A devout Christian at the helm of the NIH?

In recent years the culture wars have been a central theme in American biomedical research circles. Christian conservatives have banded together to protest, often successfully, new work on embryonic stem cells. Scientific groups have argued loudly that religious beliefs have no place in the lab.

And then comes Francis Collins (photo), a world-renowned geneticist and devout Christian. Newly appointed to run the National Institutes of Health, which deploys billions of dollars to biomedical researchers from coast-to-coast, Collins has never been shy about discussing how religion and science can peacefully co-exist. And his appointment to helm the NIH has triggered a buzz on both sides of the debate.

"If you believe that God is the creator, how could the truths about nature we discover through science be a threat to God?" writes Collins, who led the government's efforts to sequence the human genome. "For many scientists who believe in God--including me--it's just the opposite. Everything we learn about the natural world only increases our awe of God the creator...."

Fundamentalists have voiced distrust of Collins' belief in evolution, but some see him as a central figure who can help bring the two sharply divided groups together.

"Whether talking to members of Congress, high-powered scientific leaders from around the world, one of his patients, or students in his lab, Collins' zeal and ambition for pushing his vision of science is palpable and intense-and often delivered with a rural Virginia drawl that puts listeners at ease even as he aggressively pushes his agenda," writes author and science blogger David Ewing Duncan.

- read Duncan's profile of Collins

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