December 8, 2023

Francis Collins awarded Templeton Prize for reconciling faith and reason

Belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, he contends

Geneticist and physician Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, who led the Human Genome Project to its successful completion in 2003, has been awarded the US$1.4 million 2020 Templeton Prize for integrating faith and reason.

In his scientific leadership, public speaking, and popular writing, including his bestselling 2006 book, The Language of God, Collins has supported a Christian worldview. “This book argues that belief in God can be an entirely rational choice,” he writes in the introduction, “and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science.” He also endeavors to encourage religious communities to embrace the latest discoveries of genetics and the biomedical sciences as insights to enrich and enlarge their faith.

In a statement prepared for the announcement, Collins writes:

Why is there something instead of nothing? Is there a God? Does she or he care about me? What is the basis of morality? What is love? What is the meaning of life? Why is there so much suffering in this world? What happens after we die?

Those are profound questions. Yet I paid little attention to them during my first quarter-century on this planet. I was a committed materialist who found little use for anything that could not be addressed by scientific experimentation. But when I transitioned from quantum mechanics to medical school, I found these questions hard to ignore while sitting next to the beds of the sick and dying, and science wasn’t much use in tackling them. People of faith seemed to claim wisdom in that domain, but I assumed those insights were based on superstition and fundamental misunderstanding of nature. Seeking to dismiss the faith perspective, I was stunned to discover a rich vein of philosophical and theological thinking. Atheism, the denial of the possibility of anything that science couldn’t measure, emerged as the most irrational and impoverished worldview. And to my amazement, pointers to a Creator began to appear in all sorts of places, even including scientific observations about the universe. Most importantly, the person of Jesus emerged as the most profound truth-teller I had ever encountered, and called on me to make a decision about my own belief. I held off the Hound of Heaven as long as I could, but ultimately resistance was impossible. But could I be both a scientist and a believer? Wouldn’t my head explode?

Well, no. It didn’t then. And it hasn’t since. As a Christian for 43 years, I have found joyful harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews, and have never encountered an irreconcilable difference.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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