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One of the Greatest Scientists Today Perfectly Displays How Faith and Science Co-Exist

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This once committed atheist and Yale University graduate found faith while studying medicine. Now his faith is the motivating influence for all he does.


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Jim Denison

My oldest son was diagnosed with a very rare malignancy several years ago. Surgery and six weeks of radiation saved his life. However, his cancer has a 50 percent recurrence rate, so he will be tested for the rest of his life.

Unless, that is, genetic research can reverse the mutation that causes my son’s cancer. In that case, he would be cured.

Such research is transforming the field of medicine. Genetic information is being employed to develop therapies and vaccines for COVID-19 as we speak. It is being used to identify preexisting genetic conditions for cancers and other diseases and to treat malignancies and many other medical conditions after they are discovered.

This research has been made possible by the latest winner of the Templeton Prize and current head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Francis Collins.

However, I am writing about Collins today, not just because of his relevance to my family, but because of his relevance to my faith.

Collins guided the Human Genome Project, a team that sequenced the three billion DNA letters in the human blueprint and gave us the basis for genetic breakthroughs that are revolutionizing medicine. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

His work at the NIH is coordinating national efforts to combat COVID-19 and to find a vaccine for this horrific disease.

And his profound Christian faith is the foundation and motivating influence for all he does.

Collins was a committed atheist while a graduate student in quantum mechanics at Yale University. He then began to study medicine, where he encountered patients whose faith was deeply significant and empowering for them.

As he began exploring faith questions for the first time, a local minister gave him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. The Oxford scholar’s reasoning made belief in a personal God plausible, and even compelling, for Collins.

Finally, at the age of 27, he came to a personal relationship with this personal God. (For more, see his remarkable testimony in this PBS interview.)

Collins’ bestseller, The Language of God, describes the way he views science and the natural world while embracing God and the supernatural. His sequel, The Language of Life, introduces the genetic revolution that is changing medicine so profoundly.

His story makes this fact clear: God calls us to love him “with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind exposes the deep antipathy to intellectual excellence that exists among many Christians. The more we have faith, the less we will have doubts and the less we will need to understand our faith—or so we think.

God invites us to “reason together” (Isaiah 1:18); the Hebrew can be translated literally, “argue it out.” Jesus met Thomas’s questions not with judgment but with evidence (John 20:27). Our Lord even shouted his grief-stricken question from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Daniel and his friends were endued so profoundly by God with “learning and skill in all literature and wisdom” that they were able to influence the Babylonian Empire and the course of history (Daniel 1:17). Paul the Apostle quoted Greek philosophers in winning Greek philosophers to Christ (Acts 17:22–34).

From then to now, some of the greatest thinkers in history have been some of history’s most committed Christians. Nicolaus Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, George Washington Carver, Johannes Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Blaise Pascal, Johann Sebastian Bach, Rembrandt van Rijn, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Friedrich Handel, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky only begin the list.

C. S. Lewis, whose defense of essential Christianity was so persuasive for Francis Collins, was himself led to Christ by his friend J. R. R. Tolkien and others.

Whatever our intellectual gifts, we owe it to our Lord and each other to develop them as fully and effectively as possible. A mentor many years ago taught me this maxim: “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.”

It brings great glory to God that one of our greatest scientists is such a committed follower of Jesus.

How will you glorify God with your mind today?