Francis Collins, the former Director of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and now the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has risen to national prominence in recent years. His scientific acumen combined with his rather public confession of Christian faith has garnered both excitement by Christians, as seen in these Christianity Today articles (here and here), and interest among unbelievers, as in this exchange with Richard Dawkins in Time.
But not everyone is excited about Collins’ recent appointment by President Obama to direct NIH. Sam Harris, the author of the atheistic diatribes against faith, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, questions Collins’ fitness for NIH due to the geneticist’s Christian faith in this NY Times piece. While I don’t question Collins’ fitness for his present position, I do question how much he should be viewed as an ally of Bible-believing Christians. His foreword in a new book exposes his disdain for anyone who would take the creation account in Genesis 1-2 as an accurate description of the beginning of the world. Collins pens a four-page foreword for Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (Harper One, 2008). In this rather strained attempt to harmonize Christianity and Darwinism, Giberson stretches the limits of reason and logic in an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. His book is introduced by Collins’ similarly tortured attempt to elevate science way beyond its boundaries and to denigrate anyone who supports Intelligent Design (ID), young-earth creationism or virtually anything regarding the early chapters of Genesis.
Collins describes ID’s challenge to evolution’s ability to explain irreducibly complex structures in living organisms as pressing on “despite the lack of any meaningful support in the scientific community” (p. v). This statement is simply not true and masks not only the many scientists who question Darwinism’s explanation of irreducible complexity but also the almost universal pressure on scientists to toe the party line concerning Darwinism.
Collins’ contempt for ID does not hold a candle, however, to his scorn for young earth creationists (YEC). He describes the Creation Museum outside of Cincinnati as “perhaps the strangest development of all” for its depiction of humans “frolicking” with dinosaurs “despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they were separated in history by more than sixty million years” (p. v). Collins’ seemingly absolute confidence in the declarations of “science” regarding the age of the earth and mechanism of human development cannot go unchallenged. If Collins rejects the Genesis account of creation, he must also reject (or at least re-imagine) the historicity of Adam, the Fall, and consequently a number of foundational orthodox doctrines, all of which directly impact the biblical account of redemption. One has to wonder exactly from where Collins draws his Christian faith.
Collins clarifies his view of Genesis when he declares that the “evidence” from a wide variety of sources, including the fossil record and human genomes means that “special creation of humans simply cannot be embraced by those familiar with the data, unless they wish to postulate a God who intentionally placed misleading clues in our own DNA to test our faith” (p. vii). Although this is not the place to expound on the importance of the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall as described in Genesis 1-3, it is enough to say that without the “special creation of humans” Collins must eviscerate much more than the first few chapters of the Bible. Throughout the entire Bible, the narrative of Genesis 1-3 is assumed to be factual, notwithstanding whatever phenomenological elements may be present. But a bigger problem emerges from Collins’ statement. He speaks of the scientific data as if it were simply brute fact requiring no interpretation or presupposition. But scientific data is never brute fact and must always be interpreted. It will always be contingent upon further investigation. Collins does not seem to recognize this limitation but ascribes to fallen human reason a divine, omniscient status.
Collins concludes his foreword with an appeal for believers to adopt proposals such as Giberson’s that synthesize natural and spiritual perspectives and bring one “much joy and peace” (p. vii). This will allow believers to “get beyond these destructive battles” of “alternative creation stories” and focus on the “real meaning of Christianity”—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (p. viii). Collins’ lack of theological expertise is glaringly obvious here. He does not seem to make the connection between the trustworthiness of Scripture regarding the account of creation and the account of the life of Christ. Analytic philosophers make mincemeat of this kind of inconsistency. If someone rejects clear statements in one part of Scripture, how is he justified in accepting them in another? Autonomous human reason becomes the judge of truth at this point, not Scripture.
In addition, Collins is apparently not familiar with Paul’s whole argument of Christ as the second Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, which provides the meaning of the life, death and resurrection that Collins claims to believe. The fact of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, like scientific data, is not brute fact, but needs to be properly interpreted. And if Paul tells us that Christ is only properly understood as the second Adam, then gutting the proper understanding of Adam and Eve guts the proper understanding of Christ and His work. Collins cannot have it both ways.
In summary, Bible believers should know by now that hope cannot be set on politicians or those they appoint. No professed Christian is automatically going to benefit believers or support a Christian worldview merely by his profession. The only human leaders who will ever truly be an ally to those who believe the Bible are those who make the Bible their authority in all matters of reason and life.
Mark Farnham is Assistant Professor of Theology and New Testament at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA). He and his wife, Adrienne, grew up in Connecticut and were married after graduating from Maranatha Baptist Bible College (Watertown, WI). They have two daughters and a son, all teenagers. Mark served as director of youth ministries at Positive Action for Christ (Rocky Mount, NC) right out of seminary and pastored for seven years in New London, Connecticut. He holds an MDiv from Calvary and a ThM in New Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA). He has also studied ancient manuscripts at Harvard Divinity School and philosophy at Villanova University. He is presently a doctoral student at Westminster Theological Seminary (Glenside, PA) in the field of Apologetics. These views do not necessarily reflect those of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary or its faculty and administration.