Francis Collins on ID.

| 101 Comments

Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, was interviewed on Tucker Carlson’s Unfiltered. Here’s what he had to say about ID:

Carlson: What do you think of this statement read to the Dover, Pennsylvania public school children that the theory is just a theory and explaining briefly intelligent design? Is that that be read to kids?

Collins: It sounds as if it’s a good idea to suggest anybody listening to a discussion about science to keep your mind open and to be sure that facts are actually backed up by data. But, of course, that statement is full of a lot more than scientific facts and data and concerns about them. It is a statement that reflects a battle that’s going on right now. And in my view, an unnecessary battle. So let me explain why I say that. As somebody who has watched our own D.N.A. sequence emerge, our own instruction book over the course of the last few years, all three billion letters of our code, and watched how it compares with that of other species, the evidence that comes out of that kind of analysis is overwhelmingly in favor of a single origin of life from which various forms were then derived by a process which seems entirely consistent with Darwin’s view of natural selection. By saying that, some people listening to my words will immediately conclude that I must therefore be opposed to any role for god in the process that’s not true. But I’m not an advocate of intelligent design, either.

Carlson: Why?

Collins proceeds to lay the smack-down.

The whole interview is interesting, as Collins is a theistic evolutionist with strong Christian convictions, yet is perfectly comfortable with science. There are thousands of scientists like him, which pretty much puts the lie to the frequent cre/ID refrain that one can’t accept both evolution and believe in God at the same time.

(Hat-tip to “ex-preacher” on IIDB.)

101 Comments

Evolution is a lazy mans way to nonsensical conversation with like minded numb skulls!

Bravo Dr. Collins!

I just wish we had more vocal Theistic Evolutionists out there battling the BS and FUD that the Creationists love to spread about religion and science.

I think “smackdown” is probably not the right term here. Tucker Carlson doesn’t debate Dr. Collins - he just asks him a couple questions and lets him make his case. He even identifies creationism as religion, and ID as a form of creationism in his introduction (or at least, gives that impression). I don’t often agree with Tucker Carlson, but he hits the right note here.

I didn’t mean a smack-down on Carlson, I meant a smack-down on ID. Although that’s pretty much an exaggeration as well, but hey, it makes for colorful language. :)

That was beautiful. We need more spokesmen like him.

There’s no direct conflict between science and belief in god, as Collins argues. But there’s certainly a tension between positing god as the initiator of creation - a posit that has no evidential basis - and the scientific attitude of ontological and explanatory parsimony. And of course looking to god as the solution to problems of meaning and morality, as Collins does, raises many more problems than it solves, e.g., theodicy: why would a benevolent god allow the tsunami? Naturalists, as opposed to supernaturalists such as Collins, don’t have any such conundrums to solve. About which have a listen to religious naturalist Ursula Goodenough’s recent NPR interview on “The morality of nature” (about 33 minutes in).

Collins thinks that evolution can’t explain our intuitions of right and wrong, or altruism, so that we have to invoke god: “…this instinct, which I would argue evolution cannot explain because it sometimes causes you to do things that are self-destructive and evolution wouldn’t generally ask you to do.” But in fact lots of work is going on right now to explain altruism and other aspects of our moral intuitions in terms of inclusive fitness. So here Collins appeals to the very god of the gaps he earlier inveighed against in countering ID’s specified complexity nonsense.

And Collins can’t be right that god is completely outside the natural world, since if he created it, it should show signs of his handiwork. If there are no such signs, why should we take the creation hypothesis seriously? Answer: “the step of faith” that he admits is necessary. Collins and others are perfectly free to believe in god, but in justifying such belief, there really aren’t any rationally defensible grounds, only faith. And faith is pretty much the antithesis of the empirical stance of science.

Of course there is no conflict between belief in God and evolution. But that’s hardly the point that IDers and creationists are ultimately interested in. They essentially want to push their own religion which is usually Christian and based on the Bible. There are conflicts between evolution and religion and it is this which is the problem.

Similarly, there is a conflict between plate tectonics and YECs. Yet YECs would rather believe that a benevolent God who created the Earth 6000 years ago is so out of touch that he lets tsunamis and other natural disasters happen, killing hundreds of thousands. Ironically, the Lisbon earthquake of the 18th century struck while people were in Church!

It’s not about God it’s about blind and fanatical adherence to human philosophies known as religions.

Tom

And faith is pretty much the antithesis of the empirical stance of science.

Or at least it used to be. Even Collins toys with the notion, before he seemingly negates it, that one can start from the observation that “humans have morals” and “argue” (based on that empirical observation) that some other beings “greater than we” must have imbued us with our moral “feelings.”

Among conservative evangelicals, the “amoral naturalist” script is extremely popular these days. It feeds right into the Roy Moore script that our system of government necessarily flows from Christianity and can only be understood in that context.

Francis Collins:

We have scientists arguing on the basis of their study of the natural world that there is no god. And they’re committing a falsifment

Collins is to nice to refer to these scientists as “jackasses.” But that is what they are. Armchair wankers. Heels. Classless turds. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart or that all their ideas should be dismissed.

But if you’re a scientist and you’ve got a big microphone and you use it to declare poppycock like “science has proven that god doesn’t exist” (or vice versa) then it’s up to your peers to take responsibility and shove that microphone up your backside.

It’s my opinion that we are discussing the very crux of the issue here. The apparent dichotomy of faith vs. science is certainly at the root of the whole thing, and has been since before darwin.

I have several questions:

Can the moderators PLEASE not let this degenerate into a petty sqabble amongst the trolls??? Please move any posts not on topic to the BW.

thanks

There was an article referenced by PvM last month about evidence indicating possible genetic components to religious beliefs.

Is it possible there is actually a genetic component at the base of all the arguments? Is that why there never seems to be a decrease in the percentage of folks who believe that “god basically created man”? for support, check out the Nat. Geo. article “Was Darwin Wrong” on this in the Nov. 2004 issue.

Aside from the above mechanical consideration, I ask how we get around folks who so firmly believe they can somehow find “god in the works”. Is there even a way to argue against this?

If the percentages of folks who believe thus don’t really change over time, regardless of evidence or argument, once they gain power (er, maybe they already have?), who is to stop them from changning how science is actually done?

Most directions in science depend, to a great extent, on the availability of funding. Any scientist knows this to be basic reality. He who controls the pursestrings, to a large extent, controls the direction of research. If (when… now?), the folks who disbelieve in science control the pursestrings… what should be the response? There is lots of evidence to indicate that this may already be the case. http://www.ems.org/science/ucs_update.html

This battle can’t be won in the minds of these folks, can it? There has to be a better, more efficient approach.

cheers

sir_toejam Wrote:

Can the moderators PLEASE not let this degenerate into a petty sqabble amongst the trolls???  Please move any posts not on topic to the BW.

thanks

We don’t have moderators per se; each contributor is in charge of moderating (or not) the threads he starts. So that would be… me!

I certainly don’t want this thread to degenerate into squabbles over religion, and definitely not religion-bashing, which I don’t care for at all. But it’s almost impossible to restrict everyone’s comments to things that are incapable of offending other people. People have diverging religious views, and those views are naturally relevant to the whole “faith vs. science” thing. And many people, both religious and non-religious, feel the need to go on the attack anytime someone who believes differently makes a point of defending their beliefs.

I’ll keep an eye out, but I hope everyone will self-moderate and avoid making potentially inflamatory comments.

Collins is a perfect example of schizophretic post-modern man. He believes in the Darwinian Fundamentalist religion of common descent. He also claims to be a Christian, which he weakly defends based on morality. Two completely opposing metaphysical views that he attempts to juxtapose with the following:

But I do think there are rational arguments for the existence of god. They don’t come out of my science of geenomics. They come out of why is it you and I know what is right and wrong. We know, as do all people who have lived on this planet, as far as we can tell, this moral law. If you’re looking for evidence of god, a holy person who cared about good and evil, where better than inside yourself? With this instinct, which I would argue evolution cannot explain because it sometimes causes you to do things that are self-destructive and evolution wouldn’t generally ask you to do that. I think you can reason yourself all the way up to the edge of the conclusion that god is more plausible than no god. It still requires that step of faith.

My question for Mr. Collins would be on what basis do you conclude evolution can’t explain self-destructive behaviors? Ever hear of Lemmings? On what basis are human moral behaviors out of the realm of macroevolution? Which is knowledge: God (based on a step of faith) or macroevolution (real undisputable science)?

Good luck Mr. Collins!

at the risk of violating my own request to stay on topic..

just to clarify, it’s not the inflammatory comments that bother me, it’s the comments that are simply meant to change the subject entirely.

Evolving Apeman and JAD often do this, i have noticed. and only in one thread were they berated for it.

I have no objections to either of these folks posting here, just hoping the topic remains the focus, that’s all.

cheers

Evolving Apeman Wrote:

My question for Mr. Collins would be on what basis do you conclude evolution can’t explain self-destructive behaviors? Ever hear of Lemmings? 

Um, the whole lemming thing is basically an urban legend started by an old Disney film. Lemmings don’t commit mass suicide.

To complete Steve Reuland’s answer: http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.htm

Hope that helps,

Grey Wolf

here’s a nice, simple explanation for those who hadn’t heard of animal mirgration theory before, and actually thought lemmings commit mass suicide:

http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/mo[…]s1081903.htm

What I found fascinating about his comments is how utterly misguided his comments on ethics are. He’s close to implying the “creationism”* of normative ethics in divine command theory while quite rightly rejecting ID, which is closely related to his area of expertise.

I hope my comparison doesn’t seem like a cheap strain there, but appealing to theism is about as meaningful for resolving the issue he proposes as it is for undestanding blood clotting cascades. With his specific argument, he’s just resigned to another God of the gaps.

Shoot. I meant to say “metaethics” not normative ethics. This is why I should use the preview function.

It’s not to important, since he doesn’t come out and say anything that directly supports DCT. It’s just potentially hovering over the affair like a spectre. Instead he relies on a teleological explanation for why humans have moral intution.

aside from the lemming issue… EA raises an interesting point. There has been a long and controversial history of applying evolutionary theory to human behavior (for those unfamiliar, the scientific branch is the human subset of sociobiology). My own major prof, George Barlow, actually wrote a nice summary of the issue:

Sociobiology: Beyond Nature/Nurture? A.A.A.S. Selected Symposium 35, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado. 1980.

I guess the question becomes, do we wish to discuss issues that have already been argued to infinity over 20 years ago?

cheers

I’m pretty reluctant to read too much into what Collins said in a short, presumably off-the-cuff interview. I’ll agree though that what he said about morality wasn’t terribly well considered. In fact, it seems somewhat inconsistent with his strong reliance on faith. (If you’ve got faith, you need not bother citing evidence, as he points out.) But I doubt he came to the interview prepared for an in-depth theological discussion, so I’m willing to cut him some slack.

Tom Clark Wrote:

But in fact lots of work is going on right now to explain altruism and other aspects of our moral intuitions in terms of inclusive fitness. So here Collins appeals to the very god of the gaps he earlier inveighed against in countering ID’s specified complexity nonsense.

I thought the same thing while reading the transcript. It is a good point.

theodicy: why would a benevolent god allow the tsunami?

This is an interesting theological question, which is often addressed by Christians. Many point to the book of Job, but we don’t pretend to always understand God’s motives. Benevolent does not mean predictable, or tamed.

And Collins can’t be right that god is completely outside the natural world, since if he created it, it should show signs of his handiwork. If there are no such signs, why should we take the creation hypothesis seriously? Answer: “the step of faith” that he admits is necessary.

That’s right, faith is necessary. Faith is very important, and if God simply proved his existance for all to see, what would faith mean then? Maybe there are signs of God’s handiwork in creation, but they whisper to our hearts rather than show up in probability calculations. Faith is spiritual, religion is spiritual. There can be spirituality in a secular worldview as well, but no one can rule out God.

There is no conflict between science and religion, but we need better theologians who are also intimite enough with science to make the point. Dr. Collins is on the right track, his line of reasoning just needs some fine-tuning. And it is my belief that this will gradually be done if both sides of the argument are willing to make small compromises (without compromising either materialistic methodology or the plausibility and relevance of religion)

At the risk of not merely feeding trolls but actually becoming one, I am an atheist. Until about 7 years ago, I was an evangelical Christian and a full-on creationist. It was not science that led me to question and ultimately reject my faith–it was the internal incoherence of Christianity, theodicy, biblical criticism, and the like. Now, I’ve always loved science, especially biology, so I was thrilled to find that evolutionary theory could make me, in Dawkins’ words, “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But no amount of science could ever by itself make a person an atheist, because no amount of physical observation could ever prove the non-existence of all possible gods. What science can and does do is help describe what sort of a universe is likely once we’ve admitted that faith in a god is more tenuous than we’d previously realized.

Greg,

I was an atheist, and was thrilled to find that I could be an intellectually fulfilled Christian. Evolutionary theory, any scientific theory, can explain a lot about the physical world, if that is all you care to know. And there is a lot to live for in the physical world alone, but many, many people feel there is something beyond that.

I see no reason to agree with you that “faith in god is more tenuous than we’d previously realized.”

Thanks for feeding me.

he’s just resigned to another God of the gap

That statement dishonestly reflects an assumption of philosphical naturalism. Not an assumption we all hold. Or do you feel compelled to impose your philosphical/religious views on others.

By their vary nature, unreproducible/unobservable events such as macro-evolution are philosophical. As such, Collins statements are incoherent, though politically correct.

Toejam, I would love to here a coherent explaination of human behavior based on evolution. Good luck!

katarina Wrote:

There is no conflict between science and religion

Well now, that depends on your science, and that depends on your religion. If your religion makes testable claims about the natural world, such as The Earth is flat or The Sun, planets and stars revolve around the Earth or pi = 3 or The Universe was created in a week 6000 years ago or we cloned a human child or the power of prayer can heal sick people, then your religion very well may come into conflict with science.

Katarina:

I would like to hear the story of what triggered your conversion to Christianity; however, I don’t think this is on topic for this thread, so consider this an invitation to write me directly, if you’d like.

“Many point to the book of Job, but we don’t pretend to always understand God’s motives”

indeed, motives nor mechanism. If you believe there was actually a “conversation” between god and Job, or whether it is meant as an allegory from some clever folk who realized the illogic of trying to outthink their own god, I believe that was supposed to be the lesson of Job:

faith does not necessitate knowledge of motive or mechanism.

I keep wondering why folks constantly try to re-invent a theory (ID) that simply was never meant to be necessary in the first place.

it makes no difference whether one has faith or not, from the tenants of the religion itself, the book of Job warns essentially against doing this very thing.

Is it a case of blind ears and eyes, that perpetuates a belief that something like ID is even necessary?

anyone care to venture an answer?

cheers

I’m willing to cut Collins a lot a slack. He’s a rather recent, adult convert to Presbyterianism. It’s not as if he arrived at his religious views with no thinking.

At the same time he represents a view I’ve personally found quite widespread in science, particularly in biology. That view is that the pursuit of knowledge is a Godly quest, and God smiles on those who pursue the truth hard and long, honestly.

Frankly, the creationist position is a minority position in almost all Christian sects, and certainly a minority position among Christians worldwide. We need more people like Collins standing up to make that point. Scientists are people, too – some of them cranky, some of them not much tolerant to creationist folderol, but most of them very good, very virtuous people. Creationism pretends something else to be the case. It’s nice to see Collins stand up and say the facts.

Collins also had an interview published in Christianity Today a few months back, to which I cannot link at the moment. One may wish to pursue that interview, too.

Nay, Bayesian Bouffant, my religion does not make testable claims about the natural world. Misguided people who wear the label of my religion, however, do.

By definition, (dictionary.com) “Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.” Notice the word supernatural. Beyond nature. Beyond what we can study scientifically. It is not a case of religion being in conflict with science, but of people’s understanding of religion being in conflict with an accurate view of the natural world.

Most churches today accept the theory of evolution as it is.

“Toejam, I would love to here a coherent explaination of human behavior based on evolution.”

gees, does anyone else here want me to go through the entire history of sociobiolgy? from wilson’s ants=humans hypothesis, or later?

I doubt it. I will if anyone else wants me to, but it could take a while.

perhaps better saved for a different topic?

@EA: I thought the reference I provided was a good one to review the theory and history behind sociobiology and it’s usage in explaining human behavior. did you need more references?

try doing a search on:

E. O. Wilson Sociobiology Nature vs. Nurture or even:

human behavior evolutionary theory

you would probably better served than what i could post in a forum like this.

cheers

“Frankly, the creationist position is a minority position in almost all Christian sects, and certainly a minority position among Christians worldwide”

a minority position to be sure, but by how much? The article i made reference to in Nat. Geo. cites studies that have been done over the last 50 years or so that indicate a relative stable percentage of 45% of folks surveyed in the US that believe “God created basically what is considered to be “humans” less than 10,000 years ago.”

we often get unrealistic viewpoints of what is really out there based on the viewpoint we gain from our own households.

Score one more for science actually being of value in pointing out what the reality is. A minority of 45% is a pretty big minority, wouldn’t you say?

not only that, but the fact that the figure has not changed in over 50 years is even more troubling.

cheers

Beyesian Bouffant,

I see your point, but you have not shown that Christianity, or really anything properly defined as religion, seeks testable evidence in the material/natural world. I said “my” religion, but I didn’t mean to personalize it. It must be personal, but its applications should be global, otherwise it is of less value to society.

I would say look at the official positions of most Christian denominations, such as the United Methodist Church, on acceptance of the theory of evolution. These positions are decided at conferences, gatherings of the leaders of the church, who are well educated in theology and usually experienced in leadership of congregations. Only a tiny minority of denominations reject or question the validity of the theory, based on these annual meetings. The congregation is a different question. They are more representative of the American public as a whole, or in a certain region. Their opinions could depend on many factors, including the current propaganda being pushed by the DI, and have very little to do with the position of their church per se.

I don’t know what defines a Scotsman, but it is pretty clear what defines religion, and if you looked at the definition, the emphasis is on the supernatural. If you work from that definition, then it becomes reasonable to differentiate a person with true religious motivation from one who only pretends (or pretends not to publicly, but pretends to privately) to have religious motivations.

Re “or a fish from a trilobyte,”

That seems unlikely, as trilobites are arthropods .

Henry

EA said:

Let’s take DNA testing. We can calculate the probability a DNA sample is associated with a suspect. How you may ask? Because we indepedently compare DNA sequences drawn from identified people to develop the probability rules. No such data exist to indepedently confirm common descent by CHANCE driven mutations and natural selection on a geological time scale.

DNA shows relatedness, and generally when presented in the courtroom it is presented as showing the degree to which two samples are related. It is true that there are enough samples in some species that probability rules of other relationships can be established. But that does not eliminate the simple fact that a comparison of any two samples will reveal the degree to which the two individuals are related.

The same comparisons are valid between species – but for some species (chimps, for example), we also have enough samples that more general probabilities can also be calculated.

EA seriously underestimates the number of DNA samples of other species there are on file. As I’ve noted before, Peter and Rosemary Grant have DNA samples from every individual in several species of bird in the Galapagos. Were there any truth to intelligent design, even to the complaints against evolution, that database would be the place for creationists to go to mine the information supporting their points.

There is no creationist rush to Princeton, I observe.

Re “If what one person perceives is perceived by many others, it most likely represents reality, and not merely perception of reality”

At least, until somebody invents holodeck technology. ;)

Re “the only demonstrable case of “true” altruism that wasn’t eventually proved to be a case of kin selection was blood sharing in vampire bats.”

Off the top of my head, that may be about as altruistic as maintaining payments on an insurance policy. Or put another way, help others when you can, you’re more likely to get helped when you need it.

Henry

But Ed you need to verify the methodology. Comparing DNA between two species is commonly used as a measure of relatedness. But it is indirect and not verified. It really is only slightly more sophisticated than focusing on phenotypes. Monkeys and humans look alike so they must be of diverged off the evolutionary tree much later than did snakes. Its the kind of data that’s good for developing hypothesis but pretty worthless for testing a hypothesis (unless you want to use circular reasoning?) Of course we can always turn to evolution as the “anti-theory of the gaps”

Comparing DNA between two species is commonly used as a measure of relatedness. But it is indirect and not verified.

How do trolls type in this position? Do they put the keyboard down by their feet?

“But Ed you need to verify the methodology”

minor correction, but important.

methodology = the study of method

i think you mean he needs to verify the method.

“ Comparing DNA between two species is commonly used as a measure of relatedness. But it is indirect and not verified”

what do you mean by this: indirect and not verified? please clarify.

“It really is only slightly more sophisticated than focusing on phenotypes”

actually, cladistics (er, taxonomy) via standard morphology vs. genetics is an ongoing debate, but it is already becoming clear that they are not mutually exclusive, and both have usefulness in different contexts.

“ pretty worthless for testing a hypothesis “

how can you say that without even knowing what hypotheses are being tested using genetic relatadness data obtained via PCR?

why do you even bother attempting discussions in subjects you know so little about?

drowning in your own ignorance doesn’t bother you a bit, does it?

ugh.

“How do trolls type in this position? Do they put the keyboard down by their feet?”

no, i think they use special keyboards with big fat buttons. or else they have friends type for them.

are we finished with any substantive discussion?

I’m all for throwing rocks at the trolls for entertainment, but there was at least an interesting discussion going on before.

I’d like to reiterate a point i made earlier:

“ah, but what of illusion then? What we perceive might be consistent with what others perceive, but what if the general perception is unfounded? I’m sure you have seen demonstrations of optical illusions before; these are quite consistently viewed similarly from person to person. How do we test for “optical” illusions?

surely a general consesus is insufficient?”

to which Kat replied with the idea of peer-review.

I think she kind of missed my point.

If ten people look thru a glass window, 9 see a blue tree and one sees a green tree, do we necessarily conclude the tree is blue because the majority perceives it to be so?

nope. that is what science is for, to answer the question:

is the tree really blue, like most of us think it is, or is it really a different color?

to which we then proceed to ask, what might be causing the tree to appear blue when it is not?

the glass maybe?

so that is my point; theory by consesus is not science. science requires the application of a testable hypothesis to a question of perception.

the idea of peer-review in science literature is not primarily to provide consesus as to whether an article should be published, it is more directly related to examining methods and conclusions to see if any obvious mistakes were made.

Is that any clearer?

cheers

@henry:

“Re “the only demonstrable case of “true” altruism that wasn’t eventually proved to be a case of kin selection was blood sharing in vampire bats.” Off the top of my head, that may be about as altruistic as maintaining payments on an insurance policy. Or put another way, help others when you can, you’re more likely to get helped when you need it.”

actually, i wouldn’t trivialize it too much (or should i say Triverize it :) ).

True altruism is extremely rare.

suggest you read through the following for a brief introduction:

http://endeavor.med.nyu.edu/~strone[…]ltruism.html

cheers

note tho, that the examples used in the first paragraph aren’t ones i would use. I think the author is just trying to illustrate a point.

in fact, I think i could find a better primer.

let me check around.

cheers

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on April 12, 2005 11:11 AM.

Reverence for the long dead and the not-so-long dead was the previous entry in this blog.

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