Barack Obama’s recent appointment of Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health should be uncontroversial. After all, Collins led the Human Genome Project, and he did it ahead of schedule and under budget. His own landmark scientific research led to the discovery of genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, among others. He is by all accounts a likable guy. The trifecta he offers — a great administrator, a great scientist, a great personality — is darn near unheard of.
So why are there scattered grumblings from scientists about this new appointment, with one scientist fretting that we’re seeing the continuation of George W. Bush’s “theocracy”? Well, Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian. Although he believes in evolution and opposes intelligent design theory, he’s an evangelical all the same. Perhaps most relevantly, he has been loud and proud about his belief that religious faith can be reconciled with science. He’s the guy that evangelicals cite when they want to prove they are scientifically serious.
Now I, for one, am not an evangelical. I’m one of those heretical liberal Christians. And I can understand why atheist scientists might lift an eyebrow when a fellow scientist — a renowned one at that — goes around talking about God. But my appeal to them is this: get over it.
We have a White House that seems concerned with science. It just appointed one of the preeminent public scientists of our generation to a key post. And everything in Collins’s background suggests he’ll approach his work with intellectual honesty, without letting religious beliefs interfere with his scientific work. Can’t we just call it a victory and leave it at that?
Jesse Lava also blogs at jesselava.com.