July 10, 2009
WASHINGTON (RNS) -- Francis Collins, the researcher who mapped the human genome and navigated clashes between his Christian faith and science, has been chosen to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Calling Collins "one of the top scientists in the world," President Obama announced his nomination on Wednesday (July 8), one day after the NIH released new stem cell research guidelines that angered many conservative Christians.
Though Collins, a self-described evangelical, will head the nation's primary scientific research agency, the avid supporter of stem cell research seems unlikely to allay the fears fellow evangelicals have over embryonic stem cell research.
"Francis is a great person, a good scientist, but we disagree with his positions on human embryonic stem cell research and on cloning human embryos for experimentation," said David Prentice, senior fellow at the conservative Family Research Council.
Prentice's office, along with the National Association of Evangelicals, Concerned Women for America and other Christian advocacy groups, favor adult stem cell research, but oppose embryonic research because they believe the process destroys nascent forms of human life.
Collins reconciles the research through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, which creates an embryo artificially, but is also the first step in cloning.
"Now that is very different in my mind, morally, than the union of sperm and egg," he explained in an interview with Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly. "We do not, in nature, see somatic cell nuclear transfer occurring. This is a purely man-made event."
An atheist who converted to Christianity in his 20s, Collins regularly pushes Christians to reconcile their beliefs with scientific theories such as evolution. He recently launched the BioLogos Foundation, which "emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries."
Collins sees his faith and research informing one another, evident in the speech he gave when former President Clinton announced the first draft of the human genetic blueprint.
"It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God," Collins said at a White House press conference in 2000.
Collins, who publicly endorsed Obama during his campaign, worked at NIH when he directed the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 until 2008. In 2006, Collins authored the New York Times-bestselling "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief."
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