Science and Faith
Salon interviews Francis Collins, who as head of the Human Genome Project is arguably the world’s most important scientist, about how he can simultaneously be a man of science and an evangelical Christian. Interestingly, Collins does so while simultaneously staunchly defending evolution theory, dismissing Intelligent Design, and otherwise distancing himself from the anti-scientific talking points of many on the Religious Right.
Unlike so many of those players most invested in this culture war, Collins sees no inherent conflict between science and religion. Yet his book [The Language of God] is likely to alienate plenty of people on both sides of the debate. His frequent references to God’s almighty power might be difficult for secular readers to swallow. And his scathing critique of both Young Earth creationism and intelligent design probably won’t attract the hordes of readers buying Ann Coulter’s latest diatribe against evolution.
A lot of scientists say religious faith is irrational. Your fellow biologist Richard Dawkins calls it “the great cop-out.” How do you respond to these critics of religion?
Certainly this has been one of the more troubling developments in the last several decades. I think that commits an enormous act of hubris, to say — because we’re now so wise about evolution and how life forms are related to each other — that we have no more need of God. Science investigates the natural world. If God has any meaning at all, God is outside of the natural world. It is a complete misuse of the tools of science to apply them to this discussion.
So God is outside of space and time?
I would say so. And God is certainly outside of nature. So for a scientist to say, “I know for sure there is no God,” seems to commit a very serious logical fallacy. Frankly, I think many of the current battles between atheists and fundamentalists have really been started by the scientific community. This is an enormous tragedy of our present time, that we’ve given the stage to the extremists.
Obviously, you’re saying you should not read the Bible literally, especially the story of Genesis.
That also seems very threatening to many believers who have been led to believe that if you start watering down any part of the Bible, including a literal interpretation of Genesis One, then pretty soon you’ll lose your faith and you won’t believe that Christ died and was resurrected. But you cannot claim that the earth is less than 10,000 years old unless you’re ready to reject all of the fundamental findings of geology, cosmology, physics, chemistry and biology. You really have to throw out all of the sciences in order to draw that conclusion.
And the Resurrection? Do you believe that what was resurrected was the physical body of Jesus?
Physical body? We should be careful in terms of exactly what you mean by that. Does that mean the cellular structure was exactly the same as it was when he was alive? I don’t know. But I believe that he was resurrected in physical form and seen by witnesses whom he spoke to before he then ascended. That is the absolute cornerstone of the Christian faith.
The whole article (four pages, requiring one to click on a couple of advertisements if not a subscriber) is worth a read.
What’s interesting to me is that Collins, with the exception of the belief in virgin births and quasi-resurrection, is essentially a Deist moreso than what most of us think of as evangelical Christians. He believes in the natural world and just posits–with no evidence whatsoever–that it’s probable that a Greater Being set those forces into motion and, by and large, lets things evolve.
UPDATE: Interestingly, several hours later, all the blog commenters on this story listed at Memeorandum so far are from the Left. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of few on the Right reading Salon or what.
- Ezra Klein is the most cordial, concluding, “[I]t’s rather nice to see a pointed critique of the sort of dogmatic atheism that too often passes for revealed truth because it cuts such a compelling contrast to James Dobson and Co.”
- Amanda Marcotte, one of the bloggers at Klein’s former home, Pandagon, entitles her response, “Scientist goes home and relaxes by not thinking.” That should give you a clue as to the direction of the post.
- Norbizness thinks Collins is ripe for the looney bin.
- PZ Myers is just tired of seeing Collins give variations of the same interview over and over. His appraisal: “Collins the theist is no scientist. When he puts on the silly hat of a Christian, he also abandons the mindset of an honest scientist.”
UPDATE: Orrin Judd weighs in, ending the streak. He offers no overt commentary, but pairs excerpts from the Collins interview with one with SABRmetrics guru Bill James, along with Amazon links hawking both books.