Sunday, July 19, 2009

Collins: Evolution Skepticism is an Insult

In a recent Books & Culture interview Francis Collins summarized his position on evolution and its skeptics. President Obama's nominee to lead the National Institutes of Health is an evolutionist who tries to make Darwin's idea palatable to the masses. His main concern is with the faithful who, according to Collins, wrongly view evolution as a threat to their religion. This fence-mending mission earns Collins enemies among both the atheists, who think Collins is insufficiently orthodox in his evolutionary views, and the faithful who think Collins has compromised theological truths. From Collins' perspective he is a centrist, forging a via media between the two extremes. But Collins is anything but a centrist and here are three reasons why.

In the Books & Culture interview Collins confidently stated that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming:

The evidence is overwhelming. ... Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics. ... But nearly all scientists agree upon descent from a common ancestor, gradual change over a long period of time, and natural selection operating to produce the diversity of living species. There is no question that those are correct. Evolution is not a theory that is going to be discarded next week or next year or a hundred thousand years from now. It is true.

Collins also equated evolution with science and evolution skepticism with non scientific conspiracy theory:

The position that people on the outside of science--­like the creationists and the people in the [Intelligent Design] camp--­have adopted, that such a conspiracy could actually exist for more than thirty seconds, completely flies in the face of the realities of the sociology of the field of science. It's an insult.

Finally Collins explained that evolution is all about attempting to falsify:

Sure, we have paradigms that we use to try and organize things, but one of our goals is to upset these paradigms. If laboratories did experiments and said, "Hey, wait a minute, here is some data suggesting that evolution is wrong, it is not capable of explaining something," that would be a lightning rod for excited investigation. This idea would not be ignored because it wasn't consistent with a reigning paradigm.

These misconceptions are so extreme one hardly knows where to begin. The comparison of the role of math in physics and evolution in biology is absurd. Evolution is, in fact, not needed for biological research. There is substantial evidential problems with evolution but Collins describes it, in typical fashion, as "true."

His metaphysical certainty reminds us not that the evidence is overwhelming but that the evidence, when interpreted according to evolution's religious filter, is overwhelming. Collins has argued elsewhere that God never would have created what we find in biology so evolution must be true.

Collins' use of the loaded term "conspiracy" for evolution skeptics, and describing them as outside of science is also problematic. Evolutionists often use this sort of delegitimization of skeptics as an easy dismissal tactic, and this leaves little hope of an objective evaluation of the problematic evidence. And Collins' description of evolutionists as seeking to falsify their theory is out of touch.

When compared to atheists Collins may seem to be a moderate. But regarding evolution, either Collins' understanding of the science and the evolution skeptics is radically in error, or he is in denial.