Saturday, July 11, 2009

How Evolutionists View Francis Collins

President Obama's nomination this week of Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health was politically smart. Collins, an evolutionist and an evangelical Christian, has wide appeal. One day he can be speaking at an international gathering of leading scientists and the next at a suburban mega-church. In fact Collins is quite interested in maintaining the harmony between these two worlds. It is true that many Christians are evolutionists, but many others are not. Collins seeks to remedy the misconceptions he sees as motivating such skepticism.

All of this seems entirely politically correct. Do evolutionists have any grounds for complaint against the long-time NIH scientist and leader of the high-profile Human Genome Project? Yes they do.

Like the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, Collins gets stuck on the moral law within. Can evolution really describe altruism? Indeed the evolutionary explanations are rather silly, and for all of his promotion of evolution Collins cannot go the full distance. The moral law remains an enigma in the twenty first century.

For this breach of faith Collins is attacked by his fellow evolutionists. PZ Myers and others cannot tolerate such skepticism. Doesn't Collins know that evolution has plenty of just-so stories to explain behavior such as altruism?

Furthermore, Myers and other evolutionists point out that Collins' skepticism is a gods-of-the-gaps argument. This is yet another one of evolution's religious arguments. Dating back to certain seventeenth century Anglicans, it is a general-purpose religious argument that can be used to rebuke any and all scientific problems with evolution. The empirical evidence is inconsequential--no matter how contradictory are the data, evolutionists mandate naturalistic explanations. We may not know how altruism evolved, but it must have evolved. To think otherwise is to commit the sin of gap thinking.

So evolutionists such as Myers use non scientific concerns to mute the science. Their scientific "method" overrules the evidence. There is no option for contemplating possibilities; no allowance for tentatively considering alternatives. Evolution is a fact. As one evolutionist typically put it:

If a given problem appears to be merely unsolved, then he'll leave it to the realm of science; if, on the other hand, Collins deems a question to be unsolvable, it's fair game for inclusion in a spiritual interpretation of the universe.

And that's a no-no for evolutionists. They mandate that all phenomena can be accurately explained naturalistically. One need not be a philosopher to see that this claim to completeness, realism and naturalism does not come from science.

But the criticism of Collins ceases when he uses the standard religious arguments for evolution. For instance, appealing to the genetic data he is familiar with, Collins makes the usual "God wouldn't do it that way" arguments:

Most mammals, for example, do not need dietary sources of vitamin C because they can make their own using an enzyme encoded in their genomes. But primates, including humans, require vitamin C in their diet, or they will suffer a disease called scurvy. What happened here? Well, if you search through the human genome, you will find a degenerated copy of the gene for this vitamin C synthesizing enzyme. But it has sustained a knockout blow, losing more than half of its coding sequence. A claim that the human genome was created by God independently rather than being part of descent from a common ancestor would mean God intentionally inserted a nonfunctioning piece of DNA into our genomes to test our faith. Unless you are willing to contemplate the idea of God as a deceiver, this is not a comfortable explanation.

Collins' logic is faulty (common ancestry is not the only naturalistic explanation), but more importantly, as Elliott Sober has pointed out, the strength of the evolutionary argument comes not from its premises about common ancestry, but from its premises about separate ancestry. It always comes down to judgments about God.

This is a standard evolutionary argument and it is no surprise that evolutionists, though harsh in their criticism of Collins' skepticism of evolutionary explanations for altruism, stand mute as Collins promotes the usual religious arguments that mandate evolution.

It is the ultimate display of hypocrisy. Religion drives evolution, and yet evolutionists don the white lab coat and point fingers at anyone who dare make inferences from the data, castigating them as "religiously-driven." As evolutionist Jerry Coyne wrote, "I’d be much more comfortable with someone whose only agenda was science." Translation: "I’d be much more comfortable with someone whose only agenda was evolution."