July 9, 2009

Geneticist Francis Collins to head NIH

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Washington Post (July 15, 2009) Update!, Update!, Update!
Michael Gerson comments on the appointment Dr Francis Collins to head the NIH. (He thinks it's a good idea.)

New York Times (July 9, 2009)

Dr. Francis Collins has been nominated to head the National Institute of Health. Collins is an accomplished scientist, a proven administrator, articulate and an Evangelical Christian. It's that last one that is going to attract a lot of attention.

His journey from atheism to evangelical Christianity took a pivotal turn in the Cascade Mountains. While hiking, he came across a waterfall that happened to have three frozen streams. The three streams reminded Collins of the trinity, and he surrendered to Jesus (link). It's a little surprising that the man who headed the human genome project would take a leap of faith at the sight of frozen water. But that's what happened. (Bill Maher interviewed Collins for his movie, Religulous.)

In the video, below, Collins explains how his journey to Christianity began. He started to wonder about life and death when he left chemistry and went into medicine.
When I went to medical school the ideas about death and dying which had been rather hypothetical became very real. You can't be in that environment sitting at the bedside of people facing the end of their lives without having it affect you.


A couple of years later, he had his born-again experience in the Cascades. I don't know what's in his head, but it sounds like seeing people die shook him up a bit and maybe got him thinking about the end of his own consciousness. If that's something you're concerned about, you'll eventually end up at religion. There is no other place to go.

One other thing that might draw some questions during his confirmation hearing is that he doesn't believe that homosexuality is hardwired (link).
An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.
It looks like Collins will be the next head of the NIH even if some of his views are not in line with his fellow scientists. I think President Obama managed to throw the religious right a bone and will end up with a competent administrator worth watching.

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3 comments:

Mark Zamen said...

Evidence is accumulating that genetics play the pivotal role in determining sexual orientation. However, the key issue is not what makes someone gay but rather how the rest of the population perceives homosexuals and how we treat them. Whether individuals are gay by choice or biological predisposition is a minor concern. The sad truth is that a large segment of society still regards gay men and women as second-class citizens - or worse. That is the salient point of my biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others). More information on the book is available at www.eloquentbooks.com/BrokenSaint.html.

Mark Zamen, author

eag said...

How true Mark.It matters little in the end whether a trait is hardwired or not if people struggle for acceptance and are persecuted by majority groups.

Anonymous said...

People think it's not hardwired, and then there's always the chance they'll attempt to "cure" gay people. Check out the gay exorcism in this video: http://todayinreligion.blogspot.com/2009/06/gay-exorcism.html