Discussing
Faith, science, and explanation: Francis Collins and his critics

Steve Matheson

Paulvanderklay
November 12, 2009

I'm not quite sure whose objection I'm reading at this point or to whom I should attribute it. Harris seems to be saying: "mind comes from brain and brain is a product of evolution therefore mind comes from evolution and Collins says it doesn't." Harris' assertion is that Collins suggests that "God inserted crucial components" means something that excludes a process that isn't subject to scientific study. That's an example again of the "either/or" thinking that is unnecessary. "God inserted" addresses who, not how and obviously can't be answered one way or the other by observing the data. So is Collins doing the either/or thinking or Harris on this subject. It isn't clear to me. pvk

SteveMatheson
November 13, 2009

Paul, that's a really good point, and you're right to be suspicious of Harris. But in the NYT op-ed, I think that Harris is looking at Collins' slides, and particularly at slides 3 and 5. Both, it seems to me, assume that evolution led to an environment into which God introduced "gifts": moral law, free will, an immortal soul. Harris concludes, reasonably in my opinion, that Collins means to say that those gifts did not arise naturally. (You will find a pretty clear statement along these lines on page 200 of The Language of God.) Do you think that Harris and I are overinterpreting Collings here?

Steven Koster
November 13, 2009

Given a biblical view of humanity as 1) created to love God and be moral and 2) exist as physical beings (and be someday resurrected as physical beings), it makes perfect sense that we would have physical structures involved in our love of God and morality. A "god gene" hardly seems threatening to a thoroughly biblical view. <br><br>So then is Collins saying science can say nothing about physiological systems involved with morality? That seems arbitrary. Science will never tell us the "why," but it can inform us of the "how."<br>

Paulvanderklay
November 13, 2009

I haven't read Collin's book. He may very well bifurcate the "natural". I've ready his biologos site and wasn't really very impressed by it. A rigorous understanding of providence to me makes bifucating God's work and "natural" unnecessary. Our problem is that our imagination of that which is "natural" is sometimes limited by our assumptions of what is possible.

SiarlysJenkins
November 13, 2009

Harris is sincere, but silly. Every human being holds some set of opinions and beliefs about God -- including those who believe there is none. Those beliefs are, constitutionally, not a test for public office. They also are irrelevant to whether someone can be competent or even outstanding in a field of science. Francis Collins has a record of achievement in his field that qualifies him for his new position. End of story as far as his appointment and confirmation go.<br><br>Now, on the either/or question, there is some reasonable separation. There is no scientific test for the existence of God. There is no way to scientifically "prove" either that God is or is not. Many people make the fallacious assumption that anything which exists can be scientifically tested, and if it can't it doesn't exist. IF the physical universe is all there is, then that should be true. If it isn't, then science can only test that which is physical, using physical instruments that detect physical phenomena. For example some researchers have deluded themselves that they can do large-group controlled studies to measure the efficacy of prayer. Not surprisingly, when some people are "told to pray" and other are "told not to pray" there is no discernible statistical difference in medical outcomes. So what? That simply shows that experiments can't control for who really prays or not, how well they pray, why, whether or how prayers are answered, whether anyone outside the experiment is praying for someone inside the experiment... the entire notion is ludicrous.<br><br>It is true that science should be congruent with faith, if there is a God that actually exists. For example, what the Hubble Space Telescope shows us gives a pretty good picture of "and there was light." It tells us nothing about "God said 'let there be light'." How could it? Can science identify the empirics and causes of morality? Some of them, perhaps. All of them? Probably not. Stephen Jay Gould, a modest atheist, denied that man could be measured and defined solely by "survival of the fittest" kinds of random evolutionary outcomes. Harris has the same problem that Fred Hoyle had when he said it is "highly objectionable that the laws of physics should lead us to a situation in which we are forbidden to calculate what happened before a certain moment in time." He was talking about a new cosmological theory, which he sarcastically called "the Big Bang." The name stuck, the theory turned out to be true, Hoyle, the reluctant atheist, had to agree the data sustained the theory.<br><br>It is roughly true that evolutionary biology shows what happened, physically, after God said "Let the waters bring forth the living thing that has life." It is also true that evolutionary biology neither proves nor disproves that there was a God to give the command, or that the command was given, much less HOW the command had an impact on the relevant chemical reactions. Maybe Harris finds it objectionable that science can't explain everything. So what? If science can't explain everything, then it is so, whether Harris likes it or not.

TheFinneyman
November 14, 2009

When you say that Harris notes that Collins seems to have roped off certain aspects of human nature (morality, in particular) and identified them as lying beyond the purview of science. I think it usually is the other way around that the attempt to silence the arguments usual goes. Materialists try to "define" science as only that which fits their materialist philosophy. That is where the attempts to silence believing scientists arises.

SiarlysJenkins
November 15, 2009

True, although I would have said, materialists try to define science as encompassing all that is, which means by definition that anything not susceptible to scientific study doesn't exist. IF anything else does exist, then what science can meaningfully study is a subset of the whole, or, what we call "the universe" is actually only a subset of the universe.

Awbliven
November 18, 2009

Science is necessarily concerned with the material universe, isn't it? A theory without empirical implication is just speculation. I'm reminded of Carl Sagan's novel Contact where the protagonist first leads a search for extraterrestrial intelligence, then when that turns out to be unverifiable conducts a search for divine intelligence by looking for geometric patterns in universal physical constants like pi. I've no idea what Sagan thought of this but to me it illustrates the absurdity of expecting empirical (natural) evidence of a supernatural being (God). <br><br>In my mind what we call "the universe" is the material, created, universe. The creator of that universe is necessarily not part of creation. To extend one of Keller's analogies, one can infer something about the author of a play by studying the play, but he necessarily exists outside the universe of that play and nothing the characters in the play conclude about Him constitutes a "scientific" deduction.

SiarlysJenkins
November 18, 2009

I believe we agree. Science is perfectly reliable (although never perfectly settled) as to the material universe. Where trying to apply science to prove or disprove the existence of God fails is, God lies outside the universe accessible to scientific measurement and method. The universe is not all there is -- but we know that only by faith and revelation, or by speculation. There is, by definition, no scientific proof.

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