BreakPoint Blog

Collins Is Criticized Again

In a recent NY Times op-ed, Sam Harris criticizes the nomination of Dr. Francis Collins as the director of the National Institutes for Health.

Despite what Harris says, faith and science are not enemies. In fact, the two are inseparable. Regardless of whether a person is Christian, Muslim, atheist, or anything else under the sun, we all have a worldview. Science studies facts; these facts are automatically interpreted by our worldview. This applies to both Sam Harris and Dr. Francis Collins...and to you and me. 

I too was skeptical of Dr. Collins's nomination, albeit for different reasons. But regardless of who is guiding bioethics in the United States, one thing is for sure: their belief system will undoubtedly affect their interpretation of science.


Another comment/post re: Harris and Collins (by David Heddle, associate professor of physics at Christopher Newport University):
Saw the letters to the editor today (interestingly, Kenneth Miller is the first one):
Harris doesn't HAVE to articulate his reasons all that well (at least in the quoted NYT opinion piece) since he probably has persuaded many simply by quoting some religious Collins comments. I.e. lots of people are being conditioned to get suspicious of a person who talks in Christian terms. So Harris can throw out vague terms - and scare some with Collins' religious beliefs...and that will SELL his ideas---to many. I've seen the "look" of "Oh, you're one of THEM" on the face of a family member educated in extreme anti Christian ideals (at a formerly Christian university no less). Eyes glazed over. I was categorized as a "freak". Immediately. +++++ So Harris can COAST here - and still possibly succeed in persuading many who won't ask the hard questions some above are asking!
Ben, I'm just emphasizing Harris's rhetoric style. He's vague and disingenuous at best. I would like to see: a) What Harris means by "a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible" as applied to Collins thinking, and b) Collins response to that direct assertion. Were we supposed to know the other implicating quotes by Collins? Or, should we just put our faith in Harris given what he's written? Obviously Harris has an agenda and he's worried, based on his worldview, about a possible agenda Collins may have... he hasn't presented a lot of solid, scientific facts though. And furthermore, I trust that science can address most of humanity's issues, but on what we mean by 'address', whether we should 'address' these things or even what the correct observation of an issue should be, what does science offer?
Steve, I'm not sure that Harris was meaning one statement to strictly imply the other - I've seen other comments from Collins that imply he believes a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible. / / And obviously, this may be able to address some issues such as man's moral behavior (or lack thereof), but not many other deep questions.
As every element in human nature can have an explanation constructed retrospectively in a "natural" manner the idea that "whys" can be explained by observation is begging the question. When you have a theory that can always be justified with enough imagination you have no theory. In any case faith is trust and is not incompatable with rationality. It is no accident that the shield was chosen as the symbol for shields were a symbol of unit loyalty among Greeks and likly among Romans(a hoplite or legionary could get extra protection from the left fringe of his comrade's shield). Trust is rational or irrational depending on where it is placed. A legionary could rationally expect his comrade to stay in line and not leave him exposed but could also trust him.
Wait... Sam Harris criticized a theist? Huh. // Harris is a great rhetorician (for mostly ill, imo). Observe: "Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence”" becomes "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?" // Essentially, Harris holds out a carrot stick, pointing to the obvious knowledge that the brain and mind are linked (as we know them in humans), that we can and will know all the 'whys' of our deepest questions purely by repeat observation. //Pass.