Collins later met a Methodist pastor, Sam MacMillan, who was “a very willing partner for me, tolerating my blasphemous questions and assuring me that if God was real there would be answers.” It was MacMillan who introduced Collins to the work of C. S. Lewis, starting with Mere Christianity.
“I realized in the very first two or three pages of that book that most of my objections against faith were utterly simplistic. They were arguments from a schoolboy. Here was an Oxford intellectual giant who had traveled the same path from atheism to faith, and had a way of describing why that made sense that was utterly disarming. It was also very upsetting. It was not the answer I was looking for.” But it was, for Collins, the answer he eventually found, and at 27, he became a Christian.
The embrace of that faith transformed not only his relationship with God, but also how he viewed other people, and himself. “They are all, as Lewis said, angels around you. And the notion therefore that it is okay to put yourself in the driver’s seat in every way, regardless of what effect that has on others, it’s simply indefensible. I think it did take what had been for me a pretty strong ambitious driving approach and moderate it, not to say that I didn’t retain a fair amount of that, but maybe in a somewhat more loving, forgiving approach.”
When I asked him how he sees faith now, in his late 60s, compared with how he saw things in his late 20s, he told me, “I think I’ve also arrived at a place where my faith has become a really strong support for dealing with life’s struggles. It took me awhile, I think—that sense that God is sufficient and that I don’t have to be strong in every circumstance.”
I found that striking, particularly in this moment. “One of my great puzzles when I first became a Christian is that verse, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, because My strength is made perfect in your weakness,’” he told me. “That was so completely upside down for me. Weakness? And now I embrace that with the fullness of everything around me when I’m realizing that my strength is inadequate, whether it’s coronavirus or some family crisis, God’s strength is always sufficient. That is a such a great comfort, but it took me a long time to get to the point of really owning that one.”
Collins was the founder and creative force behind BioLogos, an organization that invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith. (BioLogos was launched at the time Collins was asked by President Obama to become the director of the NIH, in April 2009, which required him having no other affiliations with any other organizations.)
I asked Collins what he hopes more Christians would understand about science and what he hopes more scientists would understand about faith.
“To Christians I would say, think of science as a gift from the Creator. The curiosity that we have been instilled with to understand how the universe works can inspire even greater awe of the Creator. This gift could hardly be a threat to God, the author of it all. Celebrate what science can teach us. Think of science as a form of worship.”