(RNS) — On top of his duties as the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins takes time to answer letters from Christians trying to reconcile their faith with science.
At a conference last week of BioLogos, the nonprofit he founded more than 10 years ago to bridge science and faith, Collins told an audience of 360 scientists, pastors and educators about an email he received recently from a man in Nigeria named Emanuel. Emanuel was raised in a conservative Christian home but was studying to be a nurse and wrestling with whether he could hold on to his faith.
Collins told him he didn’t need to abandon his faith in order to understand what he was learning.
“I was so grateful for the opportunity to reassure this young man and his friends that there is a wonderful answer to the dilemma they face and to walk them through what that might be,” Collins told the audience assembled in Baltimore for the BioLogos conference.
A renowned geneticist, Collins is recognized in faith circles not only for his scientific accomplishments — among them piloting the Human Genome Project — but for his seemingly unshakable faith in God.
That dedication to Christianity has earned him star power among a segment of evangelicals who are eager for a more nuanced approach to science — one that accepts the findings of evolution, for example, and also regards the Bible as a source of ultimate authority.
Though Collins, who turns 69 next week, is not involved in the daily workings of BioLogos (the name combines the Greek words for “life” and “reason” or “word”), he is still its biggest draw and is a visible presence at the conference, where he played acoustic guitar for the gathering’s praise and worship sessions.Among a vast swath of evangelicals, the organization occupies a lonely station. Many evangelicals are opposed to scientific claims about climate change, and a subset believes the Earth was created by God less than 10,000 years ago — a view known as young earth creationism. Then there’s evolution, which many churches view as a direct threat to the biblical account of Genesis that sees humans as the pinnacle of God’s creation.
BioLogos, which receives much of its support from the John Templeton Foundation, takes concrete steps to educate evangelicals about science in a way that makes room for their faith. It has recently launched a podcastand is working on curricula for homeschoolers and Christian high schools that are both scientifically rigorous and true to the historic Christian faith.
Collins may be the best Protestant diplomat for bridging the science-faith divide. No surprise, plenty of conference participants lined up for selfies.
Though his scientific celebrity is one part of his popularity, said James Stump, senior editor for the BioLogos website, “the big draw is his personality — being around him. People are attracted to him. He’s the sort of person that when you’re talking to him, you have his attention. He genuinely cares about people.”
RNS sat down with Collins at the BioLogos conference to ask him about the challenges that lie ahead in reconciling faith and science. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Patheos Explore the world's faith through different perspectives on religion and spirituality! Patheos has the views of the prevalent religions and spiritualities of the world.