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When I talk to my students about the tempestuous relationship between science and religion, I like to bring up the case of Francis Collins. Early in his career, Collins was a successful gene-hunter, who helped identify genes associated with cystic fibrosis and other disorders. He went on to become one of the world’s most powerful scientists. Since 2009, he has directed the National Institutes of Health, which this year has a budget of over $40 billion. Before that he oversaw the Human Genome Project, one of history’s biggest research projects. Collins was an atheist until 1978, when he underwent a conversion experience while hiking in the mountains and became a devout Christian. In his 2006 bestselling book The Language of God, Collins declares that he sees no incompatibility between science and religion. “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome,” he wrote. “He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory.” Collins just won the $1.3 million Templeton Prize, created in 1972 to promote reconciliation of science and spirituality. (See my posts on the Templeton Foundation here and here). This news gives me an excuse to post an interview I carried out with Collins for National Geographic in 2006, a time when Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others were vigorously attacking religion. Below is an edited transcript of my conversation with Collins, which took place in Washington, D.C. I liked Collins, whom I found to be surprisingly unassuming for a man of such high stature. But I was disturbed by our final exchanges, in which he revealed a fatalistic outlook on humanity’s future. Collins, it seems, has lots of faith in God but not much in humanity. – John Horgan

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Category: Science
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