Francis Collins is one of the world’s leading scientists. He has been the longtime head of the Human Genome Project, the groundbreaking international effort to map and sequence all of the human DNA and then determine its functions. The Project is widely considered the most significant scientific undertaking of our time. A devout religious believer, Dr. Collins brings a unique perspective on the compatibility of science with religion, which he explores in his recent book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Francis Collins details the potential benefits of recent advances in the field of genetics, explores the question of whether or not religious belief negatively impacts a scientist’s research, and talks about his journey from atheism to devout believer. He talks about the comforts that religion brings to a believer, and how the question of the origins of morality was central to his religious conversion. He also offers challenges to recent arguments against belief in God, to “fundamentalist atheism,” and to atheistic bias among the scientific community, while also offering “theistic evolution” as an alternative to both atheistic evolution and Intelligent Design creationism.
I’m disappointed, as I had hoped for a synopsis of his book and arguments. But the only thing I recall is the claim that naturalists supposedly make a mistake by not admitting “deeper” questions outside the natural domain. And of course my bs detector activated when it became clear that this man is a Christian. How strange that an inquiring mind looking for religion comes to the conclusion that by sheer coincidence he happened to be born into the one religion that happens to be true (while malingning the plausible atheist argument about childhood indoctrination). That question about the meaning of it all, of dying and suffering is being answered in astoundingly different ways around the globe, which demonstrates that apparently those kinds of questions are in principle not answerable (but invite ‘creative’ input). DJ also said that Collins even believes in a decidedly childish version of God, one who cares, answers prayers, looks after people. Oh boy.
Or the claim that some god has endowed us with a sense of good and evil. How about some anthropology 101 (which I did take)? Ask about honor killings. Infanticide. Gerontocide. Apathy in the face of cruelty. That ‘father God’ Collins seems to espouse apparently does not care enough to make sure societies don’t diverge too much in their basic declarations of good and evil.
Gods, fairies, leprechauns, demons: just because you can conceive of entities does not make them real.
If Collins had any good cards up his sleeve, why didn’t he present them in the interview?
If anyone here goes to the trouble of reading the actual book (I won’t) please let us know what they are.
I had hoped that the discussion with an obviously eminent scientist would enlighten us to some new argument/evidence for the existantance of god. I thought that maybe through his researce in the Human genome that he would state that he found something that swayed his mind. I had thought that his believe would have been deistic in nature.
But what does he have as evidence for his belief emotions and wishful thinking - Jesus bones?? How hard has this man thought about it- really??
Disappointed in that I was not challenged in my thinking.
Relieved that I have saved myself on the purchase of a book
Dr. Collins related how he “did not grow up in a religious home. Faith was not not something mentioned around the dinner table or much of any time.” Later, at graduate school he “became an atheist.” So it seems he initially considered himself non-theist and defines atheists as only those making the positive claim that there is no god. Dr. Collins now derides atheism “because it assumed that the atheist knows so much as to be able to exclude within their own band of knowledge the possibility of something outside of nature, namely God.” He goes on to call atheism “arrogant”, “hubris”, and rationally indefensible.
There’s no shortage of folks, usually theists, who’ll define atheism as Dr. Collins does. They erect that straw man because it is so easily torn down. It’s just not an accurate description of most atheists. He defines his theism as “belief in God is more plausible than disbelief.” So let’s consider the reverse of that position: disbelief in a god is more plausible than belief. If the doctor defined atheism this way he’d have no room to cast aspersions without sullying his own position.
So Dr. Collins’ argument just boils down to a fallacious argument from ignorance with a sprinkling of the thoroughly debunked argument from design. He kept claiming to have a compelling rational case but he never presents it. He also fails to explain why his particular brand of Christian theology is more rationally compelling than any other variety of theism. He’s not a very good apologist - just a sad rehasher of previous poor arguments.
I liked the interview very much! Interesting philosophical questions maybe not anything new though. But atheists are also always repeating the same stuff.
Of course. Even Dr. Collins admits that, within the scientific community, that “same stuff” repeated by atheists is the default position. It is the extraordinary claims that need to keep looking for a foothold.
I really look forward to POI podcasts each week. This one was a bit dissapointing. I wish DJ had pushed Collins more on his assertion that altruism is some kind of evidence for theism. While Collins rejects Intelligent design on the surface, he relies heavily upon the current inability of science to account fully for human behavior. It is argument from ignorance no different than ID.
I’ve read Collin’s book and written a detailed review over at Amazon. I do still suggest that people read it. He does a crystal clear job of demolishing creationism and Intelligent Design. The science is excellent. The theology, however, is straight out of CS Lewis. Lewis was a distinguished professor of literature as well as a popular writer. He is not highly regarded (or even noticed) in philosophy or biblical study.
After reading the book, I do have a much better sense of why Collins believes. While universal morals seems to be his main logical argument, I don’t get the impression that it is all that important to his own faith. As in many persons of faith, it is the emotional experiences that have happened at critical times in one’s life.
Wow, your Amazon review was superb.
On the subject, isn’t it a sign of intellectual laziness to invoke Mother Teresa as some kind of role model? As others have pointed out, she was a person driven by an extreme (read: insane) sectarian Catholic ideology, which earned her many enemies for her draconian opposition against a women’s right to chose, divorce, etc while at the same time she consorted with dictators like Haiti’s Duvalier. Apparently her hospices were solely a vehicle to deliver dying people to her imagined heaven’s door instead of to the - likewise imagined - heaven of local beliefs. Her concern was solely with the afterlife, ie pie in the sky. She did it all “for the Lord” - not for the people, as “medecins sans frontieres” or the Intl Red Cross would approach it.
If she’s a role model for anything then in the sense that a person who is driven - be it by religious fervour, manic competitiveness, organizational genius or whatnot - can build a large organization with fabulous cash flow. Whether that’s a slaughterhouse, a bordell, a hospital, a media empire or a political party is beside the point. The point is: some people are high achievers, but religious conviction is not a deciding factor in it, it may even be a hindrance. Take J.S. Bach: this musical genius was super busy with his weekly compositions for the Sunday service that prevented him from producing much outside the religious frame. The Brandenburg Concertoes are marvellous, but I wish there was more that was not thematically tied to Christian mythology or texts.
I’ve been in a choir named after the guy for almost 20 years, but as my dislike for religious stuff grew I found it less and less tolerable to “sing to the glory of God” while being convinced that it’s all bogus. After all, to perform well you’ll want to put some feeling and emotion in it, and acting is work.
Some people need a metaphysical father to look up to and to reassure them that they are good.
Some people need this father to show them right from wrong and to explain to them what they cannot understand.
Some people just can’t cope with the idea that one day they will no longer exist despite the fact that they never existed for the past 13.7 billion years.
“You can certainly prove [from observations of nature] that belief in God is more rational than disbelief” - Oh please! Observing nature shows us that there is absolutely no evidence whatever for any of the gods ever having existed. The other thing about this is what Fracis says regarding science if done correctly is not incompatible with religion. Now, I’m not an advocate of the idea that science is the only rationale for being atheist (I was atheist as a small child from the moment I first understood the fairy stories told to me in mass, long before I became a scietist), but depending on which religion he is talking about, science tends to disprove vast tracts of it. Not intentionally, I would add (despite what southern baptists and pentecostals may think) - science does sciency stuff, and coincidentally the sciency stuff it discovers contradicts religious explanations.
Francis Collins also says that atheism should cause you to go out and be as nasty to others as you can possibly be. Why? Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t; on way too many levels. And unlike people who believe in some beardy-weirdy who dwells in the clouds getting upset when people eat apples, atheists have this in abundance.