Tuesday, September 21, 2010


As I previously mentioned, I have been doing some work with the BioLogos Foundation, and have become acquainted with Francis Collins, the Foundation founder.  Here is a short essay he wrote for the Washington Post:

Praying For My Friend Christopher Hitchens
By Francis Collins

I first met Christopher Hitchens at a "salon" organized by Ben Wattenberg a few years ago. The evening was advertised as a wide-ranging discussion of many topics, but soon evolved into a debate between Christopher and myself about whether a rational person could also be a person of faith. As expected based on our respective public writings, Christopher took the negative position, and I took the positive. It was an energetic and entertaining opportunity for intellectual jousting, and the quickness and edginess of Christopher's wit was on full display - as was his remarkable command of history and literature. (In fact, I suspect he knew more about the Christian Bible than many of the Christians in attendance.)

It was with dismay that I learned in June that Christopher had been diagnosed with cancer. And this was a very serious situation - esophageal cancer that has already spread to regional lymph nodes has a poor prognosis, and pursuing all avenues of intervention, even if experimental, would be highly advisable. As the Director of the National Institutes of Health, I am in a position to be aware of new developments in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Advances are occurring with great rapidity as technologies arising from the success of the Human Genome Project are making it possible to get a comprehensive understanding of what drives malignancy. The ability to match cancer drugs to the characteristics of an individual tumor is growing rapidly. New drug targets are being discovered. New protocols for treatment of cancer, listed in www.clinicaltrials.gov, are being developed every month.

So as I have done in other situations where a friend was in trouble, I reached out to Christopher and his wife Carol Blue to offer assistance. They welcomed that possibility, and we've met several times since then in their apartment. That relationship has led to some interesting ideas about how to optimize his treatment. Christopher will no doubt be writing more about these in his powerful series of essays in Vanity Fair.

Some observers have expressed surprise that the atheist intellectual and the Christian physician-scientist could become friends. After all, in the current political climate in Washington, anyone who doesn't agree with you is supposed to be your enemy. But I would like to think that Christopher's sharp intellect has challenged my own defense of the rationality of faith to be more consistent and compelling. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17).

On a personal level, I have been blessed by getting to know Christopher and Carol better - despite the "enfant terrible" reputation, Christopher has a warm humanity that is easy to perceive. And his willingness to be utterly open and transparent about his cancer diagnosis provides a breathtaking window into his personal integrity.

Over these last few months, we have not talked directly about faith. He knows that I am praying for him. But my prayer is not so much for a supernatural intervention - as a physician I have not seen evidence for such medical miracles in my own experience. Instead I pray for myself and for Christopher along the lines of James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." And I then give thanks for the chance to share in a deepening friendship.

Francis Collins is Director of the National Institutes of Health, the researcher behind the Human Genome Project and a Christian who explained how he reconciles science and faith in his book The Language of God.

By Collins, Francis
September 20, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

RON WISNER 1942-2010

We've Lost a Good Man - Ron Wisner - June 18, 1942 - May 21, 2010

When you get an early morning call from a friend who rarely uses the phone to communicate, you have the feeling that there may be bad news.  And indeed the news was very bad on that morning of May 22, 2010.  Randy Kunkel called to let me know that our good friend Ron Wisner had died in a mountain biking accident on the previous afternoon.  Accounts of the accident can be found here, here and here

I was in Malibu teaching a summer course in Tumor Biology, but quickly made plans to return to Colorado for Ron's Memorial Service at Hillside Gardens in Colorado Springs.  At the memorial, I had the honor to be among those that the family asked to say a few words about Ron and to contribute to a book celebrating Ron's remarkable life.  Here are my remarks:

Although there will no doubt be many great words spoken here today, I believe that the greatest tribute to Ron is the gathering of all of you who are here. Looking out, I see students, faculty, staff and friends of UCCS; I see runners and tennis players; I see members of the greater Colorado Springs community; and I see many faces that I do not know. The breadth of the circles of Ron’s influence is represented by you all.

There are many folks who pass through this life waiting for life’s experiences to come to them; then there are others who actively and vigorously search out a variety of life experiences. I think that we all know where Ron was on this scale, and I believe that I see the same attitude in Jane, in Sara, in Mark and in Laura.

I can honestly say that I do not remember the first time that I met Ron, but I can say that it did not take long for us to become friends. Ron was an “easy” friend, maybe because we shared so much in our backgrounds and in our perspectives – after all, how many chicken farmers from the Midwest are there at UCCS?? I think that the only major character flaw that I could identify in Ron was that he did not play basketball!!   In thinking of how our friendship got started, I believe it is was because we both believed that all UCCS employees should be good citizens of the academy regardless of one’s position as Dean of Students, professor of biology, or whatever. Thus we were both committed to supporting the varied activities of the University – after all it is a “uni – versity” – and we would see each other at sporting events, at theater productions, at lectures on various topics, at Gallery openings, etc. Gallery openings were especially important because they would be accompanied by free food and often, most importantly, desserts and beer!

Although Ron did not join in our regular basketball games, I did join him in running. We probably ran thousands of miles together, often joined by Luis Lowe, or by the Grand Masters, or the Garden Training Group, or by – well the list is long. We covered every trail on the Austin Bluffs above UCCS, and many places that could not be considered trails. The UCCS administrators would have been happy to know that we solved virtually every problem of the University, and many of the world’s problems as well – it was very therapeutic!

Of the myriad traits and characteristics that I saw in Ron as we worked together and recreated together – commitment to excellence, belief that everyone can achieve to the best of their abilities, commitment to justice, to inclusiveness, and to conflict resolution – I would like to mention two of the most important: encouragement and affirmation. 

I suspect that everyone here has received encouragement from Ron. Luis Lowe could not be here today, but shared a story with me that I believe relates to Ron’s encouraging nature. Luis and Ron were preparing for the Denver Marathon – Ron, the seasoned veteran mentor, and Luis, the novice. Ron rightly knew that Luis was ready and able, but Luis had doubts. Early on race day morning, Ron called Luis – “Are you ready to go?” Luis – “I am not going.” Ron – “Are you sure?” Luis – “I am not going.” Two minutes later the phone rings, and it is the same simple question, not pressuring or provoking – “Luis, are you sure?” Luis – “Ron, I am not going.” A couple more minutes, the phone rings again – “Luis, are you sure?” Luis – “Ron, if you stop calling me, I will go!!!” And, as Ron knew, Luis ran a fine marathon debut, in 3:22; Ron ran 3:07 but would have been much faster if he had not talked with all of the policemen and most of the spectators along the race course. My time was a fair amount under Ron’s, but I only ran the 10K.

I also suspect that everyone here has received affirmation from Ron. When Rhonda and I left Colorado Springs for our California adventure, Ron graciously agreed to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. It is filled with affirming words, carefully crafted by a colleague and friend, and it is something that I will always treasure.

Randy has said some of the very things that I have been thinking - he said that Ron was like a brother to him.  Indeed, Ron was the closest thing to a brother that I willl ever have.  Ron's absence will leave a hole in each of our lives, but I believe that the bigger the hole, the greater the circumference around the hole represents the impact that Ron had our our lives.  We all have been enriched by knowing Ron.  Vaya con Dios, mi hermano, and we will see you on the trails. 

The Grand Masters
Luis Lowe [seated]
Bob McAndrews, Yours Truly, Jim Brummage, Ron Wisner & Randy Kunkel

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Time to change gears. We are adjusting to the "retired" lifestyle, although it seems as though we are still busy every day!  With regard to professional activities, Rhonda enjoys substitute teaching in the Boulder Valley School District, and I taught a summer course at Pepperdine and am doing some consulting work with the BioLogos Foundation.  I will write more about this later.  With our three kids and three grandkids all close by in Denver, we are enjoying considerably more family time.  So, this blog will now head off in a new direction, with posts about family, friends, work, play, politics, finance and religion - should cover about everything.  Take care, and hope to hear from you all.   -d-