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A Long Talk With Anthony Fauci’s Boss About the Pandemic, Vaccines, and Faith
photo above: National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
WN: So much could be said that is positive about the article. As to the first two items in the title, I have excerpted a little on that. As to Dr. Collins’ embrace of Christian faith, there is as well an excerpt. Please also see my Easter Song, Keith Green, and Reflections on the Resurrection for more about Dr. Collins in light of Easter faith.
What’s your broad assessment of the American response to this pandemic — spanning federal government, state governments, local governments, and just us as a society?
I think, for the most part, Americans have been willing to sacrifice a lot to try to address this issue. I think most Americans have understood that’s not just for themselves; it’s for other people around them, because we can’t really put a stop to such a rapidly infectious pandemic unless we all take responsibility for that. The consequences have been quite severe for people who have lost their livelihood. The economic strain that has happened to many families has been totally unexpected and incredibly painful.
I especially look at the way in which this disease has hit underserved populations that were already suffering from health disparities and have now been hit even harder by COVID-19. I’m particularly thinking of African-Americans and Hispanics, but also anybody who’s in a lower socioeconomic state and can’t afford to sequester themselves at home because they’ve got to be out there in order to put food on the table. Those folks have been hit very hard.
I think for the most part Americans have been willing to say, “We’ve got to do everything we can to try to protect the vulnerable people around us.” I am concerned, however, that the willingness to sustain this individual behavior seems to have been slipping a bit and maybe, in some instances, has been encouraged as if we’re now past this pandemic. We are not past this now. In fact, when you see what’s happening just in the last week or so, it’s clear that we are at risk for a surge of more cases and ultimately more serious consequences as people have gotten more relaxed. I think most Americans are still being careful, but it doesn’t take a huge proportion of those being careless to give the virus its chance. We may be tired of COVID-19, but the virus doesn’t care. It’s out there, and 90 percent of Americans haven’t yet developed any immunity to it and are still totally vulnerable. The chance of having major consequences is just as significant as it was back in February.
Again, I think most Americans have been appropriately sacrificial, but it’s time to renew our attention to how you need to wear a mask because you might be the person who has the virus and is spreading it around without realizing it. That mask is not for you. That’s for everybody around you. If you care about your neighbors, your family, the people that you encounter in the store — wear that mask. Social distancing is an important part of this, not gathering indoors — especially without masks — packed together. That’s the worst thing you can do right now.
We Americans tend to be pioneers in individual behavior, but this is a time for individuals to moderate their behavior.
Yeah, this has unfortunately emerged as a new front in the culture war. As someone who is both an acclaimed scientist and a public Christian, what’s your perspective on the pandemic as a cultural issue? Do you see any clear way around that?
It’s one of the great tragedies of this current moment that scientifically based public-health measures have somehow been captured as cultural or political phenomena. Your chance of spreading the coronavirus to a vulnerable person has nothing to do with what culture you come from or what political party you belong to. Your responsibility is to try to prevent that from happening to vulnerable people around you. But our country’s polarization is so extreme that it even seems to extend into a place like this — where it absolutely doesn’t belong. That is really troubling because it’s putting people at risk who shouldn’t be.
You have worked, in your capacity as a scientist, to fund a fair amount of brain research, and you’ve also written a book called The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Before taking over at NIH, you started a foundation called BioLogos, which makes the case for a harmony between science and Christianity. What’s your perspective, at this point in your career, on what consciousness is?
That’s the big question in all of neuroscience. In terms of the scientific basis of consciousness, we really don’t have a clue. In terms of the spiritual significance, obviously it’s pretty important that we human beings seem to be special in our awareness of ourselves and our ability to imagine what other people are feeling at a given moment. All that is part of consciousness. I was an atheist when I entered medical school. I was a Christian when I left — and it was much driven by this experience of trying to integrate the reductionist aspects of science into the much more fundamental issues I saw my patients wrestling with, like is there a God and does God care about me and what happens after I die?
Those are uncomfortable questions for an atheist 23-year-old, but ultimately they became totally compelling and required some investigation and some answers. Ultimately, out of that, it came to me that it makes a lot more sense to believe in God than to deny God’s existence. A scientist isn’t supposed to make assertions that you would call universal negatives, because you can never have enough evidence to do that, and yet that’s what atheism calls you to do.
I surprised myself as I began to look at the pros and cons of belief versus nonbelief — that actually through science there seem to be a fair number of pointers, not proofs, but pointers toward the idea of a creator and a creator who was not only interested in creating something out of nothing, but also in having that something ultimately give rise to creatures with big brains who would have consciousness, who would have self-awareness, and who would have curiosity not just about nature, but also about who they are and what kind of spiritual creatures they might be.
It took me a couple of years to get through those many thickets of intellectual debate, but it led me then at that point in my life to see science and spirituality as not in conflict but actually quite compatible, quite harmonious, quite self- and co-reinforcing. People said my head was going to explode, that it would not be possible to both study genetics and read the Bible. I’ve never found a problem with this at all, despite the way in which some scientists have caricatured faith to make it seem incompatible. Most of those caricatures don’t resemble my faith.
Similarly, the way that some people have caricatured science as a threat to God, that doesn’t resemble the science that I’m doing. It’s been a terrible, I think, consequence of our last century or so that this polarization has been accepted as inevitable when I see it not at all in that light. There are many interesting scientific questions that tap into the kind of area that you’re asking about, like what is the neuroscientific basis of consciousness? What is the neuroscientific basis of a spiritual experience? If there is such a neuroscientific basis, does that make this spiritual experience less meaningful or more so? Those are fun conversations to have.
Please click on: Dr. Francis Collins
There is also this heartwarming interview with Dr. Fauci . . . DELETED! On September 10, 2020, we read:
Speaking with Fox News’ John Roberts, Fauci denied that he ever heard the president “distort” the threat of the coronavirus and maintained that Trump’s presentations to the public were largely in line with discussions he’d had with medical experts. When asked whether he ever felt Trump was downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, Fauci said no.