Jerry Coyne Says Francis Collins Should Resign

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is outraged that Francis Collins has edited and written the introduction for a new anthology, Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith, which claims to provide “evidence” for a Christian God and prove “once and for all the rationality of faith.”
As Coyne writes on his blog:

Collins is director of the NIH, and is using his office to argue publicly that scientific evidence—the Big Bang, the “Moral Law,” and so forth—points to the existence of a God. That is blurring the lines between faith and science: exactly what I hoped he would not do when he took his new job.
And to those who say that he has the right to publish this sort of stuff, well, yes he does. He has the legal right. But it’s not judicious to argue publicly, as the most important scientist in the U.S., that there is scientific evidence for God. Imagine, for example, the outcry that would ensue if Collins were an atheist and, as NIH director, published a collection of atheistic essays along the lines of Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist, but also arguing that scientific evidence proved that there was no God. He would, of course, promptly be canned as NIH director.
Or imagine if Collins were a Scientologist, arguing that the evidence pointed to the existence of Xenu and ancient “body-thetans” that still plague humans today. Or a Muslim, arguing that evidence pointed to the existence of Allah, and of Muhammad as his divine prophet. Or if he published a book showing how scientific evidence pointed to the efficacy of astrology, or witchcraft. People would think he was nuts.
Collins gets away with this kind of stuff only because, in America, Christianity is a socially sanctioned superstition. He’s the chief government scientist, but he won’t stop conflating science and faith. He had his chance, and he blew it. He should step down.

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2 Responses

  1. V. V. Raman says:

    Jerry Coyne:

    1. “Collins is director of the NIH, and is using his office to argue publicly that scientific evidence—the Big Bang, the “Moral Law,” and so forth—points to the existence of a God.”

    Is it fair to say that he is using his office? Could he not of said the same things even if he were not occupying that position. Do his statements carry weight because of his office? If so, for whom?

    2. “That is blurring the lines between faith and science: exactly what I hoped he would not do when he took his new job.”

    But this may be exactly what he wanted to do.

    3. “And to those who say that he has the right to publish this sort of stuff, well, yes he does. He has the legal right.”

    He has exercised that right.

    4. “But it’s not judicious to argue publicly, as the most important scientist in the U.S., that there is scientific evidence for God.”

    I am not sure if it is judicious or not. But I would agree it is not very scientific.

    5. “Imagine, for example, the outcry that would ensue if Collins were an atheist and, as NIH director, published a collection of atheistic essays along the lines of Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist, but also arguing that scientific evidence proved that there was no God. He would, of course, promptly be canned as NIH director.”

    Maybe now. Maybe not fifty years from now.

    6. “Or imagine if Collins were a Scientologist, arguing that the evidence pointed to the existence of Xenu and ancient “body-thetans” that still plague humans today. Or a Muslim, arguing that evidence pointed to the existence of Allah, and of Muhammad as his divine prophet.”

    Maybe nothing terrible would happen if this happened fifty years from now.

    7. “Or if he published a book showing how scientific evidence pointed to the efficacy of astrology, or witchcraft. People would think he was nuts.”

    Only scientifically awakened people would. Not all people.

    8. “Collins gets away with this kind of stuff only because, in America, Christianity is a socially sanctioned superstition.”

    But that happens to be the case. Unless and until Christianity is replaced by an equivalent socially sanctioned superstition (which is bound to happen) one can’t stop this. One can/should always protest and criticize and condemn. We may be grateful for that. Even this is not possible in societies that have and/or acquiring nuclear weapons.

    9. “He’s the chief government scientist”

    I rather doubt that the director of NIH is the chief scientist of the American government.

    10. “But he won’t stop conflating science and faith.”

    He isn’t the only one, nor even the only scientist…

    11. “He had his chance, and he blew it.”

    According to the first statement in this piece, Collins is using it, not blowing it.

    12. “He should step down.”

    That, in the system, is for him to decide.

    13. With all that, I share Jerry Coyne’s shock and disappointment that Francis Collins, occupying such a prestigious science-related public post, lends his name to denominational God-talk,

    V. V. Raman

    February 25, 2010

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