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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The Hole In the God of the Gaps Argument

The fact is that all scientists are filling in the gaps with a model of reality they believe best those gaps in light of the knowledge they have. 


Most people who have entertained ultimate questions seriously abut whether God exists are familiar with the “God of the Gaps argument” that is made against the existence of God. It goes something like this: In the past, people couldn’t explain the rain, so they concluded that God must be crying. People couldn’t explain an earthquake, so they thought God must be mad at something they did. People invoked a divine perspective to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how the world works.

From that observation (which is factually true as a simplistic statement), they add in the equally true observation that the progression of science over the centuries has been filling in the gaps and providing knowledge and understanding of natural processes that explain the things we didn’t know without having to resort to the conclusion that “God does it”. Thus, the argument goes, we should stop invoking divine explanations… and stop believing in God.

Scientists realized they didn’t need to invoke divine explanations at all to be able to study the natural world, and so the scientific consensus has concluded over recent centuries that divine explanations are not only not necessary, but not appropriate. Divine explanations are viewed today as anti-scientific. Many who are concerned with the purity of science would deem divine explanations as heretical.

The God of the gaps argument (an argument to prove the nonexistence of God), however, is pretty weak. The fact that we can do science (which is the study of the natural world) without appealing to a supernatural being or explanation isn’t surprising. There is an order to the natural world that we can study and know, but that order doesn’t preclude the existence of a super (other than natural) Being behind it all.

If we resign ourselves to nothing but the study of the natural world, how do we expect to know anything about the possibility of reality beyond it?  If we limit ourselves to naturalistic explanations, we have foreclosed any other possibility.

Frankly, there is a big gap between the fact that the natural world has order that we can study and the question whether anything beyond the natural world exists. I can turn the argument around and accuse the atheist of filling the gap with the conclusion that no God exists.

But all of this really misses the important point. Hugh Ross addresses the God of the gaps argument in a recent interview with Kahldoun Sweis. He says, “In science, there are always gaps. We will never learn everything. We are limited human beings.” However, when we “push back the frontiers of science”, we have to ask ourselves whether the gaps in our knowledge are getting bigger and more problematic? Or are they getting smaller and less problematic?”

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A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid

Thoughts on scientific, technological and moral advancement and religion.


The podcast, Unbelievable, with host, Justin Brierley, is becoming a favorite food for thought. I just listened to Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer: Have science, reason & humanism replaced faith? Pinker is an atheist professor of Psychology from Harvard, and Spencer is billed as a member of “the Christian think tank, Theos”. The subject was “Pinker’s recent book ‘Enlightenment Now’, addressing his claim that science, reason and humanism are the drivers of progress in the world, not religion”.

As with most of the episodes I have listened to, this one was a very civil and respectful “debate”, really more of a dialogue, on the respective points of view. This civility and respect sets Unbelievable apart from more reactive “discussions” of controversial topics.

In this particular discussion, the focus was on Pinker’s optimistic view of humanism bolstered by science and technology echoing the familiar theme that we are progressing as a species as we free ourselves from religion with the aid of science and technology carrying us forward. Pinker minimizes the influence of religion on the enlightenment and the sudden advancement of science that accompanied it, while Spencer argued that the influence of religion is what fundamentally motivated and shaped those movements.

Spencer agreed with much that Pinker says about the progress of modern man, though he disagrees that science has shaped the moral advances we have experienced. He says that the value of the individual and sanctity of human rights is at heart a religious concept. He even points out that Pinker has to resort to the religious term, sacred, to describe these concepts as some evidence of the religious influence.

I have long toyed with the notion that we are not as advanced, morally, as we think ourselves. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. Characteristic of the 20th Century was the genocidal bloodshed and cruelty of the atheist regimes under Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and others. Some would add Hitler to the hit list of atheist genocidal despots, but that point is often argued, with religionists foisting Hitler on the atheists, and the atheists pushing him back on the religionists.

Hitler is somewhat of an enigma, generating an almost religious following marked by a personality that modeled a religion-like fervor. Pinker and Spencer debated whether Hitler was influenced by Darwinism, with Pinker countering that Hitler despised Darwin.

Though the truth of Hitler’s motivations my remain a mystery, and despite the unprecedented genocides perpetuated in the 20th Century, Spencer agreed with Pinker that we have progressed morally into the 21st Century. We generally exhibit a higher morality, however you slice it, (at least in the western world) in modern times than ever before, and this higher morality tracks scientific and technological progress.

As the two men carried on the conversation about the relative influences of religion and scientific and technological advancement on that progress, some thoughts occurred to me that I hadn’t considered before. I would agree with Spencer that religion (principally Judeo-Christian principles in the west) has largely carried us to this place where, ironically, we are finding no more need of God.

This perspective, also, flows from those same Judeo-Christian roots that holds out human pride as the principal problem (sin) of humankind. Having achieved a degree of independence and comfort through the advancement of technology, we believe “can do this” on our own (to paraphrase the testosterone influenced enthusiasm of my former teenage boys).

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Discussion on Science and the Bible

What do the science and the Bible have in common? Some thoughts from a physicist.

Michael Gillan Interview with Jeff Zweerink

Since I was in college and first read the Bible in a world religion class, I have found the Bible to be uniquely layered in its meaning and personally intimate at the same time. It was like no other book I read, and still is.

I read the Bible for the first time in a World Religion class, so I read it in light of and comparison to the other major world religion texts. In that comparative study, I found the Bible to be exceptional in its depth of meaning, intricacy and nuance.

My religion professor took the position (I later found out) that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. He didn’t favor one text over another, least of all the Bible. He presented all the texts to be read on their own merit, letting them “speak for themselves”.

This is the way I approached them. I was a seeker, not knowing where truth was to be found, but assuming that all world religions contained nuggets of the ore. I viewed philosophy and great literature the same way, seeing them as deposits of truth to be explored and mined for their value.

I have to say that I found myself becoming a bit of a skeptic about science. I now understand that the skepticism would have been more appropriately leveled at scientists, who often acted (and apparently believed) as if science has a corner on truth and that all truth should be viewed through a scientific lens.

I have since learned that this “scientism” is a caricature – an exaltation of science beyond the scope and limitations of science and what we can and should expect of science. Science is the study of the natural world – matter, energy and motion. Science cannot tell us why we appreciate beauty, for instance, or even what beauty is.

But, I have also learned that science is beautiful in itself. Science unveils some of the most beautiful and wondrous facets of the universe we live in.  That we can even “do” science is beautiful and wondrous in itself!

Following is an interesting interchange between physicists about science and the Bible. I hope you enjoy it as much as a I did.

Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason

From a presentation by Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum at the California Institute of Technology

Take a close look at the two images. What do they represent? We might say that one image represents science and the other represents religion (or faith). But which is which?

The images are similar, but one of them is manmade, and the other is something we find in nature. Do you know which is which? Is the manmade image the scientific one or the spiritual one?

I will answer these questions; at least I will answer them as they were described in a presentation given by Francis Collins, the manager of the Human Genome Project, at a Veritas Forum at Caltech University in 2009. In the process, we will explore the chief question examined by this eminent scientist: whether science and faith are compatible.

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