Collins heading NIH

I’ve recently read a number of nonbelievers commenting on the appointment of Francis Collins to head the NIH. These include an editorial by Sam Harris, which expresses concern. Russell Blackford pragmatically accepts Collins’s appointment as not that bad.

From my point of view, there is nothing wrong with NIH being headed by an outspoken evangelical Christian, even one willing to mess with science at the edges to make it fit his faith.

First of all, this is a political appointment, in a strongly religious country, where directing research dollars in a politically acceptable fashion is a part of the job. There is nothing illegitimate here.

Secondly, the National Institutes of Health, though it funds a good deal of basic life science, is primarily an institution supporting applied science. The cultures of applied and basic science are noticeably different when it comes to religion. Collins’s style of religiosity may be somewhat out of place among biologists, but this is not at all the case when it comes to biomedical applied science. Having NIH headed by someone more religiously representative of the medical research community is hardly inappropriate, on the face of it.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University