Thursday, November 2, 2006

Same Language, Different Dialect

The head of the Human Genome Project has crawled out on a precarious political limb in his new book, "The Language of God." I admire Francis Collins for the balancing act he seems to pull off so well. Collins is an unabashed promoter of Biblical Christianity and has chosen this forum to say so. This is a courageous project in the professional culture within which he works, especially because he is in such a powerful position -- one that demands adherence to the naturalistic paradigm I so often discuss here. Collins is a brilliant scientist and a man of God. Those two are not supposed to mix.

So, first I have to say that his willingness to write such a book is laudable. But that doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. None of us will ever agree on everything and, having heard him interviewed concerning some of the issues discussed below, I know he is respectful of those who disagree -- unlike some of the more vocal proponents of some of his beliefs. It is no secret that Collins is off the ranch with most orthodox Christians in his view of the origin and diversity of life (he is fully acceptant of Darwinian Evolution). But it is also true that he respects those who accuse him of being there.

My problem with Collins' view is that it seems strangely inconsistent. On one hand he has no problem with the notion (as discussed in several of my previous posts) that the origin of the universe bears all the marks of a Grand Designer who created it all ex nihilo. So far, so good.

But on the other hand, he finds no basis for accepting divine intervention in the creation and complexity of life. On the universal scale, it is OK to recognize the fingerprints of God. But when it comes to evidence for divine action in nature, that is not allowed. The claims of the Intelligent Design (ID) folks are therefore deemed unsupportable. Why the differentiation?

I suspect that much of it has to do with the political and intellectual status Collins has to uphold. It would be suicidal to side with those whacky IDers and still maintain any credibility with the "accepted" scientific establishment. By this I do NOT suggest that Collins is being hypocritical. I honestly believe he thinks this way because, well, EVERYBODY THINKS THIS WAY. It is just the way science is done. Questioning that fact simply never enters one's mind. But, being confident that Collins and the rest of the scientific establishment wakes up every morning hoping to read my latest post, I offer the following critique of his position:

Collins shares Howard Van Till's view of a "fully gifted" creation that is compatible with theistic evolution. Phillip Johnson has taken Van Till to task on that subject - calling such a view incoherent. I think Collins demonstrates this incoherence in the fact that it seems completely incompatible with the view he has of design in the creation of the universe.

Johnson's biggest problem with this approach is that it is not evidentially based. He sees Van Till and other Christian intellectuals as capitulating to all the "accepted" scientific methodologies by simply offering theological interpretations of those methods. His difficulty with Van Till's approach stems from the fact that he (Van Till) does not view the search for truth in these matters as encompassing all aspects of reality. By eliminating supernatural intervention as an option before doing the science, Van Till and Collins limit the possible interpretations of the data they collect. This leads to a warped science that accepts evidence consistent with its presuppositions as confirmation, but ignores evidence that may conflict with it. Johnson has uncovered a valid philosophical criticism. He shows that the actual scientific data does not support a view like that held by Francis Collins.

Johnson may be wrong, but his stance is based on the evidence itself, not on what he wants the evidence to tell him. Collins et al are not just limiting the definition of science. They are limiting the definition of reality itself for reasons that are elusive except for the fact that they are more palatable to the scientific peers with whom they want to maintain credibility.

If God has acted in nature throughout history, there is no reason to demand that we will be unable to detect that action. IF the scientific evidence points to such action, and there is no other credible explanation for that evidence, I do not understand why Collins, or anyone else, would be so inclined to ignore it.

One reason he give is that a perfect, omnipotent God would have no reason to inject himself into time in order to "tinker" with, or intervene in, a creation he had designed. But saying that ignores one of the attributes of God with which Collins seems to have no beef -- that is his timelessly eternal nature. If God is not constrained by the limitation of time (like we created beings are), then his actions within time are not dependent on it. God can act in eternity in ways that, to us, only seem to be temporal. This is not an earth-shattering concept to someone like Collins. Augustine spoke about it almost 1000 years ago.

My hope is that Collins will reconsider his views and let the evidence speak for itself. I would just hope that he, and others like him, would see the incoherency exhibited in their stance and pick the side that is consistent with their view of the origin of the universe. One cannot continue to operate on both sides of the issue. Sadly, this reality is demonstrated in the life of Howard Van Till who, unable to reconcile his "fully-gifted" creation with the evidence of divine action, chose to remain consistent by leaving the faith.