Friday, March 20, 2015


The following is a video of Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, on "
Why It's So Hard for Scientists to Believe in God":

This video was posted by a sibling of mine on a communal family blog. Rather than picking bones and potentially starting an argument where one is not needed and would not be productive, I decided to respond to the video here. There will be less collateral damage this way.

Dr. Collins is defending faith. He claims that science and religion are Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA), or that they are unrelated responses to different types of questions, and as such they do not conflict with each other. Before I get to how this is an excuse educated people often employ in order to preserve their pet beliefs, I want to point out a few things about Dr. Collins' position and his own sincere, deeply-held beliefs.

First, Dr. Collins is defending a comforting belief he came to accept for irrational reasons. While on a hike, Dr. Collins came across a waterfall which split into three parts. This reminded him of the Trinity and he became an evangelical Christian on the spot. There was no rational reason for his conversion. He did not come to his belief through "sound" arguments, like those he touts in the video. He became a Christian because a common natural phenomenon reminded him of a supernatural claim he was taught as a child. Who, but the Trinitarian god of evangelical Christianity, could do this?

Second, none of Dr. Collins' arguments defend his specific Christian beliefs anymore than competing Jewish or Hindu or Muslim or pagan beliefs (or, for that matter, other Christian beliefs, such as the non-Trinitarian Mormon view of god). He is using deistic arguments for a generic god, which may or may not care about its handiwork after setting the universe in motion.

Ultimately, his arguments (the argument from design, the anthropic principle, NOMA, etc.) are logical fallacies which fall neatly under the massive umbrella of "arguments from ignorance." Dr. Collins doesn't know what caused the universe, he doesn't know why there is a specific order to things, therefore god did it. This is a classic "god of the gaps" mentality. Coincidentally, "god of the gaps" arguments crumble with each scientific advancement, thus slowly squeezing out the breath of these fatuous claims.

The intellectually honest thing for someone to say when they don't know how something came to be is not to insert the unfounded superstitions of their youth, but to admit their ignorance. Why does the universe exist? I don't know. Why do the cosmological constants exist? I don't know. Could life exist if the cosmological constants were slightly different? I don't know. See? It's easy.

Asserting supernatural explanations without evidential support does not help the discussion and it does not get us any closer to an answer. It serves only to muddy the waters and build complacency with a wrong answer. In turn, this causes people to stop looking for the correct answer. It is an attempt to solve the biggest mysteries in life by appealing to an even bigger mystery: god.

Dr. Collins would have you believe that religion does not make testable claims, and, therefore, cannot be confirmed or discounted through evidence or a lack thereof. This is simply not true.

In as much as science and religion do overlap (i.e. Asserting the existence of divine beings which interact with people; The efficacy of intercessory prayer; The creation of the universe and the order of events; A supreme being "tinkering" with cosmology, biology, and physics in order to ensure our existence; The age of the earth/universe/man; The earth being a flat disc in the center of the universe and being created before the sun, moon and stars, which all revolve around the earth; The star/planet "Kolob" being both where god lives and being the source for our sun's energy and light), the two seem to be at perpetual odds.

In most serious studies of prayer, for instance, prayer offers no benefit to the infirmed. The only exception to this seems to be when people are aware of such supplications made on their behalf. These slight morale boosts, however impressive they may seem to believers, can easily be chalked up to the placebo effect.

In as much as science and religion do not overlap (i.e. questions like: "Why are we here?"; "What happens after death?"; "From whence cometh evil?"; "How many angels can fit upon the head of a needle"; "What is the airspeed velocity of a swallow carrying a coconut?"; OK, maybe not that last one...), science defers to philosophy. In fact, I cannot think of a single question to which religion offers an unsubstantiated answer which cannot be answered, at least in part, by either science or philosophy. But, if such questions are presented, "I don't know" is always a more tenable response than claiming to know a supernatural answer is true by faith.

Dr. Collins criticizes the ability of the scientific method to answer certain questions and claims that faith is an alternative methodology to finding answers. How could one possibly hope to demonstrate that their faith-derived answer is correct if not by supporting it with evidence? Faith does not explain anything. The very definition of faith indicates that beliefs are held without--in some cases despite--evidence.

To answer the question which Dr. Collins attempted to answer in the video, scientists generally don't subscribe to a higher power to explain the mysteries of the universe because the insertion of "god" as a de facto answer does not actually answer anything. Anything that we know to be true has been demonstrated through the scientific method--not religion. As Aron Ra puts it, "Science can't answer everything, but religion can't answer anything!"

Bald assertions of the ilk Dr. Collins advocates do not require evidence. This is the whole point! And without evidence you cannot demonstrate accuracy or efficacy or consistency or any ability to explain the heretofore unexplained. Faith is an excuse--a cop out. Faith is an attempt to shirk accountability in order to spare precious and weak beliefs from critique and ridicule. It is nothing to be admired. It is not worth defending.


Christopher Hitchens responds to NOMA:

Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson rebutting the "God of the Gaps" argument:

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