On Francis Collins

Jul 29, 2009, 9:44 pm by Zach

Francis Collins, Director NIHPaul sent me a link to this NY Times article about Obama's pick for national director of the NIH, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. Most non-scientists are probably pretty in the dark about the NIH, but it's a Very Big Deal. They head up lots of biomedical research and are responsible for giving out lots of grant money to scientists across the US.

Collins is a Christian and a scientist. Without knowing much about him, I'm sure most liberals would roll their eyes and consider this a step backwards. Collins is actually pretty good about separating religion from science. In fact, I'd say he's a great model for demonstrating how the two need not be mutually exclusive. He doesn't promote "intelligent design" and his CV is pretty impressive. He headed up the National Human Genome Research Institute, which will prove to be an invaluable tool for treating genetic diseases. I actually met him once at a lecture at SMU when I was in high school and he was a great speaker.

However, as outlined in the NY Times article, he has said some things that make people like me cringe--that at some point in our evolution, god inserted a soul. Of course, no science can prove this. The nature of science is to answer how, when and what, but never why. Collins has said, however, “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence”, which any scientist would agree with.

The question remains as to whether or not someone who is religious can ever be a truly good scientist. To say not would be as intolerant as the religious right is known to be. Logically, science and religion answer different questions (or different sides of similar questions), and a truly great scientist's work would never be swayed by their spiritual beliefs. Historically, this is almost never true. Lots of us hope that Collins is level-headed enough and will make a great director of the NIH, but part of us worries that NIH funding might change directions and support scientists who hold his religious beliefs. I personally don't think this will happen. I think he will end up doing a great job. Your thoughts?

One thing we can all agree on, though, is homeboy needs a new haircut. Do he and Bill Gates see the same barber? Damn!

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