Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Enlightened Choice

President Obama — in an inspired move — named Dr. Francis Collins head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Collins is one of the world’s leading scientists. He is a physician-geneticist known in part for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and for his leadership of the Human Genome Project. (Collins served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH from 1993-2008.)

The New York Times reports, however, that a couple of objections have been raised to the choice of Dr. Collins. According to the Times:

The first is his very public embrace of religion. Dr. Collins, who was not raised with any religious training, wrote a book called “The Language of God,” and he has given many talks and interviews in which he has described his conversion to Christianity as a 27-year-old medical school intern. “I came at this from a position of ignorance,” he said. “I came at it from an intellectual point of view.” Religion and genetic research have long had a fraught relationship, and some in the field are uneasy about what they see as Dr. Collins’s evangelism.

This is an example of the sometimes subtle and sometimes overt bias against people of religious faith. Collins’s critics speak as if Obama had named the President of Westminster Theological Seminary as head of NIH instead of one of the world’s greatest scientific minds and a man of sterling scientific credentials. Dr. Collins being a person of faith — and in particular, of the Christian faith — seems to alarm some people in the scientific world, despite there being nothing in Colins’s body of work that would cause anyone to think twice about how his faith might negatively impact his work at NIH. The mere fact that Collins embraced Christianity and is viewed as an “evangelical” is itself considered grounds for suspicion.

Fortunately, none of this will matter. Dr. Collins will provide outstanding leadership to the NIH. He will show that faith and reason are perfectly compatible. But this episode underscores the prejudices that have to be overcome. And those who think the world of science is free from such things ,ought to think again.