- EVOLUTION NEWS AND SCIENCE TODAY - John G. West - OCT 18, 2021 -
The Tragedy of Francis Collins’s Model for Science-Faith Integration
Francis Collins is Director of the National Institutes of Health. He is probably the best known evangelical Christian in the federal science establishment. He recently announced he will be stepping down from that post by the end of 2021.
Collins has been lauded for showing how a religious believer can rise to the highest levels of the scientific establishment while keeping his faith intact and while integrating his faith with his science.
I do not question the sincerity of Collins’s Christian faith. But I think this depiction of Collins as a someone who has developed a good model for integrating faith and science is in many respects a tragic myth.
In my first article about Collins for Evolution News, I documented controversies Collins has faced in 2021 over the use of aborted fetal body parts in research, the harvesting of organs and tissues of aborted babies as old as 42 weeks, his less-than-candid responses about NIH funding of gain-of-function research in China, and his intemperate attacks on unvaccinated Americans in the name of “loving your neighbor.”
In this article, I want to show how Collins’s current policies and views are part of a pattern reaching back many years. I also want to explore how his model for faith and science focuses less on integrating faith and science and more on accommodating faith to dominant materialistic modes of scientific thinking, existing power structures and cultural norms.
Collins’s handling of a major scandal at the NIH during his first term as NIH Director provides a good place to start.
Premature Babies as Guinea Pigs
The scandal involved disclosure of a multi-year experiment involving more than 1,300 premature infants funded by the NIH. As part of the experiment, premature infants were randomly assigned to receive higher or lower levels of oxygen. Those receiving lower levels of oxygen were more likely to die, while those receiving higher levels of oxygen had serious eye damage that could lead to blindness.
Parents were not informed of the possible increased risk of death for infants enrolled in the study, nor were most of them informed about a key part of the study’s design that would deprive their infants of individualized treatment: Researchers re-calibrated oxygen equipment used by infants in the study so it would generate false oxygen readings in order to prevent medical staff from adjusting oxygen levels based on the individual needs of the infants in their care.
Medical ethicists were appalled. “The word ‘unethical’ doesn’t even begin to describe the egregious and shocking deficiencies in the informed-consent process for this study,” said Michael Carome, MD, the director of the Health Research Group at the non-profit (and politically liberal) group Public Citizen. “Parents of the infants who were enrolled in this study were misled about its purpose… They were misled to believe everything being done was in the ‘standard of care’ and therefore posed no predictable risk to the babies.”
Carome previously served in the Office for Human Research Protections in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and he helped lead the effort to expose the misconduct of researchers and to ensure the abuses did not recur.
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