Collins said one thing that caught his attention in the opening chapters of the book is Lewis’ examination of the basis of morality— in other words, why is there such a thing as good and evil, and why does it matter?
“This is where I think the most strict atheists find themselves in a real quandary,” Collins argued.
“Because if they try to argue that our ideas about good and evil are solely driven by evolutionary pressures that have helped us survive, the ultimate consequence of that are that those are fictional concepts— that we've all been hoodwinked into imagining that there is such a thing as good and evil, and that we should stop paying attention to that and do whatever we please. And even the most ardent atheist has trouble with that conclusion.”
“Understanding God's works in nature”
Today, Collins is outspoken about his Christian faith. He wrote a book in 2006 entitled “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” in which he describes how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research.
He and his wife in 2007 founded the non-profit BioLogos Foundation, which aims to foster discussion about harmony between science and biblical faith through articles, podcasts, and other media.
Collins is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, having been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
Though Collins said he has only been able to attend one meeting of the Academy at the Vatican since his appointment, he described the meeting as “a fascinating gathering of really world-class scientists of multiple different disciplines.”
“I've found such joy in the ability to bring together the spiritual and the scientific perspectives that I feel this urge to share,” he said.
“Not to turn it into too dry an intellectual, philosophical discourse, but to talk about the joy that I have experienced and by God's grace, in being able to read God's word in the Bible and understand God's works in nature.”
Faith and bioethics
Amid the global race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, some pro-life advocates and ethicists have expressed concern that in some cases, scientists may use human fetal tissue derived from aborted babies in their research.
One proposed line of research, led by immunologist Kim Hasenkrug at the NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, aimed to find treatments for COVID-19 by implanting mice with fetal lung tissue, infecting the mice with coronavirus strains similar to COVID-19, and testing for successful treatments.
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The Department of Health and Human Services, NIH’s parent agency, last year imposed a moratorium on NIH fetal tissue research derived from elective abortions, meaning Hasenkrug’s research will not go forward barring any changes in NIH guideleines.
The new guidelines, which NIH released in July 2019, halt new NIH research with aborted fetal tissue and limited funding of “extramural” research— or tests conducted outside the NIH— on aborted fetal tissue. Grant applicants to the NIH must indicate why their research goals “cannot be accomplished using an alternative to HFT” and what methods they have used to determine that no alternatives can be used.
For his part, Collins says he considers the question of whether it is ethical to use human embryos and aborted fetuses for research is an “important issue to think through carefully.”
“I would be the first to say we should not be creating or destroying embryos— human embryos— for research, and we should not be terminating pregnancies for research,” Collins told CNA.
Collins differs from Catholic teaching on research involving frozen embryos.
“But if there are embryos that are left over after in vitro fertilization— and the hundreds of thousands that are never going to be used for anything, they'll be discarded— I think it is ethical to consider ways in which research might make it possible to utilize that information to help somebody.”
“And likewise, if there are hundreds of thousands of fetuses that are otherwise being discarded through what is a legal process in this country, we ought to think about whether it is more ethical to throw them away, or in some rare instance to use them for research that might be life saving.”
The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis personae states that “the obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo…invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit.”