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Science and Religion

Joe Biden announced a week before he became president that he was keeping Francis Collins as director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), the world’s largest biomedical research agency.

Collins was appointed and confirmed as its director during the Barack Obama administration. Before that, he ran the Human Genome Project (HGP) during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Under his direction, the HGP mapped and sequenced 3 billion DNA letters of the human genome to produce the “first read…of nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.”

The findings sparked a revolution in genetic research and generated an economic impact of more than $1 trillion for the U.S. economy over the last almost two decades.

The global DNA sequencing industry is currently valued at around $5 billion and expected to be double that in six years. More than half of its value is generated by academic and clinical research facilities that are funded by the NIH.

In 2019, it awarded almost $30 billion in 55,012 research awards and 2,369 grants to 2,738 universities, medical schools and other research institutions.

One of those recipients is the Van Andel Research Institute and its Graduate School in Grand Rapids, MI. It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose scientists conduct a wide range of biomedical research to uncover disease-causing genes. Over the last two years, it’s received $20 million in NIH research funding.

Jay and Betty Van Andel founded the Institute in 1996. Its opening in 2000 was considered the beginning of what’s now called Medical Mile, an expanding genetic research hub in downtown Grand Rapids.

Jay was also the multi-billionaire co-founder of Amway with Richard DeVos Sr. The two were high schools friends and longtime members of the Christian Reformed Movement and the Council for National Policy (CNP).

The Helen DeVos Children’s Memorial Hospital sits across the street from the Van Andel Research Institute. It’s a 501(c)(3), pediatric teaching hospital that’s one of Spectrum’s 14 hospitals, 11 urgent care facilities and 43 labs in Michigan. Spectrum’s received at least $30 million in NIH funding over the last 20 years.

Down the street, the Spectrum Health Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion handles Spectrum’s cancer research and patient care. A few blocks east is the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences on the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Health Campus.

GVSU offers a range of degrees in Bioinformatics, Genomics and Health Informatics. Those fields — which use mathematical and computing approaches to analyze the ever-increasing amounts of biometric data being produced — can trace their growth directly to the success of the HGP. DeVos has given GVSU at least $36 million over the last 20 years.

Less than a mile away is the Van Andel Education Institute, which provides science-based K–12 education programs. It’s near the Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) DeVos campus, which is home to the Calkins Science Center and the Spectrum Theater.

The collection of these public schools, nonprofit genetic research institutions and conservative billionaire funders like DeVos and Van Andel, has created some interesting partnerships in Grand Rapids.

Caleb Bupp is the Division Chief of Medical Genetics and Genomics at the DeVos Children’s Hospital. He’s also a member of the Rare Disease Network, a collaboration between Michigan State University, the DeVos Children’s Hospital and Calvin University for “the rare community to connect all year round.”

Calvin University (formerly Calvin College) is a small, private, Christian school that’s a 10-minute car ride from Medical Mile.

Betsy DeVos is a Calvin graduate. So is Helen DeVos. Richard Devos Sr. and Jay Van Andel both attended. The DeVos, Van Andel and Prince families have donated million$ to Calvin. The DeVos Communication Center sits across from the Prince Conference Center on campus.

Bill Boer is a Calvin graduate who used to be the VP for administration and finance at Calvin. He chaired the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Committee and was a member of Spectrum Health Hospital’s board.

He also was the COO of RDV Corporation, the family office of Richard M. DeVos. For years he helped the DeVos family invest its profits from Amway and its other businesses. He’s now on the Board of Trustees for Calvin and Chairman of its Finance Committee.

Calvin is part of the Christian Reformed Church whose members are against abortions, homosexuality and any “theories of evolution that deny the creative activity of God.” One quarter of Calvin students identify as Christian Reformed.

The school is closely affiliated with the Calvin Theological Seminary and both are home to the Christian Reformed Church’s (CRC) North America office.

The CRC believes some people are predestined to be saved while others are predestined to eternal damnation. They believe God and Christians have the responsibility to rule all aspects of life on earth—including the government—through God’s Law.

The NIH has given Calvin more than $10 million over the last 10 years. In 2018, Collins spoke at the school about genetic engineering and God’s role in science.

“Faith and science are two ways of knowing. But they are ways of knowing. You have to decide which question you’re asking before you decide which of these approaches is the one that’s going to help you. Science answers ‘How’ questions. Faith answers ‘Why’ questions,” he said.

He considers God to be “the greatest scientist”. Similar to Calvinists of the CRC, he rejects the claim that “evolution is a purposeless process” or that it replaces God’s work.

Calvin is a short walk to the BioLogos Foundation. It’s a Christian advocacy group that believes evolution exists, but only through the guidance of God. It was started by Collins. Deb Haarsma, the former chair of Calvin’s physics and astronomy department, is president of the BioLogos Foundation.

In November 2007, the same month Collins was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor from George W. Bush for discovering the “code of life”, he founded BioLogos to advance the public’s understanding of God’s role in that code.

In his New York Time’s Best-Seller, “Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”, he writes: “God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as “natural laws.” Yet they also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture. In both natural and supernatural ways, God continues to be directly involved in creation and in human history.”

BioLogos was started with funding from John Templeton Jr., an evangelical Christian and former member of the CNP. He was a longtime member of the Koch Donor Fund club. For years, he donated hundreds of millions of dollars to groups that worked to prove the existence of science through God.

Templeton’s foundation has given BioLogos more than $10 million in grants since 2012. In 2016, it donated $1.7 million to BioLogos to start a speakers program. Collins was awarded the $1.3 million 2020 Templeton Prize Laureate last May.

Two years ago, the NIH partnered with Spectrum Health and other hospitals to initiate the “All of Us” program. It has a goal of collecting the DNA of one million people over the next 10 years.

Spectrum clinics collect volunteers’ digital health records, physical measurements, blood and urine samples, DNA and answers to multiple health and lifestyle surveys.

In return for sharing their data, those that complete the program receive a $25 gift certificate and their genetic results with the ability to review them with a counselor. So far, the program has 367,000 participants with 279,000 biosamples and 233,000 health records collected.

Their data is stored on the Amazon Web Service cloud. It’s managed by the Data and Research Center (DRC) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Tennessee.

Last year, the HHS watchdog released its report on the 2017 investigation it did of VUMC’s management of the personal health data program.

VUMC says it has since fixed all the issues.

Last year, VUMC released a first version of the research platform it created based on the collected “All of Us” data. The platform was built in partnership with the Broad Institute and Verily Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Alphabet.

The Broad Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit biomedical and genomic research center that was started with $100 million from Eli Broad, a billionaire democrat who’s battled for gun legislation, built a museum in his name, formerly owned and sold KB Home and Sun Life Insurance and was an AIG board member when it collapsed during 2009 housing financial crisis.

Broad and other billionaires like the Koch brothers, Bill Gates and Walmart families, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to back charter schools and defund public school systems in LA, Kansas and other cities.

The Broad Institute houses the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research, one of the largest genome sequencing centers in the world.

Years ago when Collins was leading the HGP, the Whitehead Institute was one of the gene sequencing sites it partnered with to complete the project. It ultimately produced a third of the project’s gene sequencing.

The Kochs have given the Whitehead Institute at least $100,000 since the late 1990s. In 2008, David Koch became a member of its board of directors, where he served for more than a decade.

“Whitehead Institute has benefited greatly from David Koch’s knowledge, experience, and passion for biomedical research, both basic and translational,” said David C. Page, the institute’s director.

Verily Life Sciences is Google’s research organization. Since being spun off as its own company five years ago, it’s raised $2.5 billion in total funding—$1.8 billion of that is from Silver Lake and Temasek Holdings.

Temasek Holdings is Singapore’s national investment fund. It’s invested in hundreds of companies and hedge funds around the world. One of those is the Troika Russia New Growth Fund. Troika Dialog is a former private Russian bank that was used by the RuMob to operate dozens of offshore companies and financial networks that laundered at least $4.8 billion out of Russia.

In 2018, Verily joined Peter Thiel’s Thrive Capital, Founder’s Fund and five others to invest $165 million in Josh and Jared Kushner’s Oscar Health.

Silver Lake has an investment history with Digital Sky Technologies (DST), a Russian venture fund with almost $700 million invested in dozens of U.S. companies. It’s run by Russian Oligarch Yuri Milner with investments from Russian Oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

In 2011, Silver Lake and DST partnered to invest more than $1.6 billion in the Alibaba Group. Last September, it led a $500-million investment round with DST and others in education tech startup Byju’s.

Amway is also an investor with Russia. It’s been operating there since 2005 and six years ago, signed a deal with Alfa Bank to start its Russian loyalty card program “Alfa-Amway”. Four years ago, it opened its first retail store in Moscow.

In 2019, Amway reported sales of more than $200 million in Russia. It’s currently partnering with the Kremlin to expand its salesforce by empowering female entrepreneurs to start their own businesses through its “Mompreneur” program. So far it’s in 58 cities.

Most of Amway’s $8.4 billion in 2019 sales came from China, the U.S., Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, India, Russia, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Betsy, Dick and their adult children are worth around $2 billion. More than half—$1.3 billion—is from Amway shares.

Last year, Amway gave the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Action PAC $305,000. Since 2016, it’s given Republican candidates and PACs more than $12.5 million.

Most of the $1.2 million Amway has spent on the lobbying over the last two years has gone to Mike Telliga. He’s a former Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, who represents Michigan’s 4th congressional district. It includes the town of Ada, which is where Richard DeVos Sr. grew up and where Amway headquarters is located.

Moolenaar’s a chemist and worked at Dow Chemical for eight months before running for office. He’s a graduate of Hope College, a small Christian school in Holland, MI that’s affiliated with the Reformed Church. The DeVos family has donated at least $35 million to Hope.

Amway’s given at least $43,425 to Moolenaar’s political campaigns. The DeVos’ RDV Corp gave him $8,000 last year.

Moolenaar voted against both of Trump’s impeachments and signed an amicus brief in support of Texas v. Pennsylvania, a lawsuit filed at SCOTUS to contest the 2020 presidential election.

Two years ago, he traveled to Ukraine to speak at the country’s National Prayer Breakfast. His trip was sponsored by the Prayer Group in the Parliament of Ukraine. He attended the breakfast with Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Tim Walberg (R-MI).

He’s currently a co-chair for the 2021 U.S. National Prayer Breakfast. Aderholt and Walberg will be honorary House reps for the event.

Since 2017, Moolenaar’s sat on the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education. It’s responsible for writing the funding bills that determine the budgets for the Labor, HHS and Education departments.

They are the departments Collins’ NIH receives the majority of its funding from.

Citizen Journalist

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