Stephanie Simon has another great story in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times. She’s the faith and values reporter who consistently hits her pieces out of the park.
This piece is on Francis Collins, a Christian physician and scientist who has mapped the human genome. He sees no conflict with his scientific work and his faith, but he has been attacked by people who deny God’s existence and by those who oppose evolution. He believes in both.
I love reading Simon’s reports because she is usually given enough room to share interesting details. She also manages to do a much better job of putting conflicting folks’ statements in a generous light. In so doing, she lets the reader see the opposing views without stacking the deck toward a given side. From a personal standpoint, this enables me to trust her much more than other reporters. In other words, if I read a news story that gets a minor fact wrong, I tend to discount the entire piece. I assume the reporter doesn’t really grasp the issues at play. When I read a reporter’s characterization of a view I hold and they not only get it right but use phrases and concepts I would, I am much more receptive to reading the opposing views in the piece without putting my guard up.
This is how I imagine most readers of Stephanie Simon must feel. She really takes the time to understand the groups she covers. And we’re all the richer for it. Collins, the man she profiled, recently wrote The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. In it, he argues that there is no need for a chasm between science and faith. Simon’s piece fleshes out Collins’ path from nonbeliever to believer and is chock full of interesting details.
In June 2000, an international team supervised by Collins finished the rough drafts of the human genetic code, a string of 3 billion letters (each representing a chemical compound) that guides the inner workings of every human being.
To Collins, the blueprint was a chance to celebrate God’s wondrous design. But he worried that Christians would use this occasion as another excuse to turn away from modern science.
“I had a great concern that this would be portrayed as though we were taking away room for spirituality, making us out to be nothing more than a mechanical instruction book — robots, machines, victims of our DNA,” Collins said.
Invited to the White House to announce the triumph, Collins tried to signal that those concerned with the soul and the spirit should not take the new science as a threat. “It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring,” he said, standing at Clinton’s side, “to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.”
That moment moved Collins — who is married and has two grown daughters — to talk more publicly about his faith and write the book. “It’s been a bit like taking a public bath,” he said.
I just like how she lets people describe things in their own words but also paraphrases their thoughts thoroughly and gently.