Recently, NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Dr Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health and longtime Christian. Listeners were provided a contemporary version of the debate as old as the Enlightenment: can faith and science coexist? By the end, we understand how Collins’ two credentials mentioned above are not in contradiction.
At the outset, Martin and Collins were excited to talk about “not the news of the day” but “the biggest questions in the world.” Martin perhaps unknowingly prompted Collins through his testimony of how he came to believe Christ as his Savior–an exploration of theodicy where his guides were dying hospital patients, a local pastor, and CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
Martin was out of her element. Although friendly and a good listener, she was careful to be politically correct. We know that the rules to that vocabulary change daily, governed by assumptions about the person on the other side. These hesitations compounded into questions interjected with awkward pauses, “umms,” and “you knows.” Because she didn’t know what she didn’t know, she had trouble formulating her questions.
Yet, Dr. Collins was extremely gracious and answered Martin’s inquiries seriously, rather than defensively. In answer to the faith and science dichotomy, Collins said he didn’t have the experience many Americans seem to have of the two conflicting.
“… I found being a person of faith enriched my experience as a scientist because now I’m not just studying some material facts about nature, I’m also studying creation… science can be helpful in some of those dilemmas that are being faced about origins and understanding what really was intended in Genesis 1 and 2.”
Martin’s journalistic impulses, however, couldn’t be completely quelled and she pressed toward Collins’ take of the current intersection of COVID and faith, and evangelicals and climate change. To him, the Bible is clear about our responsibility to take care of the earth. It is just as obvious to him that the vaccines are an answer to millions of prayers and he’s doing his part to administer his expertise to those who are vaccine hesitant.
Martin, confusing Collins’ resume for expertise in everything, also asked a lightning round of metaphysics.
“How did we get here?” “Do we have a soul?” “Where do we go when we die?” “Where do you find hope here now?”
To the first and last questions, Collins is an evolutionary creationist and optimist (though between the lines, it sounds like he recognizes the depravity of the human heart). Though he’s unclear on the specifics of heaven, he testified a distinction to humanity among creation and is comforted by Jesus’ statement to the thief next to him on the cross, “You will be with me.”
Besides scientist and Christian, Collins is an amateur musician. They finished with Martin’s request for a song to sum up the chat and Dr. Collins crooned and strummed the second verse to Robert Lowry’s 1864 hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing?”.
This week’s conversation added little to the age-old conversation of faith and science, and in fact, finished with the only natural conclusion: the two are not opponents but complement one another, since truth can only confirm itself. Still, it was exciting to hear respectful dialogue about the most important questions we must each consider.