The cover of Time magazine highlights the current struggle: it’s God vs. Science, or as I’d prefer to put it, fantasy vs. reality. I have mixed feelings about the story; on the one hand, it presents the theological sound in such a godawful stupid way that it gives me some hope, but on the other, stupid seems to win the day far too often. It sure seems to have won over the editors of Time.
The lead article covers a debate between the forces of reason and dogma. They picked two debaters and pitted them against each other, and on our side, we have Richard Dawkins. Dawkins talked to us a bit about this on our visit, since he’d just recently gotten back from a quick flight to NY to do this. Time says they’d had to consider a number of possibilities for this argument: Marc Hauser, Lewis Wolpert, Victor Stenger, and Ann Druyan (speaking for Carl Sagan, who has a posthumous book on religion coming out), so they had a competent collection on one side, and they just needed to find a good representative for the other. Unfortunately, here’s how Time characterized the search.
Dawkins and his army have a swarm of articulate theological opponents, of course. But the most ardent of these don’t really care very much about science, and an argument in which one party stands immovable on Scripture and the other immobile on the periodic table doesn’t get anyone very far. Most Americans occupy the middle ground: we want it all. We want to cheer on science’s strides and still humble ourselves on the Sabbath. We want access to both mris and miracles. We want debates about issues like stem cells without conceding that the positions are so intrinsically inimical as to make discussion fruitless. And to balance formidable standard bearers like Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that science and God are in harmony–that, indeed, science is of God.
Who is “we,” kemosabe? What gives these editors the privilege to speak for what Americans want? It’s nice of them to so starkly dichotomize the positions, at least: Scripture vs. the periodic table. Woo hoo, I know which one I’m rootin’ for!
Then the real surprise. They’re wondering who they should get to argue with Dawkins, and apparently the “swarm of articulate theological opponents” is as nebulous and undefinable as god himself, so they consider Roughgarden (I haven’t read her new book, so I can’t judge that one) and EO Wilson. Wilson would be an excellent choice. They’d have to overlook the fact that he’s openly atheist, but really, I’d love to sit in on an argument between Wilson and Dawkins; it would dispense with the god nonsense right away, ground itself in reality, and turn immediately to the difficult and important job of working out strategies. I think they’d disagree vigorously with one another, too. What great fun! That would be a worthwhile interview!
But no. They don’t say why, but they turn instead to another champion for religion, and oh, my…their decision is disappointing.
Yeesh. This recent book of his, that established him as the face of religious scientists, is awful. Illogical, incoherent, a mess of assertions and rationalizations that make no sense, all in defense of narrow sectarian Christianity. Why, Time, why? Is there no one sensible on the side of religion?
For instance, Collins suggests that evolution is not incompatible with God designing it (yeah, he’s an intelligent design creationist, apparently), and is asked when God’s intervention would have occurred. Here’s his answer.
COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.
Ah, yes, the “God can do everything and has no limitations” argument. I remember this one from grade school, but there it was usually a discussion about Superman’s powers. Same thing. Same degree of basis in reality.
I want to know two things. If God can give us “spirit” and “free will” (two mysterious and undefined intangibles that I can’t measure or see), why couldn’t he have also given me a few million dollars so I could carry out my own desires? And don’t tell me he doesn’t work that way: he seems to have given Paris Hilton a buttload of cash, and look at what she’s doing with it. Secondly, how can he claim we have free will, and at the same time claim God could predict his conversation? Does that mean Francis Collins’ mom did not have the freedom to refuse sex on the day he was conceived? After all, if she’d felt like playing Parcheesi that night, there’d be no Francis to have the conversation.
Throughout the interview, Collins keeps on replying with remarkable inanity.
DAWKINS: I accept that there may be things far grander and more incomprehensible than we can possibly imagine. What I can’t understand is why you invoke improbability and yet you will not admit that you’re shooting yourself in the foot by postulating something just as improbable, magicking into existence the word God.
COLLINS: My God is not improbable to me. He has no need of a creation story for himself or to be fine-tuned by something else. God is the answer to all of those “How must it have come to be” questions.
Dawkins has the right answer.
DAWKINS: I think that’s the mother and father of all cop-outs. It’s an honest scientific quest to discover where this apparent improbability comes from. Now Dr. Collins says, “Well, God did it. And God needs no explanation because God is outside all this.” Well, what an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain. Scientists don’t do that. Scientists say, “We’re working on it. We’re struggling to understand.”
Collins just makes these grand assertions about the nature of an invisible, undetectable being as if they actually represent evidence—they don’t. They are science-stoppers. Saying that an omniscient, omnipotent being who is aware of and cares about the fate of Francis Collins is a radically improbable suggestion, and just calling it “God” and insisting that he doesn’t need explanation is a non-answer.
TIME: But to the extent that a person argues on the basis of faith or Scripture rather than reason, how can scientists respond?
COLLINS: Faith is not the opposite of reason. Faith rests squarely upon reason, but with the added component of revelation. So such discussions between scientists and believers happen quite readily. But neither scientists nor believers always embody the principles precisely. Scientists can have their judgment clouded by their professional aspirations. And the pure truth of faith, which you can think of as this clear spiritual water, is poured into rusty vessels called human beings, and so sometimes the benevolent principles of faith can get distorted as positions are hardened.
Gah, what crap. Revelation is irrational and unreasonable. You can’t do science, collect data, and then decide, “Well, God has revealed to me that the correct answer is 2 grams heavier”. You don’t get to mix flour, sugar, milk, and eggs, and then dump in a pound of fecal matter, and call the resulting baked product a delicious cake. That’s precisely what Collins wants to do, and he admits it: he wants to add in anti-scientific beliefs and pretend he is still talking about science.
This is not an article anyone needs to read. You also don’t need to read their shorter survey of four “select” people on the subject—it includes Collins (again?), Behe, Pinker, and Mohler—unless you really want to laugh yourself silly at Mohler, a young earth creationist. Comparing Behe and Collins is amusing, too—there isn’t anything of substance to distinguish them.