chapter  5
21 Pages

Religious faith, citizenship education and the public square

In July 2009, US president Barak Obama nominated Dr Francis Collins to be director of the National Institutes of Health, the primary government agency for conducting and supporting medical research in the USA. Particular sectors of the field of medical research are, of course, matters of highly contentious civic debate. Worldwide public and political concern about embryonic stem cell research is a recent and obvious example, but certainly not the only one. Writing about the appointment in the New York Times, Harris (2009) acknowledges ‘Dr Collins’s credentials are impeccable: he is a physical chemist, a medical geneticist and the former head of the Human Genome Project’. Nevertheless, Harris argues that Collins is a poor choice because he is a Christian who is on record as accepting that aspects of human existence are wrapped up in the mystery of God and, consequently, beyond the understanding of science. ‘Must we’, Harris asks, ‘really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?’