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Dr. Francis Collins - The Language of God (Merged)
Posted: 12 September 2007 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 106 ]
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rgill - 12 September 2007 08:29 AM

I find it a little hard to call what Dennett does science. Social science maybe. More like philosophy with lots of anecdotes. Yes, he is very analytical but in a scattered, unfocused way. I’ve read a lot of good scientific reviews of fields, but reading “Breaking the Spell” has been like getting a bad case of attention deficit disorder. He can’t stay focused on the same idea even within a single sentence in some cases. He cites quite a bit of work done by various anthropologists, which is great, and the book finally starts to get somewhere by Chapt 8, but I found Sam Harris’ “End of Faith” much more coherent and engaging (even though I agree more with Dennett than Harris). There are some nice gems in “Breaking the Spell”, but, sheesh, you have to do so much sifting and untangling to find them.

Perhaps you can recommend a better book by Dennett. Unfortunately, I have to read a lot more of his work.

You’ve described Dennett’s writing style quite well, actually, rgill. His longer books can be quite maddening to read; there are lots of long digressions. He tends to be light on actual arguments and heavy on what he terms “intuition pumps”, that is, experiments that get you to reframe certain subjects and look at them in a new way. For that reason, he can be maddening to some philosophers, who tend to consider his books more a sort of “popular philosophy”, even if they might agree with certain of his conclusions.

I particularly liked his earlier book Elbow Room, about free will, because it is shorter and hence more to the point.

He’s a very nice guy, BTW, and I think actually a better interviewee or lecturer than a writer of long books.

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Posted: 12 September 2007 10:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 107 ]
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zarcus -

If you think that believing that God had a son with a virgin who rose from the dead after dying for the sins of people not yet born is not an unusual belief, then you might be in the wrong forum.

If he had become a Moonie or a Hare Krishna, there would have been a far greater reaction.  All that protects him from mixing quotes from the Bible in with his scientific explanations without greater ridicule is that the religion he is mixing in happens to be that of the overwhelming majority of his compatriots.

As I said before, science does not happen in a vacuum.  It happens in a social context, and is always, invariably, necessarily bound up with the values of the people doing the science.  The method may be perfect in all ways - but people are not.  Collins is certainly imperfect, and I don’t trust that his relatively new found religiosity will not have an effect on what he brings back into the field, or to the public debate about genetic engineering.

Back when physicists put together the first nuclear bombs, their use was highly influenced by Edward Teller.  Unfortunately, Teller was rabidly anti-communist, to the point of irrationality.  Teller had such influence because his physics were good, and bore fruit.  But as a man, he had some major flaws, and he helped fuel the cold war in very dangerous times, and nearly succeeded in pushing through crackpot civilian uses for nuclear bombs.

Collins may be no Dr. Strangelove, but I do not trust anything the man has to say about genes that goes beyond genomics, any more than I trust what is said that goes beyond genomics by scientists who are owned by private research corporations whose interests are profit and power.

When it comes to science, the proof is in the peer review.  You cannot get the plain science wrong, because if you do the hydrogen bomb doesn’t go off.  You can certainly get the ethics wrong, and if you have influence with people because you got the science right, your wrong ethics can have disastrous results.

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Posted: 12 September 2007 11:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 108 ]
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[ Edited: 20 October 2007 03:20 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 18 September 2007 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 109 ]
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Dr. Collins said that science should be quiet about the question of God, since he’s of the supernatural realm while science deals with the natural. Nothing new there, quite an old and over recycled argument. However, doesn’t that make his book’s title hypocritical?

Furthermore, God may be of the supernatural realm, but all and any interactions of his with the natural realms do comfortably fall under science’s reach. In other words we may not be able to scientifically test his existence in the supernatural realm, but all of his supposed actions on this realm are testable. Thus we should be able to, at the very least, indirectly prove his existence.

Too bad Dr. Collins did not say anything on the podcast to help that cause.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 110 ]
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I posted the following review of Collins’ book on Amazon on September 15, 2007.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/1416542744/sr=1-1/qid=1190152833/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_top/102-9660847-4061751?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books&qid=1190152833&sr=1-1#customerReviews

It begins with the following statement.

The statement that religious belief is a personal matter is an important heuristic in a nation, culture and world of many religious beliefs. As an observation of human behavior, it is also a statement of fact.

It’s a long review, but I was very surprised and disappointed by the book.

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Posted: 19 September 2007 01:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 111 ]
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PLaClair - 18 September 2007 06:05 PM

I posted the following review of Collins’ book on Amazon on September 15, 2007.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/1416542744/sr=1-1/qid=1190152833/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_top/102-9660847-4061751?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books&qid=1190152833&sr=1-1#customerReviews

It begins with the following statement.

The statement that religious belief is a personal matter is an important heuristic in a nation, culture and world of many religious beliefs. As an observation of human behavior, it is also a statement of fact.

It’s a long review, but I was very surprised and disappointed by the book.

Great review, especially the analysis of Collin’s personal story! I am less sure about these statements you made however:

“Though grounded in our organic brains, sentience cannot be reduced to material terms, even if the cognitive neurosciences identify precisely which brain cells and which chemicals produce particular feelings, thoughts, behaviors and sensations; still, we will be left with our inescapable day-to-day experience, and the question of “ought” in response to “is,” however well understood that “is” may one day become.”

Richard

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Posted: 15 October 2007 09:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 112 ]
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Hello… I’m new to the forums and of course new to this discussion, so this point may have already been raised, but I just listened to the Collins podcast and one thing in particular struck me. He’s clearly a brilliant scientist, and yet he was able to make a statement to the effect that selfless behavior could only be explained as a product of evolution when applied to ones behavior with family and maybe friends, but not in the context of a Schindler, which is the example he used. That just seems to be an unscientific statement. One could easily make the case that care for others than oneself has been an essential part of the survival of our species to the point that it has become genetically encoded and certainly socially encoded. That in some people and some contexts that nature would manifest in selfless, altruistic behavior, even with a desire to help total strangers, does not seem outlandish at all and certainly does not require a moral sense bestowed by a deity.

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Posted: 17 November 2007 01:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 113 ]
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I realize that this is a little ‘late’ (i just listened to the podcast tonight), but I just want to thank everyone who’s posted in this thread ~ lots of articulate and very incisive comments:)

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