Skip to main content

A Scientist Goes Beyond the Evidence

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

How does an eminent physician/scientist convince himself that there is a god and that Christianity makes sense? This is the kind of thing I think about a lot. It’s fairly easy to understand how the common man and woman is sucked into Christianity, since most are indoctrinated when they are small and primed by nature to believe authority figures. However, it’s not so easy to understand how a scientist, an atheist (or so he claims), trained in the critical thinking required by science, comes to be a believer as an adult. When confronted with such a case, one has to consider that perhaps there really are logical reasons for belief in gods and Christianity.

The life of Francis Collins presents us with an excellent case study. Collins is a physician and geneticist who headed the US Government’s National Center for Human Genome Research, which, along with Craig Venter’s private project, decoded the human genome into its 3 billion base pairs. He then was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health in 2009. He is also the author of “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” (2007).

I am currently reading, “Socrates in the City; Conversations on ‘Life, God, and Other Small Topics’” which is a collection of speeches by prominent theists in an ongoing New York City forum, edited by Eric Metaxas. In Collins’ speech, he says he was not raised in a family where faith was considered particularly important, and grew further from faith over time. As a grad student, he considered himself an atheist.

In studying medicine, he saw many who were facing death, some of whom seemed to be at peace. He decided that he wouldn’t be able to do that. He would be terrified and angry. This is the beginning of his emotional slide into Christianity.

One day, after telling him about her faith, a patient asked him what he believed. “I realized that my atheism had never really been based upon a real consideration of the evidence for and against the existence of god.” Remember this statement; he has said here, quite emphatically, that the evidence matters. Collins says he then embarked on a search to learn what believers believed, and why they believed it. “Over those two years, I discovered that I had missed out on a profoundly compelling series of arguments which indicate that atheism is, in fact, the least rational of all choices.”

I’m not kidding here, he really said that. He argues that science provides no answers to some very powerful, important questions, such as “Why am I here?” and “What does love mean?” Then there are, “What happens after I die?” and “Is there a god?” “So,” he says, “if you’re going to be an atheist, you basically have to decide those are irrelevant.” Now where in hell did he get that idea? We atheists think those questions are irrelevant? Did you know that? Did he ever actually ask one? Those questions are obviously as important to the average atheist as they are to the faithful. The difference is that we accept that there may be no answers to be found in the real world. Collins, however, was unwilling to accept this uncertainty. The questions do not become irrelevant just because they currently have no answers.

However, the fact that Collins could not accept the uncertainty surrounding these questions ultimately becomes the reason he turned to Christianity. It was not because he found strong intellectual arguments for the existence of god, or the Jesus as savior story, it was because he needed some sort of closure.

In his speech, Collins says that C.S. Lewis’ argument in “Mere Christianity” of the “inexplicable” presence of the knowledge of right and wrong in humans was a clincher for him. He says, “I was compelled by that argument at age twenty-six. I am compelled by it today.” This is despite the fact that primatologists, evolution researchers, psychologists, and others have established beyond a reasonable doubt that right and wrong, or basic morality, can be found in many higher animals, as well as humans, and has been shown to be evolution’s answer to the problem of how basically selfish individuals can learn to work together for greater species efficiency.

While Collins acknowledges this to some extent, he claims that it doesn’t explain why someone would risk his life for another who was not related. Simple answer: if one lives day after day with a concern for and sympathy for others, why should we expect him to stop and compute whether he is related before making a split decision to aid someone, whatever the risk. Soldiers commonly perform such acts of heroism for non-relatives. And some of us commonly feel ourselves to be linked at a deep level with all of humanity.

Collins also toys with scientific indicators that there must be a god. For example, he goes on at some length with the “fine-tuning of the universe” argument. Of course, like all other proponents of that argument, that I’m aware of, he totally ignores the question that if the universe is too complex to exist without a creator, then why doesn’t the creator, likewise, need a creator? His cure for the complex universe problem is to assume something of even greater complexity did it. This reminds me of the puddle who looked about at his surroundings and said, “Wow! This hole in the ground fits me exactly! It’s just deep enough, and long enough, and wide enough, and with every curve just right to fit me. This can’t be chance. Someone must have created this perfect hole for me!”

Collins accepts the big bang and evolution as scientifically sound theories. However, he makes some mighty big assumptions. He says, “Almighty god, who is not limited in space and time, created our universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity . . . “ So, how does he know that god is not limited by space and time? Well, because god must be outside nature in order to have created it. But this seems to be saying that the creator must be outside space and time, therefore the universe could have been created by a god, because he is outside space and time. He uses one assumption as evidence for another, so to speak.

So, Collins likes to argue that science can point to god, but he admits that that is not how he got there. In an interview with Steve Paulson for in 2006, Collins said:
“Nobody gets argued all the way into becoming a believer on the sheer basis of logic and reason. That requires a leap of faith. And that leap of faith seemed very scary to me. After I had struggled with this for a couple of years, I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains on a beautiful fall afternoon. I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me. And it was a great sense of relief. The next morning, in the dewy grass in the shadow of the Cascades, I fell on my knees and accepted this truth — that God is God, that Christ is his son and that I am giving my life to that belief.”

Well, how can you argue with a “revelation” like that? Frozen waterfalls are beautiful, so there is a god, and Christ is his son. I wonder what he would have thought if he had turned that corner and seen the ravaged, dismembered dead body of a rape victim. Would this have convinced him that there was no god? I don’t think so. He would have found such “evidence” irrelevant, because it did not support what he wanted to believe.

Here we have the ultimate admission. Collins didn’t come to Christianity through reason, but despite it. His decision was first, last, and always, emotional.

Remember, this is a man who said that he knew of arguments which showed atheism to be the “least rational of all choices.” Yet, when he gets to the end of the road of reason, he sees that it doesn’t go any farther, so he just leaps. He simply decides that if he can’t get to where he wants to be with logic, then he will go with wishful thinking. And he is convinced that’s a more rational choice! He claims atheists think the big questions are irrelevant. Yet, here he makes a bald-faced admission that he thinks the truth is irrelevant. He simply decides to assume to be true that which he wishes to be true, and makes his leap. To one standing on the outside looking in, this borders on insanity.

Collins came to Christianity via a leap of faith. He never talks about why he didn’t take a leap into Islam or Hinduism. Since the facts can’t prove any one of these religions over another, we must assume that it was only because he knows less about those religions. And this, of course, is why there is such an excellent correlation of geography and religion in this world. This is what most theists do; they take a leap of faith into the family religion, or the most common local religion.

In reading Collins’ speech, and reading about him, I have come to the conclusion that honest, intelligent believers generally know why they believe. They believe for emotional reasons, because they needed answers to life’s most difficult questions and their religion provided them.

In ancient times, just as today, religion filled a need for those who don’t deal well with uncertainty. Ancient man had no science and lived in a brutal, dangerous world, and the uncertainties of it were just too much to bear. He needed answers, and they were not forthcoming from the world, so he made them up. The world exists because an invisible, all-knowing and all-powerful god made it. Humans exist because that god needed someone to worship him. Humans needed to obey god’s wishes because if they did, their god would protect them, and if they didn’t, they would be severely punished.

Ah, now we have reasons for why the world is as it is. Of course those reasons are all purely hypothetical and untestable, but they are reasons just the same. For many, this is enough. It seems there are only a small percentage of us who are even more uncomfortable with answers which just don’t add up. For us, that’s worse than no answers.

The Francis Collins story suggests to me that Christianity is a dim nightlight for the emotionally immature. It helps many to cope with the darkness of those ultimate questions, “Why are we here?” and “What comes after this?“


Popular posts from this blog

Are You an Atheist Success Story?

By Avangelism Project ~ F acts don’t spread. Stories do. It’s how (good) marketing works, it’s how elections (unfortunately) are won and lost, and it’s how (all) religion spreads. Proselytization isn’t accomplished with better arguments. It’s accomplished with better stories and it’s time we atheists catch up. It’s not like atheists don’t love a good story. Head over to the atheist reddit and take a look if you don’t believe me. We’re all over stories painting religion in a bad light. Nothing wrong with that, but we ignore the value of a story or a testimonial when we’re dealing with Christians. We can’t be so proud to argue the semantics of whether atheism is a belief or deconversion is actually proselytization. When we become more interested in defining our terms than in affecting people, we’ve relegated ourselves to irrelevance preferring to be smug in our minority, but semantically correct, nonbelief. Results Determine Reality The thing is when we opt to bury our

Christian TV presenter reads out Star Wars plot as story of salvation

An email prankster tricked the host of a Christian TV show into reading out the plots of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Star Wars in the belief they were stories of personal salvation. The unsuspecting host read out most of the opening rap to The Fresh Prince, a 1990s US sitcom starring Will Smith , apparently unaware that it was not a genuine testimony of faith. The prankster had slightly adapted the lyrics but the references to a misspent youth playing basketball in West Philadelphia would have been instantly familiar to most viewers. The lines read out by the DJ included: "One day a couple of guys who were up to no good starting making trouble in my living area. I ended up getting into a fight, which terrified my mother." The presenter on Genesis TV , a British Christian channel, eventually realised that he was being pranked and cut the story short – only to move on to another spoof email based on the plot of the Star Wars films. It began: &quo

So Just How Dumb Were Jesus’ Disciples? The Resurrection, Part VII.

By Robert Conner ~ T he first mention of Jesus’ resurrection comes from a letter written by Paul of Tarsus. Paul appears to have had no interest whatsoever in the “historical” Jesus: “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, we know him so no longer.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:16 ) Paul’s surviving letters never once mention any of Jesus’ many exorcisms and healings, the raising of Lazarus, or Jesus’ virgin birth, and barely allude to Jesus’ teaching. For Paul, Jesus only gets interesting after he’s dead, but even here Paul’s attention to detail is sketchy at best. For instance, Paul says Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” ( 1 Corinthians 15:4 ), but there are no scriptures that foretell the Jewish Messiah would at long last appear only to die at the hands of Gentiles, much less that the Messiah would then be raised from the dead after three days. After his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus—an event Paul never mentions in his lette

Morality is not a Good Argument for Christianity

By austinrohm ~ I wrote this article as I was deconverting in my own head: I never talked with anyone about it, but it was a letter I wrote as if I was writing to all the Christians in my life who constantly brought up how morality was the best argument for Christianity. No Christian has read this so far, but it is written from the point of view of a frustrated closeted atheist whose only outlet was organizing his thoughts on the keyboard. A common phrase used with non-Christians is: “Well without God, there isn’t a foundation of morality. If God is not real, then you could go around killing and raping.” There are a few things which must be addressed. 1. Show me objective morality. Define it and show me an example. Different Christians have different moral standards depending on how they interpret the Bible. Often times, they will just find what they believe, then go back into scripture and find a way to validate it. Conversely, many feel a particular action is not


By David Andrew Dugle ~   S ettle down now children, here's the story from the Book of David called The Parable of the Bent Cross. In the land Southeast of Eden –  Eden, Minnesota that is – between two rivers called the Big Miami and the Little Miami, in the name of Saint Gertrude there was once built a church. Here next to it was also built a fine parochial school. The congregation thrived and after a multitude of years, a new, bigger church was erected, well made with clean straight lines and a high steeple topped with a tall, thin cross of gold. The faithful felt proud, but now very low was their money. Their Sunday offerings and school fees did not suffice. Anon, they decided to raise money in an unclean way. One fine summer day the faithful erected tents in the chariot lot between the two buildings. In the tents they set up all manner of games – ring toss, bingo, little mechanical racing horses and roulette wheels – then all who lived in the land between the two rivers we

I can fix ignorance; I can't fix stupid!

By Bob O ~ I 'm an atheist and a 52-year veteran of public education. I need not tell anyone the problems associated with having to "duck" the "Which church do you belong to?" with my students and their parents. Once told by a parent that they would rather have a queer for their sons' teacher than an atheist! Spent HOURS going to the restroom right when prayers were performed: before assemblies, sports banquets, "Christmas Programs", awards assemblies, etc... Told everyone that I had a bladder problem. And "yes" it was a copout to many of you, but the old adage (yes, it's religious) accept what you can't change, change that which you can and accept the strength to know the difference! No need arguing that which you will never change. Enough of that. What I'd like to impart is my simple family chemistry. My wife is a Baptist - raised in a Baptist Orphanage (whole stories there) and is a believer. She did not know my religi