Reconciling Science & Faith


Francis Collins is the director of the National Institute of Health in America and previously led the Human Genome Project.  He’s widely considered to be one of the greatest scientists of his generation.  He was awarded the National Medal of Science for his work on the Human Genome Project.

His book, The Language of God, has sat on my shelf for a few months without me having had the opportunity to delve into it in any great depth.  This week has afforded me some time to return to it and I thought I’d pluck out some excerpts for the website.  It has an unpromising title, a worse front cover (they have, wisely, updated it) and a seriously undersold description of Collins as merely a ‘scientist’.  But it’s a brilliant read.

Collins describes how he grew up in North Carolina in a family with no particular interest in religion.  He tells how he journeyed from agnostic to atheist by the time he began to study chemistry at college.  He writes:

So I gradually shifted from agnosticism to atheism. I felt quite comfortable challenging the spiritual beliefs of anyone who mentioned them in my presence, and discounted such perspectives as sentimentality and outmoded superstition.

A few years into his studies, he got married and had a daughter which, he says, made him more sociable and gave him a desire to contribute something to humanity.  He switched the focus of his studies and enrolled in medical school.  While working with seriously and terminally ill patients as a trainee physician, he was provoked by these encounters to consider faith in God.  One particular woman had a profound effect on him:

My most awkward moment came when an older woman suffering daily from severe untreatable angina, asked me what I believed… I felt flushed as I stammered out the words “I’m not really sure.”

Although he’d dedicated his most recent years to the search for knowledge, he realised he’d never applied his thirst for inquiry into the question of God.

I found myself, with a combination of willful blindness and something that could only be properly described as arrogance, having avoided any serious consideration that God might be a real possibility.  This realization was a thoroughly terrifying experience.

Collins was jolted into investigating religion and the possibility of God.  A study of world religions didn’t help him much.  A friend gave him a copy of the book, Mere Christianity, by the Oxford professor, CS Lewis.  It presents evidence for the existence of God in an effort to tackle some of the arguments against the plausibility and truthfulness of Christianity.

Lewis’ treatment of the subject of morality made a strong impression on Collins.  The title of book one of Mere Christianity is “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.”

Collins summarises:

“The concept of right and wrong appears to be universal among all members of the human species (though its application may result in wildly different outcomes).”

Ideas of right and wrong prevail in all societies but, he says, there is no sociobiological reason for this to be the case:

“Agape, or selfless altruism, presents a major challenge for the evolutionist.  It is quite frankly a scandal to reductionist reasoning.  It cannot be accounted for by the drive of individual selfish genes to perpetuate themselves.”

Collins concludes his introductory chapter, From Atheism to Belief, describing how the presence of morality in human societies should cause each of us to wonder about morality’s origins:

“If the law of Human Nature cannot be explained away as cultural artefact or evolutionary by-product, then how can we account for its presence?  There is truly something unusual going on here.  To quote Lewis, “If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself ot us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house.  The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.  And that is just what we do find inside ourselves.  Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?” Encountering this argument at age twenty-six, I was stunned by its logic.”

Francis Collins, The Language of God, is available in all the usual (online) places.


Church, broken and beautiful

At the end of the sermon on Sunday last (5 May), I tried to express something of the beauty and purpose of local church. I’ve transcribed it below with one or two small edits. At times, it’s about our local church in Donabate, other times about local churches generally; sometimes both. You can listen to the whole Bible talk here:

Church, what do you say?

You’re so quaint.  I don’t mean you, I mean local churches. Maybe I do mean you.  You’ve been clinging on for ages. They kept saying it was the end for you; you’d be replaced by bricks and structures; you’d be vanquished by better things to do on a Sunday morning.  Like watching televisions, going out in your cars …. to large out of town shopping centres with coffee shops that open at 10am serving delicious white chocolate muffins.

But you’re here.

Church, you’re so timid.  You’ve got no election poster, no seat on the council.  You’re not on Twitter and even if you had Instagram you couldn’t find a picture worth posting.  

Local church, you’re so close.  You’re still in out of the way places, no-horse towns. You keep popping up in cities and villages that are just not that cool. Here’s just not that cool, is it?  It is beautiful though.

Don’t you know all the great enterprises have an office at Grand Canal Dock? 

Church, you’re a mess. You people are broken. You bicker with each. You worry. You do your own thing.

But you continue to be dogged.  You keep reading from your ancient book. Don’t you know there are new books available?  You continue to hope in despair. You continue to walk in faith. You never stop believing. You keep loving God. You keep trusting Jesus.  You go on praying.  You don’t stop confessing. You love ceaselessly. You find hope in despair.  You make meals.  You make calls.  You make friends with strangers.

I don’t know if you feel loved.  Hopefully you feel loved by each other.  By me as I do by you. 

But Church, you are so loved! The Bible says God the Father has prepared a bride for his Son.

The Bible dares to tell us, in at least three different places, that God is preparing this bride for the Son.  

It’s in 2 Corinthians, Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19.   

Church, God is preparing you as the one that Jesus loves, as his treasure, his special possession. When you come to faith in him, you are loved by him.  You are made perfect, you are made holy.  And you’ll be with him forever.  Whoever you are, no matter how you feel. That is an extraordinary offer of status and belonging.  Not because you are good or great but because Jesus sets his affection on you. You are the thrill of God’s heart.  Not only that, you are His vehicle for seeing the rest of the world reached. 

Trust God with that. Ask him how can I understand that love more?  How can I be filled in it?  How can I live in that identity?  How can I be used to help others receive this message and find their true identity?

How I became a Christian

I grew up in a Christian home and went to church with my parents every Sunday from a young age. I’d always found church very important and useful and genuinely believed that Jesus died on a cross to save me from my sins, but I’d never made a commitment. When I was 10 years old I was at a camp in Scotland. I decided to give my life to God, so I knelt down on the floor and asked him to take away my sin and that I would follow him. I remained a Christian for the next few years, but encountered major doubts when I was 14. My faith was slightly shaken and it just seemed really unbelievable as a whole. I had about two weeks where I wouldn’t say I was a Christian. At another camp, this time in Northern Ireland, I had a really good group of friends and leaders at the camp and they really helped show me God again.

I left there feeling rejuvenated and like a lot of my questions had been answered, and while I’ve had questions and worries since then, I’ve never walked away from God since.

My faith would be what I would say is the most important part of me, and a defining piece of my life. As a Christian, believing in God does set me apart from people who don’t, and following God is, and must be the most important thing in my life.

Ben photo.jpg

My Journey as a Christian

My name is Mary Wambui Mbuthia, also known as Myra to my friends. I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya in East Africa. I lived and worked in Kenya until I moved to Ireland in October of 2005.


My journey as a Christian began when I was born.  I was born to Christian parents who themselves became Christians at a young age.  My parents brought us up in a loving Christian home, going to church (The Presbyterian Church of East Africa – PCEA) every Sunday without fail. There was absolutely no excuse for missing church.  I was baptised as a baby in our then local PCEA church.

At the age of seven, my parents sent me to a boarding primary School.  It was a Catholic school run by nuns. Every week on a weekday, a group of us, non-Catholic pupils met together for fellowship. This group consisted majorly of those of us who were either Presbyterians or Anglicans, I guess because we had some things in common for example the  hymns we sang in church etc.

It was during one of these fellowships that I gave my life to Christ. I was still very young at that point and to be honest, didn’t quite understand what getting saved really meant. I was of the assumption that salvation was only for the grown-ups and the elderly. I have to admit, though, that my ‘getting saved’ was more out of a need to fit in rather than a conviction. I tried my hardest, though, to emulate the older girls in the fellowship. It was more to impress them I suppose. When I went home for the holidays, I told my parents that I had given my life to Christ and I was now saved.  My parents were overjoyed to hear my good news and they told everyone in church.

As time went by, however, and I grew older, I started feeling like I was under too much pressure to live out the perfect Christian life.  I longed for the freedom to do some of the things other kids my age were doing.  I felt like I was being judged and mocked over every little mistake I did and as a result I became disillusioned, and even though I went to church religiously, it was more out of a habit rather than my faith in Christ.

Then, I was a teenager and at thirteen I joined a secondary boarding school for girls. It was there that I kinda just picked up from where I had put a pause on my Christian journey.  I joined the Christian Union and even though I was an active member, I struggled with a desire for approval from my non-Christian friends who to me seemed to have a lot more fun than I was. In my third year, I was elected to become the school prefect in charge of entertainment. This responsibility involved among other things, organising school discos on Saturdays and on special occasions when we had students visiting from other schools. This didn’t sit well with the other members of the Christian Union especially when it came to organising discos. I felt judged as a result and so stopped going to C.U meetings altogether.

During the school holidays, though, I would go to church as usual and was very active in our church youth group meetings and activities. I guess I was floating on other people’s convictions, happily living in a Christian environment without being a true Christian.

After completing my secondary school education, I moved to a different town for work.  I lived with two other roommates of a similar age. It was here that I finally found the freedom I had craved for years - Freedom to run wild and engage in worldly pleasures like other girls my age – away from my parents and church. I stopped going to church. I was 20 when I fell pregnant with my eldest child.  I had to give up my job to raise my child. As a result, I lost my chance of a college education.  It was during the four years that I stayed at home raising my child that I realised that the freedom I had yearned for, for years, hadn’t quite filled the void in my heart and it didn’t do me any favours. Like in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke  15:11-32, I too made the decision to return home to the ever present love of Christ.  I rededicated my life to Christ and learned to depend entirely on God’s grace rather than on my own understanding. I started going to church again and it dawned on me that despite building a great wall between me and the Lord, His love for me had not changed despite all the shameful things I had done. Having said that, I am not saying that choosing to walk with Christ has been an easy life – far from it! I am still human and I still mess up, but having a personal relationship with Christ Jesus has made a tremendous difference in my life.  I can say, along with the apostle Paul that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Ephesians 2:8-10 declares that salvation is a gift of God, not something earned and it is received only by faith which is to simply trust in and completely rely on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as payment for my sin.  I have a great sense of relief in knowing that I am forgiven and that God is on my side and wants what is best for me.

I moved to Ireland in October of 2005. For about five years, I struggled to find a church to go to where I felt the presence of The Lord.  Having a Presbyterian background, I longed to find a Presbyterian church, but in Co. Mayo where I lived at the time, Presbyterian churches are very few and far between.  It was in 2011, while living in Santry, that I went online to try and find a Presbyterian church that I could go to here in North Co. Dublin. It was there that I was directed to Donabate Presbyterian Church which was only a few months old at that point.  In The Summer of 2011, my sister, Salome and I together with our children started coming to DPC and we felt and continue to feel very much welcome and at home here. In April of 2013, we became full church members of Donabate Presbyterian church.

Summer Reading

For some of us, summer affords a few extra free hours in the week.  It hopefully will mean a chance to use our time for godly rest and restoration.  One element of that is for us to take the opportunity to hear from other Christians who write about matters of faith and life.  We’ve had a little refresh of our Church library which is rolled out each Sunday for you to browse and borrow books as you’d like.  There’s now a small section entitled ‘recommended summer reading’ which may help you narrow the choice down.  Below, also, is a short list of blogs and sites that you might find helpful on your commute, in an airport, waiting for kids, by a pool, sitting around the house or whenever. 

Aimee Byrd blogs at Mortification of Spin under the name Housewife Theologian.  She writes about (among other things) friendship, marriage and singleness.

If you’re interested in tackling hard questions to do with faith, William Lane-Craig addresses a new question about Christianity and belief from a reader each week at  There are now over 500 entries in the Q&A series.  Some of the discussion is complex but it’s worth the effort.

The Gospel Coalition Blog features a range of bloggers who write on a diverse array of topics.  It’s US-based but many of the issues they address have relevance to us.

Regular preacher at our Church, Kevin Hargaden blogs at Creideamh.  Kevin has opinions and he’s not afraid to share them!

Lore Ferguson Wilber brings a quirky and wise take on Christian faith at

Irishman, pastor, and all-round good guy, John-Mark Mullan, blogs at on the interaction of faith and culture. 

Finally, a reminder of the excellent website The Bible Project which is not a blog but a huge resource of video animations that teach the entire Bible in helpful 8-minute chunks.

Evelyn's story

Early childhood for me was being part of a loving Irish family. My parents brought the family of five children to Mass regularly, raising us to love God and our neighbour. In my early 20’s I perceived that Religion, with its rules and regulations, was not for me. I had a great job and spent time socialising and enjoying travel adventures with my friends. However, there was a part of me that was dissatisfied with my life and I began searching for meaning and fulfilment. This led to doing a degree in English and Philosophy in UCD.  It was during that time, over many discussions of life in the Student Canteen, that my journey of faith began. I met lots of other students who spoke about their faith as something compelling, influencing how they thought and made decisions. It seemed to be a personal faith which made me curious to explore their experience.

An opportunity arose to attend a major Christian event in Dublin presented by an international speaker. The talk focused on the role of Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus Christ. The speaker drew out how Pilate did everything to avoid making a decision on who Jesus was, even down to washing his hands of him. For the first time I understood the reason why Jesus died and was challenged about my lack of response up to that time. I knew I had to look again at the claims of Jesus as outlined in the Gospels. I, like Pontius Pilate was sitting on the fence. From then on, I was eager to learn of what it meant practically to be a Christian. This led to meeting with a group of people who looked at the Bible weekly in a group. I was welcomed to join them and with their patience and understanding, I began to read the Bible for myself.

With a growing understanding of who Jesus was I chose to follow Him. I was 26 years old. I know from that day on I was never the same again. New life filled me and gave me a whole new perspective. I now wanted to please God in every area of my life. I believed he loved me and that the principles in the Bible for living were for my good. My husband whom I married 3 years later, shared my faith and together we have sought to serve him and have found the fulfilment which I had been seeking. God promises us "a future and a hope", these are to be found in him and in living for him, this has been my experience over the last 35 years, he has been faithful to me and I hope I can be faithful to him.

How the Gospel is changing my life and is good news for me every day!

"I grew up in a Christian family in Holywood, a few miles outside Belfast. I was taken along to church from a young age, but despite having been brought along to a lot of churchy things, I’d missed the real message of Jesus and had a distorted view of God.

Subconsciously, the God that I believed in was all about how many good works I did. I always felt like I had to perform to please God and this filtered into every aspect of my life. I placed my value on how I performed, I thought that if I was a ‘nice’ person people would like me, I thought that if I did good deeds, God would like me.

When I was in secondary school, a few friends who were Christians invited me to an event. I heard Jesus’ parable of the lost son in a fresh way and understood God’s grace involved in bringing his undeserving son back for the first time. I realised that God invites us into his family based on what Jesus has done, not on anything I can do. I had never grasped that one of God’s main characteristics was his grace.

Realising what Jesus has done for me through his death on the cross and the unconditional love He has for me has radically transformed my life.

In fact, it feels like I’m only scratching the surface for how much this affects my life. The discovery of God’s grace has filtered into everything that I do.

Having been a life long people-pleaser, I know that I spend too much time thinking about what people think of me! Even as I write this little article, I’m thinking of the reactions that you might be having.

But God’s grace is allowing me to be free from worrying about what people think. I am discovering a deeper, more real joy and inner peace in being a follower of Jesus more every year.

I am reassured that Jesus’ death has paid for my sins and given me a new identity as a child of God. Best of all, this new identity is safe and secure.

I’m constantly finding that the gospel makes sense of life to me and brings me joy even in the mundane. It’s changing my marriage, my friendships, my view on the world and what’s important. It’s given me a new set of priorities."

from Josh McCance