Some time ago I had the privilege to speak at a conference at Johns Hopkins University on the theme “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” Before my address, Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project and the co-mapper of human DNA, presented his talk. He spoke of the intelligibility and marvel of the book of life, filled with more than three billion bits of information. In a strange way, he became both the subject and the object of his study, both the designer and the design of his research. Extraordinary thoughts swarmed within me as I listened, virtually tuning in and out of the talk in order to reflect on the wonder of it all.
In his last slide, he showed two pictures side by side. On the left appeared a magnificent photo of the stained-glass rose window from Yorkminster Cathedral in Yorkshire, England, its symmetry radiating from the center, its colors and geometric patterns spectacular—clearly a work of art purposefully designed by a gifted artist. Its sheer beauty stirred the mind.
On the right side of the screen appeared a slide showing a cross section of a strand of human DNA. The picture did more than take away one’s breath; it was awesome in the profoundest sense of the term—not just beautiful, but overwhelming. And it almost mirrored the pattern of the rose window in Yorkminster. The intricacy of the DNA’s design that pointed to the Transcendent One astonished those who are themselves the design and who have been created semi-transcendent by design. We see ourselves only partially, but through our Creator’s eyes, we see our transcendence. In looking at our own DNA, the subject and the object came together.
The audience gasped at the sight, for it saw itself. The design, the color, the splendor of the design left everyone speechless, even though it is this very design that makes us capable of speech. Because of this design we can think in profound ways, but we felt paralyzed by the thought and could go no further. Because of that design we remained trapped in time but were momentarily lifted to the eternal. Because of that design we were capable of love and suddenly could see the loveliness of who we are.
We can map out the human genome and in it see the evidence of a great Cartographer. We can plan and now see a great Planner. We can sing and now see poetry in matter. We speculate and see the intricacies of purpose. We live, seeing the blueprint of life. And we die, but we can look through the keyhole of life.
At Johns Hopkins that day we saw the handiwork of the One who made us for himself.
Ravi’s vivid description left me wanting to see more. I Googled ‘Francis Collins and discovered more information about him and his work. I sent him this story and asked if he could send me the pictures. Francis replied with the pictures saying, “I had not previously seen this powerful excerpt from Ravi Zacharias’ book. Attached is the image that stirred him to such inspiring words.”
I am grateful to Francis for permission to post these pictures and to Ravi for penning his reflections.
Francis Collin’s Biography
The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes us through the Events of our Lives, Zondervan, 2007. Publishing details, review and a fascinating interview with Ravi.
Image: Rose Window, Yorkminster; View along the axis of the β DNA Double Helix. Click on the images for magnification.