Oct 24, 2009

That Scientist Believes in God? He must be nuts...

Apparently that's the opinion of some scientists who are debating the merits of Dr. Francis Collins who is renown for his work on the human genome project but now is being questioned as a good candidate to be the head of the National Institute of Health. Over at In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being there is been quite a reaction to a NY Times piece on October 5 that accuses the good doctor of "dementia"

In this article, the Times speaks of several controversies surrounding the NIH director. It says, “First, there is the God issue. Dr. Collins believes in him. Passionately. And he preaches about his belief in churches and a best-selling book. For some presidential appointees, that might not be a problem, but many scientists view such outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.”

You've got to be kidding.

At any rate, apparently Collins didn’t always profess a belief in God. Some years ago, a patient asked him what he believed, and it struck him that this was a question that merited consideration. He explored the question for a period of years and ultimately came to believe in God.

The Times goes on to say, “Critics like the physicist Robert L. Park contend that the moment was nothing but a hormonal rush. That a man with a medical degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry failed to diagnose the problem and instead gave it higher meaning ‘is enough to cause concern,’ said Dr. Park, a professor at the University of Maryland noted for his attacks on ‘voodoo science.’”

Another scientist who was concerned about the possible impact of faith on Dr. Collins’ ability to lead the NIH was Dr. Irving L. Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Ultimately some of his fears were allayed when Dr. Collins promised him “not to let faith interfere with scientific judgment”.


I'm in the midst of Collins' best-selling book The Language of God. I thought I should read it since I will be working with a bunch of medical students and engineer-types as well as other science-based majors.

But it begs the question of the scientific community, does one need to be a bit loony to be a scientist and a believer. I think not. Check out this video that I produced some time ago for Busted Halo® on evolution for example with the head of the Vatican Observatory.



In short, congratulations to Dr Collins, who continues to show that good science is not incompatible with a belief in God.

2 comments:

Michelle said...

There are believing scientists -- over half of my chem department practice regularly (and are uniformly doing more than just showing up on a Sunday)!

For a great take on this by another Vatican astronomer, try "God's mechanics: how scientists and engineers made sense of religion" by Guy Consolmagno SJ.

Paul said...

Dr. Collins was just appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, too.

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