Francis Collins and the God of the Gaps

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It is by now no secret that Francis Collins, the president’s nominee for director of the National Institutes of Health, is an evangelical Christian [Science, 325 (5938), 250-251 (17 July 2009)]. Collins was until recently the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, and I have no doubt that he will be a good administrator. Nor do I think his religious views should have in any way affected his appointment; the people I would worry about are those who could not compartmentalize religion from science as effectively as Collins.

Collins’s religious views may nevertheless be of some interest. The primary argument in his book The Language of God is what he calls the Moral Law (his capitalization). In Collins’s view, morality could not have evolved; therefore God exists. Specifically, Collins argues that morality can be found only among humans. The moral code transcends culture, he says, and therefore must be inborn. He notes that humans are often altruistic, by which he means truly altruistic in the sense of never expecting return on their altruistic investment. He briefly notes the arguments of sociobiologists to the effect that altruism can provide indirect benefit to the altruist and uses infanticide among monkeys to demonstrate that monkeys are not altruistic. He observes that worker ants are altruistic (maybe that should have been in quotation marks) because they have the same genes as the queen but dismisses the possibility that altruism among humans could have a genetic basis.

Now Collins may be right, but telling us that monkeys commit infanticide and neglecting to tell us that humans also commit infanticide is cherry-picking data in the worst way.

In short, the case that altruism or morality could have evolved is strong, and Collins makes no serious effort to refute it. He goes on to tell us that the “Moral Law shone its bright white light into the recesses of [his] childish atheism” and concludes, with no logical or convincing argument, that his God must be a theist god as opposed to a deist god. Collins drew his conclusions, according to his own testimony, after having read Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis, when he was 27.

In a subsequent chapter, Collins describes the joy he got from discovering something not previously known, from discovering a little bit of truth. He longs, however, for a greater Truth and conflates the presumed existence of that Truth with “something much grander than ourselves.” He presents no real evidence for the existence of such a Truth, but at least he doesn’t like Freud.

To say that Collins read a single book, was snowed, and converted from atheism to Christianity would be an exaggeration, but possibly not an outrageous exaggeration. Indeed, in his discussions of religion, he comes across as credulous, at best. Happily, Richard B. Hoppe says, in a report on a presentation in 2007, “According to Collins, naturalistic science can’t account for human Moral Law (Collins’ capitalization) or the origin of the universe and its (alleged) fine-tuning, and therefore belief in a God is at least partly justified. To his credit, Collins answered that he wasn’t claiming ‘proofs’ (his word) but rather only indications or pointers,” not dispositive evidence. Hoppe added privately that Collins had said that his faith would not be affected if it turned out that morality could be an evolved trait. Collins is evidently flexible in his thinking, and possibly he is reevaluating his position on the relation between morality and theism.

Here is a handful of references that help make the case for the existence of morality or altruism among nonhuman animals or for the evolution of morality. Some of them appeared after Collins’s book.

Bekoff, Marc, and Jessica Pierce. 2009. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Choi, Jung-Kyoo, and Samuel Bowles. 2007. “The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War.” Science 318, 636-640.

De Waal, Frans. 1996. Good-Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong In Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Shermer, Michael. 2004. The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule. New York: Henry Holt.

Strassmann, Joan E., and David C. Queller. 2007. “Altruism among Amoebas.” Natural History. Vol. 116, No. 7, pp. 24-29.

Young, Matt. 2001. No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe. Bloomington, Indiana: 1stBooks Library.

Young, Matt, and Paul K. Strode. 2009. Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails). New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

131 Comments

Nice post - I wonder if enough people understand the idea of a “God of the Gaps” to see how ridiculous it is. I keep hoping that some major news sources, or a journal like Nature, would clearly lay out this historical uses of this argument, and just how frequently it is still used by influential people such as Collins. I suspect that all to often, this very compelling refutation of theism is preaching to the choir. Please keep up the excellent writing on your blog, it’s one of the better ones out there in my opinion. Justin

I think Collins will probably be a good NIH Director, and probably won’t let his religion will improperly affect his science administrative duties. Or at least, not very much.

However, Collins’s statements on morality show that he can be just as blind to evidence as any other evangelical when it comes to religious beliefs. Having decided that Moral Law comes from God, he just assumes (apparently) that other animals never exhibit any signs of morality or altruism. He certainly didn’t bother to look at the evidence first, or he would never have made the statements he made.

Now Collins may be right, but telling us that monkeys commit infanticide and neglecting to tell us that humans also commit infanticide is cherry-picking data in the worst way.

But when humans commit infanticide, it’s usually because God (1,2) or the Devil (3) tells them to.

1) Deanna Laney 2) Dena Schlosser 3) Andrea Yates

When I was a newly minted fundamentalist of 16, I thought Mere Christianity was a wonderfully profound book which made a good case for faith. Some 30 years later, I pulled it out again and was amazed at how obviously fallacious Lewis’ Argument From Morality seems.

It’s been a while since I read Mere Christianity, but I have a great respect for some of Lewis’ other stuff. That being said, I disagree with Collin’s understanding of how we have morality. Perhaps Collins could learn a bit from good old-fashioned zoology, interacting with other species. Morality, like just about every other trait that has in the past been ascribed to just humans, is also present in other species.

Anyone who could be convinced that Christianity is the way to go just by reading the laughable C.S. Lewis (and, even more laughably, seeing a waterfall) is not the kind of person who should be allowed to make important decisions.

Anyone who could be convinced that Christianity is the way to go just by reading the laughable C.S. Lewis (and, even more laughably, seeing a waterfall) is not the kind of person who should be allowed to make important decisions.

Collins is clearly wrong about the subject of “morality”. I don’t share his religious views. I’m not religious, in fact.

However, the blanket statement that peoples’ religious private beliefs should be a grounds for discriminating against them and denying them the right to “make important decisions”, no matter what their other qualifications, is even worse.

It’s just so obvious - an authoritarian system that persecutes non-atheists today will probably persecute many more people for being the wrong kind of atheist tomorrow.

Great reply, Harold. But I don’t recall making a blanket statement about people with religious beliefs. My statement was directed specifically at people who lack the critical thinking skills to see through C.S. Lewis’ nonsense. And as Sam Harris said (paraphrasing) “if a waterfall can be proof of the Trinity, then anything can be proof of anything”.

People so severely lacking in rational thought have no place making decisions.

I’d make the same comments about anyone who became an atheist from watching Zeitgeist or reading the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Eamon Knight said:

When I was a newly minted fundamentalist of 16, I thought Mere Christianity was a wonderfully profound book which made a good case for faith. Some 30 years later, I pulled it out again and was amazed at how obviously fallacious Lewis’ Argument From Morality seems.

Funny, I was handed a copy of that book by some newly minted fundamentalists of 17 and 20, respectively. You’ve inspired me to check it out again. Was skimming and what I found interesting was the assumption at the end of Book 2 Ch.1 that atheists automatically believe the world has no “meaning.”

I have never understood why the acceptance of evolutionary biology and/or the rejection of the existence of god automatically means belief in meaninglessness. As a strong atheist, I rarely think about meaning.

When I was a young lad I met a gal on the bus who was reading “The Screwtape Letters”, and she told me it was profound, because that’s exactly how the Devil works. I just smiled politely and said nothing.

Collins’s claim that morality could not have evolved seems to me to be so stonkingly self-serving that I can only conclude he’s derived his premises from his conclusions. Which we’ve all seen before.

Morality, considered generally, is an abstraction of the entire body of behaviors (and the views and motivations that underlie them) found in any gregarious species which must necessarily accommodate one another in daily intercourse and transactions - whether it be humans or ants or bees or cows. Generally, these are rules like: Don’t unduly irritate others, cooperate when cooperation is important, act in sufficiently predictable manner so others are not unduly surprised or disturbed, engage in behaviors comfortable for the whole community, find safety, security and contentment in crowds, etc.

Ethics, which probably IS uniquely human, consists of codifying these moral principles into specific rules and rituals and “right” practices (and laws). But note that ethics only codify morals, and morals are evolved into gregarious species, because those who didn’t possess them were outcasts, and didn’t breed. Indeed, human societies and polities wouldn’t be possible AT ALL without a couple million years of evolution as a gregarious species. The Golden Rule is found (by anthropologists) in EVERY human society from small nomadic tribes to large nation states, embedded in every religion, because it embodies the evolved character of a gregarious species.

And Collins can’t see this? Really? He thinks some invisible all-powerful sky-daddy zapped us with morality (when?) instead? I suspect we are seeing the outcropping of childhood indoctrination combined with some sort of personal insecurity. All I can see is some rather threadbare rationalization for a theistic superstition which for Collins is simply not subject to examination.

*sigh*

Gert Korthof did the first trashing of the moral law argument presented by Collins years ago.

If you can look at Collins’ biologos site, and conclude that’s a great example of “good” compartmentalization, you’re dreaming. The very fact he made the moral law argument to begin with suggests his level of compartmentalization is leaky at best.

BTW, the question was never whether Collins had decent administrative background to manage large scale science issues or not, the question was, with all the OTHER scientists out there with similar qualifications, why pick the one who appears he must compartmentalize half his life?

oh, I forgot to add the link to Gert’s review, but I’ve posted it here dozens of times over the last couple of years, so I guess it seemed a bit repetitious.

http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/korthof83.htm

The presentation at which Collins made the remarks I reported is here. His comment about “proof” is in the Q&A, about 75% of the way through the video, in response to a question about his apparent “God of the gaps” approach.

As a Methodist who is participating in a group study on ‘Science and Religion’ featuring Collins, I can tell you that he makes similar disclaimers about his arguments not constituting ‘proof’ in the accompanying DVD. This is something that is marketed to believers, not the scientific community, and I thought you folk should know that Collins (whatever the fuzziness of his views on altruism) is saying the same things when he ‘preaches to the choir’ as in the public square…unlike some ID proponents of my acquaintance.

However, the blanket statement that peoples’ religious private beliefs should be a grounds for discriminating against them …

Ignoring for the moment that no such statement was made, where on earth did you get the idea that we were discussing Collins’ private religious beliefs? How much more public can someone make their beliefs than writing a book about them?

This is just a pet peeve of mine, but I cannot stand it when people use ants and bees as examples of animal altruism. Those insect species are much more akin to a single organism - the hive. The hive has only one means of replication and all the drones and workers are sterile. They are not behaving altruistically any more than the cells that carry out apoptosis are also behaving altruistically.

wamba said:

Now Collins may be right, but telling us that monkeys commit infanticide and neglecting to tell us that humans also commit infanticide is cherry-picking data in the worst way.

But when humans commit infanticide, it’s usually because God (1,2) or the Devil (3) tells them to.

1) Deanna Laney 2) Dena Schlosser 3) Andrea Yates

What you are describing are relatively rare instances. In most cases of infanticide “God” or “Devil” have little if anything to with it: infantide is actually culturally sanctioned in many societies under the right circumstances, prevention of group starvation or euthenasia of malformed infants, amongst historical arctic societies for example. In other cases, infanticide has been practiced as a means of ethnic cleansing.

Stephen P said:

However, the blanket statement that peoples’ religious private beliefs should be a grounds for discriminating against them …

Ignoring for the moment that no such statement was made, where on earth did you get the idea that we were discussing Collins’ private religious beliefs? How much more public can someone make their beliefs than writing a book about them?

I don’t think he means “private” in the sense of “not expressed publicly,” but more something like not overtly allowing those beliefs to influence his public responsibilities in a discriminatory way. As long as Collins doesn’t start pushing a religious agenda for funding or some other such nonsense, and fulfills his public role as expected by a secular society then his religious are indeed “private” in that sense and should not be the basis for job discrimination.

This is merely the same right I demand from my (public) employer regarding my radical politics and my anti-fundamentalist stances. I’m very public about them but keep them out of the workplace and the classroom.

Scott -

While sentimentally I agree with you, according to kin selection it would make sense, since the workers are aiding in the reproductive success of their “sister” the colony queen:

Scott Fanetti said:

This is just a pet peeve of mine, but I cannot stand it when people use ants and bees as examples of animal altruism. Those insect species are much more akin to a single organism - the hive. The hive has only one means of replication and all the drones and workers are sterile. They are not behaving altruistically any more than the cells that carry out apoptosis are also behaving altruistically.

Bogwith said: People so severely lacking in rational thought have no place making decisions.

Right, that would be why the Human Genome Project was such an unmitigated disaster. I mean, with an irrational boob like Collins in charge, what hope did it ever have?

Or, more (ahem) rationally: people are perfectly capable of being very rational in some contexts, and rather silly in others. The professional/personal divide is a very common line for that boundary to run along. And I have yet to see evidence presented that Collins’ tenure at HGP was incompetent, or suffered from relgious overhang – you know, that empirical data thing we’re supposed to be big on?

Sure, it would be great if the NIH job went to someone who was 100% solid rationalist and atheist AND public about it – say, someone like Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins, only with admin ability as well as attitude. The problem as I see it with Collins is that it gives good PR to something (more-or-less orthodox religion) we atheists would prefer to see discredited, and may be partly motivated by Obama’s wish to appear religion friendly. *shrug* It sucks, but c’est les politiques.

In a recent episode of “The Closer” on TNT that involved the random, unintentional killing of a reformed gang member and community activist, the principal character expressed skepticism that the priest found meaning in the random act. The priest replied that one doesn’t find meaning in random acts, one gives meaning to them, and then pointed to the community all whitewashing graffiti off of a wall, a task formerly done by the deceased.

I know “random” is a canard used incorrectly against evolution, but this illustrates the difference between theists and atheists – one looks for meaning and the other looks to give meaning.

Stephen P. -

You said -

Ignoring for the moment that no such statement was made, where on earth did you get the idea that we were discussing Collins’ private religious beliefs? How much more public can someone make their beliefs than writing a book about them?

Here’s what my first statement reacted to -

Anyone who could be convinced that Christianity is the way to go just by reading the laughable C.S. Lewis (and, even more laughably, seeing a waterfall) is not the kind of person who should be allowed to make important decisions.

I don’t want to go on and on, but it says “anyone” who “could be convinced”. Therefore such a statement was made. I don’t want to seem to keep dumping on Bogwith, since I actually agree with his view on the quality of C. S. Lewis’ arguments, but the statement is there.

However, for a better explanation of what I meant, Sylvilagus has it EXACTLY right. Of course, by “private”, I didn’t mean “secret”.

Sylvilagus -

Many thanks for that lucid articulation.

To put it another way, if there ever is a candidate NIH director who is openly NOT a mainstream Christian (whether an atheist or member of a non-Christian or non-mainstream religious tradition), there likely could be extensive calls from bigots to reject such a person on the grounds of his or her irrelevant religious beliefs, or lack of beliefs.

If you argue today that Collins should be rejected only because he is a Protestant who values the works of C. S. Lewis, you have a difficult time arguing tomorrow that someone else should not be rejected for being an atheist or a Hindu.

Rather than resort to the strained, bigoted-seeming, and currently illegal stance that, say, Collins’ Christianity is unacceptable but someone else’s religion or philosophy is fine, why not just go with the excellent standard that irrelevant religious (or other) beliefs of otherwise highly competent and law-abiding people are not a grounds for discrimination.

For the record, I can’t stand the overtly religious writings of C. S. Lewis (I do like the Narnia books), I’m not religious, and I find Collins’ claims about morality to be naive (although they can be spun forever, as one can always claim that non-human analogies or most human acts are not “pure” moral altruism, blah, blah, blah, which is why I have no interest in such arguments).

If Collins had any record of subverting science in the name of religion, or of making comments that were offense or discriminatory toward others, or any other trait that neutralized his strong record of productive science and excellent administration of large science projects, I’d be outraged by the appointment.

It strikes me that some of the criticism leveled at Collins is decidedly over the top. The universe is a large enough place with enough really hard questions that in practical sense we all cherry pick sooner or later. It’s the reverse perspective from accepting the life long learner stance. You can’t know it all, so there are bound to be substantial ideas that you go with the glossed over argument on. The difference is how one treats the conclusions. If you go around with a weakly explored position, you should expect it to be modified or at the very least not terribly reliable. It seems that Collins in all of his statements is more than accomodating on this point. In fact his disclaimers would seem to indicate he is going out of the way to hedge on that particular point. This is very different from the I have read a couple of Bible verses, assumed they are translated correctly, and believe that they must be considered perfectly accurate to my literal take on them, and if you disagree with me you are a heathen unbeliever, kind of behavior. I think there are more fruitful discussions to be had.

This is the 21st century and everyone knows there are serious debates about the role of science and religion in our society.

I think that scientific organizations (e.g. NIH) should remain neutral with respect to the possible conflict between science and religion. The organization should not take a position and its leadership should not be readily identified with one side or the other.

For that reason, I would exclude from consideration anyone who has publicly entered the debate by advocating that science and religion are compatible or that they are incompatible. It’s just asking for trouble when an organization that should be neural is headed by someone who is not.

I don’t think Francis Collins should have been considered for the nomination because he is obviously identified with religious beliefs and a view of science that is compatible with those beliefs. I don’t think that prominent, outspoken, atheists should have been considered either, since many are on record as advocates of the other point of view: namely, that science and religion are incompatible.

Surely the Obama administration could have found someone who wasn’t publicly identified as a partisan advocate of one side or the other?

Scott Fanetti said: …all the drones and workers are sterile.

Obviously wrong, after all, queens are inseminated by drones. The workers are not so much sterile as stifled, since the worker egg and queen egg are exactly the same but the queen is raised to achieve sexual maturity, mainly through diet. Also, in some cases laying worker bees can develop, although the eggs, being unfertilized, can only develop into drones. I’m not a biologist but I am a beekeeper.

harold said: However, the blanket statement that peoples’ religious private beliefs should be a grounds for discriminating against them and denying them the right to “make important decisions”, no matter what their other qualifications, is even worse.

It’s just so obvious - an authoritarian system that persecutes non-atheists today will probably persecute many more people for being the wrong kind of atheist tomorrow.

Discrimination and persecution are NOT the same thing. Of course you both can and should discriminate between candidates for a important position in the government. And Collins’ religious beliefs are neither private nor irrelevant to his potential decision-making in this leading job.

You can argue back and forth about whether Collins’ beliefs will have a major effect on his ability to make decisions. But to say that his beliefs on religion and science cannot be a factor when evaluating his candidacy for such an important job, is plain stupid.

harold said: However, the blanket statement that peoples’ religious private beliefs should be a grounds for discriminating against them and denying them the right to “make important decisions”, no matter what their other qualifications, is even worse.

1) Collins’ religious beliefs are in no way “private” or we wouldn’t be here discussing them. 2) Nothing could be more relevant to evaluating someone’s decision-making process than examining some of their conclusions. If Collins firmly held religious beliefs are weakly supported, then pointing out the faults of his decision-making process is not discriminatory.

Tim said:

It’s been a while since I read Mere Christianity, but I have a great respect for some of Lewis’ other stuff. That being said, I disagree with Collin’s understanding of how we have morality. Perhaps Collins could learn a bit from good old-fashioned zoology, interacting with other species. Morality, like just about every other trait that has in the past been ascribed to just humans, is also present in other species.

I have respect for Lewis as a fiction writer, and to the extent that you can respect someone for being an “apologist” for anything, I respect him as an apologist (even apologetics has some standards!).

Taken as a whole however, I find him to be immensely disengenuous, in the same way that Phillipp Johnson is disengenuous. Throughout much of his fiction writing, Lewis wants us to accept the possibility of a magical world by dint of our imagination. But then when we accept the magical world, we learn that in actuality, the magical world is nothing but an allegory of the New Testament. It’s a bait and switch: Lewis (like Johnson) is asking us to be open minded and imaginative, but then proposes a system that precludes any questioning at all.

Sylvilagus said:

Stephen P said:

However, the blanket statement that peoples’ religious private beliefs should be a grounds for discriminating against them …

Ignoring for the moment that no such statement was made, where on earth did you get the idea that we were discussing Collins’ private religious beliefs? How much more public can someone make their beliefs than writing a book about them?

I don’t think he means “private” in the sense of “not expressed publicly,” but more something like not overtly allowing those beliefs to influence his public responsibilities in a discriminatory way. As long as Collins doesn’t start pushing a religious agenda for funding or some other such nonsense, and fulfills his public role as expected by a secular society then his religious are indeed “private” in that sense and should not be the basis for job discrimination.

This is merely the same right I demand from my (public) employer regarding my radical politics and my anti-fundamentalist stances. I’m very public about them but keep them out of the workplace and the classroom.

I see absolutely no reason why you should need to (especially wrt a public employer) unless the manner in which those views are expressed unreasonably disrupt the workplace or are presented in a way that proselytizes, or penalizes others for expressing opposing opinions. Of course, a lot hinges on the nature of the workplace and the nature of your specific job. But I disagree with the premise that we should have to check the free expression part of our First Amendment (and many other Constitutional rights) at the workplace door-regardless of whether it is a public or private employer-but especially when it is a public employer.

Now watch: someone will surely take this opportunity to falsely equate a view about employment law with being a closet sympathizer with ID. Never mind that those who take the opposite view from me channel the views of Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas, while my views are not very different from those of Ginsburg, O’Connor, Breyers.

And for those who are championing religious discrimination on this forum, I say a big fat raspberry to you. It’s illegal period to discriminate against someone for their religious affiliations or views in employment (save for some very, very specific instances).

whose actual work is unanimously respected on this blog

whose credibility has faded tremendously over the last couple of years itself.

sad to see it, frankly.

Despite a complete lack of evidence that any job decision Collins has made has been impacted by his religion, you place him in the former category instead of the latter.

because of the way he thinks about evolution. period. it’s in his writings.

it’s bloody obvious, but you ilk seem to want to ignore it in favor of thinking you’re doing good by ignoring his tremendously poor understanding of it wrt to behavior.

If you want to do something useful in defense of Collins, why don’t you scientifically support his notion of Moral Law?

that’s obviously rhetorical, because you can’t.

What really sticks in my craw about Ichthyic’s argument is that it wasn’t too long ago that atheists (and Jews) were excluded from public service using his argument.

talk about false equivalency!

Pace Ernst Mayr [ “What Evolution Is ‘] and George Gaylord Simpson [ “The Life of the Past’], the weight of evidence presents no cosmic teleology, and such teleology would contradict natural selection rather than be consonant with it as theistic evolutionists claim. My friend Jerry Coyne effectively puts theistic evolution into the oxymoron camp in his article ‘Seeing and Belieivng.” So argues the atellic/teleonomic aargument. Collins is using two fallacious arguments : the argument from beauty in arguing for His existence from the world around us and the argument from pareidolia in seeing Him and design in addition to natural causes and patterns as one sees Yeshua in a stain glasss - no there there. And Coyne affirms with evidence that theists beg the question in assuming that we or a comparable species would arrive. A writer in Skeptic magazine also notes that had we not arrived, no comparable species would have arrived. Neanderthals disappeard, so they don’t count. Yes, they beg the question in assuming that He had us in mind is a naturalist argument when natural selection, the non-planning, anti-chance agent of Nature needs no director. And Hume’s dysteological argument -form imperfections- counts against Him. So, Collins relies on faith, the we just say so of credulity. Faith begs the question of its subject. Whilst science is acquired knowedge, as Sydney Hook notes, faith begs the question of being science. Logic is the bane of theists. All their begged questions!

He also stated point blank that if he was wrong, it wouldn’t be a big religious deal to him. But you ignore that statement

I addressed that already, but I’ll go ahead and rephrase:

hardly cherry picking because it’s entirely irrelevant to him having made the argument to begin with.

If Egnor admits that it wouldn’t impact his faith if his inane concept of god “beaming” consciousness into people was wrong, would that make you look askance at it any the less? Would you think him a great supporter of funding for evolutionary biology research then? There’s every evidence it hasn’t affect his job as a professor of neurosurgery…

The problem here is, you people supporting him don’t appear to have the foggiest notion of just why his moral law argument is so bad.

again, and for the last time, try reading Gert’s review, if you don’t intend to bother reading Collins’ book yourselves.

Sorry for the typos . argument from imperfections “The Life of the Past” “ Seeing and Believing”

Oh, I hope Lenny Flank will this readable unlike my first effort here years ago on this subject. I’m a new atheist, anti-theist, but maybe Collins will do a good job. Lenny rocks! Oh, Coyne and my other friend [FaceBook] will have quite excellent books out on the evidence for evolution as most of us already know.They rock!

other friend Dawkins, sorry no more from now on

Ichthyic said:

The problem here is, you people supporting him don’t appear to have the foggiest notion of just why his moral law argument is so bad.

I really don’t think that’s the problem. I certainly see it as a fallacious argument. So do others here.

The problem is something called the U.S. Constitution and the problems that arise when religious beliefs or claims,no matter how faulty, are taken as face value evidence of the believer being unsuitable for a specific public job. That’s what the discussion is about.

I am not religious, do not believe what Collins believes, but at the same time I am very wary of the kind of argument you are making. I believe that it works against all of us in the long run. I certainly don’t want the Bushites arguing that I am unsuitable for my job simply because I assert views of politics or religion that are not entirely provable or that violate their sense of logic and proportion. No philosophical argument (whether religious or anti-religious) is so air-tight as to be above that sort of accusation.

Sylvilagus said: The problem is something called the U.S. Constitution and the problems that arise when religious beliefs or claims,no matter how faulty, are taken as face value evidence of the believer being unsuitable for a specific public job. That’s what the discussion is about.

Let’s hope that’s not what this discussion is about, since the U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with this situation. The Constitution forbids the federal government from setting any religious test for office. A political appointment does not fall in that category and the President can use any criteria he wants, religion, hair color, or any other in making this appointment. Bush proved this by flooding the Justice Department with Liberty University graduates, all perfectly legal. You may have your reasons for approving of the Collins appointment, but claiming that it would violate the Constitution should not be one of them.

tomh said:

Sylvilagus said: The problem is something called the U.S. Constitution and the problems that arise when religious beliefs or claims,no matter how faulty, are taken as face value evidence of the believer being unsuitable for a specific public job. That’s what the discussion is about.

Let’s hope that’s not what this discussion is about, since the U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with this situation. The Constitution forbids the federal government from setting any religious test for office. A political appointment does not fall in that category and the President can use any criteria he wants, religion, hair color, or any other in making this appointment. Bush proved this by flooding the Justice Department with Liberty University graduates, all perfectly legal. You may have your reasons for approving of the Collins appointment, but claiming that it would violate the Constitution should not be one of them.

First off, I neither approve nor disapprove of the appointment. I don’t feel qualified to judge his potential contributions to the post.

As for the constitutional question, I did not mean to imply that rejecting Collins would be a constitutional violation. I was merely (probably inappropriately) using that as an allusion to the ethos of religious/philosophical freedom. Obviously the President can use his own criteria in filling offices; my point, however poorly made, was simply that the main argument many posters here have with Ichthyic is not the appropriateness of Collins per se, but in the kind of argument being used against him here.

I and others here are concerned with (as I said above and stand by it) the problems that arise when religious beliefs or claims,no matter how faulty, are taken as face value evidence of the believer being unsuitable for a specific public job. That’s what the discussion is about, as it seems to me.

Ichthyic said:

How about Michael Egnor?

He’s a professor and assistant director of Neurosurgery at Stonybrook. Why wouldn’t you support HIM for director of NIH.

the charge of false equivalency only rings true when there is no comparison.

Because Egnor used his position to promote public policies based upon his sectarian beliefs, and even used those beliefs as justification. Collins may have his blind spots and religious irrationalities, but I have yet to see any evidence that his stands on public policy dealt with by NIH would be inappropriately influenced by his religious beliefs.

Sylvilagus said: the problems that arise when religious beliefs or claims,no matter how faulty, are taken as face value evidence of the believer being unsuitable for a specific public job. That’s what the discussion is about.

Yes, that hits the nail on the head. Ichthyic would bar Collins “because of the way he thinks about evolution. period.” Like you Syl, that immediatly makes me think of what a different administration could do using those exact same words.

Basing appointment on past job performance I think draws the line in the right place. It separates the people who can ignore their personal biases from the people who can’t - regardless of whether those biases are religious, political, personal, etc… Drawing a line based on belief igores the existence of unbiased religious people AND biased nonreligious people (a possibility not mentioned by Collins’ detractors - picking an non-religious person does not necessarily reduce the chance that the administrator will make arbitrary or biased funding allocations).

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on July 17, 2009 5:15 PM.

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