Testimony of Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project

Francis Collins, one of the greatest scientists of our time was director of the human genome project, mapping the three billion letters in the human DNA, considered by many to be the most significant scientific undertaking of our time. He describes how he encountered Jesus and came to believe in the truth of Christianity.

Well in the home where I grew up, faith was not something that was talked about very much. My father was a professor of drama, my mother a playwright. When I went to college and those discussions in the dorm late at night about religion began to occur, I had no particular reason to attach value to a faith system. It had never been something I was familiar with or had internalized at all. And I assumed that any religious feelings that anyone held must be on the basis of some emotional experience, and I didn’t trust those, or on the basis of some childhood indoctrination, which I felt I was fortunate to have missed. 

I loved the experience of learning about the human body and all of the components of that and I particularly loved being introduced to genetics. But then I ended up in the medical school curriculum sitting at the bedside of patients with diseases. This was no longer an abstract study of molecules and organ systems; these were real people. And one afternoon one of my patients, a wonderful elderly woman much like a grandmother, who had very bad heart disease. She had a particularly bad episode of chest pain while I was with her. She got through it and at the end of that explained to me how her faith was the thing that helped her in that situation. She realized that the doctors around her weren’t really giving her that much help but her faith was. And after she finished her own very personal description of that faith, she turned to me, and I had been silent, and she looked at me quizzically and she said “What do you believe, doctor?” 

And ultimately I had to admit to myself that her question had made me realize that I had arrived at an answer to the most important issue that we humans ever deal with “Is there a God?” and I had arrived there without ever really looking at the evidence. And I was supposed to be a scientist? If there’s one thing scientists claim they do is to arrive at conclusions based upon evidence. And I hadn’t taken the trouble to do that.

I was greatly assisted by a pastor who lived down the road, who I went and asked about all this and who gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’s wonderful book Mere Christianity. Because here was an Oxford scholar, a prodigiously developed intellect who had traveled the same path. Within those pages I realized for the first time that one can come to belief on a rational basis and that in fact given the many pointers that one sees around oneself in terms of the universe and it having a beginning, and it’s fine tuning in terms of the way in which all those constants that determine the behavior of matter and energy seem to have been set just in a certain very precise range to make life possible. And many other things including my beloved mathematics and why they actually work anyway to describe the universe, something that makes you think the creator must have been a mathematician. 

That brought me then to the person of Jesus Christ as a person who was historically extremely well documented. That was news to me. I thought Christ was as much myth as history and I realized after reading more about it this was a historical figure upon which we have a great deal of evidence for his existence and his teachings and even his rising from the dead in a literal way. That day at my patient’s bedside started a journey for me, a journey that I was reluctant to begin but I felt I needed to, a journey that I thought would result in strengthening my atheism but to my surprise resulted in my conversion.