Francis Collins on The Big Think: "Why is it so difficult for scientists to believe in a higher power?"



Francis Collins' point of view here basically amounts to the old "non-overlapping magisteria" argument that Stephen Jay Gould put forth ages ago. Science and faith answer different questions. The problem with this view twofold: the first is that many questions hastily deemed beyond the scope of scientific inquiry are in fact not. Collins himself argues in his book The Language of God that the existence of moral judgment is evidence of a higher power, but countless evolutionary biologists – and perhaps most notably Frans De Waal – have stripped the supernatural from morality. Stephen Hawking recently ruffled the feathers of many a religious thinker when he declared that cosmology can explain the origin of the universe just fine without invoking a supernatural Creator – a God of the Gaps long held dear by many believers. The physicist Laurence Krauss, in his lecture at AAI 2009, answered the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" using physics: "There had to be," he said, "If you have 'nothing' in quantum mechanics, you’ll always get something. It’s that simple."

But the greater problem is how faith purports to answer questions of "why". I feel like a broken record sometimes, but no theist has even attempted to provide a coherent answer to this question: what is the methodology for discerning true faith claims from false ones? Science has a rigorous methodology that allows us to discard mistakes as we inch closer to the truth. But how do people of faith know, with any amount of certainty at all, whether what they believe is true or simply pulled out of their asses? Making stuff up does not constitute an "answer".

To that end, many of these questions are meaningless. Like, "Why are we here?" Well, we're here because of a litany of natural processes that slowly brought us about, rather accidentally, over billions and billions of years. I mean really, that's why. It's easy. But merely the way believers ask the question implies that there is some sort of supernatural reality that determines what we are supposed to do with our preciously short lives. It presumes that there is a divine "why". But why should we presume such a thing? I'm reminded of Carl Sagan's famous quote: "If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?"

That's why I just can't take Francis Collins seriously. It's bad enough that he greatly underestimates the power of science to answer the big questions, but it's even worse that "faith", to him, remains some sort of vaguely defined affirmation of ethereal mysteries rather than a reliable methodology by which to uncover new knowledge.

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