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Science vs Religion; Sam Harris on Francis Collins

In an op-ed in the New York Times Sam Harris questions the decision to nominate Francis Collins to be the director of the National Institutes of Health.  

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.”

One can only hope that these convictions will not affect his judgment at the institutes of health. After all, understanding human well-being at the level of the brain might very well offer some “answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” — questions like, Why do we suffer? Or, indeed, is it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself? And wouldn’t any effort to explain human nature without reference to a soul, and to explain morality without reference to God, necessarily constitute “atheistic materialism”?

He doesn’t question the man’s credentials, which are largely beyond dispute, but rather whether some of his religious views will stifle promising research fields.  Francis Collins seems to be a competent administrator and he isn’t a crazy religious wacko; he believes in evolution and recognizes the universe is close to 14 billion years old.  But one wonders if he would have been nominated if he didn’t have his religious credentials either.  Is President Obama trying to prove something as he is with his constant references to God in his speeches? No one wants to bar Collins because of his religion as has been suggested and troubles some.  It is the contents of some of his specific beliefs that trouble Harris and others which may affect his directorship.  

But as director of the institutes, Dr. Collins will have more responsibility for biomedical and health-related research than any person on earth, controlling an annual budget of more than $30 billion. He will also be one of the foremost representatives of science in the United States. 

I doubt he would have been nominated if he was an outspoken atheist rather than an outspoken evangelical Christian?  That, sadly, doesn’t seem to trouble as many.  
[In 2006 Sam Harris also reviewed Francis Collins’ book when it first came out]
[Jerry Coyne on Sam Harris’s op-ed and Francis Collins generally]
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