NIH Director Francis S. Collins: Faith a Conclusion Arrived at Through Rational Thought
The CNN Bill Nye/Ken Ham, Evolution/Creationism Debate Tuesday evening omitted faith-based schools of thought that probably hold the greatest number of proponents. So, it is interesting that Ken Ham’s “Young Earth Creationism” was poised to represent “creationism” as a whole, when there are other highly esteemed scientists who believe there is a rational basis for faith in God.
A snippet of the left-wing media’s view of the premise of the debate can be seen here in Abby Ohlheiser’s piece at The Wire, in anticipation of the debate:
Bill Nye, The Science Guy, will debate Ken Ham, The Creationist Guy, tonight at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. They will debate a question from the 1920s: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?" Yes or no? This is a bad idea for everyone but the creationists.
Whatever his intention, Nye is sitting down as a representative of "evolution" against Ham, implying that there are two equal sides to a debate that has already been settled scientifically. By simply agreeing to participate, Nye is simultaneously elevating the proponents of Biblical creationism, while marginalizing his own position.
Arrogance aside, how can this leftist mindset explain someone like Dr. Francis S. Collins?
Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was nominated to the post by President Obama in 2009. A physician and a scientist, Collins is a former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, a prestigious position that involved leading the effort to decode human DNA. While at this post, Collins and his staff invented a new method of screening genes for disease.
Upon Collins’s nomination by Obama, the Washington Post felt the need to note, “Rare among world-class scientists, Collins is also a born-again Christian, which may help him build bridges with those who view some gene-based research as a potential threat to religious values.”
In 2007, Collins penned The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, in which he puts forward his argument for the integration of faith and logic.
Prior to his book, in a 2004 PBS interview, Collins discussed his conversion from atheism to faith while in medical school as he encountered the suffering of those afflicted with serious illness.
“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,” said Collins. “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.”
Collins said his inquiry led him to the realization that he 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,” he said. “It was pretty clear I hadn’t done any data collecting here about what these faiths stood for.”
While grappling with this idea of faith, Collins said a Methodist minister suggested to him, “You know, your story reminds me a little bit of somebody else who has written about his experience – that Oxford scholar, C.S. Lewis.”
Blasting his own intellectual arrogance and superficiality at the time, Collins went on:
I had no idea, really, who Lewis was. The idea that he was a scholar, though, that appealed to my intellectual pride. Maybe somebody with that kind of a title would be able to write something that I could understand and appreciate.
So this wonderful minister gave me his own copy of Mere Christianity, Lewis's slim tome that outlines the arguments leading to his conclusion that God is not only a possibility, but a plausibility – that the rational man would be more likely, upon studying the facts, to conclude that choosing to believe is the appropriate choice, as opposed to choosing not to believe.
Collins’s conversion was not instantaneous. He came to his “faith is rational” conclusion after many painful months of resistance and ambivalence.
“I didn’t want this conclusion. I was very happy with the idea that God didn’t exist, and had no interest in me,” Collins said. “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.”
Finally, after about a year, I was on a trip to the northwest, and on a beautiful afternoon hiking in the Cascade Mountains, where the remarkable beauty of the creation around me was so overwhelming, I felt, "I cannot resist this another moment. This is something I have really longed for all my life without realizing it, and now I've got the chance to say yes." So I said yes. I was 27. I've never turned back. That was the most significant moment in my life.
Perhaps one of the greatest testaments to Collins’s evangelical Christian faith is that his outreach has extended to those who are non-believers.
In December of 2011, famous atheist debater and author Christopher Hitchens died after complications from esophageal cancer. Hitchens, the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, had debated Collins about the existence of God prior to falling ill, and came to call Collins one of his friends, despite their disagreement about religion.
“It is a rather wonderful relationship,” Hitchens said. “I won’t say he doesn’t pray for me, because I think he probably does; but he doesn’t discuss it with me.”
Collins came to assist in treating Hitchens using results of gene research and, ultimately, experimental drugs. It appears, from Collins’s writing, that the two men grew even closer together as they met to discuss the treatment possibilities.
Hitchens described Collins as “one of the greatest living Americans,” a “great humanitarian,” and “the best of the faithful” who had approached him since his cancer diagnosis was made public.
In a memorial piece after Hitchens’s death, Collins wrote, "His knowledge of world religions was truly impressive – he had a much more detailed grasp of the Christian Bible than most Christians do. What he didn’t seem to be able to understand was how a thinking person could be a follower of Jesus. Perhaps I hoped to help with that."