Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

June 14, 2006

Finding God in the Genome

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:00 am

Lots of people say that religion and science are in conflict. Many say that science proves that religion is wrong, or that God does not exist. Many also say that religious beliefs are an impediment to scientific understanding.

I’ve never understood any of those claims. I found studying chemistry and physics in high school and college to be a window into the profound wisdom that went into creating the universe. And I fail to see how anyone encountering Euler’s formula fails to see something beyond human construction

And now, one of the world’s top biologists — Francis Collins, one of the mappers of the human genome — has put this all together in a new book. The Sunday Times [of London] reports:


The scientist who led the team that cracked the human genome is to publish a book explaining why he now believes in the existence of God and is convinced that miracles are real.

Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, claims there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries bring man “closer to God”.

His book, The Language of God, to be published in September, will reopen the age-old debate about the relationship between science and faith. “One of the great tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion have to be at war,” said Collins, 56.

“I don’t see that as necessary at all and I think it is deeply disappointing that the shrill voices that occupy the extremes of this spectrum have dominated the stage for the past 20 years.”

For Collins, unravelling the human genome did not create a conflict in his mind. Instead, it allowed him to “glimpse at the workings of God.”

“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.”

“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”

Collins joins a line of scientists whose research deepened their belief in God. Isaac Newton, whose discovery of the laws of gravity reshaped our understanding of the universe, said: “This most beautiful system could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

Although Einstein revolutionised our thinking about time, gravity and the conversion of matter to energy, he believed the universe had a creator. “I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details,” he said. However Galileo was famously questioned by the inquisition and put on trial in 1633 for the “heresy” of claiming that the earth moved around the sun. [Though Galileo didn't actually question the existence of God, nor the fact that he created the universe. --DR]

Collins even takes on evolution, making an argument I’ve been making for over two decades::

“I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says.

And it’s not like Collins is trying to justify what he was taught in childhood:

Collins was an atheist until the age of 27, when as a young doctor he was impressed by the strength that faith gave to some of his most critical patients.

“They had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance,” he said. “That was interesting, puzzling and unsettling.”

He decided to visit a Methodist minister and was given a copy of C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which argues that God is a rational possibility. The book transformed his life. “It was an argument I was not prepared to hear,” he said. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn’t exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away.”

His epiphany came when he went hiking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. He said: “It was a beautiful afternoon and suddenly the remarkable beauty of creation around me was so overwhelming, I felt, ‘I cannot resist this another moment’.”

I’ve been hiking in mountains — and I can totally believe that.

(Hat tip: Clayton Cramer.)

One Response to “Finding God in the Genome”

  1. mrsfish Says:

    I have long said – “All truth is God’s truth”. (I don’t believe that is original with me). I have never seen the conflict between science and faith. I have see the conflict between scientists and religious people who don’t search for truth, but hold onto positions they buy into whole because someone “said”.

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