Last week, the Templeton Foundation announced that Francis Collins was the 2020 winner of their annual prize recognizing contributions to the dialogue between science and the deep questions our world and ourselves. Collins has made substantial contributions to biomedical science, helping to identify genes for conditions like cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease before going on to lead the Human Genome Project. He is also a notable participant in the dialogue between science and Christian religion, most prominently via his book The Language of God and the BioLogos Foundation that grew out of responses to the book. And if that weren’t enough, he has been the director of the National Institutes of Health for the past 12 years and so is currently providing leadership on the pandemic response and the research efforts to find therapies and vaccines.
I remember reading as a teenager about the genetics behind Huntington’s disease in science magazines; if I came across Francis Collins’ name there I’m afraid it did not register. I’m sure I heard it as part of the human genome announcements, although as I recall Craig Venter had more of a celebrity profile, which may say something about Dr. Collins humility. And so while I had been familiar with his work for years, like many it wasn’t until I read The Language of God that the man himself stood out. While I was already comfortable with being a scientist and a Christian by then, I was no longer in an academic setting and had fewer connections to like-minded believers. So it was encouraging both to have Dr. Collins share his journey, and to learn more about the community growing around his work called BioLogos (and let’s take a moment to recognize the elegance of that name). I count myself among the many, many folks who have been blessed by that group and I pray there will be far more for generations to come.
Thus I wanted to take this time to express my appreciation for the man and his work. And I also wanted to let him speak for himself. He has a combination of reassuring demeanor, intelligence and deep concern for the spiritual and physical health of all that if you haven’t had the chance before you should experience for yourself. He has been speaking recently about COVID-19, in conversation with BioLogos vice president and Language of God podcast host Jim Stump:
and with pastor and author Tim Keller:
And if you would prefer something less topical (and briefer), you can hear him sharing his testimony at the BioLogos Conference last year:
He’s also a musician who writes songs to celebrate colleagues’ achievements, performs at commencements and leads worship in various settings. You can find more examples on YouTube, but I couldn’t get past this one of him performing at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony and Renee Fleming. By just about any measure, Francis Collins is living a full life well, and so let’s thank him again for his work and celebrate this latest well deserved honor.