Dr. Francis Collins on Point of Inquiry September 4, 2007

Dr. Francis Collins on Point of Inquiry

If you haven’t heard it yet, Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an Evangelical Christian, was on Point of Inquiry with DJ Grothe to discuss his work, his faith, and his book The Language of God.

DJ asked the questions that most stand out in my mind (especially regarding how Collins reconciles science and faith), and (not surprisingly) Collins gave answers that were fairly unsatisfactory.

But the show isn’t intended to be a debate, and DJ does ask some decent follow-up questions.

Give it a listen (MP3).

[tags]atheist, atheism, Center for Inquiry[/tags]

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  • Religious faith has no part to play in science because science deals only with the physical universe. Religious faith, as held by an individual, can make use of science but it can’t go the other way round. I don’t understand the problem people have with this, there are lots of ideas that scientists hold that aren’t part of science, political ideas, personal tastes, etc. No one lives their lives 100% within the confines of science, those who come close are, frankly, maladjusted to real life.

    I wonder how many of the snarky atheists who conspicuously don’t have a major career as a research scientist envy Collins’ position even as they carp at his personal views on religion. And is that envy strictly in line with their 100% purely scientific view of life.

  • And yet, how many Christians will look on Francis Collins and say “Look, there’s a brilliant scientist, and he thinks God exists”. And link the two as if true science, smart science, enlightened science supports and even proves the existence of God?

    I’m betting more of them than there are snarky atheists who wish they were geneticists.

    Remember that the title of his book is “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”.

    That is as dishonest as Dawkins if he had written “The God Delusion: A Scientist Presents Evidence For An Unmade World.”

    Oh, shit. I guess he did.

    “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design”

    Dawkins, Collins… Birds of a Feather, marshalling the intellectual cache science confers to support their own beliefs, eh?

  • Siamang, Collins is a scientist, beyond question, he can present evidence in favor of belief, that doesn’t mean that he is imposing religious belief on science, it’s exactly the opposite. You’d think that anyone who accepted science would want it to inform the wider culture.

    I don’t think anyone of any sophistication would mistake a popular book on religion as a scientific publication. Unfortunately some religious believers will, that is not the fault of Collins but of the wretched science education most Americans seem to get these days. And it’s not a problem peculiar to religious believers. It’s not unusual for pop-atheists to make the same mistake with the propaganda for their ideology as well. You pointing the finger at them too?

  • Bad

    It’s not unusual for pop-atheists to make the same mistake with the propaganda for their ideology as well. You pointing the finger at them too?

    Given that I think this characterization is largely a mischaracterization, no.

  • Bad, you ever really look at the “science” of Susan Blackmore and then discuss her “science” with neo-atheists? Go back and look at the “10 years of study” that provided the “science” on which her Phd is based, look at the quality of that research, give it the CSICOP level of review. She’s a CSICOP, she should be able to stand up to the standards they apply to other people. Then look at how her work is discussed among pop-atheists. Taken as gospel truth.

  • Richard Wade

    Pop-atheists? Are they the only ones who get to be pop? Are there pop-theists? Pop-deists? Pop-agnostics? Pop-Christians, pop-Jews, pop-Buddhists, pop-Shintos, pop-Hindus, pop-Jains, pop….?

    Could there possibly be pop-Muslims?

    If there are so many pop-atheists, there’s no need to worry about them. They’ll just be pop-something else in a few months.

  • Keith

    Pop-atheists? Are they the only ones who get to be pop?

    I don’t think olvlzl was limiting pop- to atheists … and it’s not necessarily an insult. In fact, though I have no problems with up-blockers, eyes chicken , or corn shrimp … I actually prefer their pop- versions better. 🙂

  • monkeymind

    Keith, I am not “pop” enough to understand your references? Personally pop-atheists makes me think of men in skinny jeans and turtlenecks and women in mini-skirts and pale lipstick drinking martinis in a white room with Roy Liechtenstein prints on the wall. That, or Richard Dawkins’ head on a spring jumping out of a box.

  • Sam Harris in a tire would do. And the Dawkins has to be silk screened.

    A pop-atheist is a Discovery Channel atheist, a neo-atheist might not even have cable but they don’t know who A. J. Ayer was.

  • Keith

    Pop-up-blockers, Popeye’s chicken, and popcorn shrimp. Jokes I have to explain were probably not actually jokes in the first place … 🙂

  • HappyNat

    So a pop-atheist, a neo-atheist, and Olvlzl walk into a bar . . .

  • monkeymind

    HappyNat, I hope Richard Wade takes up the challenge to complete your joke!

  • Polly

    Ooooooooohhhhhh! Now, I get it. I was attaching your references to “-up-blocker” and coming up with nuttin’. 😀

  • Polly


  • So a pop-atheist, a neo-atheist, and Olvlzl walk into a bar .

    The pop-atheist got pissed and denied the bar was there, the neo-atheist said the bar wasn’t possible because it wasn’t consistent with the laws of physics, olvlzl said, Jesus Christ, who left that stupid bar there and walked around it.

  • Richard Wade

    LOL! ovlzl, that’s good.
    Here’s two quick attempts:
    #1 A neo-atheist, a pop-atheist and olvlzl walk into a bar, bickering about atheism. After a few drinks they walk out the best of friends. At that exact moment, pigs around the world begin to fly, hell freezes over, politicians begin telling the truth and professional wrestlers try to actually hurt each other.

    #2 A neo-atheist, a pop-atheist and olvlzl walk into a bar.

    The neo-atheist used to frequent bars and had some really bad experiences. So he resents all bars as the cause of his problems and he storms out.

    The pop-atheist complains that nice, clean bars like this provide legitimacy and cover for sleazy, crime-filled bars so they all should be banned, and he storms out.

    Olvlzl sits in the bar for a couple of hours and watches people order modest California wines instead of Chateau Haut Brion Pessac-Lognan 1982, order beers without knowing anything about the 7,000 year history of beer, order scotch whiskey without ever having read a single word by Robert Burns, and order vodka without the slightest understanding of the processes of fermentation and distillation. He walks out feeling on top of the world, not having spent a dime.

  • Richard, I hate to tell you but olvlzl doesn’t drink. His high power allergy meds preclude that pleasure. Though he does like an interesting argument and regrets that they are hard to find.

  • grazatt

    what the hell is all this about anyway?

  • grazatt, beats me, I didn’t bring myself up as a topic.

  • grazatt

    meh,derails: can’t avoid em, I guess

  • Richard Wade

    olvlzl and grazatt, you’re right. The diversion has gone long enough. I just couldn’t resist HappyNat’s and monkeymind’s challenge to complete the joke, and olvlzl, I was encouraged by your participation in it. Let’s move on.

  • severalspeciesof

    I’ll try to steer this back on track:

    I was just flabbergasted as I listened to the interview when Collins brought up Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” as a challenge of sorts to non-believers. If memory serves me correctly (and I know I’m in danger of putting my foot into my mouth if I get this wrong) Lewis’ first proposition (and everything then follows from that) is that Jesus either was a liar, a lunatic or Lord. That is a false dichotomy, or better put, an incomplete dichotomy. It becomes ‘garbage information’, and everyone here knows that garbage in will usually mean garbage out.

    And to olvlzl:

    I must be maladjusted (that explains a lot!), since I do live my life within the confines of science, since I believe one of the tenets of science is observation, and observation is everything. I may be deceived by my observation, but without observation, no knowledge is possible.

  • Darryl

    Collins’ apologetics are comprised of the same old arguments that have been recycled among evangelicals for decades. He believes, and that’s all there is to it. He’ll say whatever he has to to support his preferences. His only value to the problem posed by fundamentalist Christian religion in our nation is that he’s a true believer who is not anti-intellectual–unlike two of the morons running for President of these United States, he believes in evolution.

    And, once again, olvlzl’s comments are drawing flies.

  • He believes, and that’s all there is to it.

    So, that’s all there is to any of it, theism, materialism, scientism, positivism, deism, pantheism, memetics, … where it is not possible to know and that includes most of our mental activity, it’s all a question of belief. If you disdain belief and you really, rigorously try to identify it and cut it out of your thought you will find yourself left with very little. It’s just that some people are honest about it and others aren’t.

    olvlzl’s comments are drawing flies.

    Well, they say you catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar. No one’s ever made that comparison before. You should go over to PZ’s blog, you’ll get all the nodding nodders you can shake a stick at.

  • severalspeciesof, I am so glad that you cotton on to the necessity of observation in science, I would add measurement, analysis and communal review to the other basic necessities of science. I’ve gotten a lot of flack when I’ve insisted on those being the basic requirements in evolutionary psychology and allied fiends, here by your fellow adherents to scientism because they seem to think that the creation of fictitious stories will do, when it comes to their heroes’ “science”.

    So, science informs your entire life, really. You depend on observation, the precise quantification of those observations, the analysis and checking to make sure others can’t find a problem in your activities, in all of your life. While I have a hard time seeing how that would work, especially the review, I’ll go along for argument’s sake. Let me pose a problem for you. Is there any room in your life for the separation of church and state? For the right to equal protection of the laws? How do you account for these with the stringent procedures of science? Or, since it is impossible to even locate these two vitally important parts of life with science, do you just do without them? Please consider this puzzle, it really is important and I’m not being flippant. You see, I think the provisions of basic civil rights and liberties are among the most important things in life which are, I fully believe, endangered by evolutionary psychology and other forms of biological determinism.

  • severalspeciesof


    Guess you caught me with some sloppy thinking and writing. So here’s at little bit more sloppy thinking and writing: Let me first point out that I did not say science informs my entire life, though I think it could do so eventually, but not in my lifetime. (Science may even come to the conclusion that total knowledge will mean the end of us, hopefully before it’s the end of us!) Science isn’t ‘smart enough’ yet, if you can catch my drift. I even said that observations can be wrong (much of science has been wrong and will continue to be wrong because of that). Maybe another way to put it is to say that science (the way I meant to use it in my previous post) is more like a noun, not a verb, to me. And maybe I misunderstood your usage of the term ‘science’ in your first post. Or maybe I should come up with a new term such as ‘neo-pop-science’.

    As for the problem you posed to me, I cannot account for the right to equal protection of the law, or the separation of church and state, with the stringent procedures of science. But others are trying. Whether or not they get it right will depend on correct observations. But I can provide, for myself at the very least, an opinion or belief that the right to equal protection of the law and the separation of church and state, as good things, through observation (which is a tenet of science), and not through something ‘beyond’ observation (which seems to be God).

  • severalspeciesof, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some people who are pretending to find things such as these with what they are purporting is science, however, since just the definitions of these basic rights are not agreed on, their science is bound to fail. However, in the behavioral sciences all it takes is a short lived fad to cause major havoc.

    But why would you think you needed science, which I doubt will ever be able to honestly deal with such things, when there are both history and the law which are able to locate them and to give the origins of them? History deals with facts that are more certain to have actually existed than most of the “facts” “found” by the “sciences” which pretend to deal with ideas such as these. Historical facts are a record of what really happens in the real world, in real societies and among real people. That is certainly a record of fact about the actual human population which is superior to the alleged facts of the behavioral sciences and vastly superior to the explanatory myths from the Paleolithic period that evolutionary psychology spins faster than the Left Behind industry.

    I would really like to hear some materialists account for the existence of civil rights and other inherent rights of individual people, where do these rights come from and why do they believe they exist. I see every reason to fear that materialism leads directly to biological determinism and that biological determinism is a direct and increasing danger to civil rights, self-government and to democracy. When people are seen as nothing more than the expression of genes, molecules, when their actions and ideas are assumed (with no evidence) to be mere expressions of determined outcomes I don’t see how anyone could think such robots made of meat have inherent civil rights. I’d like someone to explain to me how they can be seen as holding those rights.

    I would like to know how materialists who believe in inherent rights account for them because it would be reassuring to have a good answer. I also would like materialists and even non-materialists who don’t believe in inherent rights, civil rights, self-government and democracy to come clean so people can have an honest discussion and choose for themselves. I have a feeing the history of such a discussion would lead most people to reject biological determinism, once they were reminded of the facts about what biological determinism in the guise of science has produced in real life.

  • miller

    Since you asked, this particular materialist (if I qualify as one) doesn’t believe in inherent rights any more than absolute morality. Like morality, rights are chosen arbitrarily more or less by consensus. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are flexible or irrelevant. I’m pretty sure I’m not a biological determinist though.

    So I am genuinely curious now. What part does someone like me play in this doomsday scenario? Humor me. 🙂

  • Miller, you’re in a better position answer your last question than I am. You might be entirely harmless. If you’re not a biological determinist I’d think that was likely, though I don’t understand how rights that aren’t inherent can not be flexible or irrelevant. Please explain to me if and how such rights can be inalienable. Considering how easily the rights held to be inalienable have been suppressed I’d want at least that level of guarantee. Otherwise it seems to be so whimsical, something I’m not comfortable with.

    The propensity for evolutionary psychology and its allied ideologies to get cozy with right wingers is pretty telling. Kevin MacDonald’s history within the inner circles of ep, before he testified for David Irving and became a major PR liability is pretty telling. You might want to look up John Hartung’s favorable review of MacDonald’s A People Who Shall Dwell Alone and his own effort. Hartung is certainly not a marginal figure in ep circles (nor was MacDonald), Dawkins cites him in his “Delusion” and he’s apparently pals with both Dawkins and his wife.

    I don’t trust these guys. Dawkins getting cute and coy about eugenics AFTER the fallout from the MacDonald scandal does nothing to make me trust them more.

    As to “doomsday”, isn’t that part of the Harris shtick. Isn’t preventing that the reason that he and Dawkins say that religious faith must die?

  • miller

    Oh, “doomsday” was just a humorous exaggeration on my part.

    As to the arbitrary-yet-inalienable rights, I believe that humans collectively can choose a system of rights, and it just so happens that we chose a system in which there are inalienable rights. Similarly, we can choose a system of morals, and it just so happens that we chose a system that we apply equally to everyone–that is, an “absolute” moral system. All these systems come from the highest authority over mankind that there is: mankind. But these are just my thoughts, and I’m not exactly a philosopher. I don’t know if they will stand up to scrutiny.

    Oh, and thanks for the links. It’s nice to get some idea of what this EP is that you’re always complaining about.

  • miller

    I’ve been reading the Intelligence Report. That’s powerful stuff! You should cite your sources more often.

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