“[Science] is glimpsing God’s mind and being in awe of it.” —Francis Collins, to the Templeton Foundation

For most of my life I had no interest in science. I considered myself an “artist,” even as a young child. I adored reading and writing and music, and merely endured math and science as boring, if necessary, subjects. I looked forward to the happy grown-up days ahead, when I’d never have to think about fractions or rock formations again. My children’s enthusiastic participation in the arts made total sense to me as a parent. So I was shocked when my son Evan fell in love with physics as a teenager and went on to major in physics at the U.S. Naval Academy. Where did that come from?

As a person of faith, I believed that God made the world. Yet I was far more captivated by the stories about Jesus interacting with people than by the opening chapters of Genesis. Let others ooh and aah over God’s creation of the stars and planets. I’d rather marvel at Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!

I had always assumed that science and faith diverged, that science was about proof and faith about mystery. But then I encountered the great divide between creationists and those who embrace the theory of evolution. I saw no sense in trusting that the world was created in six days despite strong evidence that the process took billions of years. To some, faith involved strict adherence to a literal understanding of the biblical narrative. Their faith involved an active denial of science—even if that science might enhance our appreciation of the Creator.

Reading about Francis Collins has deepened that interest and my growing conviction that science and faith are closely intertwined.

So in spite of myself I became interested in science. Reading about Francis Collins has deepened that interest and my growing conviction that science and faith are closely intertwined.

Winner of the 2020 Templeton Prize, given to individuals who harness science to explore the deepest questions of the universe, Collins was the longest-serving director of the National Institutes of Health, led the Human Genome Project (which cracked the genetic code) and worked on vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. In 2022 he was acting science adviser to President Joe Biden.

Collins is also a man of deep faith. He often talks about his unorthodox early education, spent largely outside in nature. His mother encouraged him to study whatever interested him, and his interests were wide-ranging.

“Does God care about me?”

Collins remained an atheist throughout medical school, when his work with suffering and dying patients confronted him with fundamental questions about life. An older heart patient in great pain often shared her faith with him.

Speaking at the 2019 BioLogos Conference in Baltimore, Collins recalled, “One day, after sharing, she made me really uncomfortable because she turned to me and said, ‘Doctor, I’ve shared my faith with you, and you seem to be somebody who cares for me. What do you believe?’ I realized I’d really neglected the most important question that any of us ever asks: ‘Is there a God, and does that God care about me?’”

Collins took two more years to arrive at his affirmative answer. That answer, he explained at the conference, was informed by what he called “pointers to God”: Something came from nothing, the universe is perfectly designed to make life possible, and the beauty of nature grows from mathematical rules (a feature that became clearer to him through his later work with DNA). There had to be a scientist behind it all, someone not limited in time and space.

Reading about Francis Collins has deepened that interest and my growing conviction that science and faith are closely intertwined.

In C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, Collins found a credible argument for a God who cares about us. Lewis writes that, throughout human history, there has been a consistent awareness of good and evil—and a natural striving toward good. Lewis asked: If there is no loving and caring God, then why are we hardwired to be good, moral people?

Today Collins sees his faith and science as completely complementary. Two ways to know, two kinds of questions; science asks how, and faith answers why. “We are reading both of the books God gave us,” he said at the BioLogos Conference.

For years I had been ignoring one of God’s books entirely. Now I’m trying to catch up. In the process I’ve become much more observant and appreciative of the elegant and beautiful natural world. I can be a scientist as well as an artist; in fact, I believe I am called to be both. The world of God, along with the word of God, provides a fuller and more satisfying picture of the Creator who made me and loves me.

As humanity seeks a way forward, Collins urges us to find deeper connections with one another. Together we can continue to learn about our incredible universe. And together, through our discoveries, we can glimpse the awesome mind of God.

Elise Seyfried
Elise Seyfried is the author of five books of essays. Her essays have also appeared in Gather, Insider, The Independent, Chicken Soup for the Soul, HuffPost, The Philadelphia Inquirer and many other publications. Elise recently retired after 20 years as director of spiritual formation at a suburban Philadelphia ELCA church.

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