Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Francis Collins, Bill Maher and Josh Rosenau

Josh Rosenau has an interesting post at Thoughts from Kansas about the criticisms that have been leveled at Francis Collins because of his vocal Christian stance. He writes:

Collins is criticized mainly for two sets of claims about science and religion. The first, that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of human life, the second is that the "Moral Law" cannot be explained scientifically. There is a consensus that the universe's physical constants cannot be much different than they are for life to exist, but no consensus why the universe has those values. Some people think there are a lot of universes and it is inevitable that one would have the combination of values we see in ours. Others seek physical laws which limit the range of variation in universal constants. Nothing Collins says attacks any consensus, and he has made clear that he has no aversion to scientific explanations for this phenomenon. As for the second point, there is no consensus about the origin of morality. There's good scientific evidence for the origins of altruistic behavior, but Collins seems to be aiming at a broader metaphysical meaning for "Moral Law," and has walked back comments suggesting that altruism was scientifically inexplicable.

Again, no denial of scientific consensus. He was wrong about a scientific claim (which Jason notes is not inherently anti-science), but corrected himself when he learned new information. That's how scientists work. By contrast, Maher has been challenged and corrected on his anti-vaccine and anti-germ-theory claims, but has not modified or abandoned those claims in the light of new evidence. That is decidedly contrary not just to scientific knowledge, but to the scientific process.

Rosenau is very sharp and correctly points out that there is no evidence that Collins has ever used his Christianity to sway his scientific decisions. He also points out that those who criticize him do so for his religious beliefs, not his scientific pursuits and successes. He also points to a potential problem that most people who are Christians and practicing scientists encounter—that election or appointment to any post that is as lofty as the NIH should have as a "litmus test" in that the candidate espouse no religious perspective at all. This is absurd. It demands a completely reductionistic view of the universe that is neither warranted nor unwarranted based on the available evidence. Science simply cannot speak to it. Just because these scientists have chosen to not believe in God does not mean a competent, highly qualified scientist has to do the same. A tip of the hat, Josh.

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  1. Briliant! An excellent post. Ad hominem is alive and well it seems.

  2. Thanks. The brain works occasionally, it seems.