Francis Collins: Hm. Life has so many different levels that one could talk about in terms of meaning. As a scientist, I can reduce it down to this whole set of molecules and genes and proteins and how you go from being one cell to being you and me. At a much different level, sitting at the bedside of a patient who’s struggling with a terrible disease, life is so precious. Life is something we all want to hang on to, if we possibly can, and medicine is supposed to achieve that and yet sometimes falls short.

For me, as a person who also is a person of faith, life has other significance of a spiritual sort, but who we are as humans and what makes us able to interact with each other, to understand concepts like love that you can’t write an equation about, and even to have this hunger for a relationship with God, all of those things are part of what I think about it in a question like what is the meaning of life.

But I’m saying it rather badly compared to what other great sages have said down through the centuries, and we need to pay attention to them and read their words as well. Science should never imagine that we’re the ones who are going to answer all the questions. We can answer some really important questions about how things work, about nature. We’re not so good at why. We’re pretty good at how. I think the why questions are pretty important too. Why am I here?