Throughout the month of February, this column will be featuring stories of noted atheists who experienced dramatic shifts in their views, eventually becoming Christians. The stories will highlight the reasons why they held their atheistic views to begin with, and the reasons they became convinced of the truth of Christianity.
In the 1990’s, Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, stood by Bill Clinton’s side as the President announced: “Today we are learning the language in which God created life.”
One of the most respected scientists in the field of genetic research, Collins was a self-described “obnoxious atheist” in his academic days. During this stage in his life, it seemed clear to Collins that science had all of the answers. Any questions about life and the universe could ultimately be reduced to physics and chemistry.
After college, Collins attended medical school, where he was confronted by a broad spectrum of suffering and disease. To his surprise, one of his patients happily described how her religious beliefs supported her through her suffering, and then challenged him on his own beliefs.
Forced to examine the evidence concerning the truth or falsity of religion, Collins was eventually led to read C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, where, he says, “…within the first three pages, I realized that my arguments against faith were those of a schoolboy.”
When Collins read Lewis’ critique of moral law, he realized that no law of science could adequately explain the existence of morality, but a Creator God fit the explanation perfectly.
While the logic of it was striking, Collins’ true conversion experience came from an experience of natural beauty. He describes it this way:
“I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains on a beautiful fall afternoon. I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me. And it was a great sense of relief. The next morning, in the dewy grass in the shadow of the Cascades, I fell on my knees and accepted this truth — that God is God, that Christ is his son and that I am giving my life to that belief.”
Collins made his name in gene research for the University of Michigan; where he discovered several genetic causes for disease. During this time, he discovered that the academic environment wasn’t particularly friendly to religious belief, and believers are socially pressured to keep these beliefs to themselves.
Francis Collins currently heads up the National Institutes of Health, and is a published author of several books that seek to unite faith and science.
Collins has become a controversial figure both in Christian and Atheist circles. Many Christian groups do not agree with Collins’ attempts to justify evolutionary theory in the light of Christian beliefs, while many Atheists question the sincerity of Collins’ former atheism and the reasoning behind his conversion.
It is worth noting, however, that as deeply involved and devoted to the world of science as Collins remains, he also remains a convicted apologist for the truth of Christian faith; unable to see a contradiction between the two.