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Francis Collins speaks at Stanford

“5th Feb 2008 Dr Francis Collins discussed his views on science, faith, and the ease with which the two can be reconciled through a rejection of extremes, and an embrace of “harmony in the middle”.

Collins emphasized that science does not provide us with the right instruments to prove the existence of God because God is outside of nature. Collins cited pointers to God in nature such as the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” and the precise tuning of physical constants during the Big Bang. Examples of such improbability suggest that there is a creator God. To justify a creator God that actually cares about humans, though, requires more than just science.

Collins’ attack on Intelligent Design was one of the most thought provoking, calling it “interesting but ultimately flawed.”

Collins offered Theistic Evolution. God created the universe 13.7 billion years ago with its “parameters tuned to allow the development of complexity over time”. After evolution had “prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’” the human brain, God gifted humanity with the knowledge of free will, good and evil, and a soul.”

by Irina Oberman Stanford Review

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22 Responses to Francis Collins speaks at Stanford

  1. It sounds as if his main argument against intelligent design is his unshakeable faith in the Darwinist process and its capacity to accomplish anything. He says nothing about “specified complexity” and I would not characterize his foray into “irreducible complexity” as “thought provoking.”

  2. He is philosophically deficient in his claim about science’s limits in dealing with God. The ontological proofs (Anselm’s and Gödel’s) aim at defining God as that which exists in the mind (as a concept) and with the property of being “infinite and all encompassing of reality”- thus the ontological proof reasons that if God is everywhere – as the concept of God states- and the mind exists within everything- then by necessity of the definition of God- God exists outside of the mind- that is “everywhere.”

    Once we have a workable concept of God then it is only a mater of refining it – defining physically detectible properties- for example intelligence.

    Science is very capable of dealing with the concept of God. What science cannot do is make an assessment of who the designer or God is. This is a religious and strictly theological question.

    But it is not the goal of people like Collins to actually speak of the situation as it truly is- simply because truth is not what Collins is interested it. What the Collins of the world want is to concede the excellent arguments that ID poses to their institutional paradigm- but at the same time conflate it with theological interpretations of the God – thereby not having to deal with the science- or even the exponents of comparative religion (which they would never even entertain in a public high school setting) but by pitting one religion against another. “It isn’t right to teach about Design or study the evidence for God because you might “insult” someone born of a different sect. Of course what is purposely neglected here is the fact that by synthetically limiting science’s scope only in regards to questions about God or design- you alienate and offend people by default. But people like Collins don’t really care about offending anyone anyways- they are willing to bet that they can get their way with the internationally owned media and the monstrously powerful monopoly of the public school teacher’s union.

    Theistic evolution (in the context that Collins provides it) is just a way of saying “you can believe in God but you cant ever bring it up.” Ultimately it is a way of avoiding and rejecting the subject. This is easily seen in Collins later rejection of ID- why would he conflate ID with God unless the ultimate purpose of his bogus thesis was what “there really is no room for faith and science to mingle at all- even if the data supports it.”

    Collins view is symptomatic of the current state of social consensus on the issue of ID (which is as everyone knows “code” for young earth creationism and of course a strictly literal interpretation of the bible). People are brainwashed by years of indoctrination in school and watching of the mainstream media’s news programs which consider themselves theologians on all issues and always speakers of the truth- despite the opposite is more likely the case. A political coalition that is the composite of various interests is lead by a small group of intellectual atheists (usually Marxists as well) who while championing a minority opinion are being used by those seeking power to lead the useful idiots of the world in a new age globalist crusade hell bent on selling out the freedom and sovereignty of people and their nations (using virtually any tactics available) which is obviously only permissible under an ethical standpoint which views reality as irreconcilably separate from the existence of God. An immoral science is what they want

    It is therefore predictably the universal view of career public teachers and professors that more wrong has been done by religion than any other enterprise in the history of man. While completely false when one weighs the crusades and the Salem witch trials against the reality of atheistic Stalinist Russia- Stalinist North Korea- Cambodia and Mao China- the inescapable fact remains, that people acting in the interests of power and wealth are and have always used religion as a weapon and vehicle to realize their agenda- cleverly pointing to the manipulated institution of violated principals after the fact as an example of its inherent evils. The Devil’s “Illusion” to play on Berlinski’s new title- is fully appreciated when one see that it is not enough that they simply screw things up for science for falsehoods and half truths- they of course want others to take the blame. The false dilemma invented by the elitists to create a political feud between market interests and religions against Design is just the latest chapter in the history book of “man designed religion.”

  3. Collins quotes St. Augustine and said

    “we shouldn’t insist on a particular interpretation because if we find out it is wrong, then we fall with it”

    This is another way of saying God of the Gaps. It has religious people scared to take positions on science ever since the Church was vilified for the Galileo affair. And then La Place made a fool of Newton for his religious interpretations of science.

    As a consequence both religious and scientists have been gun shy of stepping too far in science. The sophisticated belief is to believe that God set it up from the start. And as a theology this leads to naturalistic processes and Darwinian processes are the most natural of natural processes. Hence the TE position of many religious people.

  4. I am continually amazed that anyone can believe in a naturalistic origin of life. Where is the evidence in nature, or a single experiment duplicating any conceivable naturalistic condition on an early earth, that minerals in solution will form stable proteins, any proteins? If you can’t even get the start, how do they intend to get to the really heavy lifting to origanize the hundreds of components necessary for the simplest of life?

    The Gaps are real. They’re getting bigger.

  5. It’s disappointing to see a mind of Collins’s obvious calibre settling for a fudge as unsatisfactory and logically flawed as theistic evolution, which doesn’t really comprise any more than the Deism which was prevalent among agnostics before Darwin’s time.

    The key point is that there either is a Creator, or there is not. If there is not, then for the time being naturalistic evolution is the only game in town. If there is, then all bets are off and we cannot constrain that Creator to have worked within parameters that we ourselves set. Even among Creationists, this is the crux where the “old earth” and “young earth” parties disagree (however amicably): the OECs point out that the world sure looks old, and the YECs point out that it probably looked that way to Adam as well – nobody believes that Adam was created as a fertilized egg on a perfectly homogeneous earth planted with seeds, but rather as a mature man on a “mature” earth which would have all the geological features that nowadays get ascribed to long uniformitarian processes.

  6. I think some people are being too hard on Collins here, because they aren’t distinguishing between his conclusions and his arguments.

    His conclusions, as far as I can see, are really just “front-loaded” ID by another name. He sees in the universe, at the moment of its beginning, “parameters tuned to allow the development of complexity over time”. What does “tuned” suggest but an intelligent design? Not, to be sure, the piecemeal design of individual species, but intelligent design just the same. Denton appears to have a similar idea, and Behe has lately appeared to lean in the direction of, or at least to seriously contemplate, “front-loading”, rather than a series of fragmentary acts of creation.

    You can call frontloading “theistic evolution” rather than “intelligent design” if you want, but then you seem to be restricting “intelligent design” to refer to a series of local interventions in the order of nature. It’s my understanding that ID does not specify how, when, or how often the design impinges upon the world of matter, and that it is open to the possibility that the “design” we see was implicit in the original properties of matter, which had merely to unfold over time to reveal the subtle teleology concealed within them. I’m not saying this position is sound, or should be held without evidence for such built-in teleology; I’m merely saying it seems to me to be a logically possible version of ID. Therefore, I think a Collins-like position ought to be possible within ID.

    The two problems with Collins are: (1) his account of the apparent design in nature (which he implictly if not explicitly grants) is intellectually fuzzy; (2) he attacks ID without clearly defining it, and with no apparent understanding that within the ID camp there are several distinct notions of how the design might have become instantiated in nature. It is not Collins’s conclusions — that there is this amazing mathematical character of nature, and that God is responsible for it — that are objectionable; it is his inadequate conceptualization, both of his own theory, and of design theory.

    I think that Collins means well (as I am not sure is the case with Miller, who also acknowledges God in a fuzzy way while lashing out at ID). Perhaps we should be working at coaxing him over to our side. Here’s a suggestion: could someone arrange a three-way debate, with, say, Coyne, Collins, and Behe? Give the audience lots of time to ask questions. I think the public would find the odd alliance between a Christian scientist and an atheist scientist against another Christian scientist quite illuminating. It might also force Collins to be less nebulous and less diplomatic, and more intellectually clear.

  7. Timaeus:

    As I am definitely not a fan of either TE or front-loading, it is perhaps perfectly natural that I am sometimes peplexed in my understanding of those positions. I have anyway sincerely tried to understand better what is what, and at present my views are the following:

    1) TE is a term which should designate essentially all those who believe in some form od God, and believe that He created the universe. But that’s it. For TE, the role of God stopped there, at least in the sense of physical creation. If a Theistic Evolutionist believes in a classical christian concept of God, he will have to admit other interventions of God, but they will be either purely spiritual (creation of souls, etc.), or miracolous. In other words, there is no “ordinary” work for God in creation, “after” the big bang. That is, I believe, Miller’s position and, even if with different attitude, Collins’. TEs obviously believe that fine tuning of physical laws is due to design, but that’s the only form of divine design they admit in the physical universe. In other words, they admit the ancillary ID argument about original fine tuning, but they completely reject the main (and stronger) ID argument about biological information, relying for that on purely materialistic and deterministic causes. If my understanding of TE is correct, then I have to affirm again that I have no sympathy for such a position: I find it completely unsatisfying, at both the rational and religious level. I essentially believe that Jerry is right: most people accept TE just out of some form of “fear”. It is at present the “politically correct” way, and I have never loved political correctness. In my heart, I have certainly greater esteem for a Dawkins than, say, for a Miller.

    2) Front loading is not the same thing than TE, even if, in one of its possible meanings, it could be. But the kind of front-loading which is usually debated here at UD, the kind supported by DaveScot and, I believe, by Mike Gene, is a form of “biological” frontloading. In other words, biological information would have been “frontloaded” by the designer at some point, possibly in the first living beings on earth, so that it could “unfold” gradually thereafter. In that sense, frontloading fully accepts the ID argument that biological information is designed, only it explains the design implementation in a different way. Personally, I am not attracted to the frontloading position, but I believe that it is a perfectly acceptable ID theory, either one believes in divine front-loading or in aliens’ frontloading. But I don’t believe that that theory is really supported by evidence, and frankly I have seen no real molecular model which can explain how the front-loaded information would be coded and would unfold.

    3)Behe’s position: I must admit that, although I am a big fan of Michael Behe, and although I really appreciated TEOE, I was really perplexed by the final chapters where he faces the philosophical implications of ID. If I have understood well, Behe seems to support a philosophical view which is a strange compromise between ID and TE, passing through the multiverse idea. In other words, he seems to explain that very unlikely results happened in the world (those which are revealed by the ID analysis) because God, in some way, choosed, among all possible universes, just one where those extremely unlikely things would happen. Now, that’s really a weird hypothesis, if I ever saw one! True, it has the advantage of admitting that ID’s analysis is correct (that’s the mininum one would expect from Behe), but still it seems to look for impossible ways of denying a “direct” intervention of the Designer. But again, I love Behe too much to go on further criticizing him.

    Finally, if I have understood incorrectly the above ideas, I am ready to correct myself. But in the end, I stick to my convictions:

    a) ID is perfectly correct in its inference of a designer for both the fine-tuning of the universe (ancillary argument) and, especially, biological information (ID proper).

    b) A direct intervention of the designer at each level where an increment of CSI can be demonstrated is the best (maybe the only) way of explaining that, although times and modalities of that intervention are completely open to enquiry.

  8. Was the deck stacked to produce man, or a manlike organism, by the moment of the big bang? This is an extremely elegant hypothesis. It would take some masterful God, but we would still be the product of an intelligent designer. If this hypothesis is correct, however, then from what I see of the evidence, there are a number of key laws yet undiscovered.

    That said, it seems clear that the big bang was very carefully engineered to make a universe that could sustain life. As such, there is some truth in the hypothesis.

    What of front-loading? It would be less elegant for the designer to have seeded earth with life that would, by design, unfold into what we see today. However, it would still take an impressive God, or an alien designer with much more skill than we can concieve of to do so. If this hypothesis is correct, we should be able to, with time, extrapolate the full genome of the original organism. Further, there must be a preserving mechanism in DNA that preserves code that is not yet implemented.

    There is some evidence for the latter, because we do see ultra-conserved DNA that has no obvious function. Additional evidence supporting the front-loading hypothesis includes recently discovered evidence that fish have vestigial limbs (vestigial isn’t the right word, pre-vestigial?) I actually believe that there is something to front-loading, that front-loading is part of the answer.

    However, dispite the fact that the magnificense of the designer is significantly diminished by the agency hypothesis, I find too much evidence that is best explained by acts of agency along the way.

    I find all three of these positions to be theologically acceptable. I find some truth in each. However, I can see no adequate explanation of the data that discludes acts of agency.

  9. i.e. Colins supports the anthropological principle (the Intelligent Design of the Universe with its essential fine tuning), but has limited understanding of intelligent causation of biotic systems.

    Since he does support some degree of intelligent causation, and front loading, how can we encourage him to carefully consider more of the evidence?

  10. Someone wrote above:

    “This is another way of saying God of the Gaps. It has religious people scared to take positions on science ever since the Church was vilified for the Galileo affair. And then La Place made a fool of Newton for his religious interpretations of science.

    As a consequence both religious and scientists have been gun shy of stepping too far in science. The sophisticated belief is to believe that God set it up from the start.”

    I guess I’ve never seen these two statements one after the other: the first about Laplace’s criticism of Newton, followed by the assertion that, a la Collins and others, everything was contained in the formulation of the Big Bang.

    What’s interesting is to look at the logic at play. Newton felt that only God could bring planets into the orbit of a Sun as we see it. (To this day, if I’m not mistaken, no one has an analytic solution to a three-body problem) LaPlace criticized Newton for his admiration by noting that orbits of the planets weren’t circles, they were ellipses–i.e., something less perfect than the circle. And the planets weren’t exactly on the same plane. Another imperfection.

    So, now, look at the logic: God couldn’t possibly be the author of planets in orbit because their motion is too ‘imperfect’; yet, at the same time, God is capable of front-loading not only all of the physical constants that make life possible (the Antrhopic Princinple), but also the ability to have blind naturalistic forces bring about the grandeur of life here on earth.

    It would seem that if you, per Laplace, deny God as author of planetary motion because of orbital imperfections, then how could this same, apparently ‘bungling’ God, get something as complex as life altogether correct? We humans can put satellites into orbit. We can send probes slinging by planets. But we’re nowhere near originating life, or even comprehending its origins. Something’s wrong here.

  11. gpuccio:

    We’re in total agreement.

    I will add this: my suspicion is that science will slowly be able to piece together reasonable assumptions about genomic change over time using “living fossils” and perhaps finding newer and better ways of extracting ancient DNA material. We’ll then be left with a “before-and-after” picture of genomes.

    What will the argument then be? IDists will say that obviously some intelligent being has intervened. And the materialists will respond: “This is no more than the God of the gaps. Give us enough time and we will solve how the needed genomic material came about via nature itself.” Can the argument be pushed any farther? Personally, I don’t think so.

    I recently had a very brief chat with Cardinal Schoenborn about ID. I said something to him along the lines that common sense tells you that life is too complicated to not have been designed. His reply was along the lines that it is only with faith that we ultimately reach such conclusions. I think the Cardinal is right.

  12. PaV:
    I recently had a very brief chat with Cardinal Schoenborn about ID. I said something to him along the lines that common sense tells you that life is too complicated to not have been designed. His reply was along the lines that it is only with faith that we ultimately reach such conclusions. I think the Cardinal is right.

    I agree also, but it takes a greater faith to assert that coherent complexity arises from random mutation and natural selection.

  13. toc, “I said something to him along the lines that common sense tells you that life is too complicated to not have been designed. His reply was along the lines that it is only with faith that we ultimately reach such conclusions.”

    “It is only with faith that we ultimately reach such conclusions” Yuck! It is the data that draws us to such conclusions, it is only faith that allows us to deny the ID conclusion.

  14. bFast:

    I’m putting words into the Cardinal’s mouth, so let’s remember that. He phrased his remark much more carefully than I’m reporting.

    I would indeed agree with you that the data alone would ‘drive one’ to the conclusion that design is involved. But, to take the step that this design implies a Designer is, as our critics routinely point out, a step that faith smooths over for us.

  15. Francis Collins cannot come over to the ID side. If he does he will lose his position in science.

    Some feel it is more important to stay in the system and to have an influence than to be “outed” and ignored.

    ID is currently not an acceptable position for an employed prominent scientist to take. That is the pragmatic reality.

  16. I’m confused,

    Collins emphasized that science does not provide us with the right instruments to prove the existence of God because God is outside of nature. Collins cited pointers to God in nature such as the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,”

    So is God in nature, or not?

    Want to know how to tell where a “Theistic Evolutionist” really stands?

    Jesus Christ.

    God in nature, or not?

  17. ID.com says,

    “Some feel it is more important to stay in the system and to have an influence than to be “outed” and ignored.”

    I think that you are saying that his actions (what he says) are justified by his position- but to me the point is that I dont feel like he is speaking truthfully with his gibberish about theistic evolution. If it is just a way for him to keep his job then he is part o the problem and a tool of those with more ambitious motives. Collins should be called out for the inconsistency of his views regardless of the possible reasons we speculate about why he is saying what he is saying. His impact is nonetheless anti-ID – not because he refrains from out and out support- but because he contradicts his own reasoning just to appeal to the crowed- though admittedly he is kinder to the true evidence then Dawkins, Scott Dennet etc..

  18. Also the break down in reasoning happens precisely when someone tries to tie theology and science together- it voids the design part a priori because in the definition itself “theistic evolution” there is already a contrast- that they are somehow different.

    Evolution – as non intelligent (the stance that Collins holds)- is Random chance and contingency based. There is no room for the God of the bible to exist in a universe that is void of any order- it simply contradicts the scripture.

    In other words Theistic evolution should be based upon empirical evidence and reasoning of the scientific kind. If not then what you are left with is a schism – which is exactly what the community wants.

    There is no such thing as theistic evolution. The two are at odds unless they have intelligent design to tie them together- intelligent design which is scientifically supported. Collins is smart enough to know this- shame on him.

    This is not to say that one cannot believe in the bible and evolution at the same time – it is to say however that such a position is consistent and is in fact contradictory as it related to one another in reason. In other words you have to make a solid effort to keep them separate- but the problem is that no reason for such an effort is warranted by either reason or the bible.

  19. PaV:

    But, to take the step that this design implies a Designer is, as our critics routinely point out, a step that faith smooths over for us.

    I think it quite clear that design requires some sort of designer(s). However, ID in no way leads one to the Christian God as the designer, this takes faith.

  20. With Theistic Evolution, I can make no peace. To be sure, each time one of its proponents poses an objection to ID I will study it. But I always end up scratching my head. Their Theological objections seem premature and presumptuous. So much so, that I have been forced to ask them some honest questions to which I have yet to receive any meaningful answers. Why is a God who creates by throwing the dice and waiting for a good outcome more powerful than a God who just does it? How can God “guide” pure contingency when contingency means unguided? Why do TE’s argue that bad design equals no design, when their own doctrine of the fall of man already explains nature as a compromised design?

    Their philosophical objections seem equally problematic. Why does a unified theory of causation rule out Divine intervention? Is God bound by his own laws? Why do they think that ID scientists confuse final causality with design? Would a specific example of this confusion be to much to ask? Why do TE’s quote Aquinas to argue against design, when Aquinas was Mr. Design? Also, Miller, Barr, and Haught all quote Aquinas to make their case that God would never intervene in the process or interact with nature at a level consistent with ID. Yet Aquinas writes this:

    “I have no doubt that the world was created in the beginning with such perfection as it possesses, in such fashion that the sun, the earth, the moon, and the stars have existed from that time. And the earth not only had in it the seeds of plants, but indeed the plants themselves covered a part of it; and Adam and Eve were not created as infants but as mature human beings. The Christian religion wills that we understand things thus, and natural reason completely convinces us of this truth. For if we consider the omnipotence of God, we ought to judge that all He has made has had from the beginning all the perfection that it ought to have.”

    So, Aquinas, the reputed quasi Darwinist, turns out to be a creationist. Can you understand why I might be having a little problem here?

  21. From another source,

    “Notice that Collins goes from the origin of the universe to biological evolution, skipping over chemical evolution. He is not candid regarding his theistic evolution which suggests a supernatural intervention is necessary to get life started.

    It seems to me that he can’t come clean on this issue and remain in good standing with modern institutions of science. If he says an intervention is necessary to get life started, then Occam’s razor that he used to develop his cosmological creationism will very neatly cut off the materialistic explanations for biological evolution. Why postulate design for life but no design for modifications to it?”

  22. bFast:

    re: My post in # 12 was intended to comment on what PoV had said in his # 11 post. I should have put his paragraph in quotes. My response is in the second paragraph. I gather from your later posts you recognized that.

    I haven’t finished Melkikh’s paper (UD posted yesterday ) on entropy, but it appears, given that his data and equations are sound, the odds are stacked heavily against the neodarwinist.

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