28/07/2009

Francis Collins


Collins has been nominated by Barack Obama to head the National Institutes of Health. Initially this seemed to be ok, he's a skilled administrator of science, as his work on the Human Genome Project showed. The problems started when details of his religious beliefs came out. It seems like the man from "nominally Christian" parents and who is 'ex-atheist' is a bit too mad for comfort. Sam Harris dismantles the man in this New York Times op-ed.

7 comments:

Kirk Yetton said...

I'm sorry, but I don't quite understand how being a Christian causes a clash with this role. It seems that you're merely out to attack anyone who happens to have opinions differing from your own. So much for reason.

Kirk Yetton said...

I might add that stating that Sam Harris "dismantles" Collins is grossly overstated. He says that Collins is wrong because... well, because Harris disagrees with him. He doesn't reason a response, for example, to Collins' assertion that God cannot be studied scientifically because he is not part of this world, he merely disagrees.

Harris' suggestion that Collins cannot be trusted in such a position simply because he is a Christian is ridiculous and unfounded. He is a greatly respected scientist on an international scale and headed up the hugely successful and fundamentally important human genome project. How can a blog entitled "In Defence of Reason" defend an argument using no reason whatsoever? I find the entire article vastly hypocritical and lacking on objective evidence or reasoning over subjective prejudices.

Best,

Kirk

Edward Baker said...

If you read the article that I linked to and you understand science then the 5 slides are disturbing.

As harris says "Most scientists who study the human mind are convinced that minds are the products of brains, and brains are the products of evolution. Dr. Collins takes a different approach: he insists that at some moment in the development of our species God inserted crucial components — including an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc."

This is not the kind of person I would like to see in that role.

"Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?"

Kirk Yetton said...

But the very conclusion that Collins believes "a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible" does not follow. If that is the case how did he carry the Human Genome Project through to completion? If you believe he does not believe in the scientific method than this project must surely be a doubtful worth. It is an amazingly dumb thing to say about one of the 20th Century's most respected and highly regarded scientists. I'm sure if you were to show that quote to a biologist he'd find it hilarious.

Harris states that "minds are the products of brains". What are minds? How do brains produce them?

In addition, Harris hardly gives Collins a fair hearing. Those slides accompany a talk; slides accompanying a talk do not give the full picture of what a person is trying to say, they summarise the main points. To quote summaries and knock them down without actually looking at the arguments which lead to those conclusions is hardly acceptable.

To be honest, Mr. Baker, you do not appear to defend reason, rather you cite articles and videos which criticise religion without appearing to question them or test their opinion, which is, basically, blind faith in the veracity and trustworthiness of those sources.

Best wishes,

Kirk

Edward Baker said...

Morals are a part of human nature - to say they come from another source makes a natural theory of human nature impossible!

The Human Genome Project did not really do anything ti understand human nature, at least until we can connect genes and psychology on a much more reliable and solid basis.

I'll show that quote to a biologist! I know loads (I am one to some extent - despite training as a physicist).

Your last paragraph is pretty pathetic - there are lots of light-hearted things on this blog, but if you read more than the last few weeks posts you'll find more in-depth comments and analysis. I also link to sources pretty regularly - although when I give my opinions I obviously can't reference them (unless I have previously published them elsewhere).

Kirk Yetton said...

OK, but why the assumption that they have a natural origin? I'm not sure that this is something the scientific method can demonstrate. What evidence do you have for that? Indeed, what do you count as "natural" in the first place?

I see what you mean about H.G.P. not being linked to human nature, but it does establish Collins' credentials as a good scientist. Collins questions whether science can tell us everything and you criticise him for that? As a physicist you will know that a good scientist approaches everything with a certain degree of scepticism. Indeed, the very assumption that science explains all automatically excludes something which is not empirical given that only the empirical can be tested by science, wouldn't you agree? How can anyone be sure that only the empirical exists or intervenes in life? That's a pretty big assumption to make.

Of course, don't get me wrong I'm aware that much of your blog is light-hearted. Just because I've not commented anything else doesn't mean I've not looked at it. But this very article has been accepted by you without questioning the many assumptions contained within it.

All the best,

Kirk

Edward Baker said...

I've been following Collins for a while, and this isn't the first time things have been picked up by myself and others. This is just the most public time so far.

A natural origin would be one that came from nature, in the same way that any other feature of an organism arose. (It did not require divine intervention).

HGP generated some good science - but there is more to science than genomes. I believe the only real answers to a question come from applying the scientific method. To say that parts are out of reach of science undermines the people who are trying to develop scientific explanations of these phenomena. The people that Collins should be providing with some support.

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