Human Exceptionalism

“Christian” Francis Collins Helping “Atheist” Christopher Hitchens with Experimental Cancer Treatment

What difference does it make if Francis Collins is a Christian and Christopher Hitchens is an atheist? Hitchens has cancer and Collins is working on individualized cancer treatments based on genetics. But that is the hook for this Telegraph story:

The author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything said that he is a “guinea pig” for a new personalised medicine partly developed by Dr Frank Collins, a geneticist with very strong religious views. The two had often met in the past as adversaries in the debate about whether God exists. Against the odds they had become friends. Now Hitchens is one of the few people in the world who has had his entire genetic make up mapped and is receiving a new treatment that targets his own damaged DNA. “I’m an experiment,” Hitchens said. “These are early stages, but in theory it should attack the primary site of the tumour. “If that does happen, it won’t just be good news for me, it will be very exciting in the general treatment of cancer.”

Dr Collins is a former director of the National Human Genome Research Project and is now the director of America’s National Institutes of Health. He is the author of a bestselling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

I trust an atheist geneticist would just as readily help a Christian or a Muslim as Collins is helping an atheist.  It. Should. Make. No. Difference.

The real and exciting story here is the advance of individualized medicine:

The prognosis looked very grave until a few weeks after his diagnosis he was asked if he would like to be a guinea pig in the new science of genome sequencing as a possible cure for cancer. Samples were taken from healthy tissue and from his tumour and on each of them six billion DNA matches were run, in order to catalogue any mutations found in the cancerous cells. He was warned to have no expectations. But in the New Year came the good news that there is a genetic mutation found in the tumour for which there already exists a drug. Having been on varying types and doses of chemotherapy, he is now on a regime of one pill a day.

Hitchens deserves our best wishes–and for those so inclined, prayers–although as we’ve discussed here at SHS, praying for him should not be used as a cudgel in the religion versus atheism disputes.  Let’s hope this works, both for Hitchens and for the future betterment of cancer therapies.

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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