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Francis Collins selcected to head NIH - Comments

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 1 by mordacious1

I'm ambivalent about this appointment. He's certainly qualified as long as he doesn't allow his confused feelings about theology get in the way of research funding.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 11:30:00 UTC | #377666

Quine's Avatar Comment 2 by Quine

See my post about this on another thread.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 11:38:00 UTC | #377669

stephen.stallebrass's Avatar Comment 3 by stephen.stallebrass

Science and Religion are so fundamentally incompatible that it really is beyond me how such a person of obvious intelligence is capable of compartmentalising in this way. Albeit, to my knowledge, that his role in the Genome Project was largely administrative.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 12:07:00 UTC | #377678

Squigit's Avatar Comment 4 by Squigit

3. Comment #395040 by stephen.stallebrass

According to the article, his experience with (I guess with people) dying led to become religous. I haven't read his book, but it sounds more like he has his own, unique religious philosophy.

Perhaps we should not let our disdain for his obvious delusion cloud our opinion of his scientific or administrative abilities.

EDIT: Actually, I've just briefly scanned the "Faith" Section of BioLogos and read the definition of BioLogos; it seems to be a half way point between theistic evolution (for the explanation of creation and evolution) and deism (god created and then just sat back and watched what happened). So now I'm a bit confused: is the guy a deist or a theist?

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 12:29:00 UTC | #377679

Beachbum's Avatar Comment 5 by Beachbum

As a Federal agency, the NIH considers many different perspectives in establishing research priorities. A very competitive peer-review system identifies and funds the most promising and highest quality research to address these priorities. This research includes studies that ultimately touch the lives of all people.

From the NIH website.

I, for one, hope Collins is pressured to leave his god bothering at home. But, I see it causing more "sucking up" in the ranks of funded science projects.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 12:32:00 UTC | #377681

yrif's Avatar Comment 6 by yrif

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 12:36:00 UTC | #377683

mirandaceleste's Avatar Comment 7 by mirandaceleste

Perhaps we should not let our disdain for his obvious delusion cloud our opinion of his scientific or administrative abilities.

But it's not his religious beliefs that I object to or find disturbing; rather, it's his obvious willingness to combine his faith with his scientific activities (the existence of BioLogos is evidence enough of that.) That's disturbing.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 12:38:00 UTC | #377684

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 8 by Richard Dawkins

I know we are all supposed to say it doesn't matter how ridiculous somebody's beliefs are, so long as he leaves them at home and doesn't thrust them on other people. This is often said of teachers. For example, it doesn't matter if the science teacher believes the world is 6,000 years old, so long as he tells the children the scientific estimate is 4.6 billion. But I can never be quite happy with this. Surely the fact that somebody believes really dopey things tells you he isn't INTELLIGENT enough to teach, even if he keeps his stupid beliefs out of the classroom.

Now, Francis Collins is a very nice man, he doesn't SEEM stupid, and I think Bill Maher was mistaken when he told me, on television, that Collins believes in a talking snake. But he presumably believes the things his Biologos Foundation advocates, for example the view that God causes miracles to happen (illustrated with a picture of Jesus walking on water). Can somebody who holds such anti-scientific and downright silly beliefs really be qualified to run the NIH? Isn't he disqualified, not by whether or not he leaves his beliefs outside the laboratory and the committee room, but by the very fact that he is capable of holding such beliefs at all?


Fri, 10 Jul 2009 12:53:00 UTC | #377688

Beachbum's Avatar Comment 9 by Beachbum

Comment #395046 by mirandaceleste - The BioLogos bit...

After Lennox harped on it long enough to cop a fever in the debate with Prof. Dawkins I did some research and found that the original meaning of "logos" is that which humans display that animals do not in a naive understanding of animals.

Aristotle said, because of all the animals man alone had the logos. The logos was more than the power of speech. It also denoted reason and morality.

From The Trial of Socrates By I.F. Stone.

Are they trying to confuse the meaning of... uh never mind. haha!

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:02:00 UTC | #377690

GandalfGrey's Avatar Comment 10 by GandalfGrey

I think Obama is an atheist, but can't show it because of his presidency.
I can't help but think that maybe this is one of Obama's ways of promoting science into a God-country. It will certainly be easier to grant more funding to science projects, if there is even a slightest hint of religion attached to it.
It might even make religous people have a serious look at science for a change.
Collins might be perfect for the role, having made a good impression on both the religious and the science community.

Maybe Obama's taking it one step at a time.

Or at least that's my hope.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:05:00 UTC | #377692

Lithium_joe's Avatar Comment 11 by Lithium_joe

My own concern is that if and when his time at the NIH is completed, whether or not he has demonstrated either a sound or unsound stewardship of the organisation, that his appointment will be used as a propaganda tool by those who want to exploit this in furtherance of the compatibility and accommodationist view of science and religion; his stature and appointment will be used as ammunition in the battle to support the view that the two should not be held in stark opposition, is my prediction.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:08:00 UTC | #377693

Monkeygut's Avatar Comment 12 by Monkeygut

Dear yrif . . . though I was temporarily brought low by contemplating Francis Collins' high profile as a scientist/loony believer, your grant application lifted my naturalist spirits high enough to make me pee my pants and shoot milk out of my nose at the same time -- three streams of glorious joy. Bow down to THAT in the dewy grass, Francis Collins.

I do agree with Richard that someone holding such irrational beliefs is not the right person to run the NIH, and I'm disappointed that President Obama seems to feel that he has to concede anything to the loud-mouthed believers in the US. He must also be working in mysterious ways . . .

Thank you, all of you believers in the natural. I'm glad you evolved the way you did.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:08:00 UTC | #377694

Scot Rafkin's Avatar Comment 13 by Scot Rafkin

Comment #395050 by Richard Dawkins

Can somebody who holds such anti-scientific and downright silly beliefs really be qualified to run the NIH? Isn't he disqualified, not by whether or not he leaves his beliefs outside the laboratory and the committee room, but by the very fact that he is capable of holding such beliefs at all?

Yes, he should be disqualified. But, qualifications seem to matter less and less with elected officials let alone political appointees. Often the foxes are put in charge of the hen house. At least Collins understands the science of the NIH even if he doesn't grasp the cosmic discord of that very same science with religion.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:10:00 UTC | #377696

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 14 by Cartomancer

I don't think Francis Collins and the cohort of christian scientists in the US are necessarily not intelligent enough to avoid thinking stupid things. Rather, they emerge from a culture in which those things are not regarded as stupid and there is no impetus towards scrutinising and examining them. Some people genuinely are capable of distorted thinking of the sort that values science but goes fundamentally and unashamedly unscientific when the arbitrary religious exceptions come up. It would be nice if scientists were not influenced by the cultures in which they grew up, but sadly such is not the case for all of them. It is those strong cultural predilections that make Collins unfit to head the NIH, not his native intellectual faculties.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:11:00 UTC | #377697

Styrer-'s Avatar Comment 15 by Styrer-

Comment #395050 by Richard Dawkins on July 10, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Precisely. Nail on head.

This is a simply dreadful appointment. An article on this from Slate magazine ( pinpoints usefully quite why faith is a more than worrisome issue here. (The article's pathetic conclusion that 'political expediency' may be served by Collins' appointment is dismissable in this otherwise excellent piece.)

Richard has often offered the 'compartmentalisation' explanation as to how seemingly intelligent humans can simultaneously buy into the vacuous shite which is faith and religious conviction. This may well be so. But all too often these 'compartments' have accessible two-way doors, and to expose one of the most important scientific roles in the US to such risk strikes me as positively negligent.

What the hell is Obama thinking?


Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:15:00 UTC | #377698

H u d's Avatar Comment 16 by H u d

8. Comment #395050 by Richard Dawkins

No sir. He is qualified. Theocracy won't be installed in the NIH.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:17:00 UTC | #377699

ofir's Avatar Comment 17 by ofir

I too think that science and religion are incompatible by definition. One searches for answers and the other already has them and just looks for corroborating evidence. I also agree with Richard, you can't leave your beliefs at home.

I also suspect that religious scientists (which are quite rare) would always look for the 'spiritual' explanation instead of the real one, a confirmation of the greatness of their imaginary friend in every natural mystery, be it genetics or quantum mechanics. A religious person would have a bias towards a 'god did it' explanation.

Is Collins really a great scientist? I haven't looked into it.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:18:00 UTC | #377700

H u d's Avatar Comment 18 by H u d

You guys are joking right? LoL

Basically some of you you are saying that if someone has faith he should be out. Isn't that what some religious bigots say about atheists?
And...Collins is not just some mediocre scientist. He directed the human genome project. Anyone better?

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:22:00 UTC | #377703

H u d's Avatar Comment 19 by H u d

19. Comment #395068 by Monkeygut

And many americans, as Christians, don't won't any God Damn Atheist running for office...
But i'm sure he will use standard science when science is what matters. Has he ever done otherwise?

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:27:00 UTC | #377706

Quiddam's Avatar Comment 20 by Quiddam

Can somebody who holds such anti-scientific and downright silly beliefs really be qualified to run the NIH? Isn't he disqualified, not by whether or not he leaves his beliefs outside the laboratory and the committee room, but by the very fact that he is capable of holding such beliefs at all?

History is full of great scientists who had some pretty silly beliefs. Newton springs to mind. I can think of several university lecturers who, while thoroughly sound in their area of expertise were frankly loony in others.

Collins is something of an evangelical for the "wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith" position without requiring the same justification for the truths of faith that we demand for real truths.

All I can really say is that it could have been a lot worse.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:37:00 UTC | #377708

Scot Rafkin's Avatar Comment 21 by Scot Rafkin


An atheist shouldn't run a church even if they can spout religious doctrine with the best of them.

A monarch shouldn't run a democracy even if he understands democratic principles.

A Republican shouldn't run the Democratic Party, even if they have the experience to do so.

An anti-gun proponent shouldn't run the National Rifle Association even if they know how to shoot.

And a religious Collins shouldn't be running the NIH even if he knows the science. Science and religion are as antithetical as all the above.

However, this doesn't mean that an atheist can't run a church, or that a monarch can't rule democratically, or that a Republican can't run the Democratic party or the anti-gun proponent can't run the NRA or Collins can't run the NIH.

The reality is, I'll take what I can get these days. Compared to what we had for the last eight years, I'm fairly confident that at least Collins won't actively suppress science.

Edit: for my usual string of silly typos.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:38:00 UTC | #377709

Monkeygut's Avatar Comment 22 by Monkeygut

16. Comment #395061 by H u d on July 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm

He probably won't start sacrificing goats and virgins IMMEDIATELY, but he needs to leave his imaginary friend at home when it comes to deciding what do do with stem cells and reproductive rights. Judging by what he has written in his own books, papers, and websites, it seems like he doesn't have any intention of being unbiased about faith and science.

Sorry I accidentally removed an earlier version of this comment, Hud. But did you know, by the way, that you live in a country where the Constitution says there shall be no religious test for holding office, and that the government shall not establish religion? All anyone here is saying is that MAYBE a believer in the supernatural isn't the best person for the job of running the NIH. If he didn't figure out evolution while he was running the Human Genome Project . . .

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:39:00 UTC | #377710

Sigmund's Avatar Comment 23 by Sigmund

Ive joked about his silly beliefs in the past
- but if you examine the evidence of his conduct in his previous jobs its clear that he leaves the supernatural stuff at home. How he manages this seems to involve a rather world class level of cognitive dissonance but he clearly has proven his ability to do this.
I don't like the assumptions thrown around that he 'might' act upon some evangelical rather than empirical scientific basis in this job (the evidence is against this notion.)
What we should expect him to do, however, is to act according to evidence based medical principles and to keep his religious views private, until he has completed his term in this post - something we would also expect from a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Atheist appointed to the same post.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:43:00 UTC | #377712

amuck's Avatar Comment 24 by amuck

I just finished reading "A Life Decoded" by J. Craig Venter, the person who beat Francis Collins and public effort to sequence human genome to the punch, according to the version of history presented in Venter's book.

Francis Collins comes across as a dishonest back stabbing bureaucrat intent on being the first to sequence the human genome no matter what the cost in lost opportunities to sequence the genome more quickly and with higher quality. He also used his position to get authorship on scientific papers that he had no involvement in.

All in all not a very nice human being.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:46:00 UTC | #377716

Beachbum's Avatar Comment 25 by Beachbum

Collins is an Administrater, but as such has the power to direct research projects away from the controversial "baby in beaker" perceived research.

I'm not sure that he will be anywhere near an active Bunsen burner, but he will be overseeing funding of projects. James D. Watson would have been a much better choice, as an actual scientist and rational as well.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:47:00 UTC | #377717

Quine's Avatar Comment 26 by Quine

I will say that we can't see the political dimension to the space in which president Obama must work. Also, Obama was a constitutional professor, and seems to respect the constitutional prohibition against a religious test for any government office. No matter how B.S.-crazy someone's religious views, the US system requires testing only secular qualifications (yes, I know from personal experience that Atheists get the shaft on this, anyway; don't bother to write me about it). Dr Collins is qualified under this system. However, he is precluded from using woo woo considerations in this job, and could well walk a secular path, if enough people keep reminding him that we are always watching.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 13:50:00 UTC | #377719

j.mills's Avatar Comment 27 by j.mills religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
There it is, you can't pick and choose.

Beachbum, Watson's kinda tainted by those controversial comments about race and intelligence, soon after which he left Cold Spring Harbour.

amuck, I don't know if Venter's right about Collins, but I'm sure he (Venter) is hardly the most impartial of sources himself... Notwithstanding what I just said about James Watson, his book DNA is a great read and gives a perspective on the Human Genome Project from the other side.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 14:01:00 UTC | #377720

Monkeygut's Avatar Comment 28 by Monkeygut

Comment #395082 by Quine on July 10, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Thank you, Quine. Exactly.

As I said in the post I mistakenly deleted: I shall be watching every move he makes and if he steps off of his appointed path I shall write him a stern e-mail.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 14:02:00 UTC | #377721

Sigmund's Avatar Comment 29 by Sigmund

"J. Craig Venter, the person who beat Francis Collins and public effort to sequence human genome to the punch, according to the version of history presented in Venter's book."
Well he would say that,wouldn't he.
I work in genomics and I was working in one of the fiew institutions that invested in the Celera genome database at during the 'race' you mentioned. Let me assure you that the reality of the situation is far from that presented by Venter. The Celera database (requiring a heft fee to access it) was a complete mess during this time period. The method Celera used for sequence analysis (random cloned sequences from a whole genome- Venters himself, if I recall correctly) was prone to enormous error in the initial stages and required public sequence data to assemble it in a coherent fashion. In other words without the publicly available sequence that was produced from sequencing accurate chromosomally located BAC clones there was little chance for the Celera effort to succeed in a reasonable time frame. It was completely parasitic on the public effort and completely at odds with the open science ideals of the public project.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 14:03:00 UTC | #377722

H u d's Avatar Comment 30 by H u d

21. Comment #395072 by Scot Rafkin

An atheist shouldn't run a church even if they can spout religious doctrine with the best of them.
...And a religious Collins shouldn't be running the NIH even if he knows the science

It Doesn't follow. That's a complete fallacy

Collins is a scientists from the academy. He directed the human genome project. He was involves in real hardcore science. What else do you wan't? Maybe Collins should like the same collors you like????

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 14:05:00 UTC | #377723