Pharyngula

Collins on Fresh Air

Francis Collins was on Fresh Air this afternoon, and I listened. I was not bedazzled. Collins seems like a very nice fellow and he sounds sincere, but sweet jebus, what a load of tedious platitudes.

He made excuses for religion and how it can be accommodated by science, but wasn’t convincing to anyone who thinks at all beyond the superficial. Terry Gross tried to draw him out on why he believes, but we only got the same old tiresome nonsense. He claims that science is only valid in investigating nature, and that it is inappropriate for examining ideas beyond nature … which begs the question of whether there is anything beyond nature. We also hear that science and spirit are complementary and different tools, but of course we aren’t told how the tool of spirit is applied to anything. We’re told that the intricacy and complexity of the human genome instills a sense of awe, and that it represents a glimpse of God’s creative genius — again, begging the question. When asked whether it was appropriate for Clinton to bring up God in the announcement of completion of the human genome project, he answered that it was, because a majority of citizens believe in a god, and the public announcement ought to reflection on its meaning in a larger sense.

There were a few comments that were simply ludicrous. He tried to justify faith as valid with a Bible definition, citing something from Hebrews: “Faith is the evidence of things not seen”. He seemed impressed that it uses the word “evidence”; it’s a non sequitur. Telling us that the god-soaked authors of the Bible thought faith was a kind of evidence is not convincing that it actually is evidence.

Oh, and when he tried to explain what “evidence” supports his version of theistic evolution, all he had to offer were the old canards from his book, the “knowledge of right and wrong” and fine-tuning of the universe. Ho hum.

So, drivel and fallacies. It was not a rewarding listening experience.

Collins has done good science, but I don’t think the existence of good scientists who also believe in God is any kind of refutation of the existence of a conflict between science and religion. I’m sure there are also a lot of great athletes in wheelchairs, but that doesn’t mean paralysis and amputations don’t conflict with performance. Only the religious seem to find their handicap an object of praise and glorification and veneration, rather than an obstacle to overcome.


You can also find some comments on both the Dawkins and Collins interviews at Arbitrary Marks.

Comments

  1. #1 quork
    March 29, 2007

    Collins has done good science, but I don’t think the existence of good scientists who also believe in God is any kind of refutation of the existence of a conflict between science and religion.

    You’d probably also claim that a Jew who was an officer in the SS didn’t prove that Nazi-ism wasn’t anti-semitic.

  2. #2 H. Humbert
    March 29, 2007

    I tried listening, but couldn’t stand it for very long.

    I came away with the same impression I always do after listening to “converted” atheists–namely that Collins’ atheism was never very well-informed to begin with. It wasn’t so much atheism as it was an ignorance of religion. And so when first exposed to religious apologetics, Collins seemed wholly unprepared to counter the nonsense he was exposed to. He cited C.S. Lewis as a tremdenous influence, if that gives you any idea as to the quality of the arguments which persuaded him to theism. Yes, who has not been swayed by the almighty “trilemma?”

    Collins also said that he “discovered” that faith was not in opposition to reason, but in fact an extension of it. It’s a statement that can only have been uttered by a man who hasn’t subjected the assertions of faith to any scrutiny whatsoever.

  3. #3 AgnosticOracle
    March 29, 2007

    I tried to listen to him today and failed half way through. As you say he comes off as a nice fellow but the only argument is “that is unusual there maybe god.” It is like a step beyond the argument from ignorance.

    The ID folks claim we don’t know something and this is evidence for god. He admits we do know, but asserts that because it is “unusual” or “useful” this is evidence of god. By doing this he detaches his argument from testability (how would you test if something is unusual?). However in doing so he moves the logical fallacy one step further into the absurd. That a phenomenon is not what you expect is a flaw in your expectations, not evidence of your hypothesis.

  4. #4 Steven
    March 29, 2007

    The fine-tuning of the universe and knowledge of right and wrong.

    Weak.

  5. #5 Jason
    March 29, 2007

    I listened to both interviews, and posted some remarks on my own blog as well. I agree totally that Collins (on a couple of occasions) seems to have a shaky grasp on the definition of “evidence”. In addition to the scripture quote you mention, he also describes his quest for *evidence* that God exists culminating in the reading of Mere Christianity, a philosophical book that is hardly evidence of any sort.

  6. #6 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 29, 2007

    From the original post:

    He made excuses for religion and how it can be accommodated by religion, but wasn’t convincing to anyone who thinks at all beyond the superficial.

    Shouldn’t that second “religion” be some other word?

  7. #7 PZ Myers
    March 29, 2007

    Science! Yeah, after listening to Collins, I guess I started to confuse the two.

  8. #8 dorid
    March 29, 2007

    Much as I love to bash the fundies, I have to admit that it gets a little old, and doesn’t seem terribly sporting to lump everyone who believes in anything (unreal, fantastic,beyond human experience… take your pick. I’ll even accept “stupid” and “delusional” if you’d like) in with THEM.

    I’ll throw this quote out, hoping that more respected (I hope) voices than mine will hold some sway:

    The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

    I don’t have anything against religion, so long as the religious can state that there is absolutely no proof that there is anything to what he or she believes. I have a good friend who is Native American, and CHOOSES to not believe that the original inhabitants came over a land bridge from ANYWHERE else, and that our people have always been here. With her it’s a matter of choice, a matter of faith, and not subject to arguement. I can respect her while knowing she is absolutely wrong because I know this is a matter of extreme cultural importance to her. She doesn’t require me to believe the same things because she also knows I respect her choice to be wrong.

    I really think that some people need some sort of faith to cope with life, whether that makes them weak or not I suppose is a matter of opinion as well. My ex husband, a devout Orthodox Christian, used to say “A crutch is what allows the lame or broken to walk” He had no qualms about his religion being a “crutch”

    Sometimes I think the discussions about religion here end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  9. #9 bean
    March 29, 2007

    Are you saying Collins’ theism is not merely an annoying personal habit but a crippling handicap?

  10. #10 kemibe
    March 29, 2007

    “He claims that science is only valid in investigating nature, and that it is inappropriate for examining ideas beyond nature”

    This and related, equally vapid statements like “science tells us the what but can’t tell us the why” and “science is only good for examining the material world, not the spiritual” are nothing more than baroque ways of saying that it’s impossible to assess things that aren’t there. Attributing limitations to science, broadly speaking, is a tacit admission of having introduced bullshit into the conversation.

    However, that which is desirable in some way sometimes trumps that which is; hence, religion.

    People — scientists in particular — should be immediately suspicious of the validity of any idea that provides psychological or “spiritual” relief. Collins, for all his brilliance, is surprisingly unskeptical.

  11. #11 jess
    March 29, 2007

    “I don’t think the existence of good scientists who also believe in God is any kind of refutation of the existence of a conflict between science and religion.”

    What? Where did you take your logic course?

    That’s just handwaving — you haven’t provided any evidence that being religious is a handicap. The evidence is that there is plenty of good science done by people who believe in God. In what way is that a handicap.

  12. #12 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 29, 2007

    bean:

    Are you saying Collins’ theism is not merely an annoying personal habit but a crippling handicap?

    In that it effectively forbids him from working on interesting, legitimate and probably rewarding problems, such as the evolution of moral behavior, then yes, his theism is a handicap. He’s made science and faith compatible by drawing a line around the former to leave a margin for the latter, and in his professional capacity, he can only work within that line, even though it does not include all our current body of knowledge let alone all currently viable hypotheses.

  13. #13 Joshua
    March 29, 2007

    Because they’re two entirely incompatible ways of looking at the world. Religious scientists only succeed as scientists by drawing a curtain around their science and not letting religion penetrate.

    Science is based on evidence.
    Religion is based on argument from (dubious) authority.

    Science is based on inquiry.
    Religion is based on dogma.

    The two are not compatible.

  14. #14 quork
    March 29, 2007

    That’s just handwaving — you haven’t provided any evidence that being religious is a handicap. The evidence is that there is plenty of good science done by people who believe in God. In what way is that a handicap.

    The evidence for that is provided on a daily basis by Dr. Egnor and his Creationist pals. Now tell me how many Creationist atheists you know.

  15. #15 ordinarygirl
    March 29, 2007

    I was glad to hear that he wasn’t refuting scientific evidence by believing that Genesis is literal. I don’t think he explained the evidence he has for a god though. He left it up to faith, which is not something that can be shown, thus not something I can agree with him on.

    Really I got the impression that he wanted to believe in something, have a purpose to life given to him. And he found it in Christianity. Good for him, I suppose. I don’t really understand the need to find purpose. I think people can make their own purpose.

    I really much prefer his brand of “Christian” to those that dispute science because it disagrees with their book.

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    March 29, 2007

    What? Where did you take your logic course?

    I think the logic is quite clear. Saying that X does not interfere with a variable property Y, and citing the existence of someone who has both X and Y as a counterexample, is not logically valid. If I were to say that cancer is a bad disease and not good for living people, saying that you know somebody who is living with cancer does not refute my point.

  17. #17 ordinarygirl
    March 29, 2007

    I was glad to hear that he wasn’t refuting scientific evidence by believing that Genesis is literal. I don’t think he explained the evidence he has for a god though. He left it up to faith, which is not something that can be shown, thus not something I can agree with him on.

    Really I got the impression that he wanted to believe in something, have a purpose to life given to him. And he found it in Christianity. Good for him, I suppose. I don’t really understand the need to find purpose. I think people can make their own purpose.

    I really much prefer his brand of “Christian” to those that dispute science because it disagrees with their book.

  18. #18 Robert
    March 29, 2007

    Jess: how is believing in a being as the cause of things but whose effect cannot be measured in any meaningful way not a handicap towards understanding our universe through measuring and expirementation.

    The two are certainly in conflict. It takes some classic doublethink to be a religious scientist. (Why don’t scientists put their beliefs down for empirical examination? b=Because they don’t hold up. So then they pretend they don’t have to hold up to be meaningful.)

  19. #19 ConcernedJoe
    March 29, 2007

    Like gawd is our all loving protector etc. and we are his most precious creations – right?!?! Yet this personal “friend” of ours — all knowledgable and all-powerful — fine-tuned peril for us into almost every aspect of our universe– HUH?!?!?!? I just like get blown away by the apologists who don’t see the contradictions. And it so angers me the con that “makes” people equate prayer for instance with REALLY doing something good. Like “I’m praying for your child who has bad cancer” — I mean they might as well follow up with “he’s the guy who fine-tuned cancer so it attacked the beautiful child to begin with .. why shouldn’t he help!?!?” Gag gag gag — barf barf barf!!!

    Give me a break Dr. Collins… I’d respect you a lot more if you called a spade a spade and said” “I’ve seen the world and have concluded there is a god … and he’s one crazy – f’ed up – mean s-of-a- b!!”

    PS Lurkers — I am not an unhappy – sad – lost — empty atheist … just a guy who hates the fact that you all are warping little children (and some “good” scientists apparently – lol) with your delusions, and that society is so wimpy that they let you do it instead of ridiculing you off the stage. Myself, I am free and loving it!!! I sound angry only because YOU delusionists give people license to avoid REALLY doing moral things — and that under the covers you want to control the lives of freedom loving GOOD and MORAL people who don’t conform to your delusions (you would if you could and you know it!! – and then you wonder why we sound so “angry” – lol you all slay me)!!

  20. #20 ordinarygirl
    March 29, 2007

    I was glad to hear that he wasn’t refuting scientific evidence by believing that Genesis is literal. I don’t think he explained the evidence he has for a god though. He left it up to faith, which is not something that can be shown, thus not something I can agree with him on.

    Really I got the impression that he wanted to believe in something, have a purpose to life given to him. And he found it in Christianity. Good for him, I suppose. I don’t really understand the need to find purpose. I think people can make their own purpose.

    I really much prefer his brand of “Christian” to those that dispute science because it disagrees with their book.

  21. #21 ordinarygirl
    March 29, 2007

    I was glad to hear that he wasn’t refuting scientific evidence by believing that Genesis is literal. I don’t think he explained the evidence he has for a god though. He left it up to faith, which is not something that can be shown, thus not something I can agree with him on.

    Really I got the impression that he wanted to believe in something, have a purpose to life given to him. And he found it in Christianity. Good for him, I suppose. I don’t really understand the need to find purpose. I think people can make their own purpose.

    I really much prefer his brand of “Christian” to those that dispute science because it disagrees with their book.

  22. #22 Scott Hatfield
    March 29, 2007

    quork writes: “you’d probably claim that a Jew who was an officer in the SS didn’t prove that Nazi-ism wasn’t anti-semitic.”

    With all due respect, I think this satirical rejoinder misses the mark. ‘Nazi-ism’ and Judaism are both belief systems, last time I checked, and ones which obviously contradict one another. One could not say that, on the one hand, the Jews are a royal priesthood, God’s chosen people, and on the other hand hold them to be sub-human.

    So, a person raised as a Jew, who became an SS officer, who persecuted Jews for being Jewish, could no longer be said to be a Jew in any meaningful way. The example is absurd in its face, because the conflict is ineluctable: being a good Nazi absolutely commits you to the destruction of Jews.

    On the other hand, while this or that religion might be a belief system, science itself is not a belief system. Thus, some believers can in fact do science, and they have lots of ways to do this that doesn’t require them to forswear this or that item of dogma: NOMA, compartmentalization, that sort of thing. The conflict may be real, but it is not the kind of thing that can not be avoided or ignored, because there is no requirement that (say) a good scientist must be committed to the destruction of belief—only that belief may not be invoked as an explanatory principle.

    I conclude that quork’s quip has no real bearing, then, on the claim made by PZ in this thread.

  23. #23 Brownian
    March 29, 2007

    I’d like to hear for once exactly how religion answers questions ‘beyond nature’ or of spirituality. Explaining something by saying “because that’s what God wants” is about as useful as saying “because dirt is brown.” Even as a child I was never satisfied with religious answers.

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless

    “The situation is hopeless, but not serious”
    — Ancient German proverb. Well, not ancient, but I forgot the author. “Not serious” carries the connotation of “funny”.

    Well, actually, that’s a bad example, because — unlike your example — it’s not doublethink.

  25. #25 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless

    “The situation is hopeless, but not serious”
    — Ancient German proverb. Well, not ancient, but I forgot the author. “Not serious” carries the connotation of “funny”.

    Well, actually, that’s a bad example, because — unlike your example — it’s not doublethink.

  26. #26 Exad
    March 29, 2007

    I felt that Terry really let him go on important points. Within a few minutes of the “evidence of the unseen” quote he also claimed that god deniers were committing a “logical fallacy”. Collins also trotted out the tripe about science having “not disproved god”.

    I remember a Fresh Air interview some months back, she had a man affiliated with the college that has put the most interns into the Whitehouse. Terry didn’t challenge many of the points raised because they were so ludicrous. But at least that guy had a fairly consistent internal logic.

    Collins on the other hand, didn’t backup the things he said all that well and they weren’t compatible with the way a scientist works. He just made the claims and Terry let him slide. I think because Collins is a scientist he should have to back up his claims. If we can’t trust the logic he uses to maintain religion and science in such a strange fashion, how do we trust his logic when he does scientific work?

  27. #27 greensmile
    March 29, 2007

    PZ: is Craig Venter religious?
    Did Venter use as much tax money in his human genome quest
    as Collins did?
    Could an irreligious PI have gotten a decent hearing from NIH, especially in the last 6 years?

  28. #28 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 29, 2007

    I listened too.

    Collins is a real scientist, smart, a nice guy, and (what I didn’t know before) from unusual upbringing by fascinating parents. But that’s all I learned.

    My previous exposure to his smooth presentation of conundra was a TV interview on the big issues of science, which panel included my high school and Caltech classmate Stephen Koonin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    Collins was slick, but ultimately vacuuous. My wife watched for a minute or too, enjoying herself, until Collins spoke. “Who the hell is he?” she asked, and stalked out of the room, obviously annoyed.

    He’s entitled to his beliefs. I’m glad they make him happy. But he gave me no reason at all to buy his book. Not even as a discounted paperback. Now, a remaindered paperback, maybe I’d flip through a few pages…

    After all, I like to pretend that I have an open mind.

  29. #29 Sastra
    March 29, 2007

    Jess wrote:

    “I don’t think the existence of good scientists who also believe in God is any kind of refutation of the existence of a conflict between science and religion.”
    What? Where did you take your logic course?

    No, that works. The methods or conclusions in science can conflict with the methods and conclusions in religion even if individuals happily manage to straddle the two by compartmentalizing. There may be very good chemists who also use homeopathic cold remedies because when it comes to their personal lives they relax their standards and stop doing science. They continue to take the medicine their mothers once gave them because it’s familiar and “it seems to work for me.” That wouldn’t mean that homeopathic chemical theory isn’t in severe conflict with modern chemistry, nor would it mean it’s getting genuine support from good chemists. The “good chemist” would only be considered a “bad chemist” if he claimed that homeopathic chemistry was good science, and was endorsing it AS a chemist. (Of course, being as sloppy as he is might mean the “good chemist” is also a hypocritical “bad man.”)

    Collins seems to be straddling the good scientist / bad scientist category by almost but not quite saying that science supports the existence of God.

    The evidence is that there is plenty of good science done by people who believe in God. In what way is that a handicap.

    Like the chemist who takes homeopathic remedies, it’s only a handicap if you try to be consistent, and forget that your personal idosyncrasies are not to be taken as seriously as you take your science.

  30. #30 BJN
    March 29, 2007

    Implicit in Collins’ story of his conversion by the “evidence” is that his choice of evangelical Christianity is evidence-driven and that all other faiths are baseless. His plea that there’s room for religion in science is really that there’s room for his Christianity in science. As an evangelical, he simply can’t make room for other belief systems since he’s duty-bound to save the souls of disbelievers. So much for an expanisive view of faith.

  31. #31 Chet
    March 29, 2007

    The evidence is that there is plenty of good science done by people who believe in God. In what way is that a handicap.

    It’s a handicap in the same way you’d be handicapped if, after working a whole shift at Planned Parenthood helping women get abortions, you took your lab coat off and went outside, picked up a sign, and joined the protesters for a few hours every day.

    I mean, sure, you could do that, you could spend your off-hours contradicting everything you accomplished at work, but wouldn’t you be handicapped by the inconsistency? And wouldn’t people reasonably expect that, sooner or later, you’d find yourself in a conflict of interest vis a vis your professional conduct and your personal beliefs?

  32. #32 Ric
    March 29, 2007

    I too listened to part of it. Being as he’s done good scientific work, I expected some sort of well-formed reasoning behind his conversion to Xtianity. Needless to say, I was disappointed. All I got was an account of bowing to social pressure, as well as being fooled by his own inability to recognize the poor reasoning of Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” He went to a Methodist Minister for answers and that was enough to convert him to Christianity. If he had lived in a Middle Eastern country he would have gone to a Muslim Holyman and he’d be a Muslim now. Ho hum.

  33. #33 hans
    March 29, 2007

    I came away with the same impression I always do after listening to “converted” atheists–namely that Collins’ atheism was never very well-informed to begin with.

    Isn’t that the same as the Xian who says of the fellow-Xian-turned-atheist “you weren’t a real Christian, anyway?”

  34. #34 Caledonian
    March 29, 2007

    No.

  35. #35 hans
    March 29, 2007

    Caledonian,

    Your exquisite eloquence and and astounding breadth of argument have swayed me.

  36. #36 H. Humbert
    March 29, 2007

    hans, no, they really aren’t the same.

    Christians who employ that argument often arbitrarily exclude whole groups of other christian factions based on some very subjective criteria. “Oh, you don’t believe in the trinity? Then you’re not a real Christian.” Etc.

    Now, if someone never read the bible, never went to mass, never received religious instruction of any kind, didn’t even know who Jesus was, yet called themself a Christian, it might actually be appropriate in that case to question whether that person actually qualifies as a Christian.

    And at any rate, I never once suggested that Collins wasn’t an atheist, I just pointed out that his atheism wasn’t informed by anything. Having invested no or very little thought into his position, it really isn’t all that shocking that he would abandon it in favor of religious solace the first instance he needed it.

  37. #37 Peiter
    March 30, 2007

    I’m sure there are also a lot of great athletes in wheelchairs, but that doesn’t mean paralysis and amputations don’t conflict with performance. Only the religious seem to find their handicap an object of praise and glorification and veneration, rather than an obstacle to overcome.

    P-Zed, you seem to be on a memorable-quotes-streak. First Egnor, the Renaissance creationist, and now this little gem. Keep it up, please!

  38. #38 Flex
    March 30, 2007

    PZ wrote, “He claims that science is only valid in investigating nature, and that it is inappropriate for examining ideas beyond nature ….”

    That reminds me of a high school argument I had over 20 years ago. My claim was that given any accurate definition of the word “alien”, we couldn’t use our imaginations to conceive of anything truly alien. The point I was trying to make was that if we encountered something truly alien, we would interpet what we saw as variation on something known (or a combination of things known).

    The self-appointed genius of our group dissagreed with me, and proceeded to throw out examples of things he felt were alien. One of the ideas I remember him coming up with was a penguin in tennis shoes. His claim was that it was possible that no one had ever imagined this idea before. Of course, I pointed out that we were not discussing originality, but actual, undefinable, Lovecraftian alienness and his example actually illustrated my point.

    Now I don’t know if there is anything in our grand universe which is so alien that we cannot find any relationship to things we already know. (Think of Niven’s novel ‘Footfall’, and don’t think of elephants.)

    But the idea that science is limited to studying things which are natural but religion allows the study of things, um, unnatural falls into the same catagory.

    Does anyone have any examples of things or ideas which religion (pick any) is good at studying, where the methods of science are not useful?

    Anyone?

  39. #39 the dryyyyyyy cracker
    March 30, 2007

    I listened to that whole thing and I was actually surprised at how little substance there was. A guy maps the human genome, you’d think he’d have a fresh take on spirituality–Collins sounds like Kate Hudson’s SNL impression of Drew Barrymore (“it’th jutht tho magical”).

    Two things I found noteworthy: the only “argument” I heard him present in favor of faith was that altruism is anti-evolutionary and therefore points to a higher power, which makes sense if you think about it for three seconds, but at the four-second mark you go, “Oh, wait. We’re small, weak, vulnerable to the elements, we have no armor, no quills, no chemical defenses, and the only animals we can outrun are herbivores. Without a little Good Samaritanism, our ancestors would’ve been screwed.” Yes, brains and thumbs are at the top of the why-we’re-still-around list, but saying altruism is anti-evolutionary is kinda like saying there’s no good reason for baby mammals to be so lovably cute.

    The second thing, and this actually freaked me out, was his lament that “I just wish more people could share [my belief in God]” What, somewhere between eighty-five and ninety friggin’ percent ain’t enough for you?

    (Okay, maybe there he was referring to his colleagues specifically–in which case the percentage gets cut in half–but I reserve the right to find such talk chilling)

  40. #40 Paynen Diaz
    March 30, 2007

    Scott Hatfield [OM] says:With all due respect, I think this satirical rejoinder misses the mark. ‘Nazi-ism’ and Judaism are both belief systems, last time I checked, and ones which obviously contradict one another.

    With all due respect, I think that in addition to being belief systems Nazi-ism and Judaism are also a military allegiance and a culture, respectively. You could be a Nazi soldier without being a Nazi believer while at the same time being a Jew (culture or religion, though admittedly a bad one of either). I draw the parallel in that science can be your way of looking at the world, or science can be your job, or science can be both. The same goes for religion. Collins has science as his job and Christianity as his way of looking at the world; therefore, it seems likely that he is at least slightly handicapped in at least one of those areas. The hypothetical Jewish Nazi soldier believes in the Jewish religion but simply follows Nazi orders to save his life even though killing and demeaning his fellow Jews makes him a terrible person, a terrible Jew, and a terrible Nazi. Whether he is aware of these conflicts is a different question.

  41. #41 ganv
    March 30, 2007

    As a scientist who roughly shares the Christian viewpoint that Collins describes, I thought I would post a couple of ideas here:

    First a strategic point: American science education needs serious help, and anti-science viewpoints taken by many creationists is one of the big reasons for this. People like Collins are among those best situated to redress this problem because they have the science right and are not a threat to the core theistic viewpoint of the creationists. You may not like some of his beliefs, but you have to admit that Collins has much more likelihood of influencing creationists to consider the data than the direct frontal assault by Dawkins or PZ Meyers has of having a similar effect.

    Second a point about Philosophy: Collins is not a philosopher of religion, neither is PZ Meyers, or me, or most anyone else who posts on this blog. Many here seem to underestimate the difficulty of seeing philosophical beliefs from another person’s viewpoint. We are used to scientific ideas where the relation between measurement and theory can be made pretty concrete–maybe there are a lot of steps, but each step can be made concrete. But when you ask questions like ‘Do other minds exist?’ or ‘How ought humans live?’, you can’t give answers with anything like the concreteness that science offers. What we all do in practice is develop semi-coherent answers to these questions built around a variety of assumptions from our upbringing and our observations of the world. The atheist viewpoint has semi-coherent answers to these questions just as Collins and I do and none of them is based on science alone. It takes hard work to appreciate how a different semi-coherent philosophical belief makes sense to someone, and it seems that most here don’t make the effort.

    I find a viewpoint like Collins describes to be quite an asset in my scientific work. The existence of something like a mind behind the laws of the universe provides motivation that simple laws might exist and that I might be able to understand them. When approached without dogmatism, the connection to a long tradition of people seeking to live morally upright lives has many advantages in making the everyday decisions in life.

    Well, this got longer than I planned, but for what it’s worth…

  42. #42 Keith Douglas
    March 31, 2007

    gaw: To me, a materialist who enjoys neuroscience at a semi-popular level, the first question you ask is relatively easy to answer. It is the second one that is hard. But that aside, how does idealism make for lawfulness? All the advances in science come as an argument against that viewpoint?

  43. #43 Caledonian
    March 31, 2007

    Having something like a mind being responsible for the laws we see doesn’t make the world more predictable, but less.

    Not only does it require that the laws we see are illusions, special cases of deeper laws that don’t necessarily resemble them in any obvious sense (which is an inherent problem to physics), but that the laws we see might change at any whim of this mind. Minds are terribly complex things, even with simple human minds, and the mind of a god must be unimaginably and incomprehensibly complex. Making predictions about what would happen as a result of any action then becomes essentially impossible, because we have no way of determining whether the illusionary laws will continue or be altered for some unknown reasons by the god.

    Not only is theism poor philosophy and terrible science, but as an attempt to understand the world, it fails utterly.

  44. #44 Ray
    May 19, 2007

    I am a fly developmental biologist who also uses and writes many of the computational tools used by the Genomics community (one that Collins is a part of). I listened to both the Dawkins and Collins segments on NPR and read many of the comments above. I feel that many people who are against religion believes that the logical part of their brain makes up the totality of the human experience. This I believe then leads people to think that there is no room for anything else which is our logic cannot understand. I believe that while rational thinking is paramount, our emotions and our spirituality are just as valid parts of human existence. Are emotions and spirituality likely to have some physical basis, yes. Does that fact make them less valid than our logic? I believe not.

    The fact is that while we hold logic as the quintessential human ability and it has brought us quite far in terms of scientific understanding, it is not the essence of being human. What is worse is that while we extol our rational abilities, we fail to see its shortcomings. For example, almost all of science is based on reductionism, breaking down complex processes into bite sized, human digestible pieces. It works amazingly well, which probably suggests that at some level, the universe is modular. However, there are so many areas (at least in biology which I study) that I can see which are not so modular. Which suggest that we might be approaching the limits of reductionistic approaches. Gene regulatory networks is one example. Right now we are not even close to being able to fathom how such a complex network of regulatory factors can control the development of an single celled embryo into a complex adult. Can we ever do that? I don’t know, maybe. What I know now is we crave simplification thru abstraction. You see this at every level from computer science to biology. We simplify and simplify. In biology, many times we don’t understand something so we over-state our results to fit our simple model. Trust me, this happens all the time.

    My point is that I feel our limit brains can only take us so far in terms of our understanding and this fact is well reflected in our need to use a reductionistic approach to science. However, at the same time we have no humility about our own limitation and believe that because we can’t understand something, it must something else that we can grasp with our mind.

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