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May 20, 2020

Prepared Statement by Francis S. Collins, 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate

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With All Your Mind

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.  I have had the privilege to lead scientific projects that discovered the cause of cystic fibrosis, the complete sequence of the human genome, and the development of precision medicine that is saving lives every day from cancer.  Now, as the Director of NIH, the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, I have the chance to lead efforts that are using the tools of science to try to find ways to prevent, treat, and cure terrible diseases.  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).

I certainly never expected to have a leading voice in the science-faith debates.  To my surprise, my book The Language of God, written 14 years ago, seems to have found a resonance with many seekers.  The deluge of follow-up questions I received led to the founding of the non-profit BioLogos (Bios through Logos – life through God’s word), which has become a major meeting place for individuals seeking answers to questions about how God’s Word and God’s Works can be harmonized.  It is truly gratifying to see and celebrate the community of scientists and believers that have rallied around this joyful synthesis.

In Matthew 22:36-37, Jesus is asked by the disciples to name the greatest commandment in the Law.  He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”  Our minds were supposed to be involved in this!  That means that science is not only a stimulating intellectual exercise, not only an amazing detective story—it can also be a form of worship.