Noted geneticist turned from atheism to faith after trying to disprove God

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By Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis

Francis S. Collins
Francis S. Collins

The current head of the National Institutes of Health, Francis S. Collins, came to faith after he set out to disprove God.

“I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments and was astounded to discover that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of God,” he noted on CNN. “My earlier atheist’s assertion that ‘I know there is no God’ emerged as the least defensible.”

A geneticist, Collins was appointed director of the $3 billion international Genome Project in 1993, which completed sequencing the 3.3 billion pairs of nucleotides by 2004. The resulting gene map offers hope to cure genetic disorders.

It also gave Collins a spectacular view into the magnificence, order, and finely-tune perfection of the DNA molecule, God’s software for every living thing. Directorship of the Genome Project was touted as the most prestigious job in science at the time.

“At the most fundamental level, it’s a miracle that there’s a universe at all,” he told National Geographic. “It’s a miracle that allows the possibility of complexity and laws that follow precise mathematical formulas. Contemplating this, an open-minded observer is almost forced to conclude that there must be a ‘must’ behind all this. To me, that qualifies as a miracle, a profound truth that lies outside of scientific explanation.”

scientists who believe in GodHe compiled his thoughts in a 2006 book, The Language of God, which posits that biology, astrophysics and psychology all argue in favor of faith in God. During the following year, he founded BioLogos, an organization that brings together scientists who wish to pursue science and faith in a cohesive unity.

“Science and faith can actually be mutually enriching and complementary once their proper domains are understood and respected,” he says. “There are some really important questions that science cannot really answer, such as, why is there something instead of nothing? Why are we here?

“In those domains, I have found that faith provides a better path to answers.”

Of particular importance to his faith is the concept of “moral law” – the denunciation of oppression, murder, treachery, falsehood and the injunction of kindness to the aged, the young, the weak and helpless, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis.

“After 28 years as a believer, the Moral Law stands out for me as the strongest signpost of God,” he writes in his book.

National Institutes of Health directorCollins grew up in a family of agnostics in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. By the time he graduated medical school, he described himself as a full-fledged atheist. But then a patient queried him about his own faith. Prodded thus, he decided to research the point and debunk faith.

“When I got to college and was challenged about what my beliefs were, I realized I had no idea what they were,” he told PBS. “I listened to others make an argument that religion and beliefs were basically a superstition, and I began to think — Yeah, that’s probably what I believe, too.”

As a graduate student at Yale, he marveled at how virtually everything in the universe could be described by a “second-order differential equation,” he said.

After obtaining a degree in quantum mechanics, he decided to change paths in life and pursued medicine. As a resident he watched people suffering terminal disease without blaming God. To the contrary, faith seemed to give them strength and, in many cases, improve their symptoms, he said.

“They had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God, they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance,” he said. “They weren’t, somehow, perceiving it as the really awful thing that it seemed to me to be. And that was interesting and puzzling and unsettling.

“I had made a decision to reject any faith view of the world without ever really knowing what it was that I had rejected. And that worried me,” he said. “As a scientist, you’re not supposed to make decisions without the data. It was pretty clear I hadn’t done any data collecting here about what these faiths stood for.”

So he turned to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. As he read, his assumptions about faith in God were shaken. It wasn’t easy or fun reading. It was painful, he said.

“The idea that you would arrive at faith because it made sense, because it was rational, because it was the most appropriate choice when presented with the data, that was a new concept,” he said.

He was 27. After months of wrestling over the question of God, he finally broke down. One day, hiking in the Cascade Mountains, admiring the grandeur of God’s creation, he said “yes” to God.

“I’ve never turned back,” Collins said. “That was the most significant moment in my life.”

At first, sharing his faith wasn’t easy.

“Like most scientists, I had this fear that having accepted something in the way of a spiritual worldview, I would be perceived as having gone just a little bit soft,” he noted. “That this was not compatible with the rigorous ‘show me the data’ attitude that a scientist is supposed to have towards all things.”

But now he’s so open about belief that he’s drawn fire from vocal atheists. Atheist Sam Harris criticized his nomination to head the NIH by President Barak Obama: “Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?”

Collins assumed the NIH office in 2009. He is 65 as of April. He loves motorcycle riding and playing rock. He’s formed a band of NIH scientists that duels with a band of scientists from John Hopkins University.

In 2005, Collins was named jointly with genome colleague Craig Venter America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report and the Harvard University Center for Public Leadership.

“I did have a moment where I became a believer,” he told Anderson Cooper. “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. After many months of struggling whether to make that leap, on a beautiful Fall day hiking in the Northwest, with my mind a little more clear than usual because there were not the usual distractions, I felt like I could no longer resist. I became a believer that day.”

31 COMMENTS

      • Belief in God or A god is irrelevant.

        I don’t believe in Jesus I know him.

        If this guy was some great born again Christian he would have been weeded out of the Obama government. But since he just has a generic belief in a god he is safe.

        • All the laws and the prophets hang on the one principle of love dear brother. Be happy for him! And for the Obama administration for having him.

        • If he has come as far as reading C. S. Lewis, and found it painful as an atheist, he’s not likely too far from the Kingdom of Heaven. I know Jesus Christ too, and will believe for the best of this brother until actions prove otherwise. Grace covers all except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and that is a rather specific sin.

        • Really you are judging him right now when he believes in God and Jesus I’m sure. Obama is responsible for his own actions… Not this guy

        • Why do you feel it necessary to attack Collins?
          I agree that such a pervert as Barry Soterio aka Barak Hussein Obama is unfit to hold any public office, but the fact that sorry excuse for a man is POTUS doesn’t detract from the work done in genetics under Collins’ leadership. Collins is a tribute to the honest working people who pay Collins, not to Obama who it is doubtful has ever done honest work a day in his sorry life.
          Without extensive investigation, I refer you to Christians (before they were called Christians at Antioch) who served God from within pagan administrations – Joseph who served Pharoah directly, Obadiah who served Ahab directly but was able to preserve one hundred Levites from the grasp of Jezebel, and Daniel who served Nebuchadnezzar and was used to introduce Nebuchadnezzar to God.
          Let’s clarify our arguments and definitions to avoid confusion: Government is that collection of human filth that calls themselves government and works to increase their power over the people who feed and protect government. Collins is not seeking power over anyone, he doubtless seeks to inform people that God created the living things they study, but I have no doubt that he helps widows and orphans as commanded by God, demonstrating his faith in the performance of good works which God has ordained for him.
          Sincerely,
          David Parker

        • God must cry heap of tears over people who judge and condem…. so called Christians have a bad habit of shooting other Christians down, and that is Gods job not ours…. GOD HATES ????? It is a shame that so called Christians are so quick to judge …..

          • As I read these comments they all seemed to be pointing fingers at someone else and then I was reminded of the parable about the man who points out the speck in his brother’s eye while he has a log in his own (Matthew 7:1-6). This isn’t me trying to point fingers or anything because how often do I find myself telling someone they have a speck in their eye when it’s a miracle I can even see around the log in my own?!? (really often in case you were wondering) All this to say, I struggle with this too, so any finger pointed is also pointing back at me, but we need to be careful that we’re not dethroning God in our lives, it’s His job to judge and our job to love Him and our neighbors as He commands us (Matthew 22:37-40).
            I think it’s a powerful story that a proclaimed atheist – very studied in very specific sciences, clearly very smart – set out to disprove God, and then couldn’t deny that God was real and true.

  1. […] “At the most fundamental level, it’s a miracle that there’s a universe at all,” he told National Geographic. “It’s a miracle that allows the possibility of complexity and laws that follow precise mathematical formulas. Contemplating this, an open-minded observer is almost forced to conclude that there must be a ‘must’ behind all this. To me, that qualifies as a miracle, a profound truth that lies outside of scientific explanation.” Read the rest of the articles: scientists who believe in Jesus. […]

  2. Thank you for sharing at this time of the Church Season. As a Christian, I can think no other way than that God is responsible for all things. At the age of 6 1/2 months I, nor my parents, did not choose for me to live a life with limitations due to poliomyelitis. In 1948 it was the most dreaded of diseases. Now the world is still trying to eradicate the disease. My life has been wonderful, despite my limitation and the use of braces, cane or/and crutches. It has made the person I am today. Doing all I can for my family, church and friends.

  3. Thank you for reporting this testimony. It is a good one to share with those who believe that science and belief in God do not mix. True science is simply discovering the order of the universe and its components. The Bible warns us against: “so-called science,”and evolution falls into that category.
    I hope this dear man came to or comes to, know the Lord Jesus as his own Saviour.

  4. I have ALS. Without Jesus Christ in my life, I don’t know where I would be or if I would even be alive right now. Faith does make the difference for people facing a terminal illness. I know that Jesus loves me and that he is carrying me in his arms through this storm.

      • Negative comments never come from God,,,,, and Christians unfortunately have a very bad reputation for shooting other Christians down in smoke..

    • He stated Mere Christianity was part of his conversion. If you have ever read that book it leaves a clear cut and singular line to Christ.

    • This Article was written by media they are going to edit out anything about Jesus, have since time memorial…. please stop running people down and picking on them, it give no glory to God and makes you sound like a cretin

  5. Wikipedia says he is an Evangelical Christian greatly influenced by Mere Christianity in his search. He has drawn fire both from Creationists and atheists, however, because he believes in theistic evolution.

  6. I just love the way this mans intellect fought the faith concept but how in the end science and faith came together perfectly for him , as to make him a believer in God. What a awesome story to share and it just shows God can reach us anywhere if we just keep an open mind…:)

  7. I really appreciate hearing someone from the scientific field share such a dynamic testimony of belief in God as creator, despite the fact he knew he would meet with harassment. I would love to see more scientists have the courage, perhaps in the organization he founded, to come forward with their own story of faith and commitment.

  8. Dr. Collins is a Renaissance Man: tremendously varied interests and abilities – a man easily admired and appreciated .

    Starting out in physics at the University of Washington as an atheist, I was simply astounded, and thankful (not knowing why) that so many phenomena in the physical world follow the very simple 1/r^2 “law.” Calculus opened that door even more.

    Decades later, after accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior (a difficult concept for me), and as Dr. Collins realized, it’s the only thing that makes perfect sense in this bizarrely huge and complex, yet simultaneously SIMPLE, universe from the sub-atomic scale out to the “edge” of the visible universe and all the forces, processes and “discovered” laws/rules that are involved.

    Delving into General Relativity, the corundum of Gen 1:3 with Gen 1:14 jumped out when I realized that the “fuzzy” light in 1:3 is what we call Cosmic Backround Radiation – it came first, THEN later (undetermined amount), the stars formed: Proof that the Bible’s true. It’s God’s universe, He can run it any way He wants.

    Yet, at the extremes of physics, mathematics quits – can’t get to zero time/distance (or the inverse). Our knowledge appears to have a built-in (?) limit – God’s simple demonstration that we’re NOT limitless – reminding us of our place in His place.

    The Bible is not a science book. It’s full of science as understandable to those who had only simple mathematical tools. It’s the explanation of who we are and how we’re to relate to God and each other. For me, it’s not always an easy path, but life sure runs smoother, not perfect (but close), when I follow Him.

  9. The Word…of GO….is not a science book? It is THE science book. Is GOD not the author of science? The Word of GOD is not a compilation of information limited by the simplicity of man in a simplistic culture. It is the Word of GOD. He has spoken on virtually every area of science and most of it not understood by the writers, but later revealed to be fact through scientific study. Either the Word of GOD is the authority on science, or it is not the Word of GOD.

  10. I’m glad he left our ranks as he clearly forgot a basic tenet. You cannot disprove the null hypothesis, meaning you can’t prove something doesn’t exist.

    This isn’t just for a god, it’s for anything. You can’t prove that unicorns don’t exist either. All you can do is see if there is sufficient evidence of their existence, and base your opinion on that.

    The only way you can prove the null hypothesis is to be a god, because you have to be omnipresent as well as omniscient to do it.

    This also presents another problem. If your reason for believing something is because you can’t prove it doesn’t exist, then you have to believe in all gods because you can’t prove that they don’t exist either.

    The article mentioned that we’re finely tuned, and this is evidence of an intelligent design.

    I like how they failed to mention that 99% of this finely tuned universe will kill us instantly.

    I like how they failed to mention that our largest source of heat and light in this finely tuned universe gives us cancer.

    I like how they failed to mention that over 80% of the planet’s surface is inhospitable to human life.

    If this is the absolute best evidence that any god exists, let alone your personal view of god, then you are in a very poor position indeed.

    • Jeremy, I hear what you are saying. My encouragement would be for you to purchase the book, “Stealing From God”, and there you will find philosophical arguments for God that you may find more satisfying.

      Sending blessings and best wishes your way.

  11. If it wasn’t for Jesus, I would have been dead a long time ago. He told me He would never leave me or forsake me and He is always with me.

  12. God is a way maker and THE miracle creator. He restored my broken marriage. He healed my daughters compression fracture when the medical profession could not. He saved my life. God is love, truth, forgiveness, patience, joy, peace, longsuffering. He created us in His image with free will to choose to worship Him. It’s up to us to decide eternal life or eternal death. Thank YOU, Jesus, for loving a wretch like me! I choose Team Jesus.

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