Dr. Francis Collins is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He has likewise given us his testimony of his personal journey from atheism to belief in God and Jesus. Collins begins by recounting his childhood home experience while growing up (1), “I was raised in this remarkable environment by a drama professor, a father, and a playwright mother surrounded by theatre, music the arts. They were doing the sixties thing except it wasn’t quite the sixties. And I was exposed to all kinds of fascinating ways to learn about life and the world, and ideas. But faith was not really on the list of things that were talked about. It wasn’t that faith was put down or considered inappropriate for other people it just sort of didn’t enter the conversation in my childhood.”
Today Collins is well-known, specifically in scientific circles, for his influential contribution to the former Human Genome Project in which, as the director, he “led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book.” However, to him the designer is in the details, “I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God’s language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God’s plan” (2).
But, while growing up, Collins explains that although questions of faith were seldom entertained in his home he did have “some glimmers of longing outside of myself. Some sense that maybe there was a God up there that I might be able to reach out to.” But having grown up Collins explains some shifts in worldviews and specifically to becoming an atheist, “As an adult I walked very far away from faith. I went from being vaguely interested but not really to becoming an atheist. As a scientist studying physical chemistry, quantum mechanics, I became convinced that everything about the universe could be described by equations.” However, this scientism he formerly embraced soon became irrational since it defied human reason and experience, “I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “Why does mathematics work, anyway?” “If the universe had a beginning, who created it?” “Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?” “Why do humans have a moral sense?” “What happens after we die?””
He explains that when he transitioned from “physical science to medicine” some changes took place due to several important questions that the latter brought to the fore, “When I went to medical school the ideas about death and dying which had been rather hypothetical became very real. You can’t be in that environment sitting at the bedside of people who are facing the end of their lives without having it affect you.” It was after one patient asked him, ”What do you believe, doctor?”, that he then began searching for answers. However, at the time he still “set out to prove that my atheism position was correct. I set out to really try find out what were the rigorous arguments that I assumed were there that would rule out in possibility of God for a thinking person. I found some [but] many of them were ones I had cooked up in my own mind. But the harder I looked at them the flimsier they were.”
It was around the age of 25, prior to his conversion at 27, that he started to discover “that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds. My earlier atheist’s assertion that “I know there is no God” emerged as the least defensible.” The person Jesus looked impressive when considering the historical evidence since Collins’ “search to learn more about God’s character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God’s son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus.”
Collins, in a similar fashion to the late former atheist to Christian convert C.S. Lewis of whom he admits was an inspiration to him, was compelled by the human intuition of objective morality, “All of us human beings have a sense that there is such a thing as right and wrong. What an interesting thing. Where does that come from? If you were looking for evidence of a God who cares about human beings, not just a God who started the universe in motion and wandered off somewhere else, wouldn’t this be an interesting place to find him. Basically as something written within our hearts, universally in human kind, making us different from other species, and calling us to be good and holy, pointing us as a signpost, if you will, at something outside of ourselves that is much more good and much more holy than we can imagine.” Though Collins does not directly state the argument, many have found the argument from objective moral values and duties to be a persuasive piece of evidence pointing to God’s existence (3).
He continues, “I had a moment where I became a believer. I had struggled for two years with this debate within myself gradually coming to the conclusion that belief in God was the most plausible of the choices but that it couldn’t be proved. And after many months of struggling with whether to make that leap on a beautiful fall day hiking in the North-West with my mind a little more clear than usual because there were not the usual distractions I felt I could no longer resist. I became a believer that day in the sunshine in the shadow of the Cascade mountains.”
Collins leaves us with the following closing thoughts, “I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God’s majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.”
1. YouTube (Robert Rutger). 2014. Top atheist scientist converts to Christianity. Available.
2. CNN. 2007. Collins: Why this scientist believes in God. Available.
3. Notable contemporary defenders include William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Richard Swinburne. The argument follows logically meaning skeptics have to dispute one of the premises to avoid the conclusion that God exists. The argument is formulated as follows:
1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.