The Language of God: A Shoddy Harmonization

The Language of God, Chapter 4

By B.J. Marshall

Collins mentions some creationist positions in light of the fossil record. It’s obvious he doesn’t agree with these arguments: “[n]o serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life. In fact, the relatedness of all species through the mechanism of evolution is such a profound foundation for the understanding of all biology…” (p.99). Later in the book, he will defend his thesis that just DNA by itself is enough to give credence to the theory of evolution. But he, unfortunately, does nothing to actually refute the arguments except make assertions of his own.

One creationist argument is that, with all the animals that have existed throughout the ages, there should be billions of transitional fossils for us to discover. Collins points out that fossils can be created only under specific conditions and, given this fact, “it is actually amazing that we have such a wealth of information about organisms that have lived in the past” (p.94). A second argument is that there are no transitional fossils. Collins: “Good evidence exists for transitional forms from reptiles to birds, and from reptiles to mammals. Arguments that this model cannot explain certain species, such as whales, have generally fallen by the wayside as further investigation has revealed the existence of transitional species, of at precisely the date and place that evolutionary theory would predict” (p. 96). A third creationist argument is the brevity of the Cambrian Explosion.

I understand how Collins wants to refute some creationist views. But he does so remarkably poorly – all he gives us are bald assertions. It doesn’t matter if his assertions are correct; he does absolutely nothing to help the reader gain an appreciation for why he is correct. Where are the references, the citations, the footnotes? I’m not saying that Collins has to present a doctoral dissertation to get his readers to accept his statements, but I think even a couple of citations would go a long way. I also understand that this book is generally for the lay person, but I think he underestimates the capability of his audience. The endnotes he provides at the end of the book are pretty meager, so I don’t think adding a couple dozen more would kill him. I’d almost go so far as to say that all Collins has to do is point his readers to the TalkOrigins Index of Creationist Claims and Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True. Of course, you know they won’t read those sources; I bought my father Jerry Coyne’s book and, after he finished, he said something like “I still don’t see how macroevolution is true.” *facepalm*

As far as his handling of the Cambrian explosion is concerned, he completely dropped the ball on this one. He goes so far as to say that those who think the Cambrian explosion was an intervention by a supernatural force fall into god-of-the-gaps thinking (it seems the god-of-the-gaps fallacy is the only one he’s aware of, given how often he tosses it around), but he doesn’t say why they get the Cambrian explosion wrong. Furthermore, he gets the chronology wrong. He says that evidence suggests that the land remained barren until about 400 million years ago (MYA), at which point plants appeared on dry land. 30 MYA later, we get animals. (Again, no references.) Maybe I’m unsure what Collins means by animals, but cites the Cambrian explosion at around 543-530 MYA. And TalkOrigins does provide references.

Collins’ whole point with this book is to find a way to harmonize science and belief in God (or, at least, his definition of God). He had a chance to do that in this section, and he didn’t do nearly as much as he should have. And that’s a shame.

Other posts in this series:

Blood Moon Lunacy, or the Virtue of Vagueness
The Strange Tale of Rose Marks
Book Review: 1491
The Pope's Laudato: So Close And Yet So Far
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.