Thursday, July 22, 2010

Uncommon Descent Gets it Right (And Nature Immunology Gets it Wrong)

In the most recent post on Uncommon Descent, Scordova points out that the journal Nature Immunology, in their May editorial, takes some pot shots at Francis Collins, head of the NIH and founder of the BioLogos site, for his Christianity. The unsigned editorial can be found here. Scordova writes:
May, 2010 editorial in Nature Immunology makes it clear that they don’t trust religious persons–even those who are neo-Darwinian evolutionists like Francis Collins–in positions of scientific authority.
The editorial is basically a long argument that falls under the cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy—correlation does not imply causation. They begin:
The newest book authored by Francis Collins, Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith, was released in March 2010. A collection of essays addressing the rationality of faith, the book reflects the struggle of great minds of the past and present—philosophers, poets, scientists—to understand the urge to believe in a supernatural power. It is advertised as an essential companion for anyone seeking clarity in the ongoing debate between reason and faith: seekers, believers and skeptics.

The publication of the book has great potential to reignite some nagging doubts over the election of Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many hoped that after his nomination he would refrain from publicly discussing his religious convictions and step down from projects such as Biologos, which attempts to reconcile evolution with the idea of God. This, however, has not been the case, and although most agree that Francis Collins is a skilled administrator, there are justified concerns that such public embrace of religion from an influential scientist may have negative consequences on science education.
This idea might, in and of itself, have merit, if there was evidence that Collins was subverting science education in this country. But there is none. The editors then recount several events in the last five year that detail the struggles that have been waged regarding science education over the country. These include the Dover-Kitzmiller case, the 2008 Louisiana "Academic Freedom" bill and the results of several polls suggesting that the acceptance of evolution in the United States is lower than it should be.

This is all certainly bad news but how is it remotely Francis Collins' fault? By their own admission, he has lamented the lack of evolution education and has never shied away from describing himself as an ardent evolutionist and is a prolific and gifted scientist. It is therefore, a bit puzzling when the editors refer to him only as a "skilled administrator." They write:
In the introduction and in interviews surrounding the book release [Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith], he describes his belief in a non-natural, non-measurable, improvable deity that created the universe and its laws with humans as the ultimate aim of its creation. Some might worry that describing scientists as workers toiling to understand the laws and intricacies of this divine creation will create opportunities for creationism adepts.
What they fail to recall is that when he was appointed as head of NIH, many creationist groups decried the appointment. Ken Ham, for example, wrote:
It is true that in this era of history, people are asking questions about Genesis, as they recognize that if Genesis is not true, how can one trust any of God’s Word? Collins is offering them answers that will only further undermine biblical authority—AiG is giving answers that stand on biblical authority, and, as a result, so many have testified they became Christians or rededicated their lives.
Lawrence Ford of the ICR wrote:
Should we conclude that Dr. Francis Collins is not a "born again" Christian as described in the Bible? He appears to be genuine and sincere in his belief that Jesus Christ is his personal Savior. But quite troubling is Collins' public and proud disbelief in the historicity of the Bible, the existence of Adam and Eve, the event of the Fall, and many more fundamental doctrines of God's Word--leading one to conclude that even if he is a Christian, his self-selective beliefs are terribly resistant to God's truth, revealing his dangerously poor view of the power of God. Like the Sadducees, Collins errs by "not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29).
Neither of these quotes faintly resembles high praise. These were calls to the "Christian" community to reject Francis Collins as a role model for Christians. It is only those of us who accept evolutionary science that welcomed his appointment and hoped he would truly be the bridge between science and faith.

But the problem, of course, is the faith. The editors of Nature Immunology have failed to distinguish between someone like Collins, who is not just a Christian but an accomplished scientist, and someone who supports creationism at the public school level, and this elementary lack of discernment is troubling and insulting.

Now playing: Alex De Grassi - Clockwork (Studio)
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post. The anti-Collins sentiment is ridiculous. He's an Evangelical Christian? Well then let's trash his scientific credentials and call him a Creationist. It's absurd. In my time as a scientist, scientific merit was judged by... scientific accomplishment, not religious beliefs.