Francis Collins Speaks on Genetic Engineering and Christian Faith

on February 12, 2019

On June 18, 2018, leading geneticist and BioLogos founder Francis Collins gave a landmark lecture at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The event was hosted by The Trinity Forum, a group that brings Christian leaders to public square conversations, and was co-sponsored by BioLogos. Over 350 people attended, packing out the room and extending into the overflow space.

I had the privilege of hearing the lecture in person and feeling the energy in the room. I encourage you to watch it for yourself. Dr. Collins began by sharing his own story, both his scientific journey from earning a PhD in quantum physics to leading the Human Genome Project and directing the National Institutes of Health, and his spiritual journey from atheism to coming to faith in Jesus Christ through the writings of C.S.Lewis. He argued for the underlying harmony between science and biblical faith, and pointed to BioLogos as a place to engage these questions thoughtfully.

In the second half of his presentation, Collins addressed one of the most cutting edge topics arising from genomics today: genetic engineering. Through the technology of CRISPR-Cas9, it has become fairly straightforward to “find and replace” pieces of the genetic code. He shared amazing stories of how this technology is already being used to effectively treat disease, and its promise for future treatment, when applied to somatic cells (cells in the body other than reproductive cells). However, he emphasized the ethical dangers in using gene-editing technologies on embryos or germline (reproductive) cells. His discussion of the grey areas between treatment and enhancement was illuminating, and his list of questions to be considered sets the stage for the conversations that Christians need to be having today.

Leading philosopher James K.A. Smith served as respondent, affirming Collins’ themes and playing out some of the implications for human identity. He argued that part of what it means to be humans made in God’s image, is that we are, in our very essence, dependent on one another. Smith joined Collins in answering several audience questions at the end of the presentation. The video does not include his slides, but you can view slides from a similar lecture that Dr. Collins gave in July 2018 for the American Scientific Affiliation, by clicking here.

Enjoy the video!


About the Authors

  • Francis Collins

    Francis Collins

    Dr. Francis Collins is a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes. Collins founded the BioLogos Foundation in November 2007 and served as its president until August 16, 2009, when he resigned to become director of the National Institutes of Health.
  • Deborah Haarsma

    Deborah Haarsma

    Deborah Haarsma is President of BioLogos. She is a frequent speaker on modern science and Christian faith at research universities, churches, and public venues like the National Press Club. Her work appears in several recent books, including Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Design and Christ and the Created Order.  She wrote the book Origins with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma, presenting the agreements and disagreements among Christians regarding the history of life and the universe.  She edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee. Previously, Haarsma served as professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College.  She is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. She has studied large galaxies, galaxy clusters, the curvature of space, and the expansion of the universe using telescopes around the world and in orbit.  Haarsma completed her doctoral work in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her undergraduate work in physics and music at Bethel University. She and Loren enjoy science fiction and classical music, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.