Francis Collins and the “conflict” of faith and science

by blue in green

Francis Collins, a renowned scientist best known for the successful effort to map the human genome, was just named the director of the National Institutes of Health by the Obama administration. His scientific credentials are impeccable, but there is another reason to be encouraged: he is an outspoken and articulate defender of the Christian faith.

He is particularly well-known for attempting to reconcile evolution and the Bible, espousing what known as “theistic evolution”: that natural selection itself should be understood as God’s inspired mode of creation. Evolution provided the biologic substrate, he argues, but God invested this organic matter with an ineffable spirit and sense of morality. However you may feel about this concept, Collins’ ambassadorship for both science and Christianity has been edifying for many.

Despite these attempts at bridge-building, Collins has not been without detractors. A prime example is prominent atheist Sam Harris’ recent column in the New York Times, in which he argues that Collins’ faith disqualifies him from such an important scientific post. It’s an incredibly ungracious, not to mention unfair, pronouncement. Based not on any actual deficiencies in his record, just extrapolations from previous statements of faith, Harris wants to make religion a disqualifying conflict of interest in scientific inquiry.

In most cases, fundamentalist claims that Christians are being “persecuted” or significantly discriminated against (in the United States) are overblown. If views like Sam Harris’ ever become policy-shaping prescriptions, though, they just might have a point.