Francis Collins is the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute where he spearheaded the Human Genome Project. He is now director of the National Institute of Health. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.
He graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. He graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in physical chemistry from Yale University. Then he earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from University of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Francis Collins is best known for his work in sequencing and mapping the human genome. He has been involved in the discovery of genes associated with various diseases. Most recently, Francis Collins was announced as the 2020 Templeton Prize winner.
“The Templeton Prize is an annual award granted to a living person, in the estimation of the judges, ‘whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.’” The Templeton Prize exceeds the value of the Nobel Prize each year and is awarded to recognize progress toward research and discoveries about spiritual realities. (See Wikipedia)
The early trajectory of his life would not have predicted a Templeton Prize in his future. Francis Collins grew up on a small farm, in a non-religious home of parents he describes as hippies. He was home schooled through 6th grade. He loved science despite his more artsy upbringing, but any notions of the possibility of a God were wiped from the ledger of possibilities for him by the time he entered graduate school.
Francis Collins was an atheist, and he didn’t give God or religion much thought until sometime after his doctoral degrees were completed and he was working in the field of medicine. He was challenged one day by a cancer patient to support his view that God didn’t exist. While he was convinced of his position, he realized his position was based on assumptions he had not explored.
Collins realized he hadn’t really considered the evidence, or lack thereof. He had not come to his position in a scientific way.
The scientist in him recognized that he should know why he didn’t believe in God. He understand at that point that he could not hold that position with integrity without considering the contrary evidence. Thus, he set out to inform himself.
Along the way, he came to the conclusion that his original position wasn’t as tenable as he supposed. Reluctantly he came to believe that God is the best explanation for all the evidence he understood through science.
Francis Collins was in his late 20’s when he found himself a believer, and specifically a believer in the Christian concept of God. (A little bit of his story is captured in Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason) That position has informed his life work ever since.
Francis Collins recently sat down (remotely) with Justin Brierley, the Unbelievable? Podcast, host, to discuss faith and science. I will embed the YouTube video of the interview at the end of this article, focusing on the question: what evidence of God is most compelling? (But the whole interview is worth a listen.)