Sunday, 12 July 2009

My 2 cents on Francis Collins

The National Post newspaper here in Canada I read both print and electronic formats of. It is the only paper up here that generally recognizes the culture wars and plays both sides. There is a regular columnist who is a priest, and they carry pretty much any article Christopher Hitchens writes for Slate.

A little while back they launched the Holy Post blog to round up their rationality vs religious articles. "Get down on your knees and blog" is the tagline. Funny, but I'll stand, thanks.

Regarding Francis Collins' recent appointment to the National Institute of Health in the 'States, it didn't take long before they trotted out NOMA and paraded it around like it's new, obvious and a smart thing to say.

My response to Stackhouse's article:

For myself, as someone raised without religion, the problem is trust. Though his scientific endeavours in the past have showed rigor and good management from what accounts I have read, I find it very hard to trust the intellectual stamina of someone who converts on the spot to Christianity because of a beautiful frozen waterfall.

The religious impossibilities that so many people believe in while still being able to understand the natural world are examples of compartmentalizing.

But Collins' waterfall conversion is absurd. It's like he began believing in the Invisible Pink Unicorn because it started snowing.

He looked at the beauty of the natural world and it wasn't enough. He had to paint the scene with specific, irrelevant ideas to accept his feelings.

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5 comments:

ScottE said...

"But Collins' waterfall conversion is absurd. It's like he began believing in the Invisible Pink Unicorn because it started snowing. He looked at the beauty of the natural world and it wasn't enough. He had to paint the scene with specific, irrelevant ideas to accept his feelings."

This is almost certainly only what was at the top of his response. (If I doubt the report's accuracy, it's because I've experience being misquoted in print. And frankly, this article is as superficial as they come.)

And looking at some of the comments, I'm amazed at the illiteracy (theologic and scientific) of some of the readers.

Glendon Mellow said...

I think the article was a sort of follow-up to a more general piece of reporting.

I could believe the misquoting to an extent, except that Collins himself wrote a book about his conversion.

If there was a flat earther who worked as an astronomer, I'd be worried. A person who believes in the resurrection or virgin birth as head of health would bother me. Collins seems to be a bit on the metaphorical side of things, but it still seems hard to follow.

ScottE said...

I think this is one of those things where we really have no legitimate basis for worry.

A person's beliefs should be disqualifying factors only where such beliefs are being paraded as a political wedge between policy and science.

Personally, I'm fine with Collins' views. They aren't belligerent, and present no clear conflict of interest for his position.

Your example that a belief in resurrection/virgin birth as being problematic for a position over health is baffling, since these are explicitly constrained to theology and not practice by any mainstream sect in the US.

Nobody I know relies on ressurection as a legitimate medical practice, for example.

Glendon Mellow said...

I agree that Collins seems to believe much more in metaphorical Biblical teachings than literal, as I noted above.

There are people -many people- who believe in the virgin birth and resurrection as true parts of Jesus's story. They believe it as history. I worry about compartmentalizing and what happens when two incompatible worldviews collide in someone's mind. Not everyone may take a measured approach like Collins is likely to do.

ScottE, do you really believe that belief in the virgin birth and resurrection are, "explicitly constrained to theology and not practice by any mainstream sect in the US"? I apologize if I was unclear before and caused bafflement - but I'm concerned with the judgment of someone who believes the in horoscopes. To me, it shows a gap in their critical thinking.

In Collins' case, this is not an un-analyzed belief he has not let go of due to remembered fondness for the social beauty of the church. He has sought to square his religion with the scientific circle using vigour and passion.

There are many examples of people in education willing to push a 6,000 year old Earth. This is the type of problem that can arise when something "explicitly constrained to theology" interacts with the real world and an error in judgment is made.

Glendon Mellow said...

Looking over some of your recent blog posts, I suspect you and I agree more than we disagree at any rate, Scott.

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