Thursday, July 09, 2009

Obama Nominates a Theistic Evolutionist to Head NIH

President Obama has nominated Francis Collins to be the head of the National Institutes of Health. Since NIH is the single biggest funding source for science in the world, this position will give Collins immense influence on scientific research.

There are two big points of interest here. As I have noted in some of my posts, Collins is a theistic evolutionist. Having been an agnostic or atheist in his youth, Collins eventually embraced Christianity through the influence of writers like C. S. Lewis. He decided that this religious belief did not require belief in creationism or intelligent design reasoning--which he rejects--because Darwinian evolutionary science is fully compatible with Christianity. In recent years, he has spoken a lot about this. In fact, some scientists are uneasy about his nomination because they think he shouldn't be mixing science and religion.

At the same time, creationists and intelligent design proponents dislike Collins because he subverts their rhetorical strategy of arguing that scientific atheists like Richard Dawkins speak for all Darwinian scientists.

The second point of interest related to Collins is his involvement in the debate over the power of human genetics. As the leader in the human genome project, Collins won massive federal funding with the prediction that mapping the human genome would fuel medical advances in treating genetically caused diseases and disabilities. That prediction has failed to come true, which has exposed the falsity of any simple-minded genetic determinism. Now, Collins himself emphasizes that human nature cannot be reduced to human genetics, because genetic factors interact in complex ways with many other factors that are not reducible to genetic causes.

Some of my posts related to Collins can be found here, here, and here.

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