Controversial Collins Nominated to Head National Institutes of Health

President Obama recently nominated Dr. Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health, a position that directs an annual budget of almost $30 billion. Having directed the effort to map the human genome, Collins is one of the world’s preeminent scientists. And it appears likely he’ll be confirmed to the post in question with little difficulty.

Still, Collins is surrounded by a fair amount of controversy, much of which is tied in some way to his well-known allegiance to Christ. As Chuck Colson recently expressed:

[Collins] is a solid follower of Christ and an articulate defender of his views—both religious and scientific. Converted by reading C.S. Lewis, he became a fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute and studied there. He and I have spent long hours together discussing Scripture and particularly the works of St. Augustine.

Collins’ commitment to Christ is obviously problematic for many in the scientific community who advocate a strictly naturalistic worldview. On the other hand, many in the religious (particularly the evangelical Christian) community are troubled by questions regarding the compatibility of Collins’ faith with his views on issues like evolution, stem cell research, and abortion. While he expressed enthusiasm for his friend’s appointment, Colson himself noted

He and I have some profound disagreements. He is an evolutionary theist who believes in the common descent of all life. His book, The Language of God, tries to harmonize evolution and Christianity in a way that I simply cannot agree with (and so I couldn’t endorse the book).* He also is in favor of certain kinds of embryonic stem cell research. Again, I could not disagree with him more.

*I should note that The Crossing bookstore carries The Language of God, along with other titles containing differing perspectives on the complex biblical and scientific issues involved with the origin of life.

For those who are interested in where Collins’ views fall regarding evolution, particularly in relation to other positions on the spectrum, Jeremy Pierce helpfully attempts to sort out the distinctions here. I’d echo the sentiment of Marvin Olasky:

I’d love to see a discussion between Collins and an [intelligent design] expert like Steve Meyer, a Cambridge University graduate and the author of a new, highly praised book, Signature in the Cell (HarperCollins). A discussion between two intelligent, influential guys would help all of us to sort out truth from falsehood.

In regard to stem cell research and related issues, Justin D. Barnard has recently leveled some significant criticism at Collins views.

Lastly, if you’re interested in finding our more about Collins, I’ll point you in the direction of two direct interviews: one in the latest issue of Books and Culture which deals primarily with Collins’ views on evolution, and an earlier piece on Beliefnet that is somewhat more wide-ranging in content.

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