Francis Collins: A Scientific Basis for God

The head of the human genome project says science "points to God."

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Is there a scientific basis for the existence of God? Many believers think so, even as they often dismiss science because they think it's incompatible with their religious beliefs. A recent Gallup Poll, for instance, found that 45 percent of Americans reject evolution, believing that human beings were created more or less in our present form within the past 10,000 years. Despite objections from scientists, many believers argue that there's scientific evidence for such "Young Earth" creationism.

Francis Collins, director of the human genome project, is an atheist turned Christian who sees a scientific basis for God that not only embraces modern science but actually relies on it. Collins has just launched a new website and a foundation called biologos, which "emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with what science has discovered about the origins of the universe and life."

Unless Christians—evangelicals, in particular—learn to integrate modern science with their religious faith, Collins believes, they are either stuck clinging to untruths about scientific ideas like evolution or, once they do accept evolution, are in danger of having to abandon their faith out of the mistaken belief that evolution and Christianity are incompatible.

Collins was raised without religion. He began questioning his atheism during medical school, when he witnessed patients who were near death but who were deeply comforted by their religious faith. Collins became a Christian in his 20s. "I believe in the literal rising of the body of Christ," he says today. "It's the cornerstone of my Christian faith."

I just watched Collins make the case for reconciling religion and science at a conference sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a presentation that he says has recently drawn crowds of 2,000 or more on college campuses.

Collins says belief is ultimately a matter of faith—that God's existence can't, in the end, be proved by science. And yet he sees plenty of "pointers to God," natural phenomena that imply the existence of a biblical God. Here are Collins's "pointers":

  • There is something instead of nothing.
  • The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, which make simple and beautiful laws.
  • The Big Bang: out of nothingness, the universe came into being. That cries out for explanation, since we have not observed nature to create itself . . . it causes us to postulate a creator, and the creator must be outside of time or you haven't solved the problem.
  • The precise tuning of the physical constants in the universe. If gravity was a little weaker, things would all start flying a part. You can see a creator in these constants.

Collins says his work reconciling science and religion has received mixed reviews from the evangelical Christians that it's largely aimed at. When Collins keynoted a recent conference of Christian philanthropists, half the audience gave his speech a standing ovation and half sat on their hands in disapproval.

Where do you stand? Are Christianity and evolution compatible?