Obama Names an Evangelical to Lead the NIH

Obama picked Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

One of the striking features of the Obama White House's faith outreach and messaging is that it keeps the effort going even in areas that have yielded few dividends.

Although Obama has often been criticized by U.S. Catholic bishops, for instance, his administration has continued to take outreach to those bishops seriously. Obama recently invited U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president Francis George to the White House. When the Vatican announced that Timothy Dolan would be the next archbishop of New York, Obama quickly phoned to congratulate him.

A similar pattern has emerged regarding the ethics of Obama's science policy. After announcing he was expanding federally funded embryonic stem cell research, the president was pilloried by many Christian organizations, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to a bevy of Christian right groups—even though he stressed that the new program would be governed by robust ethics guidelines.

The president followed through on his pledge. He imposed new restrictions on federally backed embryonic stem cell research that disappointed many in the scientific community. Rather than praise Obama's middle-of-the-road approach, however, the same coalition of religious groups blasted the president for allowing certain excess embryos from fertility clinics to be used for research.

Instead of giving up on heavily promoting science ethics, however, Obama this week picked a Bible-believing, loud, and proud evangelical Christian to head the National Institutes of Health.

Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project, has spent recent months building a new organization aimed at persuading evangelical Christians to accept the theory of evolution, hoping to bolster both Christianity and science in the process.

Was this the administration's primary reason for picking Collins? No way. But Collins's religious side is much too central to his work nowadays for the White House not to have noticed.

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