Francis Collins cop-outs

Francis Collins

Francis Collins. Image source: http://www.explorefaith.org

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”.

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.