Dr. Francis Collins is renowned for heading the Human Genome Project, which decoded the Human Genome for the first time in history. Prior to this work, he was an atheist. After being amazed at the precise and complex design of DNA, he concluded there must have been a God to have created such a marvel; it could not have been chance.
If someone had asked me what is the language of God, I would have replied, "mathematics" without hesitation. Given what physics has learned about the universe in the last 100 years and its origins, the discovery of quantum mechanics and new but slow progression of scientific thought towards new realities of life at the sub atomic level in what had thought to be an immutable atomic theory.
However, if you had posed the same question to Francis Collins, his response would be genetics and the unravelling of the human genetic code. In his book "The Language of God" it is the precision of DNA and the countless ways amino acids come together, as if by design, to make life; all life across this world we live in. Moreover, it is done with such magnificent detail and so minutely and with so little possibility of error, that Collins cannot come to grasp the wonder of it without acknowledging that there must be a creator.
If Collins was an only an avid reader making these conclusions, it might be a lovely opinion, but nothing more. But Collins is more than avid reader (which he is). He is also an M.D., Ph.D. and an expert in bio genetics, as well the current director of the NIH (National Institutes of Health). More famously, Collins was the leader of the scientific team that became known as the Human Genome Project. The culmination of this was the famous announcement at the White House in mid 2000 that the project had done what had never done before. They had successfully mapped the human genome; the blueprint of human life.
Being an exceptionally thoughtful and curious individual, he had a keen need to know the purpose to life, and was willing to accept what was logical and true. He started his journey as a boy in a household that was enamored of learning and fostered it in the children. In retrospect Collins recognized the initial stage of his life as a journey from agnosticism to atheism as he left home and moved into the realms of higher education. But even as an atheist Collins struggled with the sheer emptiness of the idea. In particular he describes an encounter with a woman patient.
"That woman I cared for as a medical student, for instance, who challenged my atheism with her gentle acceptance of her own terminal illness, saw in this final chapter of her life an experience that brought her closer to God, not further away." He was also moved by the story of the moral courage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who returned to Germany to oppose Nazism and urge resistance on the part of the German Church and who eventually was martyred 3 weeks before the end of the war. His too was a gentle acceptance that he had to be about the Lord's work, despite circumstances. These examples of such deep conviction remained with Collins as he advanced in scientific studies and into the front lines of research.
Through years of rigorous study, he obtained his degrees, and was recognized for his diligence, excellence and desire to know. It was this desire to know that began to impact itself on him as he and others began to unravel the mystery of the human genetic code. He and like-minded scientists believed and hoped that the answer to this complicated code would greatly benefit mankind in so many ways. As he uncovered parts of the code, he marveled at its beauty and precision; so many parts, so intricately woven together that slowly the question began to nag at his mind: how could this be? Could it have been by design? He slowly and reluctantly found himself on the path to belief. At this point, he was introduced to CS Lewis's book "Mere Christianity" in which the author makes an exciting and eloquent logical argument of the existence of a Creator. Lewis describes the "moral law" found in all men, cultures and peoples since the beginning of time. We have a choice, argued Lewis, to follow or defy it. Such decision-making is the story of mankind.
Collins saw the point Lewis was making and realized that he had known that all along but did not recognize it for what it was. . . God. He struggled with deism, seeking to build " a bridge to God". Through prayer and self-examination he waged inner battles realizing his own weakness and inability to approach God. He came to the awareness that he could not do it, and that the problem was him. He began to understand the barrier that most scientists laugh at. . . sin.
Here was the great hurtle to recognize and steel himself to deal with. The concept of sin in modern culture is considered archaic and laughable. In particular, the highly educated folks of the scientific community would be appalled at his dilemma. Except in "superstitious" church-going circles, the word was rarely used. But what was sin? Following CS Lewis's arguments Collins came to realize it was more than just a bad deed. It was a barrier that separated us from God. God could not abide imperfection and imperfect man could not approach him.
In the "gloom" came someone he had heard about from his childhood, but had known little about: the person of Jesus Christ. Again he applied the reasoning and logic of CS Lewis in re-evaluating the claims and nature of Jesus; His death, His human death for the atonement for the sins of mankind. His resurrection. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead was the validating factor for Collins. How could it be a prank or conspiracy? How could such a conspiracy of resurrection be perpetrated on so many people, over two millennium, causing so many people to be martyred by the thousands rather than denounce Jesus Christ? Collins studied the story and history in much more detail. As Lewis had predicted, he was now forced into a choice. God had sent his Son in the form of a perfect man, to be the long-awaited and prophesied atonement for all man's sin. In his death he had accomplished the atonement. "It is finished," and in his resurrection He had validated it. It was now left to every individual human being to accept or reject this sacrifice. It was the only sacrifice that eliminated the sin barrier between God and man if one chose to accept and believe.
It was on a lovely day of hiking in the Cascade Mountains, that he chose. He knelt in the grass and "surrendered to Jesus Christ".
John T Spencer
The Language of God by Francis S. Collins
Free Press, Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc. 2006
New York, NY