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Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church, Part 5

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April 2, 2011 Tags: Christian Unity
Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church, Part 5

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This is the fifth in a six part discussion between BioLogos vice-president Karl Giberson and founder Francis Collins, co-authors of The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (note: Francis Collins' work on this project was completed prior to his appointment as director of the National Institutes of Health). The conversation first appeared as "Evolution, the Bible, and the Book of Nature" in Books and Culture and took place during a conference at Azusa Pacific University in 2008.

Karl Giberson: Have you found that evangelicals are impressed enough with your credentials to listen to you? Many people in your audiences raise “Creationism 101” objections, so they aren’t going to dismiss those concerns out of hand because you “refuted” them in your talk.

Francis Collins: And I would not want them, in one hour’s lecture, to suddenly say, “Ok, you must be right, everything I’ve learned for the last eighteen years is wrong.” That would not be expected, but I give them credit for wanting to engage in the topic as opposed to immediately shutting down and saying, “Oh, it’s one of those evolution guys and I was warned about them and I’m going to stop this thing right now.” And that’s the right reaction which, I think, is more common amongst those who have really been indoctrinated with the younger creationist perspective from the pulpit at Sunday school and maybe for their home schooling curriculum who have basically been warned as part of the process, “You will encounter people who will try to tell you that evolution is true – they are from the devil. Don’t even talk to them or you may yourself find that you got caught into this and basically that you’ll lose your faith". That’s the threat – you will lose your faith, because the whole foundation of belief in God requires evolution not to be true.

KG: What a terrible trend in churches.

FC: What an awful circumstance we’ve put young people in. Many of them who are sending emails every week in crisis trying to figure out whether, if the church is lying to them about the origins, has the church lied to them about the whole thing? The God of all truth cannot be served by such a noble lie and yet the church in many ways has been caught up in that, despite their best intentions to tell the truth.

KG: How far into this literalist community of evangelicals have you been able to move? Do you speak in Southern Baptist churches ever?

FC: I have. It hasn’t gone particularly well!

KG: How did it go? What happened to you there?

FC: I’ve had people get up and walk out. And I’ve had people come to the microphone clearly very upset and incensed, and basically imply that I am under the influence of the dark forces. I got an email the other day that would make your hair stand on end. I mean, I also get some fairly unpleasant emails from the atheistic scientific community, but the nastiest ones come from believers who are just incensed that someone who claims to be a believer could say these things about the truth of the evolutionary process and that I am clearly a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I’m allying with the devil. I think I’ve been excommunicated a couple of times even though I’m not Catholic!

And you know, when I read those things it doesn’t make me angry—it just makes me sad that there has been such an indoctrination about this point, certainly not the core of our faith at all, that it has caused people who are exposed to the resounding love of God’s laws to it have such a violent reaction against another perspective, to another believer. We’ve gone so far out of where God would have wanted us.

KG: So do you sort of walk around within the liberal fringe of the evangelicals?

FC: I don’t know exactly where the fringes are. Evangelicals are evolving under the forces of natural selection! I think there have been some mutations in evangelicalism, particularly in the last few years, that are turning out not to be reproductively fit. And that in fact, in terms of expanding the fold, particularly in drawing young people, we need to see some changes, some positive selection, if you will, to bring us back to the core of what evangelicals were supposed to be, which is sharing the good news of God’s love. And that has been so pushed aside by of all these other sort of other rants, whether it’s about same-sex marriage, or whether it’s about some political issue, like stem cells, or whether it’s about being opposed to evolution. And I don’t think in the long term that’s compatible with an acceptable future for the whole field of what it means to be an evangelical.

I’m delighted to see that there is an evangelical manifesto about to come out by those who have been exposed to the main stream of this enterprise—people like Rick Warren, who basically say that we’ve been on the wrong track and it’s time to move the center back to the center instead of being only here on the edge. That is allowing political influences to trump what that core of our faith is supposed to be about, allowing the sort of closing of evangelical minds that Mark Noll talked about to continue in a way that is bad for attracting anybody with intellectual interest to come and join.

We need to come back to where the center of our faith really is and I’m very fond of noting what Christ said, “The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” He put mind in the list, even though it was not in the list in Deuteronomy that he’s quoting from, and on that point, have we been loving Jesus and have we been loving the Lord our God with all our mind, or have we been afraid to do that? I think God gave us this incredible gift of intellect and curiosity and this wonderful diversity of exploration that we can make to learn how the universe works and I think he expected us to use that to worship him. And yet, in a certain way, evangelicals at the extremes have seen that as a threat, like somehow we have to protect God against those scientists who are discovering things about God’s creation that don’t fit with what we thought the answer would be. How anomalous! They don’t have enough faith. If you had complete faith in God the Creator, you’re not going to worry about what we learn about God’s creation! It’s an opportunity to expand your sense of worship. But what a crazy spot we’re in.

Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.
Dr. Francis Collins is a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes. Collins founded the BioLogos Foundation in November 2007 and served as its president until August 16, 2009, when he resigned to become director of the National Institutes of Health. (Note: All blogs written by Collins were completed before accepting his duty as director of the NIH).

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Merv - #56743

April 4th 2011

Well, obviously it won’t make any difference whether I mind it or not.  I’m not an official with Biologos, but I do appreciate much of what they are trying to do now as they are and hence my willingness to defend that.

I do admire your persistence, Conrad—so cut me some slack also if I emulate you at least in that.


Merv - #56753

April 4th 2011

I hadn’t read your last post (#56741) before posting that last reply.

Yes—I agree that choosing less inflammatory starting points does have the ring of wisdom. 

The video with George Smoot is absolutely fascinating!


conrad - #56767

April 4th 2011

Well Merv when the Bible and science do NOT disagree for Heaven sakes let us point out that they do not disagree.
I really do not think evolution disagrees with Genesis and FC agrees with me. But many people think they DO DISAGREE and based on that misunderstanding we have lost the battle for a peaceful settlement.
 Someone should have jumped out in front of the issue centuries ago to say ““Hey there is no fundamental disagreement here.”
 Right now I hear people cursing the Big Bang as a scientific scam that disputes God’s role in creating the universe.
 The Big Bang supports the Bible in a most powerful way.
 And I am telling you M-theory is just as potentially explosive in potential. 
Christians should look at it now and claim the parts that support our faith,... and there are lots of them.
Roger A. Sawtelle - #56758

April 4th 2011

Trevor and Merv,

You both tried to justify your placing the Bible before Jesus.  That may be well and good, but you are not arguing against me, you are arguing against the Bible itself.  You are saying that the Bible is mistaken when it says that Jesus Christ is the Logos, the Word of God.   

Sadly you remind me of the man who told Jesus that he couldn’t follow Him right then.  “Sorry, Lord, maybe later.”  Try it.  You just might like it.    

Roger A. Sawtelle - #56760

April 4th 2011


The Bible is true, but not the way many Christians understand it.  Science in some sense also is true but not the way some scientists and in particular some scientismers understand it.

What is true is that both sides need to adjust their thinking, which is what reconciliation is about.  Christians have the ministry of reconciliation, which we do not seem to carrying out very effectively.  I think that both you and Biologos need to work on this.    

Merv - #56762

April 4th 2011

Roger, I don’t place the Bible before Jesus and agree with you in that—Let me see if I can make it a little clearer to you by asking you a question:

How do you know what you do about Jesus?


unapologetic catholic - #56765

April 4th 2011

“How do you know what you do about Jesus?”

How did Christians of the first century know what they knew about Jesus?

What came first?  Christianity or the Bible?

Merv - #56768

April 4th 2011

U.A. wrote: 
“How did Christians of the first century know what they knew about Jesus?”

many from first hand contact.  many more from knowing somebody who knew ...  and then as decades marched on, many more from Apostolic preaching and mission work.  As centuries marched on, and they realized His return wasn’t as imminent as first thought, they started getting it written down, and now we have that.  So my question remains to Roger, how do you and I (21st century Christians) know about Jesus?

U.A. wrote:  “What came first?  Christianity or the Bible?”
Depends how you define both.  If I am correct that your question is rhetorical with the implication that Christianity should be considered first, then let me repeat that I have no problem with that (as both might commonly be defined.)  I don’t know what gave Roger the impression that I think otherwise. 


Ashe - #56774

April 4th 2011

I don’t think it’s correct to say that if Adam didn’t eat the fruit we wouldn’t need Jesus. We always needed the incarnation to occur.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #56777

April 4th 2011

Merv wrote:

How do you know what you do about Jesus?

This question is used as an excuse for not taking seriously the Biblical doctrine of Jesus as the Logos of God.  If all that we know about Jesus comes from the Bible, then Does it make a difference as to whether He lived or not, whether He was Who He said He was? 

Of course it does, but to listen to some people, the important thing is to believe the Bible, not to trust in Jesus.

I know about Jesus several ways.  First, through the Bible, but the Bible is a lengthy book with many authors and different perspectives.  The four gospels are not identical.  Paul and James have differing points of view.  Hebrews has another.  If they are not all speaking about one transcendent Reality, then the Bible is a collection of stories, as some insist.  The Bible is the medium, Jesus is the content, the message.  Jesus must be primary.

Second, we serve a living Christ and a living God.  We know God through prayer and experiencing God’s saving power.  The stories of the Bible must be alive in our lives if they are true.

Third, we know Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  We know Him as He has touched the lives of others and as God has guided His people, the Church through the ages through love, doctrine and theology. 
Yes, the Bible is very important, because it testifies to Who Jesus is, but the Biblical doctrine of Jesus as the Logos means that His power and prescence are not LIMITED to the Bible. 

Jesus the Logos is in nature, yes or no?         

Merv - #56813

April 4th 2011

Wonderfully written, Roger.  I do take Jesus seriously as THE logos of God—and I am glad you gave a good answer to my question which (speaking for myself, anyway) is not an excuse to think otherwise.  In fact it is precisely because Jesus is God’s Word, that the Bible becomes even that much more important.—-we need to know what he said and taught while in the flesh along with what he continues to teach us now in spirit. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #56802

April 4th 2011

Ashe wrote:

I don’t think it’s correct to say that if Adam didn’t eat the fruit we wouldn’t need Jesus. We always needed the incarnation to occur.

Good thinking, but the more appropriate statement would have been concerning the Trinity of which Jesus is the Second Person.  God responds to the needs of God’s people, but God is God by Godself.  The exact way God redeemed humanity through Jesus may have been contingent on historical human circumstance, but the fact of the Trinity as the essence of God is not.  God is YHWH, I AM WHO I AM.  


Roger A. Sawtelle - #56866

April 5th 2011

Merv wrote:

In fact it is precisely because Jesus is God’s Word, that the Bible becomes even that much more important.—-we need to know what he said and taught while in the flesh along with what he continues to teach us now in spirit.

Merv, then you should know that Jesus was critical of the Genesis creation narrative. See John 5:16-17.  If the Genesis 1 is absolutely true, then we should be observing the Sabbath as the Pharisees did then and many Jews do today, right?    

Merv - #56906

April 5th 2011

That would be an interesting take on that.  Some folks who want to defend Scriptural inerrancy in our modern sense (and I’m not one of them) would reply to you that Jesus wasn’t being critical of Scripture as much as the Pharisees’ application of it, and layered traditions built around it.  They would go on to cite John 10:35 where Jesus is engaging the Pharisees in a word game and adds as an aside:  “...and the Scripture can’t be broken.”

But all that said, you don’t need to convince me that Jesus adds a new dimension to the Pharisees’ and our understanding of the law.  I’m already there.  There are a host of things among the jots and tittles that don’t even make the modern Christian radar much less our observance.  Not to say we have it all figured out now ...   Matthew 5:18-19 I have never known what to do with given the context of the rest of Jesus’ life, and also with a view of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 

So no ... don’t accuse me of thinking our present day Bible sews it all up for us—even theologically speaking (much less scientifically).  I’ve never meant or implied as much to my recollection.


nedbrek - #56911

April 5th 2011

Tee hee, the profanity filter doesn’t like “jots and ti_ttles”.

If it is regex based, try

(of course, the filter will hit my comment - hopefully someone has access to the original text - the key is adding the “end word” marker)

Jon Garvey - #56918

April 5th 2011

Woops! Merv made a bo-b there!

Merv - #56952

April 5th 2011

Sorry guys—I’ll try to keep my vulgarity in check.   I didn’t know they had a King James filter in place.  Guess I better not discuss anything involving donkeys either!


nedbrek - #56975

April 5th 2011

Classic story:
(caution, bash org tends towards profanity and “miltitant” atheism itself… this one is fairly clean, except for the Numbers 22:21, and Hoover’s power generator)

Gregory - #57088

April 6th 2011

Mike Gene wrote (#56531): “Hats off to you, Gregory. You have been raising this concern for some time now and most people seem to want to dismiss it. But along comes Collins to provide a perfect example of what you have been concerned about.”

Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your acknowledgement. Hat tip in reply! 

The misuse of ‘evolution’ actually happens on a regular basis (& as you know, more than probably almost anyone else on the planet, I’ve been specifically watching this for a decade); it is a plague on ‘science & religion’ discourse worldwide. The elevation of ‘evolutionary science’ into ‘evolutionary ideology (& linguistics in this case)’ has become one of the greatest problems in the Academy today (cf. conrad’s calls for re-prioritization). For some people, evolution *is* a GUT!

Francis’ language is typical of expressions by many various ‘theistic evolutionists’ & ‘evolutionary creationists,’ i.e. people who *specifically* want to include ‘evolution’ (or cognate) into their self-labelled worldview. At BioLogos, they provide special theatre demonstrating this.

“Darwinism is the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection. BioLogos accepts that evolution is true, and sees God as the author of this process. Social Darwinism is a misguided set of beliefs that applies evolutionary concepts to the social realm. BioLogos does not support Social Darwinism.” -

Putting the two definitions together:
“BioLogos does not support beliefs that apply evolutionary concepts to the social realm.”

I am not sure they would endorse this position, worded this way. Darrel?

Yet are ‘evangelicals’ not part of (a category in) the ‘social realm’? Francis Collins just said ‘evangelicals are evolving;’ he just applied ‘evolution’ to the ‘social realm.’ So, should we now call him a ‘Social Darwinist’ too?! As a professional critic of ‘Social Darwinism,’ I don’t think this is suitable for Francis Collins. But, according to BioLogos’ definition, in light of Francis ‘applying evolutionary concepts to the social realm,’ it fits.

Maybe BioLogos needs to change their definition? Maybe people need to stop saying ‘socio-cultural-religious-techno evolution’ & thus work to help cut off the ideology from the science? Maybe people need to put on their thinking caps to come up with examples of “things that don’t evolve”?

Of course, the ‘universal evolutionist’ ideologues would not accept this (e.g. the guy I just met last week). But then again, I didn’t think Francis Collins was one of them.

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