Francis Collins Speaks on Genetic Engineering and Christian Faith

Francis CollinsDeborah Haarsma
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!


Dear BioLogos reader ...

In the escalating vitriol in our culture, “science” and “faith” have found each other on opposite sides of a polarized divide. Truth and community are under attack.

If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it is what science can and cannot do. Scientists and doctors have done amazing things during the pandemic—identified the virus, treated the disease, and developed safe vaccines that work.

But in these polarized times, science can’t reduce anger, forgive sins, build mutual respect, or fill us with compassion for others.

Science alone can’t give us hope. Faith can. Join BioLogos today in reaching a world desperate for hope. Your tax-deductible donation will be the difference between someone encountering misinformation, or a thoughtful, truthful, and hopeful Christian perspective that shows faith and science working hand in hand.

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About the Authors

  • Francis Collins

    Francis Collins

    Francis Collins is one of the world's leading scientists and geneticists, and the founder of BioLogos. In his early scientific career, he discovered the gene for cystic fibrosis. Then he led an international collaboration that first mapped the entire human genome. For that work he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. In 2008 he was appointed to his current role as Director of the National Institutes of Health, where he has been overseeing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2006, Collins wrote the best-selling book The Language of God. It tells the story of his journey from atheism to Christian belief, showing that science actually enhances faith. The tremendous response to the book prompted Collins to found BioLogos. He envisioned it as a forum to discuss issues at the intersection of faith and science and to celebrate the harmony found there. His reputation quickly attracted a large network of faith leaders, including Tim Keller, Philip Yancey, and NT Wright. These and others joined the BioLogos conversation and affirmed the value of engaging science as believers. BioLogos is now an organization that reaches millions around the world. In celebration of his world-class scientific accomplishments and deep Christian faith, Collins was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2020. It honors individuals who are "harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” He joined a prestigious group of previous winners, including Mother Teresa, Francis Ayala, Charles Townes, Desmond Tutu, and Billy Graham.
  • 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 University.  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.