Francis Collins cop-outs

Francis Collins

Francis Collins. Image source:

Francis Collins is one of those rare people that is exceptionally brilliant and exceptionally stupid in equal measures. Not only is he a highly respected geneticist – most noted for his discoveries of disease genes and for heading the Human Genome Project – but he’s also an evangelical Christian.

But his eccentricities don’t end there. He’s also an outspoken opponent of creationism. He thinks that theism and evolution are compatible. And that “faith and science both lead us to truth about God and creation”.

I always get the impression that Collins wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to maintain a worldview that accommodates both his scientific background and his religious beliefs, and then pretend there is no conflict.

Just read some of the comments he made in a debate with Richard Dawkins in Time magazine in 2006. The intellectual gymnastics he has to perform to sustain these conflicting viewpoints is breathtaking.

Collins on when and how God started evolution

COLLINS: “By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.”

‘Entirely acceptable’? It doesn’t make sense. If God had already predetermined the future at the moment of creation, then, by definition, we are all living predetermined lives with inescapable outcomes. Under this theory, human free is simply an illusion.

There’s also the small side issue of why God, in his infinite wisdom, power and love, would choose such a slow and destructive process as evolution to bring about life. We would have to suppose that God sat back with folded arms for about 10 billion years before life eventually started and then waited for another 4 billion years until human beings began to evolve.

Collins seems disconcertingly untroubled by such questions.

Collins on the lack of evidence of God’s existence in evolution

COLLINS: … I don’t think that it is God’s purpose to make his intention absolutely obvious to us. If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation?

How convenient. So the lack of evidence for God’s existence is just part of his plan. If that argument was taken to its logical conclusion we would have to argue that a complete absence of evidence for God is simply evidence that he is cleverer at hiding his existence than we thought.

Collins answers the question, “If God created the world, who created God?”

COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.

That’s just too easy isn’t it? Surely even Collins can’t pretend that this is an adequate answer for how an infinitely intelligent and powerful God could have existed at the very beginning of creation. Why can’t God-believers like Collins just be honest and admit that they don‘t know? What’s so frightening about saying “I don’t know”? Scientists do it all the time.

The difference between scientists and religionists, however, is that scientists use gaps in our knowledge as a basis for further research. Religionists don’t. Instead of trying to actually further our understanding, they prefer to reside in the comfort of their childishly misguided certainty and fill one mystery with another by claiming, “God did it. Mystery solved.”

Collins’s answers show all the signs of someone trying – and failing spectacularly – to find a way to connect his scientific knowledge with his religious beliefs. He may be a brilliant scientist but to say he’s misguided would be giving him too much credit. He’s as crazy as they come.

See also (websites, not blogs)

Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance
Sam Harris reviews Francis Collins’s book The Language of God.

The BioLogos Foundation
An organisation founded by Francis Collins’s to “engage America’s escalating culture war between science and faith”.

Why debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses is pointless

I must admit to a degree of naivety when I had my first debate with two Jehovah’s Witnesses a few months ago. I say ‘naive’ because when they asked me “Do you believe in God?” I didn’t lock the door and ignore them like any sensible person should.

Instead, I stood there fully expecting to have an interesting debate on the existence of God. I remember my response well. “No” I said, while racking my brain at what I was going to say next. “Actually I’m a staunch atheist. I read a lot of books by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett and…” I looked over and saw blank expressions. Clearly, they hadn’t heard of them.

To be honest, it took me 4 fairly lengthy discussions and 3 Watchtower books to fully realise that I was wasting my time with them. No matter how logical my arguments were and how much scientific evidence I could point them to, they just weren’t open to any suggestion that the Bible might be wrong.

But why would they be? Clearly they’re not going to be reasoned out of beliefs that they obviously haven’t reasoned themselves into. And besides, the Witnesses who go preaching from door to door aren’t the ones sitting on the fence.

No, their intention is to preach the Good News, as they term it, in order to convert people to a belief in God to save them from the impending annihilation that awaits unbelievers following Armageddon. It’s safe to assume that these viewpoints aren’t the result of an evaluation of the existing evidence for such claims.

The last conversation I had with them was probably the most absurd. It was about the story of Noah’s Ark, which they believed was absolutely true. I tried to point out the extreme unlikelihood(!) that a 600 year old man built a boat containing several million species of animals in order to save them from a future flood that would cover the tops of every mountain on earth. (And that’s not to mention that the guy lived until he was over 900 years old… and that many of the animals would have been natural predators… and that animals from continents unknown to Noah would have had to have swam oceans and walked continents to arrive at the Ark.)

They accepted all of this without a hint of doubt, and no amount of common sense or evidence to the contrary made any difference to their belief in the literal truth of the Bible.

I must admit, I was amazed to find myself having to debate the merits of these stories with adults.

In hindsight, I now realise that I completely wasted my time. I went out of my way to read their books and debate with them because I genuinely wanted to get a clearer idea of their viewpoints. Of course, I didn’t seriously think that I would convert to a belief in God but I at least wanted to know more about the beliefs of the people that I was debating with.

Did they do the same in return? No. At no point did they show any genuine interest in the literature that I quoted or the topics I raised – a lot of which had a direct bearing on the validity of their beliefs.

The next time they call, I might decide that I’m too busy reading a science book to answer the door.

Many claims in the Bible are factually wrong or impossible

Amongst other things, the Bible implies or claims that

  • the earth is about 6,000 years old
  • a man lived inside the belly of an animal for several days
  • many human beings lived for over 900 years
  • people were resurrected from the dead
  • a rod changed into a serpent
  • a woman turned into a pillar of salt
  • several animals were able to converse in human language
  • Jesus miraculously healed ‘every sickness and every disease among the people’
  • two specimens from every species on earth went inside a boat built by a man who was over 300 years old.

… the list could go on and on and on. So let’s take a closer look at the story of Noah’s Ark.

There are about 725 species of butterfly in North America alone – that’s only a minuscule portion of what Noah had to gather. Estimates of the total number of living species generally range from about 2 to 50 million. It would be simply impossible to fit that many animals into one boat. Not forgetting the fact that many wild animals are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to control.

Also, many of the animals would have been natural predators and this would have led to instant extinction for many species.

How did the animals actually travel to the boat? A large proportion of animals can’t survive in water and certainly can’t swim. (If they could, presumably they wouldn’t need to use the Ark). Perhaps Noah gathered them himself from continents that were unknown at the time? That seems a little unlikely.

The technology and man-power to build a boat of that size simply did not exist in those days. We would have to suppose that the size of the Ark would have been vastly bigger than anything that is possible in these technological-superior times.

And where is the actual evidence that the oceans covered the tops of the highest mountains on earth, as claimed in the book of Genesis? Where is the evidence for the Ark itself? Where did all the water come from? Where did it all go? Such a huge worldwide event should have evidence in abundance in every continent.

Also, the Bible fails to mention fossils, dinosaurs and evolution. Why? These would have played a very prominent part in the story of Noah’s Ark.

Granted, the Bible isn’t intended to be a science textbook but if it really is the word of the Creator, then why it is full of such crude ignorance about the world?

The reason for this blog… is sheer stupidity

I don’t know about you but I’m getting increasingly fed up with having to “respect” religious beliefs. It’s not because I dislike religious people. Not at all. Christ, I’d even go as far as saying that the Jehovah ‘s Witnesses (JWs) that have been knocking on my door for the past few weeks have been some of the nicest people I’ve met for a long time. And we all know how crazy their beliefs are. More about that in a minute.

No, the thing that really irritates me is the idea that faith is a virtue. That it brings people together. That it enhances our lives. That it should inform our decisions. That without it, we’d all be worse off.

I think just the opposite is true.

What Does the Bible Really Teach?Which brings me back to the JWs. I’m currently reading a wonderfully bizarre little book they gave me called What Does the Bible Really Teach?. Some of the stuff in there beggars belief. For instance, we’ve all heard the story that JW’s don’t give or take blood, even in life threatening situations, right? But do you know why? Because according to a few lines in the Bible, a life-saving blood transfusion would be a “misuse of blood” and if we break God’s law “we would be in danger of losing everlasting life”. This level of punishment is usually reserved for godless heathens like me!

What they’re saying is that prolonging a life is much, much worse than dying if it involves a blood transfusion. To do otherwise would have everlasting consequences. OK, best to let them die then. We mustn’t upset God’s strange ideas about blood.

It’s nonsense like this which makes me angry.

Of course, there are plenty of other dangers related to faith-based beliefs. Not that we get to hear about them. Even when the likes of Richard Dawkins get on national TV, they often get drowned out with arguments about “tolerance” and “respect” for religious beliefs. (As if God was ever a moderate with tolerance for other beliefs!)

So my aim in this blog is to redress the balance and confront this taboo head-on. I’ll be highlighting the absurdity of religious beliefs while also celebrating the most valuable thing we have – rational critical thinking based on science and evidence. In other words, reason.

Stay tuned heathens.