Geneticist and physician Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, who led the Human Genome Project to its successful completion in 2003 and throughout his career has advocated for the integration of faith and reason, was announced today as the 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate.
In his scientific leadership, public speaking, and popular writing, including his bestselling 2006 book, The Language of God, Collins has demonstrated how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research. “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.” In the book, he endeavors to encourage religious communities to embrace the latest discoveries of genetics and the biomedical sciences as insights to enrich and enlarge their faith.
Collins, 70, was selected as the 2020 Laureate by the Prize judges late last year, but the announcement was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
From 1993 to 2008, Collins directed the National Human Genome Research Institute, guiding the Human Genome Project in its mapping and sequencing of the three billion DNA letters that make up the human genetic instruction book.
Before joining the NIH, Collins served as professor of internal medicine and human genetics at the University of Michigan, where he was known as the “gene hunter” for his pioneering technique of “positional cloning” to pinpoint disease-related genes. His research groups have been responsible for the discovery of the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, and Hutchinson-Guilford progeria syndrome, a rare form of premature aging.
These and other genetic breakthroughs have helped launch a new era of precision medicine in which researchers and providers can customize treatment programs for individual patients, and have shed new light on human well-being and the nature and possibilities of the human species.
The announcement was made online at www.templetonprize.org today by the Templeton philanthropies: the John Templeton Foundation, based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Templeton Religion Trust, based in Nassau, The Bahamas.
The Templeton Prize, valued at 1.1 million British pounds, is one of the world's largest annual individual awards, and honors individuals whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.
In a statement prepared for the announcement, at www.templetonprize.org, Dr. Collins said: “As I write this, almost my every waking moment is consumed by the effort to find treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19. The elegant complexity of human biology constantly creates in me a sense of awe. Yet I grieve at the suffering and death I see all around, and at times I confess I am assailed by doubts about how a loving God would permit such tragedies. But then I remember that the God who hung on the cross is intimately familiar with suffering. I learn and re-learn that God never promised freedom from suffering – but rather to be “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46).”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Collins has urged faith communities to trust science while debunking various internet conspiracies, to link inevitable bad news to opportunities for hope, and to remain strong in their faith. In a recent Washington Post interview, he referenced a favorite verse from Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
“That encourages me,” said Collins, “and faith leaders can spread that kind of exaltation around in a way that I think will encourage others.”