Francis Collins on Proof of God: The Options are Simple

Which position requires more faith? The existence of God? Or the existence of a multiverse?


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 he 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 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 merely one of making assumptions. He hadn’t really considered the evidence, or lack thereof, and formed his position in a scientific way.

The scientist in him recognized that he really should know why he didn’t believe in God, and, therefore, he couldn’t really hold that position with any degree of 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.

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.

Francis Collins recently sat down (remotely) with Justin Brierley, the Unbelievable? Podcast, host, to discuss faith and science. I will embed the YouTube footage of the interview at the end of this article, focusing on the question: what is evidence of God is most compelling? (But the whole interview is worth a listen.)

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Can We Be Certain of God’s Existence?

Doubt is the common experience of saints and sinners alike.

Depositphotos Image ID: 5872621 Copyright: ccaetano

Can we be certain of God s existence? The short answer is, no. If the question is whether we can have something like mathematical certainty or proof, we have to answer that question in the negative. There is no evidence, no proof or argument that can provide certainty that God exists for finite beings such as ourselves.

Such evidence, proof or argument would have to be built on premises that are 100% certain, and that kind of certainty is impossible for beings that are not all-knowing. The best we can do is to put forth evidence, proofs and arguments that suggest a probability that God exists – to show that the likelihood is more probable than not that God exists.

To this extent, doubt is the common experience of saints and sinners alike.

To put this another way: Can we be sure that God doesn’t exist? The only certainty is that we can’t be certain.

Many believers have doubts, and many nonbelievers have their own doubts.

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From Fiction to Faith

Science and reason and the measures available to finite beings can take finite beings only so far in determining the existence of a non-finite God.

Photo from ChristianPics.co

I recently had a short exchange with an atheist friend over an article I wrote about science and faith. He is from the world of science, his father being a scientist, and he making a living on scientific principles. He found my article and analysis of atheism and science to be colored by my faith. And, of course it is, just as his view of religion and science is colored by his atheism.

He views God as a fiction. I view God as reality, transcending all the reality I think I know. We couldn’t be more opposed in our views of the world, though that doesn’t mean that we cannot be friends and learn from one another.

I suggested to him that both theism and atheism are rational conclusions, but the conclusions depend on the starting places. I remember from my philosophy class in college, and the study of Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard that theism and theism can both by logically “proven”. Syllogisms reaching both conclusions can hold up logically. The only difference is the starting premise.

To put it more simply: if you start with a premise that assumes God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the existence of God. If you start with a premise that assumes no God, a logical syllogism can be constructed that proves the nonexistence of God.

How, then, does a rational person resolve the tension between these diametrically opposite conclusions? Logic cannot suggest an answer to this conundrum because logic can only operate on the basis of a premise, and the premise with which we start makes all the difference.

If we could determine which premise is correct, we would be well on our way, but it turns out that this is easier said than done. What then?

Science doesn’t help us either. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. God is, by definition, “Other” than the natural world.  Science can take us back to nanoseconds after the Big Bang, but we can peer no further into our past. We can’t see the very beginning, and we can’t see beyond it.

We can’t see through the lens of science and our senses beyond this natural world, and this leads many, like my friend, to conclude that nothing exists beyond the natural world. It’s a fair conclusion, to be frank.

But it’s a bit short sighted. Why we do assume that we and our physical senses are the measure of all reality?

How do we know if there is anything beyond the natural world? How do we know if there is a God?

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There Is No Proof of God?

Where does our sense of self, love, purpose and inclination to worship come from?

Photo from RV Fine Photography

A popular skeptical notion about spiritual things is that there is no proof of God. But is that a reasonable statement?

What does the skeptic mean by proof? Does he mean strict proof, mathematical proof or proof beyond a doubt? If that is what the skeptic means, then the skeptic will always remain a skeptic, because that kind of proof is unattainable.

There is nothing inherently bad or wrong in being skeptical. Skepticism or doubt is not a sin as some might suppose. “Doubting Thomas” was a disciple of Jesus after all! Honest skepticism is not a problem. In fact, honest skepticism is healthy; it drives us to test truth claims and weed out falsity.

The demand for strict proof that God exists, however, is not honest skepticism. While we might attain to some proof beyond a “reasonable” doubt, strict proof, mathematical proof, or proof beyond any doubt is impossible. I will try to explore why that is in this blog article.

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Are Reason & Faith in God Contradictory Terms?

Looking for a Sunset


I began taking notes on a series of hard questions posed to Tim Keller by some heavy hitting interviewers that is posted to the Veritas Forum. I thought I would take my notes and create a series of quick answers to these hard questions, but I got sidetracked by the first question: Aren’t faith and reason contradictory terms?

The question took me back to college when I first began to wrestle with this question.

Implied in that question is an assumption that the only rational conclusion of reason is disbelief in God. Reason is defined by Merriam Webster as “the power of the mind to think and understand in a logical way.” Faith is defined as the “strong belief or trust in someone or something.” Note that faith is not defined in relation to evidence or reason, but the common definition of faith is not antithetical to evidence of reason either.

Reason (logic) depends on a premise, and premises are often tautological. Many premises are susceptible of proof, but many are not. The premise that the natural world is the totality of all reality is a premise many believe to be true, but it is not susceptible of proof (at least not scientific proof, unless one believes that science, which is limited to the study of the natural world is capable of proving that nothing other than the natural world exists by limiting the study to the natural world).
Continue reading “Are Reason & Faith in God Contradictory Terms?”