Dr. Francis Collins is one of the greatest living Americans. He is the man who brought the Human Genome Project to completion, ahead of time and under budget, and who now directs the National Institutes of Health… I know Francis, too, from various public and private debates over religion. He has been kind enough to visit me in his own time and to discuss all sorts of novel treatments, only recently even imaginable, that might apply to my case. And let me put it this way: he hasn’t suggested prayer, and I in turn haven’t teased him about The Screwtape Letters. So those who want me to die in agony are really praying that the efforts of our most selfless Christian physician be thwarted. Who is Dr. Collins to interfere with the divine design? By a similar twist, those who want me to burn in hell are also mocking those kind religious folk who do not find me unsalvageably evil. I leave these paradoxes to those, friends and enemies, who still venerate the supernatural.
It’s not often that an anti-theist goes out of his way to praise a Christian, so Collins must be doing something to please the atheists. Sticking up for good science over bad faith is definitely one way to win rational people over.
Even PZ has changed his attitude about Collins lately:
Collins has the right goals: he’s wrangling with congress to open up opportunities for more stem cell research. His opponent is the Christian pro-life contingent, and hey, look, Collins speaks their language — he’s One of Them. Could that help? Will he get through to them and break the logjam? Stay tuned!
I’m a bit cynical. I think we’re looking at a deep-seated ideological conflict, and that the right wing won’t budge no matter how folksy and friendly and religiously copacetic Collins might be. But this is a case where, if Collins succeeds in battling the bureaucratic believers and overcoming the hurdles to stem cell research support, I will grudgingly admit that he was a politically astute choice for his position, despite my earlier contrary sentiments. I still think he’s a dingbat, but maybe we need a few dingbats on the interface between science and politics.
I think that’s a pretty high form of compliment coming from him 🙂
If you haven’t read it yet, there’s a lengthy profile of Collins in the New Yorker this week, portraying him as a staunch defender of science despite his evangelical Christianity. If you can get through the beginning, you might gain some newfound respect for the guy.