Francis Collins is a very smart, very disciplined, very hardworking man. He was the head of the Human Genome Project, and now he has written a book, The Language of God : A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and I have to tell you, it doesn’t look promising.
He talks about his ideas in an interview. It’s the usual dreary stuff we get from the god-botherers, and it’s clear that this is a subject on which he willingly turns his intellect to off.
Collins was an atheist until the age of 27, when as a young doctor he was impressed by the strength that faith gave to some of his most critical patients.
“They had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance,” he said. “That was interesting, puzzling and unsettling.”
He decided to visit a Methodist minister and was given a copy of C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which argues that God is a rational possibility. The book transformed his life. “It was an argument I was not prepared to hear,” he said. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn’t exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away.”
Ho hum. Why do so many evangelicals begin their tales with a conversion story in which they were once one of the unwashed ungodly? I sometimes get the impression that everyone under the age of 30 must be an atheist, just so that when they’re 40 they can make remorseful testimonials and affirm their new faith, which, of course, they had never had before. Nope, never heard of Christianity until they were wise old men, and then poof, they discovered this overwhelmingly convincing evidence.
But OK, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and trust that he really was an atheist, once upon a time. Why is his conversion story so pathetic and unconvincing, and based on such a lack of critical thinking?
Most of his patients were probably religious (it’s a common affliction in America). So why is it “puzzling” that many were using their faith as a crutch, and why is he impressed that they weren’t railing against god? Did he also have a crop of atheist patients who died feebly, cussing out Jesus all the way down? That’s rather improbable, and I’m afraid I don’t believe him.
And dear gob, he was convinced by Mere Christianity? The “liar, lunatic, or lord” argument? Mere Christianity is a book that leaves atheists baffled at how anyone could find such drivel compelling—it’s a set of exceedingly weak excuses that believers find congruent with their preconceptions, but as a recruiting tool…man, it might sway a lunatic, and a liar might find it a useful tool, but lords need not apply.
His epiphany came when he went hiking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. He said: “It was a beautiful afternoon and suddenly the remarkable beauty of creation around me was so overwhelming, I felt, ‘I cannot resist this another moment’.”
I’ve been hiking in the Cascades, too, and I also find it overwhelmingly beautiful, but I see it as evidence of the power of nature and time and material forces, and my shared origin in the same forces that formed rock and cedar and mountain streams. His is an emotional argument; it has no logical force, and his conclusion is not a necessary product of his experience, since my interpretation is just as valid.
Collins believes that science cannot be used to refute the existence of God because it is confined to the “natural” world. In this light he believes miracles are a real possibility. “If one is willing to accept the existence of God or some supernatural force outside nature then it is not a logical problem to admit that, occasionally, a supernatural force might stage an invasion,” he says.
In other words, if you accept the premise of a supernatural agent, then you will have no problem with your premise. I’m sorry, Dr Collins, but that’s simply dumb. Please don’t call it “logical.” He’s made similarly vapid arguments elsewhere, like this:
I’m sorry that God has disappeared for Richard Dawkins. He’s not disappeared for me. I think you can make an argument that if God made himself so obvious, so known, so easily interpretable in daily events, then the whole concept of faith and of making a personal decision about where you stand would be pretty meaningless. You can look at many examples down through the history of faith where this lack of certainty is a critical part of how the whole enterprise operates.
So part of his evidence for a god is the fact that god is invisible, and there is no evidence for it…the “f” word sure is a great little excuse to cover up the emptiness of a claim, isn’t it?
Now Collins is a scientist, so I find this next bit particularly interesting: he makes a prediction!
Among Collins’s most controversial beliefs is that of “theistic evolution”, which claims natural selection is the tool that God chose to create man. In his version of the theory, he argues that man will not evolve further.
“I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says.
“Scientifically, the forces of evolution by natural selection have been profoundly affected for humankind by the changes in culture and environment and the expansion of the human species to 6 billion members. So what you see is pretty much what you get.”
So if his Christian god is real, then evolution has stopped. Huh. Has it? No, of course not. What possible mechanism would he postulate is in place to stop the accumulation of variation in the human species? Isn’t he at all concerned that if our evolution has stopped cold, but the evolution of microorganisms is ongoing, that we’re looking at our incipient doom?
I’m also baffled by his reasoning. He is arguing that our physical form has now reached the culmination of its design, and that we are therefore fixed, because we are now in the image of god. So god is made of meat, about 5 or 6 feet tall, and has all our physiological functions? It makes me wonder what brand of toilet paper he uses, or whether he has a very nice bidet somewhere in a nicely appointed room somewhere near his throne.
This is what makes Collins so comical. He hasn’t just settled on a vaguely deistic and philosophical acceptance of the possibility of a creator…he is committed to a narrowly sectarian, Biblical view of that creator, a view that is ultimately illogical and absurd, and is completely indefensible except by the standard irrational way out of claiming the backing of “faith”. Hallelujah! I believe because I believe, and because I’m a famous scientist, my faith must be scientific!
Collins is in the pseudo-rationalist branch of liberal Christianity. That’s fine, he’s welcome to dither about in there…but seriously, it has no credibility and no greater rational foundation than the raving mad branches of fundamentalism. I oppose it. I think the only purpose of this kind of crap is to provide a smiling mask of benign ineffectuality to insanity, a sympathetic cover to allow the religious to excuse any inspection of their premises. I agree with Brian Flemming on this issue—that mild and harmless as the kindly apologists might be, there isn’t much deep down to distinguish them from the fanatics and nutcases. Their arguments don’t stand up to even a casual glance by an atheist, but worse, they’re going to wither into ash in the face of the fundie hate-wing of their belief system.
Anyone advancing the notion that the “real message” of the Bible is the pick-and-choose construction of liberal Christianity is doomed to an idiotic sectarian fight in which the other side has many more boxes of ammunition. When it comes to God, hatred and fags, the Fred Phelps family is on very firm ground.
I know, a Collins and a Phelps are diametric opposites in how they use their faith, but ultimately, they are building on the same frothy, shifting foundation of lies and fantasy, and perhaps the only real difference is in how solidly consistent their views are…and Francis Collins has the most rickety, flighty, and contradictory construction. I’m sure Collins is sincere in his beliefs and has nothing but good intentions, but this book of his is going to be little more than yet another rationalization for irrationality, which the happy anti-intellectual warriors of the American faith-based delusion will seize upon to justify deeper commitment to our national policy of self-destructive foolishness.