On Tuesday, National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins, once again, challenged the commonly held sentiment that science and religion are inherently incompatible.
Collins, an evangelical Christian who spawned controversy after assuming the head position at the nation's top medical research agency, lamented the presence of "angry atheists" in science and made a case for compatibility.
In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Collins to be the director of the NIH. Both a physician and a scientist, Collins was instrumental in seeing the Human Genome Project through to completion. Additionally, he has written and spoken intensely on matters of both science and faith.
Earlier this week, Collins addressed his take on the fields of science and religion at a USA Today editorial board meeting. When asked about complaints that have arisen over his' faith and its impact upon his head role at the nation's top scientific agency, he said:
"...angry atheists are out there using science as a club to to hit believers over the head.
"There are a lot of scientists, I'm one of them, who believe there is a 'middle ground' between science and faith. I'm quite happy, and comfortable, in my middle ground."
Collins went on to say that non-believing scientists who contend that an individual cannot believe in both evolution and God may be "causing a lot of people not familiar with science to change their assessments of it." This impact would thus indicate that people who might learn more about the scientific makings of our world are then turned off from doing so.
So, what is this "middle ground" position, you ask? To some evangelicals' surprise Collins, like the majority of scientists, believes in evolution. In a Beliefnet post (originally published by TIME Magazine) in which he describes Genesis 1 and 2, he says that he views the verses as "a powerful and poetic description of God's intentions in creating the universe" and claims that "the mechanism of creation is left unspecified" in the Bible. Additionally, he writes:
If God, who is all powerful and who is not limited by space and time, chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create you and me, who are we to say that wasn't an absolutely elegant plan? And if God has now given us the intelligence and the opportunity to discover his methods, that is something to celebrate.
In considering his take on stem cell research, Collins would likely frustrate social conservatives. Yesterday, upon hearing that a federal lawsuit against embryonic stem cell research had been dismissed, Collins said:
“We are pleased with today’s ruling. Responsible stem cell research has the potential to develop new treatments and ultimately save lives. This ruling will help ensure this groundbreaking research can continue to move forward.’’
Below, watch Collins discuss his opinions on this controversial medical research:
Despite his moderate stances on many of these issues (stances social conservatives might consider extreme, even), Collins has been heavily criticized by fellow scientists for his faith. Stephen Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, wrote the following back in 2009:
"A person's private beliefs should not keep him from a public position. But Collins is an advocate of profoundly anti-scientific beliefs, and it is reasonable for the scientific community to ask him how these beliefs will affect his administration."
In a New York Times op-ed back in 2009, Sam Harris, founder of the secular Reason Project, wrote:
Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” and that “the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.”...
Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?
But, attacks haven't come only from fellow scientists. Jonathan Wells, an intelligent design advocate, released the following video (via the Discovery Institute) in which he takes on Collins' acceptance of evolution:
Regardless of what critics say, some would contend that diversity should be honored -- even in considering potential candidates for scientifically-focused appointments.
As an advocate for the coming together of science and religions, Collins will likely continue to showcase his belief that there really are no complex contradictions between the two phenomena (he even founded a non-profit called The BioLogos Forum to show people that science and religion aren't incompatible).