Dr Francis Collins, a prominent Christian geneticist and head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US, was named the winner of the 2020 Templeton Prize yesterday.
Originally granted for work in the field of religion, with Mother Teresa its first recipient, the prestigious award today honours “people who harness the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and human existence.”
Speaking this morning to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Collins said that he was “totally shocked” by the announcement. “When you look at the roster of individuals who have received this in the past, it is many of my heroes,” he said.
The Templeton panel said that they were awarding Collins for his achievements in the “integration of faith and reason.” One of America’s leading scientists and a former head of the Human Genome Project, Collins has spoken publicly about his conversion from atheism to Christianity, which began after witnessing the deep faith of his medical patients. He went on to write a book, The Language of God, which offered a scientific defence for belief in the existence of God.
When asked earlier today on Radio 4 what he made of Richard Dawkins’ counter-claim that faith was a “delusion”, he insisted that faith could be “intensely rational” but that Dawkins was falsely reducing rationality to what can only be measured by science. “I think Richard is in the class of folks who are scientists, but they are also practising scientism, which takes science to a place it doesn’t really belong,” he said.
As Director of the NIH, Collins is currently leading US efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. When asked if he was hopeful for an end to the coronavirus crisis, he said his views were mixed. “I’m worried in the short term if, by sheer exhaustion from all of this physical distancing and requirements to stay at home, people simply get tired of it and leaders also just feel like they can’t sustain it anymore.” He added, however, that the prospects for the long term were much better, since “this is a disease where a vaccine ought to work.” He said that people should, therefore, remain hopeful: “because if there’s one thing more infectious than a virus, it’s hope.”
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