Beliefnet

Francis Collins, a medical doctor, is director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and passionate about science. But the self-described Bible-believing Christian is just as passionate about his faith, which he came to after reading C.S. Lewis and seeing how religion sustained his gravely ill patients. Collins recently spoke with Beliefnet about his best-selling book The Language of God.


In your book, you say religion and science can coexist in one person's mind. This has been a struggle for some people, especially in terms of evolution. How do you reconcile evolution and the Bible?

As someone who's had the privilege of leading the human genome project, I've had the opportunity to study our own DNA instruction book at a level of detail that was never really possible before.

It's also now been possible to compare our DNA with that of many other species. The evidence supporting the idea that all living things are descended from a common ancestor is truly overwhelming.

I would not necessarily wish that to be so, as a Bible-believing Christian. But it is so. It does not serve faith well to try to deny that.

But I have no difficulty putting that together with what I believe as a Christian because I believe that God had a plan to create creatures with whom he could have fellowship, in whom he could inspire [the] moral law, in whom he could infuse the soul, and who he would give free will as a gift for us to make decisions about our own behavior, a gift which we oftentimes utilize to do the wrong thing.

I believe God used the mechanism of evolution to achieve that goal. And while that may seem to us who are limited by this axis of time as a very long, drawn-out process, it wasn't long and drawn-out to God. And it wasn't random to God.

[He] had the plan all along of how that would turn out. There was no ambiguity about that.

That's a question that troubles so many Christians who in many ways are very open to science. What would you say to Christians who feel that the randomness or the chaos that evolution can sometimes imply flies in the face of their most cherished beliefs?

I would say that I understand that and I'm sympathetic with how jarring that realization can be. I would say that the stance that some believers take, which is simply to reject evolution, is also to reject the information that God has given us, the ability to understand. I believe God did intend, in giving us intelligence, to give us the opportunity to investigate and appreciate the wonders of His creation. He is not threatened by our scientific adventures.

The answer to that sense of concern about randomness and chaos is to try to think beyond our own human limitations of time and space.

If God is real, and I believe he is, then he is outside of nature. He is, therefore, not limited by the laws of nature in the way that we are. He's not limited by time. In the very moment of that flash in which the universe was created, an unimaginable burst of energy, God also had the plan of how that would coalesce into stars and galaxies, planets, and how life would arrive on a small planet near the outer rim of a spiral galaxy. And ultimately, over hundreds of millions of years, give rise to creatures with intelligence and in whom he could infuse this search for him and this knowledge of good and evil. And all of that happened in his mind in the blink of an eye. While it may seem to us that this whole process has the risk of randomness and, therefore, an unpredictable outcome, that was not the case for God.

What is something else you've learned from all your work with DNA that you think reveals something about God or spirituality?

Well, as a scientist who's also a believer, the chance to uncover the incredible intricacies of God's creation is an occasion of worship. To be able to look, for the first time in human history, at all three billion letters of the human DNA--which I think of as God's language--it gives us just a tiny glimpse into the amazing creative power of his mind. Every discovery that we now make in science [is], for me, a chance to worship him in a broader sense, to appreciate just in a small bit the amazing grandeur of his creation. It also helps me appreciate though that as a scientist, there are limits to the kinds of questions that science can answer. And that's where I have to turn to God and seek his answers.

The Limitations of Science
Science will tell me a lot about how things work. It will not tell me why we are all here, what the purpose is in life or what happens after we die. For that, I need my faith. And I'm grateful to be able to draw upon both of those ways of knowing in order to have a full appreciation of the wonderful gift of life that we've been given.

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