Monday, August 27, 2007

Francis Collin on CBC Radio

 
CBC Radio recently interviewed Francis Collins. The interview was conducted by Mary Hynes a woman who shows herself to be completely ignorant of atheism [Tapestry: Interview with Francis Collins].

You can listen to the entire interview if you dare but there's nothing new here. For the most part, Collins repeats the same old tired arguments we saw in his book The Language of God [Theistic Evolution According to Francis Collins]. One of the things he says is that when he was an atheist he began to question his lack of belief. All of his questions about God were answered on reading the first few pages of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis! I bet you didn't realize how easy it is to become a Christian! Neither did PZ Myers so he posted the first chapter of Mere Christianity on his blog [Get Ready fo Become a Christian]. Atheists beware, read it at your peril. You might fall down on your knees and be converted to Christianity.

Collins believes that one of the strongest arguments for the existence of God is our sense of what's right and wrong. He calls this the Moral Law. Somehow we seem to know the difference between good and evil. Collins also thinks that the concept of altruism is a major stumbling block for atheists. Here's how he puts it in the radio interview.
... because if you pursue the socio-biological explanation of altruism to its ultimate conclusion, and you say that it's really just evolution that is responsible for this sense of right and wrong, you can't get away from what that means, That means that good and evil have no absolute significance at all. They're purely arbitrary. They're evolutionary contrivances. The idea that we have in our head about something being right or wrong is just a complete illusion. And for people who want to adopt that view you have to go all the way there and embrace that. And something about that, in people I talk to, even those who .. consider themselves to be atheists or agnostics, that really troubles them. And it should.
Now many people seem to think that C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins have a very sophisticated view of religion—one that Dawkins fails to grasp when he criticizes religion. But as far as I'm concerned, if this is the best they can do then theists deserve all the criticism they get.

Evolution has given us brains and we have learned how to use them. Over thousands of years we have developed rules of behavior designed to improve our security and well-being and promote an orderly society. Accordingly, it is "bad" to take something that doesn't belong to you and it is "good" to help your neighbor. It is "bad" to lie and it is "good" to tell the truth. In the long run, if everyone does "good" things your society will be better off. Nobody like thieves and liars. They can't be trusted.

"Good" and "bad" are not arbitrary and they are not the direct product of evolution. They have "absolute signficance"—they promote social interactions and humans can achieve much more collectively than they can as individuals. Collins is way off base here. I don't know of any atheists who are troubled by this. I can't imagine who he's talking to.

11 comments :

  1. He's talking to his fans.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If anyone was looking for evidence that religion induces brain damage in otherwise highly intelligent people, Collins's drivellings are Exhibit A.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Now many people seem to think that C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins have a very sophisticated view of religion—one that Dawkins fails to grasp when he criticizes religion. But as far as I'm concerned, if this is the best they can do then theists deserve all the criticism they get.

    Well, just to pick up on one point: I suggest that you're doing here what I've seen you become annoyed about when done by "the opposition" - use the "many people seem to think" meme coupled with a sample of one or two to represent a much larger whole.

    Not a very "scientific" approach, is it?

    I agree with your points, but it's pretty sloppy argumentation ...

    ReplyDelete
  4. But as far as I'm concerned, if this is the best they can do then theists deserve all the criticism they get.

    That is the best they have. If their god isn't real, then people have to figure out what's good and evil for themselves. If their god is real, then they don't. Sadly, big whoopty doo-da day, how is that supposed to convince people that their god is real? But you're right, that's the best they got.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I should like to know who these sophisticated theologians are. People only seem to tell us who they aren't.

    And I think the main point here is that Francis Collins was persuaded by an incredibly cheesy argument -- doesn't it set off warning bells when you see people converted by CS Lewis? It should let you know right away that the claim that they were impressed by a powerful argument is false.

    ReplyDelete
  6. PZ asks,

    I should like to know who these sophisticated theologians are. People only seem to tell us who they aren't.

    C.S. Lewis is definitely one of them.

    And I think the main point here is that Francis Collins was persuaded by an incredibly cheesy argument -- doesn't it set off warning bells when you see people converted by CS Lewis? It should let you know right away that the claim that they were impressed by a powerful argument is false.

    You just don't get it, do you? C.S. Lewis is so sophisticated and intelligent that his arguments for the existence of God are way beyond anything that militant atheists can ever grasp. We're just not smart enough.

    It's an airtight argument. First we don't know about these sophisticated theists. Then when we find out who they are we can't understand them the way the theists do.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Collins has fans? They deserve him, Collins is an excellent example of denialism.

    Seems he has picked up on the criticism that he hasn't considered biology in his moral argument. So what does he do? He takes altruism as evidence that naturally and socially developed morals are empty of meaning, because they don't derive from his ad hoc moral law.

    Of course he can keep this up for years against the unnecessary effort of double standards and convoluted dodges. But it is always fun for observers to point at every instance when a denialist stoop down to pick up yet another piece of stinking dissonance to stack on that overloaded and dirty meme cart they push around for proud exhibition. As if we couldn't smell the size of it from a mile away.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "'Good' and 'bad' are not arbitrary and they [are?] the direct product of evolution. They have 'absolute significance'—they promote social interactions and humans can achieve much more collectively than they can as individuals."

    Yet in any instance of altruism, you can likely find the opposite behavior in nature too, so whence this absolute significance? After multiplied ages, evolution still is undecided?

    ReplyDelete
  9. lee_merrill asks,

    Yet in any instance of altruism, you can likely find the opposite behavior in nature too, so whence this absolute significance?

    In this context "absolute significance" means "not arbitrary." I was responding directly to what Francis Collins said. Don't read anything more into it than that.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Collins is off-base and doesn't seem to have read Gould.

    "This charge against Darwin is unfair for two reasons. First, nature (no matter how cruel in human terms) provides no basis for our moral values. (Evolution might, at most, help to explain why we have moral feelings, but nature can never decide for us whether any particular action is right or wrong.)

    Second, Darwin’s “struggle for existence” is an abstract metaphor, not an explicit statement about bloody battle. Reproductive success, the criterion of natural selection, works in many modes: Victory in battle may be one pathway, but cooperation, symbiosis, and mutual aid may also secure success in other times and contexts." ...

    "There are no shortcuts to moral insight. Nature is not intrinsically anything that can offer comfort or solace in human terms – if only because our species is such an insignificant latecomer in a world not constructed for us. So much the better. The answers to moral dilemmas are not lying out there, waiting to be discovered. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us – the most difficult and inaccessible spot for any discovery or consensus."

    http://www.marxists.org/subject/science/essays/kropotkin.htm

    Probably some jesus freak will use part of the last sentence to claim that Gould believed in god.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Did Collins not convert because he saw a frozen waterfall that reminded him of the trinity?

    Billy Sands

    ReplyDelete