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David Buller
 on September 22, 2020

Francis Collins: Stories of Impact

In light of being awarded the Templeton Prize, we asked our readers, "How has Francis Collins impacted your life?" We share the many amazing responses.

Francis Collins speaks at the 2019 BioLogos Conference

As many of you know, BioLogos founder Francis Collins has been announced as the winner of the prestigious Templeton Prize, given for “exemplary achievements” in “harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” The award ceremony on September 24 will include congratulatory remarks from former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, theologian NT Wright, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, primatologist Jane Goodall, and BioLogos President Deb Haarsma, along with musical selections by renowned soprano Renée Fleming. (We hope you’ll RSVP to join in the ceremony!)

But certainly you don’t have to be a former president or public figure to have felt the impact of Francis Collins, his work, and the vision of science and faith that he articulated so powerfully in his bestselling book The Language of God. Several weeks ago we put out a call on social media for you to share how Francis impacted you. Here’s some of what you had to say.

Resolving the conflict

Dustin became a Christian after growing up in an agnostic home. He had always accepted modern science, but the opposition to science he encountered in churches and his Christian college “eventually shook my faith and sent me into a spiral of doubt. I was in a spiritual distress for several years…The conflict between science, which I had always trusted, and Christianity, which I am very convinced of, made me physically ill at times.” But:

“Reading The Language of God helped reconcile the two halves of my worldview. It gave me permission as a Christian to continue to engage with and trust in science. More than that, it has offered a more full view of the world. I can appreciate science as another way of interacting with God. Learning about the mechanisms of microbiology, or watching a documentary on how animals and plants are so dependent on each other in any given ecosystem, or reading a book on nuclear physics, I am learning more about God and His creation. And that’s a wonderful place to be.”

Others of you shared similar stories. There’s Grace, who wrote that “I attribute my salvation today to the grace of God, and largely to the work of Dr. Collins … reading The Language of God and Mere Christianity in tandem has made a profound and eternal impact on my life.” Or Mary, a molecular biologist, who had spent most of her life living as an atheist/agnostic. Wrote Mary, “Dr. Collins’ words and example have helped me to re-encounter my faith and to enjoy God’s language as it is: His language.”

For Ryan, who had a crisis of faith in his early 30s, “Dr. Collins reminded me that, while science and faith are not the same, both require work on our part to make sense. He helped me remember that faith is an active pursuit, and I can’t let other people do the work.”

Others of you, like Heston, grew up in Christian homes but were “taught that there was only one way,” that of young-earth creationism, “to approach Genesis, the age of the earth, and evolution.” But that changed for Heston after encountering The Language of God and BioLogos resources (including our podcast) while home from college on his family’s farm, reading three books in three consecutive days. “I now get to love and appreciate both God’s Word and God’s World together!”

Or as Peg put it quite simply, “Dr. Collins has strengthened my faith. That is no small thing. Thank you.”

Language of God on a shelf

In a world which often pits the ‘Book of Nature’ against the ‘Book of Scripture,’ Dr. Collins stands alongside other luminaries like Galileo who were able to synthesize both into a coherent whole.

Lasting impacts

As many of you shared, Francis’ work has had an enduring impact on the work you do now. Krista teaches a biology course for nonmajors at a Christian university.

“I show my class a short piece of an interview Dr. Collins did several years ago with Stephen Colbert as an introduction to the topic of evolution,” she wrote. “Being at a Christian university, I have the privilege of leading students in considering evolution in a different light than they may have been previously taught. I sometimes refer to Dr. Collins as one of my science heroes, because he was the first one I heard talk about how faith and science really are not enemies, and this led me to a deeper faith and also better understanding of a lot of science.”

Doug wrote that “Dr. Collins’ personal testimony of coming to faith is one of the most compelling I have encountered. I recommend his book frequently to people in the church I pastor who regularly struggle with how to bring science and faith together. In a world which often pits the ‘Book of Nature’ against the ‘Book of Scripture,’ Dr. Collins stands alongside other luminaries like Galileo who were able to synthesize both into a coherent whole.”

Science and Faith

And while many of you encountered Francis’ work later in life, others in the next generation have experienced this impact earlier on. Billy realized from Francis’ book “that science and Christianity aren’t mutually exclusive” and is now majoring in physics partly because of the book. For Clay, The Language of God was “a watershed” not only because “it provided clarity for embracing God in the wonder and mystery of nature,” but also because “it provided a Christian example for embracing contrary opinions in a grace-filled way.”

That positive example encourages others to carry forward the work of God’s Kingdom, like Meredith, a medical student, who shared:

“When I was doing cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital over the summer I met so many scientists who did not have faith in Christ because they believed it clashed with science. I used the evidence in Francis Collins’ book to have peaceful conversations about Christianity and science. This also helped me to be more confident in connecting my personal experiences with the Lord to scientific evidence of God. When I tell scientists that the director of the NIH wrote this book, they are more interested in reading it because he has credibility in the science world. Francis has a powerful testimony that I believe God has used to bring people to faith in Christ.”

Emmanuel wrote that “Dr. Collins is an inspiration. As a young physician, knowing that someone like Dr. Collins still holds on to his faith and does his work with so much integrity makes him a role model for me.”

Christina was pursuing her doctorate in epidemiology when she experienced a crisis of faith in part due to Christian rejection of science:

“I was told I had to choose between faith and science and found that I couldn’t make such a decision. And some Christians just failed to even broach the issue at all, taking an ‘it doesn’t matter’ approach. Learning about Francis Collins and his personal story of science and faith encouraged me. I found that science and faith can be compatible and that there are many people in the science community who also are people of faith. Knowing this helped me forge ahead and eventually finish my doctorate by the grace of God. I didn’t have to choose and I didn’t have to be ostracized. I could serve God fully as both a person of science and faith.”

And countless more lives have been transformed through breakthrough medical discoveries made possible in part by the completion of the Human Genome Project, which Francis led. Doubtless most of them are unaware of the humble, dedicated servant of God who led this colossal undertaking in the hopes that lives like theirs could be made whole.

As Elizabeth shared, “Dr. Collins’ work on the Human Genome Project led the way to an understanding of how cancer works at the DNA level. This led to new discoveries and the development of targeted therapies that are harsh, but less harsh than chemotherapy. I have chronic myelogenous leukemia, which previously had a prognosis of death in 3-5 years. The new prognosis is survival to a normal or near-normal life span. My oldest daughter wrote a poem about Dr. Collins in her senior English class as a recognition of his contribution to my survival.”

Francis Collins at the NIH

Staci knew there was something different about Francis simply hearing him speak at a professional conference many years ago, the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference. (One of Francis’ most significant earlier accomplishments was the discovery of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis, opening the door to life-changing gene therapy treatments.) As Staci recalls, “It was such a wonderful speech. I thought ‘this man has to know Jesus’ and then I found out that he did! I read his book several years later and was so encouraged by his words. And now during the pandemic he has been my go-to for trusted information. I can’t thank him enough! May you feel the kindness of our Savior as you do this important work!”

Thanks to all of you who wrote to share your stories. And to Francis Collins, our hearty congratulations as you receive the well-deserved honor of the 2020 Templeton Prize. And most of all, from all of us, thank you.

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About the author

David Buller

David Buller

David Buller is Director of Programs at BioLogos, where he works with program leads and editorial staff to advance the organization's mission. He also directs overall planning of BioLogos conferences and participates in organizational planning with BioLogos leadership and advisors. Before coming to BioLogos in 2016, David was a Program Associate in the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC. At AAAS he helped plan and lead engagement initiatives in collaboration with scientists and faith leaders around the country. After completing his BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, David earned an MA in Theological Studies, Religion and Science Emphasis, from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. While there, David worked as a student coordinator on various events and symposia at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. He is an elected Fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation, having previously served as Student and Early Career Representative to the organization’s Executive Council.