How did I miss this? Science and religion together, as it should be.
July 14, 2009 8:41 PM
New détente in science-religion war?
Last week, President Barack Obama announced his nomination of geneticist and physician Francis Collins as the new director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the government organisation that funds medical research in the US. The appointment has sparked a flurry of mixed reactions across the country, largely because Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, is an outspoken evangelical Christian.
Collins is a staunch supporter of evolution and a highly-respected scientist who is responsible for the discovery of genes responsible for several diseases, including cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's and adult onset diabetes. He is also the author of The Language of God: A scientist presents evidence for belief (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and recently the founder of the BioLogos foundation, which aims to reconcile science and religion by promoting "theistic evolution" - the idea that God chose to create life by way of evolution.
Some see Obama's decision to appoint Collins as an attempt to negotiate peace between science and religion. "Was this the administration's primary reason for picking Collins?" asks Dan Gilgoff in US News and World Report. "No way. But Collins's religious side is much too central to his work nowadays for the White House not to have noticed." Indeed, the White House press statement mentions that "Dr. Collins has a longstanding interest in the interface between science and faith."
"Rare among world-class scientists, Collins is also a born-again Christian, which may help him build bridges with those who view some gene-based research as a potential threat to religious values," writes David Brown in the Washington Post.
At the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning political think tank, Sally Steenland writes, "Obama's nomination of Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health is good news for scientists, for people of faith, and for all Americans... It signals that the hyped conflict between science and religion has no place, either symbolically or pragmatically, in the work of the Obama administration. Suddenly, the war between religion and science seems so 'last century'."
In a New York Times article, Gardiner Harris reports that "Religion and genetic research have long had a fraught relationship, and some in the field complain about what they see as Dr. Collins's evangelism."
"Do those complaining think that his 'evangelism' will affect his ability to do a good job at NIH?" journalist Chris Mooney asks on his blog, The Intersection. "Because if not, I fail to see how this is a relevant criticism."