“I am just basically heartbroken in a circumstance where, as an answer to prayer, vaccines have been developed that turned out to be much better than we dared to hope for,” he said in an interview with Religion News Service on Wednesday (Feb. 2).
“And yet they are still not seen as something that a lot of white evangelicals are interested in taking part in and, as a result, people are dying. I just didn’t see that happening and certainly not at this scale.”
Collins is the founder and senior fellow of BioLogos, an organization that seeks to foster the integration of “rigorous science” with Christian faith. He and BioLogos President Deborah Haarsma, an astronomer, spoke to journalists at a Faith Angle Forum/BioLogos webinar on Wednesday titled “Faith and Science in an Age of Tribalism.”
Haarsma said on the webinar that the country’s divisions have reshaped views of science.
“The world has become so aggressively polarized that it seems like every issue has to land in a red camp or a blue camp, and when you view the world that way, somehow Christian faith gets assigned to red and science gets assigned to blue,” she said. “And for scientists who are Christians, like myself and Francis Collins, this just doesn’t make any sense to us.”
Collins stepped down in December after 12 years as the NIH director and still runs a government research lab so spoke as a private citizen.
He tied “this red-blue situation” — including social media, political messages and words heard in churches — directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it includes white evangelicals who are resistant to or disinterested in pursuing vaccines — some 30% to 40%, according to PRRI and Pew Research Center.
“The culture war is literally killing people,” added Collins, citing estimates that more than 100,000 people have died unnecessarily due to vaccine resistance and hesitancy even as “hundreds of thousands of lives” were saved.
Collins said in an interview after the webinar that many white evangelicals have been “victimized by the misinformation and lies and conspiracies that are floating around, particularly on social media and some of it in cable news.”
But he also wondered about his success in conveying the lessons from the science he has watched develop over the last two years.