Dear Concerned Citizen,
So often—in fact, with tireless repetition—we are told that the really top-name scientists are not Christians. That intellectual rigor and religious belief cannot coexist in the same person. We suspect that what is really the case, is that there are many more believers who are scientists, but who fear the inevitable public ridicule (perhaps, headed up by some of their colleagues) for making their beliefs known.
That makes Francis Collins book, The Language of God, all the more extraordinary—as an act of courage, one that will no doubt empower many other believing scientists to brave the glowering of secular ideologues, and declare their faith as well.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Collins was not always a believer. He grew up (in his own words, “the son of freethinkers” for whom faith “wasn’t very important.” While he attended an Episcopal church as a young lad, it was more of a social gathering, than a profound act of worship. “Faith was not an important part of my childhood,” he remarks. He was, at best, “vaguely aware of the concept of God.”
Even this vagueness soon faded. By the time Collins went to the University of Virginia as an undergraduate major in chemistry, “I became convinced that while many religious faiths had inspired interesting traditions of art and culture, they held no foundational truth.” He became an agnostic, and then an atheist during his doctoral studies at Yale.
From Yale, he went to the University of North Carolina to get an M.D., and became ever more fascinated in the study of DNA. During his rounds as a doctor, a very simple (but very wise) woman with an incurable disease asked him a disarmingly simple question, “What do you believe?”
Collins was stung. He believed he already had the answers, but suddenly realized he’d never really asked the questions. “I had never really seriously considered the evidence for and against belief”.
What brought him out of the muddle? The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, who was himself, at first, an atheist. Collins read Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity, and he realized that “all of my own constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy….Lewis seemed to know all of my objections [against faith], sometimes even before I had quite formulated them. He invariably addressed them within a page or two. When I learned subsequently that Lewis had himself been an atheist, who had set out to disprove faith on the basis of logical argument, I recognized how he could be so insightful about my path. It had been his path as well.”
In sum, Lewis argued him into a corner. “Finally, seeing no escape, I leapt.” A leap of faith, yes, but by no means irrational or one that conflicts with science, least of all with his own area, the study of DNA. “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His Creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful—and it cannot be at war with itself.”
At war with itself? As we mentioned above, many secularist spokesman (like Richard Dawkins), and many well-intentioned Christians, assume that science and religion are locked in a dual to the death. Collins rejects this. For him, there cannot “be a real conflict between scientific truth and spiritual truth. Truth is truth.” The intricacy and beauty of nature, from the amazing and elegant workings of DNA, to glory of the heavens, declare their Maker—a truth Dr. Francis Collins is not afraid to declare himself.
But we must add, Dr. Collins’ faith is not of the thin, theistic variety that might be considered respectable among the intelligentsia. It is robust and very Christian. He believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, not as a vague principle, but a real person, God become man, who was crucified, died, and resurrected.
There is something more interesting about Dr. Collins. He converted before he became the Head of the Human Genome Project. When he was asked to take over the Project, he did not immediately say “yes.” He first “spent a long afternoon praying in a little chapel, seeking guidance about this decision.”
One wonders. What if the ACLU were peeking through the windows of that chapel? Would they have tried to stop his appointment on grounds of separation of church and state? If the media had caught him coming out the chapel doors, would they have howled about his intellectual backwardness, and his obvious unfitness for the position?