Francis Collins, MD, PhD
Geneticist and physician Francis Collins, MD, PhD, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and career-long advocate for the integration of faith and reason, was recently announced as the 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate. Dr. Collins was selected as the 2020 Laureate by the prize judges late in 2019, but the announcement was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Collins will formally receive the Templeton Prize in a virtual ceremony later this year.
The Templeton Prize, valued at 1.1 million British pounds, is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards and honors individuals who advance the philanthropic vision of investor Sir John Templeton: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.
The Gene Hunter
Dr. Collins was born in Staunton, Virginia, on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley. He received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Virginia and a PhD in physical chemistry from Yale. A biochemistry course, however, led him to shift his career path and enroll in medical school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
While a third-year medical student serving his residency, he was struck by the faith of his patients, many of whom faced imminent death. A neighbor, a Methodist minister, introduced him to the writings of C.S. Lewis and started Dr. Collins’ journey to Christian belief that lasted for the next 3 decades.
After serving his residency and earning a medical degree, Dr. Collins was named a Fellow in Human Genetics at Yale Medical School under the direction of Sherman Weissman, MD. In Dr. Weissman’s lab, Dr. Collins developed the technique of “chromosome jumping,” allowing the cloning of an entire genetic strand by skipping over lengthy, perhaps unsearchable, parts of the strand without going through the sequence gene by gene to read the entire strand.
In 1984, Dr. Collins joined the University of Michigan as Professor of Internal Medicine and Human Genetics and was later named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. While there, Dr. Collins became known as the “gene hunter” for his pioneering technique of “positional cloning” to pinpoint disease-related genes. His research groups have been responsible for the discovery of the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (a rare type of premature aging).
After 9 years at the University of Michigan, he was appointed Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research in 1993. There, he was responsible for The Human Genome Project, an international consortium that remains the largest biologic collaboration project in history. He resigned his position in 2008 but continued to lead an active laboratory focused on progeria and type 2 diabetes.
In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Collins as the 16th Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Collins was reappointed to the position by President Donald Trump in 2017. He is the longest-serving Director in the agency’s history.
Religion and Reason
Dr. Collins has published four books for general audiences in which he explores the relationship between science and his Christian faith. Dr. Collins and his wife, Diane Baker, a founding faculty member and Director of the Genetic Counseling Program at the University of Michigan, founded the nonprofit BioLogos Foundation in 2007. The organization publishes articles and podcasts from scientists who are also Christians and promotes the view that an evolutionary creation position is correct and compatible with Christianity.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Collins has urged faith communities to trust science while debunking various Internet conspiracies, to link inevitable bad news to opportunities for hope, and to remain strong in their faith.