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September 25, 2020

Statement by Heather Templeton Dill at the 2020 Templeton Prize Ceremony

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September 24, 2020

National Academy of Sciences Building, Washington, D.C.

Thank you Jennifer, and good evening to everyone.  Tonight we are delighted to have guests attending from around the world.  Whereas normally we could accommodate only a few hundred guests at an in-person celebration, this year we have had thousands of people from six continents register to attend.  For everyone watching, welcome, and thank you.

It is a great honor to be here at the National Academy of Sciences to honor Dr. Francis Collins as the 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate.

I first learned that Francis had been chosen by our independent panel of eight judges as the 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate in mid-December.  I contacted Dr. Collins a few days later to inform him and congratulate him.  He was surprised and honored, and our Prize team started the usual elaborate planning for the announcement, which was to happen in early Spring; for the filming of a biographical video demonstrating why Dr. Collins had been awarded the Prize; and for a set of in-person events culminating in a large Ceremony attended by hundreds in early autumn.

Of course, things did not quite proceed as planned.  But we were able to announce Dr. Collins as the Prize Laureate in May, we were able to film him during a rare weekend opening in his grueling schedule (with all crew members tested, masked, and maintaining social distancing during production), leading to the film which you will see in a few minutes.  And here we are here at the National Academy of Sciences to honor him in a new and exciting way – the first ever virtual ceremony for the Templeton Prize. 

It is particularly appropriate, in these challenging times, that Francis Collins – geneticist, physician, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and one of the most prominent and respected scientists in the world – is awarded the 2020 Templeton Prize

Our presenters will offer many of their thoughts on that theme this evening.

From the perspective of the Templeton Philanthropies, Francis Collins embodies the ideals and core convictions that inspired my grandfather, Sir John Templeton, to establish the Templeton Prize in 1972: that rigorous research, especially in the sciences, and the effective communication of that research can help humanity confront the deepest and most challenging questions of existence.

Throughout his long career, Dr. Collins has advocated for the integration of faith and reason, demonstrating how religious faith can inform and inspire a rigorous quest for knowledge of the natural world through the sciences.

Collins’s gracious and winsome manner, along with his skills as a scientist and administrator, have earned him an outstanding reputation in the academy, in communities of faith, and in the political sector.

In his role as a scientist, government official, and public intellectual, he has used his platform to engage groups of diverse perspectives, and encouraged greater curiosity, open-mindedness, and humility among scientists and persons of all faiths and none.

Like other laureates before him, Dr. Collins is doing work that strives to heal both the body and the soul.  He joins a long history of Templeton Prize winners dating back to the first laureate in 1973, Mother Teresa.  Winners of the Templeton Prize have ranged from religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama, to biologists, philosophers, and physicists, including the remarkable Freeman Dyson, who passed away earlier this year.  What unites them is a spirit of curiosity for the scientific as well as the spiritual quest. We are all searchers in one way or another, and Dr. Collins is an exemplar of how the life of faith and the work of a scientist can touch the lives of many.

The past eight months have been exceptionally demanding for Dr. Collins and his colleagues at the NIH, who, in addition to their essential work to eradicate diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, have made extreme efforts to accelerate research on treatments and a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

The video you are about to see charts the path of Dr. Collins from childhood, to being a third-year medical student at North Carolina Memorial Hospital, Chapel Hill, to his guidance of the Human Genome Project at NIH resulting, in 2003, with a full map of the entire human genome, and, now, to his efforts on COVID-19.  “If we’re all feeling this is pretty overwhelming, there’s a reason for that,” he says.  What gives him hope, he says, is that we can move beyond a spirit of fear.