Speaking at an editorial board meeting at USA Today, National Insitutes of Health director Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, has struck out at atheists. He’s particularly upset at some critical comments made by Steven Pinker that were first reported on this website. Collins now argues that the conflicts between religion and science are “overstated.”
Asked about complaints from researchers such as Harvard’s Steven Pinker, over an avowed Christian heading a scientific agency, Collins said, “angry atheists are out there using science as a club to to hit believers over the head.” He expressed concern that prominent researchers suggesting that one can’t believe in evolution and believe in God, may be “causing a lot of people not familiar with science to change their assessments of it.”
“A person’s private beliefs should not keep him from a public position,” Pinker wrote in 2009. “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,” he added. Collins later support for NIH human embryonic stem cell research later earned him more favorable reviews from scientists such as Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
And Collins is still an advocate of profoundly anti-scientific beliefs, including the notion that the laws of physics indicate fine-tuning by a deity (the same one who freezes waterfalls in three parts), and that human morality—which he calls “The Moral Law”—can’t be explained by evolution, ergo Jesus. (I’m publishing a response to the latter idea within the next few days.)
I’m still awaiting evidence for Collins’s accommodationist claim that those who argue for an incompatibility between science and faith have turned many people away from science. What we do know is that those arguments have turned many people away from faith, which is of course a good thing.
Collins has, of course, again overstepped his boundaries as NIH director. To see this, imagine if he was an atheist instead of a Christian, and “struck out at angry religious people” for trying to blur the boundaries between science and superstition. Imagine if he said that religious people were using Jesus as a club to hit the scientifically-minded over the head. Collins would be fired in a millisecond, and religious people would come down on him like a ton of bricks. His ability to get away with this as America’s most famous government scientist shows the profound asymmetry between theists and atheists in America.
Here’s my response to Collins’s claim of science/faith comity, published last year in USA Today.