I do not believe that the Christian faith of Dr. Francis Collins, recently nominated to run the National Institutes of Health, disqualifies him from that job. The only questions that need be asked of Collins are these: Is he a good enough scientist? And will he be a passionate and relentless advocate for science and scientific research?
President Obama announced the nomination on July 8, but the objections from the scientific community have coalesced slowly. The flash point is religion. Collins is a “born again” geneticist with a stellar résumé who has recently made his name by offering himself up as living proof that a rational person can also believe in God. His 2006 book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, made him a celebrity in “faith versus reason” circles, and in the wake of its success, he has traveled the country dueling with atheists, explaining how, as he puts it in that book, “there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us.” In opinion pieces, scientists Sam Harris and Steven Pinker express strong reservations about the ascension of Collins to this office. Pinker fretted about the symbolism of allowing such a vocal believer to represent U.S. science; in The New York Times, Harris worried that a man who believes that human morality is God-given might be disinclined to pursue neuroscientific research into the nature of the human mind.