Today’s New York Times contains a spate of letters about Sam Harris’s op-ed criticizing Francis Collins’s appointment as NIH director. As expected, most of the letters are critical of Harris, including the first one by Kenneth Miller at Brown University. Miller says this:
Dr. Collins’s sin, despite credentials Mr. Harris calls “impeccable,” is that he is a Christian. Mr. Harris is not alone in holding this view.
This isn’t exactly true. Harris was concerned about Collins not because he’s a Christian, but because he’s a publicly vociferous evangelical Christian who has made statements that blur the lines between science and faith. Also, as Harris notes, Collins has made public proclamations that, if taken seriously, violate a program of empirical, naturalistic research:
Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?
I ask these questions again:
1. If Collins were as vociferous an atheist as he is a Christian, and went around proclaiming that the “empirical facts” are evidence for atheism (which indeed they are!), and gave lectures comprised of half science, half justification for atheism, and wrote books about how atheism and science were compatible, would he have a snowball’s chance in hell of being approved as NIH director? (And would religious people write in to support the nomination in the name of freedom of religion/atheism?)
2. If Collins went around espousing a faith in Xenu and his space minions, lecturing about how humans were plagued by infestation with alien souls and how they could be cured by diagnosis with a fancy machine and expensive deprogramming — that is, if he were a Scientologist who was publicly vociferous, rather than keeping his faith to himself — would he have a snowball’s chance in hell of being approved as NIH director? How about if he were a publicly vociferous Wiccan?