Steven Pinker on Francis Collins

Some newspapers and science journals have called atheist-scientists this week, asking for opinions on Francis Collins’s appointment as head of the National Institutes of Health.  In lieu of a phone interview,  Steve Pinker wrote the following to a reporter from one such journal  (copy slightly edited for web publication).  Thanks to Steve for permission to post.

I have serious misgivings about Francis Collins being appointed director of NIH. It’s not that I think that there should be a religious litmus test for public science administrators, or that being a devout Christian is a disqualification. But in Collins’s case, it is not a matter of private belief, but public advocacy. The director of NIH is not just a bureaucrat who tends the money pipleline between the treasury and molecular biologists (which is how many scientists see the position). He or she is also a public face of science, someone who commands one of the major bully pulpits for science in the country. The director testifies before Congress, sets priorities, selects speakers and panelists, and is in many regards a symbol for biomedical research in the US and the world. In that regard, many of Collins’s advocacy statements are deeply disturbing.

For example, I see science as not just cures for diseases and better gadgets but an ideal for how to think about the most important issues facing us as humans– in particular, the ideal that we should seek truth through reason and evidence and not through superstition, dogma, and personal revelation. Collins has said that he came to accept the Trinity, and the truth that Jesus is the son of God, when he was hiking and came upon a beautiful triple waterfall. Now, the idea that nature contains private coded messages from a supernatural being to an individual person is the antithesis of the scientific (indeed, rational) mindset. It is primitive, shamanistic, superstitious. The point of the scientific revolution was to do away with such animistic thinking.

This is not just autobiographical. Collins, in his book, eggs on fellow evangelical Christians in their anti-scientific beliefs. He tells them that they are “right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible” and to “the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.” Granted, he is not a young-earth or intelligent-design creationist. But he has stated that God interacts with creation, in particular, that he designed the evolutionary process to ensure that human intelligence, morality, and Judaeo-Christian religious belief would evolve.

That is far more than just expressing an opinion. That is advocacy, which gives incalculable encouragement the forces that have been hostile to science for the past eight years. And this is not just a theoretical fear: a number of right-wing, religious apologists (e.g., Dennis Praeger, in his debate with Sam Harris) used Collins as a stick to beat secularists:  “Here is a famous scientist who takes an interventionist God and the Bible seriously; who are you to contradict him?” This is going to be multiplied if Collins becomes an even more prominent face of science.

Also, the human mind and brain constitute one of the frontiers of biomedical science. Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience. The idea that there is divine design and teleology behind these functions, on the basis of Iron Age and medieval dogma, is antithetical to this vibrant research area. How will Collins preside over the allocation of research priorities if he believes in ““the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted”?

Again, it’s important that there not be an atheist-litmus-test for science administrators. A person’s private beliefs should not keep him from a public position. But Collins is an advocate of profoundly anti-scientific beliefs, and it is reasonable for the scientific community to ask him how these beliefs will affect his administration of the Institute and his efforts on the behalf of the scientific enterprise in Congress and in public.  At the very least, he should distance himself from the BioLogos Foundation and any other advocacy group.

For more on Collins, see the conversation between him and Richard Dawkins that ran three years ago in Time magazine; it has been reposted on the Dawkins website.  Slate just published a discussion of Collins’s appointment called “Jesus Goes to Bethesda.” I weighed in yesterday.

56 Comments

  1. JefFlyingV
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I have reservations of Collins being the head of the NIH. It seems to be similar to placing Disney enterprises as the director of the National Park system. Time will tell how much of an evangelical Collins is.

  2. SLC
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Dr. Collins said the following in response to a question about fine tuning.

    COLLINS: The gravitational constant, if it were off by one part in a hundred million million, then the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang would not have occurred in the fashion that was necessary for life to occur. When you look at that evidence, it is very difficult to adopt the view that this was just chance. But if you are willing to consider the possibility of a designer, this becomes a rather plausible explanation for what is otherwise an exceedingly improbable event–namely, our existence.

    Unfortunately, this statement is now known to be no longer true as the expansion of the universe is dominated by dark energy, not the value of the gravitational constant.

  3. newenglandbob
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Steven Pinker is clear, concise and informative. This is a well written piece.

  4. ennui
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    We need to stress that Science won the epistemic wars–it works demonstrably–and that the private ‘ways of knowing,’ such as revelation and faith, do not. Without the intersubjective processes of review and duplication, and logical inference and parsimony, we cannot answer how we would know if we were wrong.

  5. Posted July 11, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    “But in Collins’s case, it is not a matter of private belief, but public advocacy.”

    That’s the key thing, and it’s the one that accommodationism keeps overlooking or denying or concealing. It’s at the top of the list of Unanswered Questions. “Why do you keep saying we have no business prying into private belief when just about everybody already agrees with that and the issue is not private belief but public advocacy?”

    Hello? Hello?

  6. CharlesInCharge
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Magic is antithetical to science?

  7. Diego
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, if we were to get our way at this point it would just make a martyr of him. And we know how much the religious love a martyr. It would be evidence of atheist materialist hegemony or something of the sort. Even if the reason that Collins was not selected were unrelated to our concerns over his enthusiastic promotion of religion.

  8. 386sx
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    COLLINS: If it suits him to be a deity that we must seek without being forced to, would it not have been sensible for him to use the mechanism of evolution without posting obvious road signs to reveal his role in creation?

    Makes sense, except for one small detail. The deity still ain’t anywhere in sight, even for the people who “seeked” it. Seek and ye shall find…. not. A minor detail for sure, and quite contradictory to what even Mr. Collins himself can observe, but one that tends to be overlooked quite often. Cuckoo!

  9. Posted July 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I am among those who are unhappy with the choice of Collins as the head of the NIH. I’m a molecular biologist doing basic research in academia as well as a published author of popular science. It’s true that it could have been far worse: Zerhouni did precious little beyond being a political figurehead, as is the invariably the case with NIH heads who were MDs. Nevertheless, Obama had a veritable horde of over-qualified candidates to choose from, yet decided to sacrifice excellence to expedience instead. Talk about shifting of the Overton window!

    I’m worried about Collins’ tenure not only because of his connection to BioLogos, but also because of his liking for large-scale “machine” science. This approach is already yielding diminishing returns in research, yet the NIH tanker is sailing blithely onward into the iceberg-covered seas of gene chips and their ilk.

    There are at least two thing that Collins did right, and they must be acknowledged. Making sure that the human genome sequence was complete, accurate and free did much to deflate Venter’s ridiculous scientific and financial claims. Also Collins’ metaphor of “junk” DNA is close to the truth — in fact, far simpler than the truth. Junk DNA is anything but. It contains regulatory signals for replication, transcription and splicing, plus the numerous microRNAs that are also involved in regulation. There is nothing mystical about it, it’s the usual jury-rigging that’s commonplace in every aspect of all living organisms.

    However, when everything is measured and weighed, the major unavoidable shoal is Collins’ public advocacy of evangelical Christianity. Had he done this at his laboratory, it could well have constituted grounds for dismissal on the basis of active proselytizing.

  10. Posted July 11, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I would have reservations about someone involved in possible policy making on medical ethics who did not think that a higher power was looking over their shoulder.

    • Posted July 11, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Chukmaty, you seem to be confusing religiosity with morality. Very different beasties, and only occasionally overlapping.

    • Aquaria
      Posted July 11, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Yes, because all people without an imaginary fairy are bloodthirsty zombies wanting to kill you so they can eat you.

      This is the same tired argument you godbots make that atheists have no morality, a disgusting assertion that has ZERO evidence.

      Fuck off, creotard.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        What an amusing post from chukmaty. I’m still laughing at the ridiculous idea that religion is likely to deliver rational and morally defensible decisions in the field of bioethics. Quite the opposite is true.

  11. Posted July 11, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    “The Quest for Right: A Creationist Attack on Quantum Mechanics. Here’s a different take on creationism/ID: The Quest for Right, a multi-volume series on science, attacks Darwinism indirectly, by attacking quantum mechanics. A more sophisticated way to argue against Darwin is certainly to argue against modern physics. Without modern physics, you lose astrophysics too, which enables the author to make the case for YEC [young earth creationism]. The author goes on to prove that things like red supergiant stars and X-ray pulsars don’t really exist, except in the imagination of scientists.”

    • Posted July 11, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Mr. Parsons, you’re too funny, whether this is meant to be taken seriously or not!

    • SLC
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      That’s very interesting. If quantum mechanics is all wrong, how does the author explain how quantum electrodynamics provides computations of the anomalous moment of the electron that agrees with experimental observations to 10 significant digits?

  12. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Every time I try to get out of being an accommodationist, they drag me back in.

    I respect politics as an art. One of my 20th century heroes is Mikhail Gorbachev. Can anyone imagine how many times he had to express his devotion to communism in managing its dissolution?

    The culture wars are real, and their execution is best not left to the pure of heart. I applaud the president’s dirty, inspired, decision in this matter.

    • Bandilore
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 2:05 am | Permalink

      Gorbachev didn’t want to dissolve Communism, he wanted to reform the repressive political culture of the USSR. It wasn’t until the system was practically crashing down around his ears that he began to seriously question its viability, and by that point events were scarcely under his control anyway.

      Or was the occupation of the Baltic states just a brilliant 11-dimensional chess gambit?

  13. Posted July 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    While working at a university, I was part of a book discussion group with a number of professors (representing science and liberal arts) and staff that I respect very much. The book was Dr. Collins’ book, _The Language of God_. Later, he came and spoke to our university. And I’ve heard him interviewed on NPR at least once. From everything I know about him, he seems an excellent choice to head the NIH. The only criticism I’ve heard is based on the fact that he’s a Christian. I’ve heard no credible evidence that he was anything other than a superb administrator of the Human Genome Project (succeeded under budget and ahead of schedule), and a superb scientist (helped identify the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, etc.). So, if Americans want the NIH to be run effectively and efficiently, and to do good science, why does it matter that the person at the helm has a particular religious belief? Are his critics arguing that the NIH head should only be an atheist or someone who keeps her/his faith private? Is it equally fair to ask atheists who practice science or lead an important public/private organization to be silent about their atheism?

    Or do the critics just not want Christians to hold a position of leadership in science and/or government?

    There is a very important lesson to learn from the history of religious oppression, most certainly about oppression of Christians: it not only doesn’t work, it strengthens the oppressed. Oh,…and Jesus is quoted in the Bible as having predicted it would happen just like that. Yes, science “works,” but so does faith. One who does not know or practice science cannot truly understand its value. Same goes for faith. I pray you’ll give it a chance.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Or do the critics just not want Christians to hold a position of leadership in science and/or government?

      What part of this from Pinker did you not understand ?

      “It’s not that I think that there should be a religious litmus test for public science administrators, or that being a devout Christian is a disqualification.”

      • Ernesto
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        I understand doublespeak when I read it:
        “It’s not that I think that there should be a religious litmus test for public science administrators, or that being a devout Christian is a disqualification.” Then he proceeds to argue for such a litmus test by sneaking a distinction of private beliefs and public stance, which would work on beliefs but fails with ontological statements. “…being a devout Christian.” is an ontological statement and as such by definition encompassing both public and private worlds. If Dr. Collins is a Christian, he is a Christian at home, at church, in the office and in his work. By starting out with a lie Pinker does want a limtus test, one can hold religious beliefs, it is just one cannot BE a Christian. He weakens his argument into the “I am not prejudice, I just don’t want (fill in X) dating my daughter” sort of Orwellian doublespeak. It is a nice rhetorical trick (though illogical). Pinker is smart enough to know that if he does state his position honestly (Christians should not hold powerful posts in Science), it would be rejected as bigoted. Rightly so, as be all accounts, Dr. Collins has done top notch science. One could use his letter in a freshman logic as feast of fallacies.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      This started off well, but Kelly Carter obviously did not read anything else written here or does not comprehend it. He ends with nonsense and no evidence for his statements. No evidence of faith working, no evidence that faith has value, no evidence that prayer is other than a waste of time. What does working at a university mean? My bet is janitorial staff.

    • Bill
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      “Is it equally fair to ask atheists who practice science or lead an important public/private organization to be silent about their atheism?”

      But of course. Most (all?) athiest would be happy if everyone would keeps their beliefs about god silent. That’s kinda Dawkin’s point I thought.

    • Stan Pak
      Posted July 30, 2011 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      Pinker is right. One category of judgement is ones religious litmus and other is ones active advocacy. The point is that Collins is not a Christian, but he is actively engaged in promulgating bad science from his current place. If he kept his hobbies to himself just like everyone who is professional does at ones work there would be no issue at all.

      You just raise a straw man, as if atheists do not like Collins because he is Christian, when the main reason in fact is what he actively does at his work and this at question.
      Being head of NIH is public job, loaded not only with science, administration tasks but advocacy aspects too. He represents science so why he drags his Jesus around, for Christ sake?

  14. Posted July 12, 2009 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t promote atheism but Pinker is right.
    No person should be a science administrator if the person is anti-scientific. That would simply be open hypocrisy.

    • Posted July 12, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      Francis Collins is clearly not anti-scientific. Hope you’re not suggesting that. If you are, please go study his life history.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Francis Collins is clearly not anti-scientific. Hope you’re not suggesting that. If you are, please go study his life history.

        In the area he specialises in, no he is not anti-scientific.

        However in some other areas he has said things that are distinctly anti-scientific. The idea that god played a role in human evolution for example is not good science.

        This is something I tend to find with religious scientists. They are normally careful to rule out god in their field, but seem happy to claim god has a role in other areas.

      • Bill
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        He has demonstrated mastery of some modern technology and administrative skills. Does that make him ‘scientific’?

        Some of his public statements on topics such as evolution are clearly un-scientific.

      • articulett
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 2:28 am | Permalink

        Francis Collins believes that the invisible creator of the universe sent him a magical sign revealing Christianity to be “The Truth” TM.

        But wait, there’s more! http://scienceblogs.com/evolgen/2008/01/francis_collins_should_not_be.php

        On Planet Reality, these things are “anti scientific”… sort of like the belief that demons possess people. Do you consider demon possession anti-scientific? If so, what criteria are you using to say that such notions are un-scientific while Francis Collins waterfall revelation (etc.) is not?

  15. Posted July 12, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I’m glad Pinker mentioned the bit about neuroscience (and its relation to evolutionary] biology), since that issue is far more pressing in a way than the usual considerations. Not surprising, of course, since he works somewhat in the area, but still …

  16. Sili
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    The one good thing about Collins being so vocal is that he can be called on it.

    This way he cannot in good faith claim his beliefs to be a personal matter.

    We know that he holds crazy, unscientific ideas and as such we know that we need to keep an eye on him. It would probably be easy to have appointed someone to the position who was a lot nuttier than FC, but less vocal about it.

    Of course, it will be a bitch if important subjects get caught in Limbo until he’s made to backpedal, but presumably rational people will be able to rein him in long before it comes to that.

  17. santitafarella
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Kelly Carter:

    I don’t know if you are an atheist or not, but as an agnostic I completely agree with your position here: Pinker wants those who hold a science position in the US government to be of only two sorts: (1) those who are atheists; or (2) those who are privately religious, but engage in no outside public advocacy.

    Here is how Pinker concluded: “At the very least, he [Collins] should distance himself from the BioLogos Foundation and any other advocacy group.”

    I’d ask those who call themselves here liberals (as well as agnostics and atheists) to absorb the implications of that statement. Pinker is saying that to work for the US federal government you should drop the private projects that give your life meaning.

    This is, to put it bluntly, what is said by somebody who is a totalitarian of the spirit. If Steven Pinker truly believes that Collins should step away from his Biologos Foundation advocacy as part of Collins’s accepting the job, then Pinker is simply being a Iago-like asshole towards Collins as a human being, or Pinker is an illiberal totalitarian of the spirit who treats such a move as necessary on principle (which is really scary).

    Dr. Collins gives me every impression of being a mild-mannered and calm man, and I suspect his response would not be mine, but anyone who said to me—“The condition of your taking a job with the American government is that you relinquish the meaning making public projects that you engage in apart from your government job”—my response would be “F-u!”

    Then I would be on the phone to my lawyer.

    What an ugly, ugly thing for Pinker to say to a fellow human being, suggesting that Collins’s public service should be conditional to the relinquishing of his first ammendment guaranteed public advocacy practices. Even to suggest that Collins should do this voluntarily is gross.

    I’ll give you a straightforward analogy, and ask what atheists or agnostics would feel to hear it. Obama offers the NIH director job to Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers, but then William Dembski writes a letter saying that the job ought to be conditional upon this: The man who accepts the job should shut down his blog and cease association from all atheist advocacy and humanist organizations.

    Imagine, for instance, the hell to pay from us if Jerry Coyne were given this appointment, and Dembski wrote: “At the very least, Jerry Coyne should distance himself from his Why Evolution is True Blog and any other advocacy group.”

    Any. Other. Any other! Any other advocacy group!

    Has Steven Pinker ever read the first ammendment? What kind of totalitarian of the spirit says this in the United States of America?

    Can you imagine having Steven Pinker on your tenure committee! You better not do or say anything off campus that doesn’t conform to his ideology because he’s watching, and he clearly doesn’t think that your public role at a public institution can be separated from your private meaning-making advocacy outside of that institution.

    I feel strongly that Pinker crossed a line of the spirit, trying to drive another human being into a “private-only” space with regard to something central to that person’s identity. It’s no different from a homophobe telling a gay person to stay closeted. Pinker is suggesting to Dr. Collins: “If you must be a Christian, Francis, please don’t carry a Bible in front of the children!” It’s patronizing not just to Collins, but to the American people. It presumes that we can’t be trusted to make up our own minds about Collins’s private obsessions and activities outside of his government job. And it’s a suggestion to Collins that is more than cruel. It’s ugly and illiberal.

    You know, John Stuart Mill was an unbeliever. I can’t imagine Mill endorsing Pinker here. What’s happened to the liberalism and openness of spirit that ought to go with lack of religious faith? I think I prefer Mill’s atheism to Pinker’s. Pinker should read Mill.

    And frankly, it’s a guage of the liberalism of our own movement if we don’t sass our fellow secularists when they try to put obstacles before another person’s liberty of expression.

    —Santi

    • Hongkongjohn
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      The director of NIH is a public face of science, someone who commands one of the major bully pulpits for science in the country. The director testifies before Congress, sets priorities, selects speakers and panelists, and is in many regards a symbol for biomedical research in the US and the world.

      Therefore he shouldn’t be a wacky crazy superstitious nutter.
      What’s so hard for you to get?

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        hkjohn:

        There is no indication whatsoever that Collins does not recognize the border between his NIH job function and his private advocacy concerns. You can wear more than one hat in life. Collins clearly does. In their private lives, people do not have to tone down their beliefs to conform to your ideology for institutional employment.

        —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 13, 2009 at 2:11 am | Permalink

      So would you be for Francis Collins’ “liberty of expression” if he interpreted the waterfall as a sign that god was into “water sports”? What if it gave him a conviction that homeopathy (water memory) was “the way”? Or does your “liberty of expression” just extend towards folks who interpret waterfalls as a sign from a crucified carpenter who became a triune god?

      Would you be as supportive of the head of NIH freely expressing belif in Xenu , Allah, or the Reincarnated Buddha which they received through “waterfall revelation”– that is, if they considered this sign “central to their identity”?

      Your hypocrisy is showing.

      I find Pinker far more honest, consistent, coherent, and rational then his critics.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        Aticullett:

        I think it is interesting that you put in scare quotes the phrase “liberty of expression.”

        And in answer to your question, I would have no problem with a scientist running the NIH who is also happens to be a Scientologist, a Muslim, or a Buddhist. Whether they arrived at their religious views by a personal religious conversion experience, their family upbringing, or a process of reading and reasoning to a conclusion, is irrelevent. The constitution expressly forbids religious tests for holding public office. People can have private advocacy concerns apart from the hat that they wear at work. It’s legitimate to criticize the ideas they might express with their private hat on, but it is evil and bigoted to deny someone employment or set conditions upon employment linked to their closeting what is essential about themselves.

        Collins’s Christianity, your atheism, my agnosticism, a gay person’s sexual orientation, and Mitt Romney’s Mormonism are crucial and central parts of who we are. Qualification for a job to which we all pay taxes cannot be conditioned on the exigencies and contingencies of our private identities, and the First Amendment protects our right not to have to hide them from others.

        —Santi

        —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 13, 2009 at 2:32 am | Permalink

      To paraphrase you, “What an ugly, ugly thing for you to say about Steven Pinker”… it’s all straw men, false analogies, and idiocy used to discredit a man far more honest and intelligent than yourself because you have no real answer to what he actually said.

      Of course, what else are you going to do when there’s no real evidence or argument to support what you wish was true.

      Tsk.

      Shame on you and the indoctrinators that made you into such self-important apologist. How do you stand yourself?

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Articulett:

        I think it is once again revealing that you think that taking viewpoints different from your own should lead (in me) to moral self-loathing.

        Woe is me. How do I sleep nights critiquing “the cause.”

        It’s obvious that you are trying to turn your atheism into an all encompassing passion (and prejudice), with those who do not see things your way engaged in malign motives (for how could anyone disagree with the rigor of your logic and not be in some sense evil!).

        If I’m an empatheist, I would suggest that you are hardening into a clicheatheist.

        There’s still time. You can start thinking for yourself again.

        —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 13, 2009 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Santi, do you realize how stupid your position is? I now believe that you do not know how to think at all.

      Yes, yes, yes, everyone who takes a public government job must close down their other endeavors. PERIOD. Religious politicking, old jobs etc. must end, even investments must be put in blind trust. If someone is a CEO and becomes Secretary of Agriculture, he must resign.

      Learn to think before you speak, please!

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        NE Bob:

        So lets be clear here. PZ Myers and Coyne both work for public institutions. They should stop their private atheism blog advocacy, is that right?

        I think you can wear more than one hat, and I would defend PZ Myers and Coyne’s rights, as professors, to express themselves in public apart from their college positions.

        I would remind you that there were people calling for Myers’s job over the Catholic iconoclasm issue that went on at his blog, and I vigorously supported Myers right to free speech and to wear two hats (the hat he wears for his institution, and the hat he wears as a private citizen).

        The same principle applies to Collins.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        No, the professors are not public officials. Once again you entirely miss the point.

        Completely different situations.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        NE BOB:

        Bullshit. A professor qua professor is the public face of a public institution that receives taxpayer dollars. That person, as representative of the university, has obligations within the classroom and on campus that do not extend to his or her outside advocacy actitivies.

        Also, Collins is a political appointee of a partisan president. He has no moral obligation to extract himself from his private advocacy projects. It can be critiqued as a bad political move by Obama, or Collins’s private advocacy can be critiqued, but the condition of employment should not be set upon anyone that they have to shut-up away from their job. It may be politically expedient for a political appointee to do so, but it is not a job disqualifier for him not to do so. There is no moral principle at stake, except the right of Collins to free speech (should he choose to exercise it).

        Are you an authoritarian, politically?

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Exactly Santi, you ARE full of bullshit, in every post you have done here. Diarrhea of words that say nothing.

        Elected and appointed officials are very different than hired employees that can be easily fired. The precedence of what I say is voluminous. You are flat out wrong. Next you will say that appointees would not have to rid themselves of company employment, or as the head of the Ku Klux Klan or the NAACP or as head of the Teamsters union.

      • Posted July 13, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        Actually, federal officials, whether appointed or elected, are formally required to not be associated with anything that constitutes — or even appears to constitute — conflict of interest. This even includes writing of fiction, even in a private blog, let alone owning shares in any company or organization that might affect the running of their particular sector.

        This rule applies to all of the NIH administrators and scientists. I know this from the time I was offered a high position in NIH admin. So you bet that Collins should have to resign from BioLogos, if he were to follow the letter (and, more importantly, the spirit) of the law.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        Ne Bob:

        There is no financial conflict of interest in the expression of opinion. None.

        You are mixing apples and oranges.

        —Santi

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

        Athena:

        You’re completely full of it if you think that BioLogos constitutes a “conflict of interest.”

        There is no financial intermixing here. There is opinion expression. Collins may choose, as a political calculation, to be quiet on this or that, but he is not required to enter a cone of silence in terms of free speech. And my bet is that he doesn’t, and his BioLogos Foundation continues to function under his name and approval. As it should.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 5:39 am | Permalink

        Santi,

        You are mixing thought with your dementia. Which part of Athena Andreadis’ post did you not understand?

        Which part of everyone here calling you brainwashed, delusional and nuts do you not understand?

        Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

        Move along, nothing to see here beyond nonsense.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 16, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Santi said:

        Collins may choose, as a political calculation, to be quiet on this or that, but he is not required to enter a cone of silence in terms of free speech. And my bet is that he doesn’t, and his BioLogos Foundation continues to function under his name and approval.

        Wrong. as always, Santi!

        From an article in the latest Nature:

        The BioLogos Foundation has confirmed that Collins would step down from his role there before taking up the reins at the NIH.

  18. juus
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    what was obama thinking?

  19. articulett
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Santi,
    once again, “atheism” is a lack of belief. It is identical to your lack of belief in fairies, Scientology, and gods that toss lightening bolts. There’s nothing to preach there. You can’t tell anything about a person by the invisible undetectable magical beings s/he doesn’t believe in. Most atheists are also RATIONALISTS who also believe that empirical evidence is the only evidence toward truth… but that is a notion that is well supported by REALITY.

    Despite your endless brainwashing, you can’t make atheism into something that it is not. It is not another belief It involves no magical thinking or “leap of faith”. Period. Lying to yourself is still a lie, and I thought you religious apologists were supposed to be against “bearing false witness”… Of course the EVIDENCE shows that religious beliefs don’t ACTUALLY aid in morality, honesty, nor integrity… it just makes people IMAGINE they have these qualities just as they’ve imagined their gods and imagined that atheism is a belief.

    Francis Collins believes a magical sky fairy sent him a mystical sign to reveal a divine truth about a zombie carpenter in the first century. This is wacky no matter how you slice it, and an alarming delusion for one in a high office. What kind of delusion will Francis Collins have next? Maybe he’ll imagine that god wants him to use his position to convert the masses via a sign he gets in the changing of color of autumn leaves… maybe the clouds will clue him into the notion that a rapture is imminent… maybe a solar flair will be interpreted as a sign that he’s a new prophet….

    Santi, your repeated wackaloonery is outstanding evidence as to why it’s unwise to put the religiously infected into high office. Your mind is impenetrable, and it’s impossible to distinguish such a mind infection from dementia. There is no differential diagnosis.

    Frankly, I suspect Francis Collins has Alzheimers. The problem with most mental illness, is that the affected are blinded to the fact that they ARE affected. It’s up to the rational people around such a person to keep others protected. It’s up to those who realize that the emperor is naked to educate the masses, because the ones who imagine they’ve caught a glimpse of his magical robes have a vested interest in remaining ignorant… as do the courtiers who imagine themselves peacekeepers and maintainers of the status-quo as they struggle to maintain their own position of leadership amongst the deluded.

    Those who understand this have a duty to speak up. Pinker is right. The emperor is naked. It’s time for rational people to rise in public rank so that the masses are less likely to indoctrinate future generations of trusting kids into this asinine idea that faith is ennobling and an avenue towards truth.

    Francis Collins (and Santi) are beyond help. They need their delusions so that they can feel “saved”. They need to spend their mental energies putting down those who threaten the magical world they so desperately want to keep alive.

  20. articulett
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    FC’s expressions of free speech show him to be both delusional and a bigot against nonbelievers.

    I shall use my free speech to point this out just as Santi uses his free speech to garble his understanding of these facts.

  21. santitafarella
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Articulett:

    My guess is that Pinker simply spoke in anger, and without proper consideration of what he was saying (telling Collins to relinquish his private meaning projects and advocacy). If he didn’t speak in ill-considered anger, then I think there is a real problem there (in terms of respect for free speech). Also, if there is already a law that said Collins has to stop speaking as a Christian to Christians via a website, then why did Pinker say that Collins should put distance between himself and BioLogos—rather than say that he must by law?

    And if there were such a law (and I seriously doubt it), it’s a bad one. Further, if, as a political matter, he stops his website to please the president, then that’s something Collins chooses, not because the law requires it. That’s a political calculation, not a free speech abridgment.

    My bet is that BioLogos will continue to be up and running a year from now, and Collins name will continue to be associated with it.

    Somebody want to be otherwise?

    —Santi

  22. santitafarella
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Oops. I meant “bet.”

    One additional thought. Steven Pinker’s hand and pen are not holy relics. It may be nothing more than an ill-considered phrase on his part. He’s human, afterall. It’s not like he can’t make errors in judgment. He appears to have been substantially wrong, for example, in his quarrels with Stephen Gould over the value of evolutionary psychology in explaining specific human behaviors, hasn’t he? The brain, for example, appears NOT to have the modular qualities posited by (and crucial to) the theory of evolutionary psychology. Selection pressure appears, as Gould has suggested all along, to be on larger brains and plasticity in general, with substantial human characteristics functioning as “spandrels” to those pressures, not necessarily as specific things selected for in a modular brain.

    I would refer you to this recent article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/202789

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 15, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      I think it might be prudent if you and Francis Collins took the Clock drawing test… http://alzheimers.about.com/od/diagnosisissues/a/clock_test.htm

      • Posted July 16, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        Lost that bet, didncha, Santi.

        “My guess is that Pinker simply spoke in anger, and without proper consideration of what he was saying (telling Collins to relinquish his private meaning projects and advocacy).”

        But it’s not private, is it, it’s very public. If it were private it wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s not, so it is.

  23. Jason
    Posted January 19, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    There are some stunningly stupid and deluded people in the comment section here. Pinker’s points are so clear and sensible and reasonable that you have to be an utter fool of the highest order to lash out against them. Religion is truly a mind poison; it destroys reason, and must be resisted. Theists don’t even realise how utterly absurd and twisted their views are – their doublethink and crimestop are in full swing at all times.


25 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Coyne, Steve Pinker, and Eric Michael Johnson all have interesting things to say on this subject. I have no hope that [...]

  2. [...] Myers, RPM and Steven Pinker questioned both his scientific knowledge and his reliance on religion to answer questions which he [...]

  3. [...] Ver o resto do texto aqui. [...]

  4. [...] Steven Pinker on Francis Collins Some newspapers and science journals have called atheist-scientists this week, asking for opinions on Francis [...] [...]

  5. [...] of Health).  The full letter is rather long, and can be read in full at Coyne’s blog here, but I’d like to highlight at this site the opening and closing of Pinker’s [...]

  6. [...] Steven Pinker has made a long statement of concern about the appointment, which includes the following: Collins has said that he came to accept the Trinity, and the truth that Jesus is the son of God, when he was hiking and came upon a beautiful triple waterfall. Now, the idea that nature contains private coded messages from a supernatural being to an individual person is the antithesis of the scientific (indeed, rational) mindset. It is primitive, shamanistic, superstitious. The point of the scientific revolution was to do away with such animistic thinking. This is not just autobiographical. Collins, in his book, eggs on fellow evangelical Christians in their anti-scientific beliefs. He tells them that they are “right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible” and to “the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.” [...]

  7. [...] gut reaction: I’m not happy with it, but I’m having a hard time getting as upset as Steven Pinker. But the more I think about it, the more I think Pinker has a [...]

  8. [...] per se or his personal religious beliefs but because of his very public faith commitments. As cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explains: It’s not that I think that there should be a religious litmus test for public science [...]

  9. [...] looking at the debate I feel that it is a great and challenging battle, really. Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True is really stirring up his mistrust of accomodationists, now wittily called faitheists (although I [...]

  10. [...] Collins hanno scritto, tra gli altri, Sam Harris sul New York Times, PZ Myers su ScienceBlogs e Steven Pinker. Le accuse sono varie. Le più gravi mi sembrano le seguenti: Collins avrebbe una visione troppo [...]

  11. [...] have been raised by several people (PZ Myers, Sam Harris,  Russel Blackford, Steve Pinker, and Jerry) about the appointment of Francis Collins as NIH director, mostly to do with whether he [...]

  12. [...] appointed the director of the National Institute of Health. There have been reactions to this, from Stephen Pinker and P.Z. Myers to Sam Harris and Kenneth [...]

  13. [...] of profoundly anti-scientific beliefs,” criticized placing an outspoken evangelical Christian in the post. On his first day on the job, Collins stepped down from the BioLogos foundation he founded to [...]

  14. [...] the NIH.  Some did not like this recent development at all and have squarely opposed it, such as Steven Pinker, who faults Collins for publicly advocating his faith!  And Pinker’s worst worry is that [...]

  15. [...] Francis Collins’ reputation is as is the brilliant scientist who cracked the human genome. Because of his outstanding qualifications, not too long ago he was appointed as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It’s also no secret – because Dr Collins makes it no secret – that he is a Christian. It is the latter fact that has rubbed Stephen Pinker the wrong way. [...]

  16. [...] summer, when Collins was appointed as the new Director of the National Institutes of Health, many people, myself included, were understandably very concerned, as he is an evangelical Christian who has [...]

  17. [...] Hopefully, it won’t simply boil down to his trinity-waterfall conversion experience. [...]

  18. [...] the story via a number of the “New Atheists” themselves, who I’m only too happy to name; DRM, Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. Keeping in mind that I’m not asking you to agree with [...]

  19. [...] has struck out at atheists. He’s particularly upset at some comments of Steven Pinker first reported on this website.  Collins argued that the conflicts between religion and science are “overstated.” [...]

  20. [...] particulares de uma pessoa não deve impedi-lo de uma posição pública”, Pinker escreveu em 2009 . “Mas Collins é um defensor de profundamente de crenças anti-científica , e é razoável [...]

  21. [...] [...]

  22. [...] hundred pages. The difference being that science gives us grounds to justify our beliefs. As Steven Pinker wrote [...]

  23. [...] reason, then god help us all. Hi Vikki, welcome back , you might find this article interesting: Steven Pinker on Francis Collins Why Evolution Is True [...]

  24. [...] If you don’t know who Francis Collins is, a better question would be why don’t you? He was recently nominated to the position of Director of the National Institutes of Health by President Obama. On occasion [sarcasm intended], I have criticized the President, but I give him credit here, the selection is not a popular one in leftist circles. [...]

  25. [...] of humans was in some sense inevitable. The psychologist and author Steven Pinker said he has “serious misgivings” about Collins’ appointment, calling him “an advocate of profoundly anti-scientific [...]

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