Monday, August 3, 2009

Harris om Collins

I posted today about Sam Harris opposition to Dr Francis Collins's appointment to head the National Insititute of Health on Sojourners. What I find interesting is how Science no longer the issue with those who oppose Dr Collins, but it was his beliefs. There is few that are pointing to evidence of Dr Collins doing bad science, but many pointing to his beliefs. Steven Pinker, in his letter to a journalist about Dr Collins states:

Also, the human mind and brain constitute one of the frontiers of biomedical science. Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience. The idea that there is divine design and teleology behind these functions, on the basis of Iron Age and medieval dogma, is antithetical to this vibrant research area. How will Collins preside over the allocation of research priorities if he believes in ““the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted”?


Pinker seem to connect the atheistic materialism with Science. Is it? Neuroscience has validated Religious experience in the work of Andrew Newberg and others. While Neuroscience has not proved religion, it has disproved the old Enlightenment bias of "God as explanation theory." People have and continue to have religious experiences. God is more than what material atheists assertions of God being an explanation for unknown phenomena or simply the God of the gaps. Again Pinker from the same letter:

Collins has said that he came to accept the Trinity, and the truth that Jesus is the son of God, when he was hiking and came upon a beautiful triple waterfall. Now, the idea that nature contains private coded messages from a supernatural being to an individual person is the antithesis of the scientific (indeed, rational) mindset.


Dr Collins did not offer his experience as proof or evidence of God, rather he was sharing his Religious experience. Pinker reaction is not with a scientist's curiosity about a real phenomena, but with dogmatic righteousness of a true believer. For Pinker, such experience should be rejected despite the current work of neuroscience. It seems that his material atheism has gotten in the way of his science. Quoting for my post on Sojourners:

What bothers Mr. Harris is that Dr. Collins is a Christian, and a vocal Christian to boot. Further, Dr. Collins apparently commits the sin of claiming to be both a scientist and a Christian. That Dr. Collins sees no conflict between science and faith clearly offends Sam Harris’ belief that faith and science do not belong together. For those who believe faith and science are at war, there are just four logical conclusions to Dr. Collins’ work as a scientist: A) Dr. Collins is not a true scientist; B) He can compartmentalize his work from his beliefs; C) His faith will sooner or later pollute his science; D) The premise of science in conflict with religion is mistaken.

Dr. Collins’ work already eliminates option A. Few are questioning his previous work. Mr. Harris chooses option C, and yet Mr. Harris fails to give any evidence of polluted science in Dr. Collins’ work, only the possibility of it. If there were such evidence, it would have emerged in Dr. Collins’ already long career. It seems logic would dictate that only B or D are compatible with the facts, and with either conclusion, Mr. Harris has nothing to worry about with Dr. Collins’ appointment.

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