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Francis Collins: Genome Researcher, Theological Ninkumpoop?

Listening to the Point of Inquiry podcast with Francis Collins was a little bit frustrating. Francis Collins is a world renowned researcher - one might say one of the most important scientists in the world - yet he's a Theist. I'm convinced that having the skepticism and critical thinking skills that make a good scientist leads to agnosticism/atheism. When Dr. Joe Shmoe preaches something crazy about God, it's easy to think, "Anyone can get a PhD these days!" But when it's a top scientist it makes you wonder what's going on.

Listening to the podcast is very insightful as to what's going on. Although Francis Collins seems to be a well educated and smart man as far as his job is concerned he has little understanding in the realm of theological arguments, and in the realm of evolutionary biology. He cites CS Lewis as being his initial influence for a conversion to Christianity. He also states that he think the arguments of CS Lewis are even today hard to refute. This is complete bunk! All of CS Lewis' arguments have been absolutely shredded apart.

DJ Grothe, an altogether outstanding interviewer, throws Francis Collins complete softball questions (reminiscent of Bill O'Reilly interviewing George W. Bush). I don't blame DJ though - it makes sense to be respectful of your guests (lest he wants this to be his last theistic guest). Although I think DJ should have asked slightly more critical questions he was erring on the side of caution. I think you can actually hear him biting his tongue.

Francis asserts that Evolution is all about reproducing your individual genes. I'd agree with him that this is the case. Francis says "Evolution cares about your genes, they don't care about much else. And remember, they care about the genes of the individual and not so much the genes of the group." This is true too, but he makes a logical error after this.

He goes on to challenge Evolutionary Biologists "Why do we respect people like Oscar Schindler who risks his life to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust when he himself isn't Jewish?" (he lists Mother Teresa too). Granted I'm no evolutionary biologist, but I think this question is far from a paradox. In a society where people cooperate - it increases everyone's chance of reproducing. This is a broader form of reciprocal altruism (which he actually mentions). I don't see how he didn't connect the dots. When humans evolved in tribal societies cooperation was necessary to survival. It is easy to imagine altruism and cooperation being sewn into the human genome. Surely the head genome decoder could imagine that?

"Why do Atheists insist that we get over religion and be good to one another? Who cares about being good? If they are right, we should shrug off the whole idea and be just as darned selfish as we possibly can because we've all been hoodwinked by evolution into being just as good as we possibly can and we should rebel against that?" This is slightly reminiscent of when I told someone I was an Atheist and they responded "Do you have morals?" Francis, evolution also "hoodwinked" me into standing upright, opposable thumbs, and other biological features. Actually Francis, I'm quite happy with most of my evolutionarily developed features, including my empathy.

"By committing the scientific method to religious claims you're committing a logical fallacy" - Francis Collins argument is that the scientific method is the wrong tool to study religion. Francis Collins is dead wrong here, with little wiggle room. Science is the best tool humanity has. And anything that is possibly provable - is best proved by Science. If anyone is trying to prove a religious claim without using scientific proof - then you have no way of knowing if they are telling the truth, a liar, or delusional. I would assume Francis Collins makes his religious decisions not based on Science, but on emotion. I wonder if then there's any coincidence that he was born in the USA and decided to become Christian and not Jainist? Are emotions a good tool to use to judge truth? Have you ever liked someone before they did something awful? How about nymphomaniacs, kleptomaniacs, or homicidal maniacs? For them the ideal to strive for is as much sex, stealing, or murder as possible. Yet not everybody does (or should) share these Truths.

One thing Francis Collins doesn't explain is how he goes from believing in the stereotypical philosophical God (omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent) to believing in a particular Christian view of God. Again, he doesn't mention what type of Christian he is, but he believes in the resurrection of Jesus. Please Francis - the resurrection of Jesus? If I told you something impossible to happen happened - would you just believe it, or would you think I'm either lying or delusional? What are the chances of each side being true?

Francis Collins is not as kooky as many religious people we hear about. He does afterall believe in evolution - yet it's still disturbing that he's a top scientist and doesn't use (or doesn't know how to use) the scientific method in his personal life.

Comments

When considering Francis Collins' qualifications to be the Director of the Human Genome project, one must not forget that the most important responsibility of the director of any scientific institution is not to do science, but to obtain funding. This, considering the cultural climate of this country, especially among politicians, is why he is probably the ideal choice for the job.

This is a very good observation.

By the way Russ, I have enabled your account. I get a lot of requests from spammers for accounts, and I didn't know that yours was legitimate until you posted this.