Joined: Jan. 2006
'nuther PBS interview
BOB ABERNETHY: Several recent best-selling books have sharpened the old debate between some scientists and some religionists over creation, evolution and, among other issues, stem cell research.
We want to re-run today a story we carried this past summer about a man who is both a research scientist and an evangelical Christian, and sees no conflict between the two fields. He is Dr. Francis Collins, who led the massive effort to discover the human genetic code. His book is called "The Language of God."
From the National Institutes of Health, just outside Washington, Francis Collins led an international team that deciphered most of the human genetic code by the year 2000.
Photo of Collins Dr. FRANCIS COLLINS (Director, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health and Author, THE LANGUAGE OF GOD): The Human Genome Project was this audacious, absolutely unheard of, ambitious effort to read out all of the letters of the human DNA code, all three billion of them -- an enormously challenging problem. And yet, over those next 13 years, we finished the job early, two years ahead of schedule and actually under budget, which surprised everybody, especially in Washington, D.C.
ABERNETHY: When President Clinton announced the achievement, Collins spoke about it both as a scientist and as a man of religious faith.
Dr. COLLINS (at Press Conference): It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.
ABERNETHY: Collins describes the decoding, for him, as both a great scientific experience and an experience of worship. Now Collins says the new knowledge of how genes work, and in disease how they sometimes don't work, is beginning to revolutionize the practice of medicine. Already, a drug based on genetic understanding is controlling adult leukemia, and...
Dr. COLLINS: Cancer is very much at the front end, because cancer is a genetic disease. Photo of Genetic codeIt comes about because of mistakes in DNA. So there are dozens of drugs now in clinical trials that are based on understanding the cancer genome. And they won't all work, but some of them will.
ABERNETHY: Not far behind, says Collins, is the development of drugs for Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease, asthma and diabetes. Collins is also a strong supporter of stem cell research, and he thinks there's a way to do this that, for him, removes the moral objections to destroying a human embryo. Collins favors what's called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which the nucleus of an egg is replaced by the nucleus of, for instance, a cell of skin.
Photo of Collins Dr. COLLINS: Now that is very different in my mind, morally, than the union of sperm and egg. We do not in nature see somatic cell nuclear transfer occurring. This is a purely manmade event. And yet somehow we have attached to the product of that kind of activity the same moral status as the union of sperm and egg. I don't know quite how we got there.
ABERNETHY: Meanwhile, as grateful as Collins is for the healing his work will make possible, he's troubled by its contribution to the battle between some believers and most scientists over evolution -- what Collins calls the "flash point" between science and faith.
Photo of Stem Cell Dr. COLLINS: What I want to say about this I also want to say with great love and understanding for my fellow believers, who have a different view. But for me as a scientist, when I look at DNA -- our own, that of the human species -- the evidence that we are all descended from a common ancestor is overwhelming. Some might wish that not to be so. It is so. Does this conflict with Genesis 1 and 2? I don't believe it does.
ABERNETHY: The genetic code, says Collins, supports other evidence that human beings evolved from about 10,000 "founders" between 100-150,000 years ago, probably in East Africa.
Dr. COLLINS: One of my greatest heartaches is that at the present time serious believers, [who] believe that they have to defend a literal interpretation of Genesis in order to defend their faith, find themselves contradicting facts that God Almighty has given us the ability to discover.
Lou FCD is still in school, so we should only count him as a baby biologist. -carlsonjok -deprecated
I think I might love you. Don't tell Deadman -Wolfhound