Well, we thought we’d seen the last of the theocracy of George W. Bush, but it apparently ain’t so. The Scientist reports (and this has been the buzz for weeks), that born-again Christian and BioLogos Foundation director Francis Collins is likely to be named as head of the National Institutes of Health:
Francis Collins, the geneticist who led the Human Genome Project, is close to taking over the top spot at the National Institutes of Health, according to areport by Bloomberg News.
Collins, who was the director of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008, is in the final stages of being screened by the administration of US President Barack Obama, an unnamed source toldBloomberg.
Elias Zerhouni, Collins’ would-be predecessor, voiced his approval for the pick, telling Bloomberg that Collins has “done things many scientists wish they could do once in their lifetime, and he’s done it repeatedly.”
Collins recently unveiled a new foundation, BioLogos, that promotes “the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives,” according to the organization’s Web site. Collins, who is an evangelical Christian, has said that his new foundation is an attempt to resolve Christian faith with scientific evidence, especially with regard to evolution. In 2006 he published a bestselling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, that stirred some controversy in the scientific community.
I am funded by the NIH, and I’m worried. Not about my own funding (although I’m a heathen cultural Jew), but about how this will affect things like stem-cell research and its funding. If appointed, Collins will have wide latitude in how to disperse the $30 billion annual budget, and can steer it towards or away from various projects. I’d be much more comfortable with someone whose only agenda was science, and did not feel compelled to set up a highly-publicized website demonstrating how he reconciles his science with Jesus. (Truthdig has published Sam Harris’s evisceration of Collins’s wacko book.)
We are just recovering from the theocracy of G. W. Bush, and I was happy that federally-funded stem-cell research was allowed to go ahead. Now what will happen? This is NOT a presidential appointment designed to smooth the waters roiled by our previous administration.
Collins may indeed be a good administrator, but this appointment is a mistake. At the very least, Collins must remove himself as director of the BioLogos foundation, as holding both posts would represent an unwanted incursion of religion into the public sphere. I call for him to resign from BioLogos if he’s appointed as head of the NIH. (That, of course, has the attendant benefit of putting the ever-amusing Karl Giberson in charge of BioLogos!)