In all the news about Obama's choice of an appointment to the Supreme Court, there's another possibility looming:
Francis Collins, the geneticist who led the Human Genome Project, is close to taking over the top spot at the National Institutes of Health, according to areport by Bloomberg News.
Collins, who was the director of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008, is in the final stages of being screened by the administration of US President Barack Obama, an unnamed source told Bloomberg.
Elias Zerhouni, Collins' would-be predecessor, voiced his approval for the pick, telling Bloomberg that Collins has "done things many scientists wish they could do once in their lifetime, and he's done it repeatedly."
Collins recently unveiled a new foundation, BioLogos, that promotes "the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives," according to the organization's Web site. Collins, who is an evangelical Christian, has said that his new foundation is an attempt to resolve Christian faith with scientific evidence, especially with regard to evolution. In 2006 he published a bestselling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, that stirred some controversy in the scientific community.
I didn't see much "controversy in the scientific community" over that book; I think everyone agreed that he had a perfect right to express his religious views, and there was near-unanimity that they were the views of a gullible fruitbat…an opinion confirmed by his wacky Biologos website. I know he had a good reputation as an administrator of the human genome project, but do we really need to go back to the Bush years of god-walloping goofballs at the head of every major government agency?
There are some objections being raised in the comments that have made me feel like I have to expand on this.
Collins is extremely well qualified for this job. If all we did was look at his CV to see if he's competent to administer the NIH, I'd say they'd be hard pressed to find a better guy.
I don't care if the director goes to church. If that's what he wants to do as a hobby on sunday mornings, no problem.
However, and I think this is a great big HOWEVER, Collins also has a tremendous amount of religious baggage. This is also a political position, and it is fair to look at all the other stuff he brings into the job, and I'm afraid Collins is more than just a guy who goes to church...he's a religious freak. I've read his book, and I've browsed his website, and he's waving a great big hairy ideological flag in addition to his perfectly commendable credentials.
Look at it this way. If we had someone who had an administrative record as good as Collins', but who was as overtly and proudly atheist as Richard Dawkins, everyone would be doubtful about Obama's judgment as I am right now -- they'd be rightly wondering if this hypothetical candidate would be a diplomatic dead duck...not to mention the right-wingers would be out for his head. Somehow, because Collins happens to be weirdly Christian, we're supposed to simply overlook the fact that he struts about with his underpants on his head?
Well, Collins is not going to have my confidence, that's for sure. His writings reveal a man with an extraordinarily poor grasp of scientific reasoning and a surprising lack of understanding of evolutionary biology (his argument that morals could not evolve, for instance, is stunning in its ignorance). I also suspect that he's going to use this position as a laurel to peddle religious nonsense. I'm assuming he'd have the decency not to do it while he's in office, but afterwards, it'll be a stock part of the credentials he will trot out to validate his bogus beliefs, never mind that a large number of the scientists he will be working for think his apologetics are utterly loony.