A Few More Thoughts on Francis Collins July 10, 2009

A Few More Thoughts on Francis Collins

After writing my own thoughts on Francis Collins and his appointment to head the National Institutes of Health, I read this piece by Chris Wilson at Slate.

Two excerpts stood out to me, addressing the concerns of many atheists:

This formula [between the “unsolved” and the “unsolvable”] offers a convenient litmus test for where Collins falls on a variety of questions: If a given problem appears to be merely unsolved, then he’ll leave it to the realm of science; if, on the other hand, Collins deems a question to be unsolvable, it’s fair game for inclusion in a spiritual interpretation of the universe.

And:

… [Collins] thinks the presence of the divine can be directly observed, even if it cannot be measured and tested.

This is an audacious claim for any scientist to make, and Collins does not deserve a free pass on this from the scientific community. He is also undeserving of suspicions that he harbors a conservative Christian agenda. As it happens, the most salient point raised by his critics tends to work in his favor. Jerry Coyne rightly describes Collins as a talented administrator. After all, he led the public effort to sequence the human genome and loves to point out that he did it “ahead of schedule and under budget.” That’s the most important virtue for the job he is about to undertake. If Collins’ faith mollifies even a few political conservatives who would otherwise continue to waste time and money fighting research efforts that violate their specific religious tenets, then the benefits of his faith should outweigh whatever qualms scientists might have.

The full article can be read here.


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  • Peregrine

    Overall, I think we should give the guy a chance. Believer or not, he’s only human. He will succeed based on his human skill and effort, and fail based on his human failings, just like anybody else.

    Granted, I don’t agree with him on everything. I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins on everything either. Sometimes I don’t even agree with myself on some things.

    But Collins isn’t going to use his post to prove god exists, and he knows as well as any of us that it’s foolhardy to try. In spite of his beliefs, or perhaps because of them, Collins will prove to be the man that he is. And part of that is a man of science, and that’s the part that he’s bringing to the job.

    It could be worse, you know. We’re stuck with Gary Goodyear until at least September.

  • Aj

    This formula [between the “unsolved” and the “unsolvable”] offers a convenient litmus test for where Collins falls on a variety of questions: If a given problem appears to be merely unsolved, then he’ll leave it to the realm of science; if, on the other hand, Collins deems a question to be unsolvable, it’s fair game for inclusion in a spiritual interpretation of the universe.

    That seems to suggest he doesn’t care about what’s true, just that he doesn’t want to be proved wrong in the future. Although the question then becomes what does he find “unsolvable”. I think Darwin and Einstein showed us that predicting what’s “unsolvable” is folly. Neil Degrasse Tyson was a speaker at the Beyond Belief Conference 2006 and had many examples of scientists just stopping their progress because they explained something through God when they were really close to an important break through.

  • matt