Francis Collins on Science and Spirituality
  Francis Collins     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

Sure. No, some people imagine that, you know, you have this part of your brain that’s the religious part, and this part for the scientific part and at any given moment you can only let one of those operate or you’ll explode. Not true. I am both of those things at all times. I think they’re incredibly integrate-able. So science is the way that you investigate the natural world. It’s the only trustworthy way to do so. But the natural world from my view doesn’t answer an awful lot of interesting questions like why are we here anyway? Is there a God? And does that person care about me? And what is love all about? And all of those questions which I think science doesn’t help you all that much with. So if you’re going to limit yourself to the natural world and to the scientific view I think you end up sort of one-dimensional... And I’m happy to have this other part of me that’s thinking about those other issues. And just as I think science is the way to look at the natural world, I think faith is the way to look at the spiritual world. And everybody has to figure out what their view is of that. That’s not an entirely sort of emotional, oh; I’ve had an experience of revelation, at least it wasn’t for me. It’s also an intellectual adventure and a fascinating one. There’s a lot of logic that can be brought to bear on the question of does it make sense that there’s a god or not. And a lot of scientists, I don’t think have actually considered that.

Who made God? Well, you know, that implies that someone would need to make God. I think if God has meaning then perhaps God doesn’t need to be made. God is not sort of restricted by that sort of need for something else to have created who he or she is. I think God by definition is the creator, not the created.

But I find it totally comfortable to have a conversation like this, although, perhaps not everyone would. And also as one who is sort of doing a scientific experiment or learning something new to think of that in the context of something larger than who we are. To think of that in the context of making a scientific discovery and thinking for yourself, as you once in a while in your life get to do, as a scientist. Wow, that’s something nobody knew before. Maybe it isn’t huge, but it’s something that nobody knew before. And then for me it’s also like well God knew that before. And I just got a chance to glimpse something of God’s amazing ability to understand everything. And that’s a wonderful moment because it’s a moment of scientific revelation but it’s also a moment if you’ll pardon the word—of worship, of appreciating the Almighty. And that makes that moment so much more significant for me than it otherwise would be.

Francis Collins earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Virginia (1970), a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Yale University (1974), and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina (1977). While a researcher at the University of Michigan (1984-1993), he pioneered “positional cloning” methods which resulted in the Collins team and their collaborators isolating the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis, and others.

In 1993 he accepted leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP) by becoming Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research (NHGRI). With Dr. Collins as head of the NHGRI, the HGP attained its goal of sequencing all 3 billion base pairs of the human genome.

He has attended all of the Cold Spring Harbor meetings on genomics.