As others have noted, he may be as well known for his recent book, The Language of God, part personal testimony and part explanation of how there need be no conflict between faith and science.
Do you ever notice how religious believers are always cited by the media as “devout” precisely when they are equivocating on basic Judeo-Christian moral and theological tenets? Dr. Francis Collins has some startling ideas on abortion. Startling, that is, from an Evangelical Christian who is Obama’s choice to head up the National Institutes of Health. He’s a favorite church speaker with Evangelical audiences, especially on how Darwinism poses no threat to their faith.
Klinghoffer offers some examples of his concerns:
– From an interview here at Beliefnet:
Q: [S]ometimes when parents learn that their child has Down Syndrome, they terminate the pregnancy. What is your opinion of that sort of scenario?
A: I’m troubled that the applications of genetics that are currently possible are oftentimes in the prenatal arena. That is not the reason I went into this field.
The reason I went into this field was to figure out how to treat illnesses, rather than try to stop such individuals from even being born. But, of course, in our current society, people are in a circumstance of being able to take advantage of those technologies. And we have decided as a society that that choice needs to be defended.
– From a 1993 New York Times profile of Collins:
“It is difficult to say you can’t abort, but for overall cultural mores, you run into problems,” Dr. Collins said. “It’s the classic slippery slope. You have a gray scale going from diseases like Tay-Sachs disease that cause death in early childhood all the way to the other end of the spectrum with abortions for sex selection, which most people would say is a misuse of technology. In between is a gray zone. Where do you draw the line?”
– In a 1998 book he co-authored, Principles of Medical Genetics, he considers a bioethical situation where a genetic counselor is discussing with a (married) mother, 8 weeks pregnant, whether to abort her child because there’s a 7 to 8 percent chance the child will have a mild learning disability. Should the mother indicate an interest in aborting, Collins and his two co-authors commend to the counselor a stance of “respect for [patient] autonomy” and “nondirective counseling.” In other words, the medical professional in this context should be morally neutral.
You’ll find a link to the page in the book on Google Books here.
And there’s also the curious passage in The Language of God where he writes,
I would argue that the immediate product of a skin cell and an enucleated egg cell fall short of the moral status of the union of sperm and egg. The former is not part of God’s plan to create a human individual. The latter is very much God’s plan, carried out through the millennia by our own species and many others.
-Collins, The Language of God, p. 256 (hardcover).
Most traditional Christians would not relate to a view of God’s providence where humans can simply exempt other humans from God’s providence by their own wilful actions. This is not the God of the ethical monotheist faiths; it must be some lesser one.
Evangelical leaders should raise questions about these matters at the confirmation hearings. Collins is entitled to advocate his causes. His advocacy doubtless helped put him where he is. But if he really represents evangelicals – as is claimed – now is the time for evangelical leaders to say so. Or to say otherwise.
He operates a Web site called Biologos, to show that there is no conflict between Christianity and Darwinism. That would sure be news to Darwin, as Michael Flannery has taken pains to point out, and to most evolutionary biologists, though I guess it goes down well enough at turkey dinners.
BioLogos is largely unfinished, but one thing that stands out clearly for me – and this is characteristic of so many theistic evolutionist works – Darwin is the pivot around which our understanding revolves. One must develop a faith that embraces Darwin, whatever else may need to change. That’s not my idea of orthodoxy. If the church had done that with every can kicked up the street over the last couple of thousand years, it would be unrecognizable today, like some creature out of H.P. Lovcraft, who was, by all accounts, a staunch Darwinian.
Incidentally, Collins, who was strongly – though not deeply – influenced by CS Lewis, likes to cite him as a source. Lewis actually blew off Darwinian evolution in later years. For example, this from a letter he wrote in 1951:
September 13, 1951: I have read nearly the whole of Evolution [probably Acworth’s unpublished “The Lie of Evolution”] and am glad you sent it. I must confess it has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution, which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the question was wholly unimportant. I wish I were younger. What inclines me now to think that you may be right in regarding it as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.
If Lewis came to think Darwinian evolution (for that is what is meant here) “the central and radical lie”, I wonder how good a reference he can be for Collins’s projects.
Better get the spin doctors in over the weekend.