Physician and geneticist Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health since 2009, has been awarded one of the world’s leading religion prizes for demonstrating how religious faith can motivate scientific research.
Collins, who led the acclaimed Human Genome Project to completion in 2003, was announced Wednesday as winner of the 2020 Templeton Prize.
The honour from the John Templeton Foundation and two affiliated philanthropies comes with an award of 1.1 million British pounds ( $1.345 million).
The foundation said Collins, 70, was selected as the winner late last year, but the announcement was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He will formally receive the Templeton Prize in a virtual ceremony later this year.
In recent months, Collins and his NIH colleagues have shifted major parts of their work to accelerating treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Throughout the pandemic, the foundation said, Collins has urged faith communities to trust science while debunking various internet conspiracies.
In a statement released by the foundation, Collins said: “As I write this, almost my every waking moment is consumed by the effort to find treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19.”
Collins said while the complexity of human biology leaves him awestruck, he grieves “at the suffering and death I see all around, and at times I confess I am assailed by doubts about how a loving God would permit such tragedies.
“But then I remember that the God who hung on the cross is intimately familiar with suffering.”
From 1993 to 2008, Collins directed the National Human Genome Research Institute, guiding the Human Genome Project in its mapping and sequencing of the three billion DNA letters that make up the human genetic instruction book.
In 2006, Collins published his first book for a general audience: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
It details his journey from agnosticism to atheism to Christian belief and details his belief science does not conflict with the Bible.
Previous winners of the Templeton Prize include Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.