I was reading another article in The New Yorker recently that peaked my interest. The article is about Francis Collins, President Obama’s appointment as director of the National Institutes of Health. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Collins mapped the human genome in 2003. He’s discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and, most recently, type 2 diabetes, and progeria (a very rare genetic condition in which babies are born as “old” men and women; they have the bodies of elderly people before they even reach adolescence and usually don’t live long).
There was a lot of controversy over Dr. Collins’ appointment to be the director of the NIH, and one might wonder why all this controversy for someone who is so obviously qualified for the position. It all boils down to this: Dr. Collins is also a Christian. His book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, published in 2006, spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Dr. Collins is an evangelical Christian who also believes in evolution and does not consider evolution and Christianity to be in conflict. He’s in good company. St. Augustine would agree with him.
Dr. Collins was raised in a humble setting by parents who bought a farm that they ran without machinery. His father was a teacher, and the family had many children. By the time he got clothes handed down to him, they were threadbare. His parents were “hippies” before they were called that, and they frequently hosted musicians in their home. Bob Dylan stayed at the Collins family farm.
When Collins grew up he pursued science because it fascinated him. His parents had neglected any religious education because they, themselves, were not believers. They sent him to sing in the church choir when he was young, because they wanted their son to learn music appreciation. He was sent with a warning that he shouldn’t listen to the strange beliefs of those people. Collins was an agnostic who eventually developed into an atheist.
He decided to go to medical school because medicine interested him. As an undergraduate in Virginia, he had married Mary Lynn Hartman, and they had two children together. When Francis decided that he wanted to pursue medical school, then he and his wife and children moved to North Carolina, where Collins studied at the University of North Carolina. Mary came under the influence of a Methodist minister named Reverend Sam McMillan, and Mary converted to Christianity. Collins told her he didn’t want to hear about that “Jesus junk.”
However, while he was making rounds during his medical school training, he was struck with the profound peace and strength that seemed to be the nature of some of the terminally ill patients with whom he came in contact. Some of these people were impressive in their countenance, and Collins noticed. They were only too happy to give their testimonies to the doctor. One day, one of these people asked Collins what he believed, and he realized that he didn’t really know.
Collins knew he didn’t believe in God, but he didn’t know why. He didn’t have the “apology” for his atheism, if you will. So, he set out to build one. And he started reading voraciously in order to come up with a sound argument for his lack of faith. He didn’t expect that his studies would actually lead him to a different conclusion.
One day he agreed to go golfing with Mary’s pastor, Reverend Sam. Collins spent all the rounds, peppering the man with questions, like, whether or not he believed in the virgin birth. At the end of the golf game, Reverend Sam made Collins sign a statement that said that when God sent him a sign in a way that he recognized meant that God was knocking on his door, that Collins would then accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The two didn’t speak for many months, but then Collins went hiking in the Cascades. He saw a frozen waterfall, perfectly divided into three separate parts and took it to be a sign of the Trinity. The next Sunday, Collins showed up to Reverend Sam’s church and gave his testimony.
Collins has a fantastic website setup for reconciling science and faith. It’s called BioLogos. If Collins’s story is as fascinating to you as it is to me, you can read more on his personal philosophies on that website, and the entire article from The New Yorker is available online as well. The article goes into the controversy surrounding stem cell research, and it’s fascinating, but I found Collins’ conversion experience to be a complete story unto itself.
Entry filed under: Chrisitanity, Faith, Science, Spirituality, Technology. Tags: BioLogos Foundation, Christianity, Francis Collin, National Institutes of Health, New Yorker, Perspectives, Religion and Spirituality, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.