Sunday, 12 July 2009

Francis Collins: We should “read the Bible at more than the most superficial level”.

Francis Collins. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health and erstwhile director of the Human Genome Project, is a former atheist who converted to Christianity. He believes God used evolution as His method of creation. Recently Karl Giberson, a fellow theistic evolutionist, interviewed Francis Collins for Christianity Today.

His belief in theistic evolution prompts Collins to re-interpret Genesis. Giberson suggested that when young people read Genesis they ”think of Adam and Eve as real biological parents of the human race”. Collins pointed out that we should “read the Bible at more than the most superficial level.”

Karl Giberson has previously claimed that interpreting the creation account of Scripture literally amounts to robbing Genesis so it might not be impossible to guess what the outcome of this discussion would be.

According to Collins, evolution is more credible than creationism or intelligent design although we do not yet know all details of the development of life. But perhaps some day . . .

In ordinary language, this is usually called wishful thinking.

Francis Collins acknowledges that God is the source of all truth so that there can be no conflict between science and the Bible. As far as I know, all creationists would share this view but they disagree with Collins about the science in evolution.

Collins’ view resembles that of Hugh Ross, the foremost spokesman of progressive creationism. Ross regards nature as the 67th book of the Bible. Collins even says that God gave us the book of nature. Ross rejects Darwinian evolution. Collins accepts it. Unfortunately, both approaches require elevating science above Scripture.

And when the reigning paradigm in science is naturalism or the view that nature is all there is, Genesis becomes a myth that merely describes spiritual truth.

The scarcity of fossils does not prevent Collins from regarding evolution as fact. He says that since fossilization is ”extremely unlikely to have happened” [except in extraordinary circumstances such as the Genesis Flood], the lack of evidence is not a problem. Instead of fossils, Collins relies on the predictability of DNA sequence -based models that he hopes would ”predict the genome sequence of the common mammalian ancestor”.

The problem with this approach is that due to starting assumptions, models have a tendency to tell us exactly what we want them to tell us.

Giberson acknowledged that he did not have any first-hand knowledge of evolution:

I believe in evolution because people like you that I trust have told me it's true. I've never done a genome sequence; I've never done a fossil dig. So what do I—Karl Giberson—really know about evolution? All I know is that people I trust say it's true and people that I have less confidence in say it is not.

There seems to be nothing new under the sun. Two millennia ago, Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 BC - 40 AD) saw Greek philosophy in the Old Testament. While Philo saw Platonism, Giberson and Collins see Darwinism in Genesis. The original author ( Moses ) would most probably have thought that this interpretation was very odd.


Bray, Gerald. 1996. Biblical Interpretation Past and Present. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press.

Giberson, Karl W. 2009. Evolution, the Bible, and the Book of Nature. A conversation with Francis Collins. Christianity Today (10 July )