Francis Collins nabs Templeton Prize

May 20, 2020 • 1:30 pm

Let it not be said that belief in woo isn’t lucrative, even if you’re a scientist who abjures woo in his or her daily work. Yes, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and an ardent evangelical Christian converted from atheism by seeing a tripartite frozen waterfall (get it—the Trinity), was just awarded the 2020 Templeton Prize. Click on the screenshot to read the press release from the John Templeton Foundation.

As the Foundation states:

THE TEMPLETON PRIZE honors individuals whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.

And Collins’s achievements?

Geneticist and physician Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, who led the Human Genome Project to its successful completion in 2003 and throughout his career has advocated for the integration of faith and reason, was announced today as the 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate.

Of course he wouldn’t get the Prize for just the Human Genome Project; it had to include his speeches, books, and proselytizing for Christianity and discussing God’s “purpose”. Craig Venter, another leader of the Human Genome Project, is an avowed atheist, and will get no dosh from Templeton. (He has plenty anyway.)

The prize? Designed deliberately to exceed the amount of the Nobel Prize, and given to only one individual, the Templeton Prize this year is $1.3 million.

From an interview about the prize in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The Templeton Prize honors people for leadership in science and spirituality, among other areas. You have written about how both are important to you. How does your faith inform your pursuit of science?

I didn’t start out as a believer. I was an atheist when I was a grad student studying chemistry and physics. As a medical student, I realized my efforts to understand really deep questions about life and death were not really being helped that much by the reductionist form of science going on around me.

For me, science is both an incredibly exciting intellectual challenge and detective story, but it also is a way of understanding nature and appreciating God’s creation. I can’t really separate who I am as a scientist from who I am as a believer. They coexist quite comfortably together.

Yes, they coexist quite comfortably together in Collins’s own mind, but not in the minds of most other scientists, nor in any kind of scheme that requires good reasons for one’s beliefs.

More on this tomorrow .

25 thoughts on “Francis Collins nabs Templeton Prize

  1. The Templeton Foundation and Francis Collins’ religiosity are utterly nauseating. Surely they deserve each other.

  2. Sorta surprised he hasn’t won it before now. He sounds like the perfect Templeton winner. Strongly spiritual with good scientific credentials.

    I’d have trouble hating on Collins, though. Other than his silly religious beliefs, he seems like a pretty decent guy. I admit that I cannot imagine how he reconciles his evangelical religious beliefs with his science knowledge and background.

    1. Interesting. According to his wikipedia bio, Collins believes that evolution is somehow guided by God but he is also a strong critic of intelligent design.

      1. I think I recall (can’t be bothered to look it up at this time in the evening) that, around the time Collins was made D/NIH, he was quoted as saying that research into consciousness was pointless because it was a God-given faculty that was not amenable to human insight. That must have been a concern to the many researchers into consciousness who were being funded by NIH.

        Fortunately, Collins’s scientific conscience outweighed his religious one in this instance. So what’s he actually said or done in his official position to deserve this badge of infamy?

    2. Yes. He is a nice man as far as I can see. An impression I’ve had from ways back is he has developed a remarkable means to compartmentalize his two cores – naturalistic scientist and evangelical christian. He can describe something about genetics, genomes, and even some areas of evolution and he is excellent. Fully versed, and well spoken. Then if the topic enters into that which is under governance of the Judeo-Christian god, I swear his head rotates around 180^o and a different F.C. face is now facing you and he is full on god- walloping christian.

      1. Mark – you used the exact word – compartmentalization. When Francis started BioLogos, there was much talk about the “integration of science and faith” which led to the perspective of theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism. As far as I can tell, this only works for a minority of Christians who interpret the bible in the light of science rather than vice versa. Evangelicals/fundamentalists still need their literal Adam and Eve, and so on.

  3. Dr. Collins was a regular churchgoer in his youth and teenage years. As far as I can tell, he was, as a physician, attending a young child, whom he watched die. After that, he converted back to the religion of his youth.

      1. Professor Coyne,

        Here is one reference:

        In particular, Dr. Collins stated, “Until the age of about 25 I was an atheist, I did not have a religious formation, I was a scientist who reduced almost everything to the equations and laws of physics. But as a doctor I began to meet people who were faced with the problem of life and death, and this made me think that my atheism was not an idea that had a basis. I began to read texts about rational arguments for faith that I did not know.

        “First I arrived at the conviction that atheism was the least acceptable alternative, and little by little I came to the conclusion that a God must exist who created all of this, but I did not know about this God. This led me to conduct research to find out what the nature of God is, and I found it in the Bible and in the person of Jesus. After two years of research I decided that it was not more reasonable to resist and I became a follower of Jesus.”

        1. That’s pretty much the same story told in the link that PCC(E) linked to – quibbles about the definition of “young man” aside. Collins was brought up in the Episcopalian church, attending choir but not taking religion seriously. After studying quantum mechanics he had “a personal breakdown”, transferred to medical science and was emotionally affected by the death of patients. The religious writings of C S Lewis (I nearly tried to distinguish these from his Narnia fiction, but realised that would be quite difficult) seem to have been pivotal in Collins’ newfound Christian convictions. Funny that “two years of research” led Collins to believe in the exact same deity he had grown up singing about in church – who’d a thunk it?

          1. C.S. Lewis is the originator of the “Lord/Liar/Lunatic” apologetic:


            It is amazing to see someone of Dr. Collin’s eminent scholarly stature being rooked-in by arguments that nearly all New Testament & Classical scholars (including, many believers) reject as being fallacious.

            P.S. Someone needs to update the Wiki article to add Dr. Collins to the list of convertees.

    1. “[Francis Collins] was, as a physician, attending a young child, whom he watched die”

      That sounds like what triggered Michael Egnor’s conversion experience.

  4. “Craig Venter, another leader of the Human Genome Project, is an avowed atheist, and will get no dosh from Templeton.”

    It would be nice to somehow get the Templeton Foundation to say on record whether Venter had the least chance of being selected for their prize and, if not, why not.

    1. Snowball in hell chance. Templeton’s criteria for scientists require that their research “sheds new light on philosophical or theological questions.” In other words, atheists need not apply.

  5. To think that Templeton funds programs to inculcate “humility” in the masses (and false humility in the elite), while turning people such as Francis Collins into Dives because of their phantasmagorical beliefs that stems from the very belief system that came up with the Parable of Lazarus and Dives.

  6. Anglican geneticist R. J. Berry, who died in 2018, believed he could reconcile Christianity with biological evolution. His failed attempt at harmonization can be summed up in these three crazy points:

    1st. The first human, Adam, was created “some time after 10,000 years.” The ‘Homo sapiens’ before Adam are not human because they were not “made in God’s image”.

    2nd Adam was “biologically” identical to his ancestors ‘Homo sapiens’, which implies that, even before having sinned, his body was defective and he had already experienced suffering.

    And 3rd. Berry attributes to God an even greater degree of sadism than the Bible, because according to Berry God makes the punishment of original sin fall not only on the “offspring” of Adam and Eve but also on their “conemporaries” (other ‘Homo sapiens’ that they were “transformed by God” into humans after Adam appeared.)

    Berry explains all of this in the first column of the fourth page of the following article:

  7. “Of course he wouldn’t get the Prize for just the Human Genome Project; it had to include his speeches, books, and proselytizing for Christianity and discussing God’s “purpose”.”

    I don’t care what kind of religious belief Collins has (or none) as long as he doesn’t require everyone else to be the same as he is. I don’t even care if he tries to convince others of his viewpoints in speech or in written form. No one has to listen to or read him unless they want to. I do worry if he selects scientists and projects for the (National Institutes of Health) NIH funding based on whether or not they’re compatible with his beliefs. There’s a Wiki article on Craig Venter that makes it sound as if Venter’s The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) was excluded from funding by the NIH “…due to political, personal and ethical conflicts…” I have followed Venter’s scientific and business ventures since he and Celera Corporation were highly involved in “…sequencing the first draft human genome with the publicly funded Human Genome Project…” Venter is reportedly an Atheist.

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