A Pandemic Didn't Stop Francis Collins from Discussing Science, Faith
Everyone I know who has spent time with Francis Collins comes away feeling like he is one of the finest men they've ever met.
Thursday is the ceremony at which Francis Collins accepts the Templeton Prize. This is a pretty big deal. He takes his place alongside past winners of the prize, which include Desmond Tutu, Billy Graham, and Mother Teresa. The criteria for winning the prize have changed over the years, and now these are listed as focusing on “research, discovery, public engagement, and religious leadership that advance our understanding of, and appreciation for, the insights that science brings to the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s purpose and place within it” (Templeton Prize History). It’s hard to imagine a more fitting recipient.
Because of the pandemic, the ceremony will be held virtually this year, instead of being an in-person event at some swanky location and filled with lots of pomp and circumstance. We at BioLogos are kind of bummed about that because many of us would have been able to attend the in-person event (and we don’t get a lot of swankiness or pomp and circumstance). But on the other hand, the event is now open to anyone who would like to “attend” — it is free but requires registration which can be found here.
And I suppose there is something fitting about Francis winning the prize during a pandemic and holding the ceremony “virtually” for anyone who wants to watch. After all, Francis’s life has become consumed with battling the coronavirus from the director’s chair of the National Institutes of Health, and he is a treasure that should be shared with everyone rather than kept only for the select few.
Everyone I know who has spent time with Francis comes away feeling like he is one of the finest men they’ve ever met. We are so thrilled that he is getting this recognition.
Back in February I wrote a blog post about his book, The Language of God, which directly led to the founding of BioLogos. February… that seems like another lifetime. Perhaps the Templeton Prize Committee had already chosen him as the prize recipient by then, but we didn’t learn of it until May. By then the country was fully into pandemic mode, and we at BioLogos had already shifted our energies to producing science and faith resources related to the coronavirus and its effects. And Francis was heavily involved in many of these.
Every time we asked him to join us for a virtual event, he agreed. And this in spite of the 100 hour weeks he’s been spending coordinating the efforts between government agencies and pharmaceutical companies to produce a vaccine. More than once we asked ourselves, “should we really be taking him away from that work to talk to us and our audience again?” But he has also been the ideal spokesperson to communicate trustworthy information in a culture where there has been deep mistrust of science. After every one of our events with him, we heard from many, many people who were so grateful to hear from him directly about the scientific details of the pandemic and to be able to share these resources with friends and family who had bought into the conspiracies. So we feel that his time with us served an important purpose (and while it might be legitimately questioned whether the time it took for him to get the Genesis song with NT Wright into presentable form served an important purpose … it was really, really cool!).
We thought we’d use the occasion today to point you to some of those resources again.
The first virtual event was in early April, and I talked to Francis about what scientists had learned about the virus so far, and where he thought things were going. He also shared openly and vulnerably about the difficulties this has caused, and how he finds strength from his faith.
Our second event occurred about six weeks later in the middle of May. We were thrilled that Tim Keller agreed to join in the discussion. Francis and Tim have been friends for many years, despite not entirely agreeing on all the details related to faith and science.
The third brought NT Wright into the discussion about his new book on the pandemic. The chemistry between Wright and Collins is unmistakable, even through a virtual event like this one. We’ve had the two of them together at our conferences, and their conversations (and songs!) have never failed to move the audience profoundly.
In non-virtual event resources, when the Templeton Prize announcement was made in late May, we had prepared a couple of pieces to accompany that:
Finally, the most recent piece we’ve produced with Francis is the correspondence he had with a scientist who believes the vaccine production process has been irrevocably politicized. This is difficult, as there have recently been well documented cases of interference with the scientific process for political reasons. But thankfully, there are people like Francis in charge of the actual research, whose integrity is beyond reproach and who transcends politics.