inevitably opens the door to doubt and unfettered ‘reinterpretations’ concerning anything else the Bible teaches that is not popular.
Collins vs the creation movement
Collins devotes Chapter 8 to opposing Young Earth Creationism (YEC).
Collins: YEC’s “believe that all species were created by individual acts of God” (p. 172).
This is egregiously false; he must know better if he has even superficially sampled creationist literature. From when the great creationist taxonomist Linnaeus rejected fixity of species in favour of fixity of kinds, leading creationists have claimed that “the biblical ‘kind’ is larger than one of today’s ‘species’. Each of the original kinds was created with a vast amount of information … so that their descendants could adapt to a wide variety of environments.”10
Collins: “If [YEC] claims were actually true, it would lead to a complete and irreversible collapse of the sciences of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology, and biology” (p. 174).
Collins: The YEC “narrow interpretation is largely a creation of the last hundred years” (p. 175).
“[T]he vast majority of exegetes, from the early church fathers through the Reformers and up to the early 19th century, believed that the creation days were 24 hours long. Even those who did not accept literal days erred in the opposite direction … by allegorizing the six days into an instant. Furthermore, those who commented on the age of the earth … affirmed that the earth was less than 10,000 years old at the time they wrote—most said it was less than 6,000 years.”13
Collins: YEC advocates believe that “every word of the Bible must be taken literally” (p. 175).
Not so.14 Rather, as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics says (Article XV):
“We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense. That is, the meaning which the writer expressed. [This] will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.”
He makes an extraordinary statement.
Collins: “YEC advocates have more recently taken the tack of arguing that all of this [natural world] evidence has been designed by God to mislead us, and therefore to test our faith” (p. 176)
We know of no one in the mainstream creation movement who says this, and Collins names none. This is a devious strawman argument, misrepresenting an opposing position in order to refute the misrepresentation and so seeming to refute/discredit that position.
Collins and ‘junk DNA’
The claim that our DNA is mostly useless leftover ‘junk’, accumulated over eons of evolution, has now been thoroughly discredited. In fact it was an area in which evolutionary belief substantially impeded progress in genetics and molecular biology for years. But this false view was a major argument for evolution and against biblical creation in Francis Collins’ The Language of God. A decade or so after publication, under the pressure of facts, he withdrew these arguments.1 This was discussed in the Journal of Creation in 2017.2
References and notes
- Klinghoffer, D., On junk DNA claim, Francis Collins walks it back, admitting ‘hubris’; evolutionnews.org, 19 July 2016.
- Carter, R., Reading evolution into the Scriptures, J. Creation 31(2):41–46, August 2017; creation.com/adam-and-the-genome-review.