Head of NIH on science and faith

Francis S. CollinsThis post is not exactly about bioethics, but about the context of bioethics, at least in America. The Obama-appointed head of the National Institutes of Health, Francis S. Collins, has published two books for the general public this year (where does he get the time?). The first outlines his passion to promote the revolutionary potential of personalised medicine, The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine.

The publisher’s blurb describes it as a very readable book for the layman in which “Collins describes the medical, scientific, and genetic revolution that is currently unlocking the secrets of ‘personalized medicine,’ and offers practical advice on how to utilize these discoveries for you and your family’s current and future health and well-being.” 

Uncontroversial stuff, and quite appropriate for the government’s voice for science. But here’s the controversial book: an anthology of readings about the compatibility of faith and science, Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith. Bloggers about science and faith are indignant at Collins’s insistence that God exists and religion matters:

Faith and reason are not, as many seem to be arguing today, mutually exclusive.  They never have been… Down through the centuries, humanity’s greatest minds have developed interesting and compelling arguments about faith, based on moral philosophy, arguments about nature, and examination of sacred texts.  But outside of limited academic circles, these deeper perspectives are not heard from much these days. The goal of this anthology is to present some of these points of view, to spur on a more nuanced and intellectually rich discussion of the most profound questions that humanity asks: Is there a God? If so, what is God like? Does God care about me? And what, if anything, is the meaning of life?

Bioethics, medicine and science are often assumed to be dominated by agnostics or atheists. It is interesting to see that the most prominent figure in American science is a believer.

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