Francis Collins grew up an avowed atheist. He enrolled in Yale University as a young man and there his studies in science further confirmed his disbelief in God. He concluded that religion and faith was a carryover from an earlier, irrational time, and now that science had begun to figure out how things really work, and so we didn’t need the crutch of God anymore.
Midway through his scientific career, Collins changed courses and became a doctor. He was not prepared for how the medical profession would challenge his airtight worldview. What changed his thinking was how his patients handled death. Many 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. This was interesting and unsettling to Dr. Collins.
Dr. Collins said, “As I began to ask a few questions of those people, I realized something very fundamental: 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. 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.”
Collins started talking to local Methodist minister who answered his questions about God. Then he started reading C.S. Lewis’ classic work, Mere Christianity. Collins long held atheism began to crack. “I didn't want this conclusion,” speaking of God’s existence. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn't exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away. I had to keep turning those pages. I had to keep trying to understand this. I had to see where it led. But I still didn't want to make that decision to believe.”
Collins ended up giving his life to Christ at the age of twenty-seven. In 1993 he was given one of the most prestigious jobs in all of science. He became the director of The Human Genome Project whose mission was to map out and decode the genetic code found in DNA.
In 2006 he released his groundbreaking book, The Language of God in which he presented staggering evidence in favor of a Divine designer. Consider just one piece of information:
“At the moment of conception, a fertilized human egg is about the size of a pinhead. Yet it contains information equivalent to about six billion chemical letters. This is enough information to fill 1000 books, 500 pages thick with print so small you would need a microscope to read it! Moreover, a live reading of that genetic code present in just one human cell, at the rate of three letters per second, would take thirty-one years reading nonstop day and night. And if all the chemical letters in the human body were printed in books, it is estimated they would fill the Grand Canyon fifty times!”
Author and speaker Ravi Zacharias, tells this amazing experience in his book, The Grand Weaver:
Some time ago I had the privilege to speak at a conference at Johns Hopkins University on the theme “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” Before my address, Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project and the co-mapper of human DNA, presented his talk. He spoke of the intelligibility and marvel of the book of life, filled with more than three billion bits of information. In a strange way, he became both the subject and the object of his study, both the designer and the design of his research. Extraordinary thoughts swarmed within me as I listened, virtually tuning in and out of the talk in order to reflect on the wonder of it all.
In his last slide, he showed two pictures side by side. On the left appeared a magnificent photo of the stained-glass rose window from Yorkminster Cathedral in Yorkshire, England, its symmetry radiating from the center, its colors and geometric patterns spectacular—clearly a work of art purposefully designed by a gifted artist. Its sheer beauty stirred the mind.
On the right side of the screen appeared a slide showing a cross section of a strand of human DNA. The picture did more than take away one’s breath; it was awesome in the profoundest sense of the term—not just beautiful, but overwhelming. And it almost mirrored the pattern of the rose window in Yorkminster.
The audience gasped at the sight, for it saw itself. The design, the color, the splendor left everyone speechless, even though it is this very design that makes us capable of speech. Because of this design we can think in profound ways, but we felt paralyzed by the thought and could go no further. Because of that design we remained trapped in time but were momentarily lifted to the eternal. Because of that design we were capable of love and suddenly could see the loveliness of who we are.
We can map out the human genome and in it see the evidence of a great Cartographer. We can plan and now see a great Planner. We can sing and now see poetry in matter. We speculate and see the intricacies of purpose. We live, seeing the blueprint of life. And we die, but we can look through the keyhole of life. At Johns Hopkins that day we saw the handiwork of the One who made us for himself.”
Whether an atheist by choice or by callousness, it takes a lot of energy to maintain atheism. It takes energy to surpass evidence that is abundantly available. In Romans 1:18-20 Paul wrote about those who suppress the truth, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
We have overwhelming evidence for God, but that evidence can only lead us so far. Often times people stop at the edge of reason and the beginning of faith and insist on another piece of evidence before they take that step. However, we must come to point where we say, “God there is no way I can know everything, but I believe there is enough evidence to place my trust in what you have said about Your Son being the way to eternal life.”
Collins wrote, “I do not believe that the God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has revealed to us, in order to prove our love for Him . . . The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or the laboratory.”