Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yet Another Opinion on Francis Collins' Confirmation to the NIH

Some people are really worried that Francis Collins, a well-qualified scientist and out-spoken, moderate Christian will soon be in charge of the National Institutes of Health. For example, Jeff Schweitzer, a marine biologist, neurophysiologist, and the author of Beyond Cosmic Dice, writing in Religion and Science Today, says:
When I worked at the White House as the assistant administrator for international science and technology in the Clinton administration, our paths crossed a few times, and he always left a favorable impression. Nevertheless, I am deeply disappointed in the choice of Collins to lead the NIH. Collins has become the public face for the insupportable idea that science and religion are compatible, and therein we discover the real problem with Obama’s nominee. His appointment gives that curious notion a patina of legitimacy when, in fact, science and religion are no more miscible than oil and water.[1]
I recently was asked to write a response to his article and submitted the following short essay:

Having just read Mr. Schweitzer's, letter, I noted several odd positions in his worries about Francis Collins, a Christian, being appointed as head of NIH. First, for example, why is it that science and religion are somehow incompatible because one discipline searches for mechanisms while the other discipline appeals to purpose? On this view, it looks like there should be no conflict, thus Mr. Schweitzer's oil and water analogy seems misapplied.

Second, Mr. Schweitzer holds that "Religion seeks meaning and the answer to 'why' the world is as we know it, based on the unquestioned assumption that such meaning and purpose exist." On the contrary, even atheists hold that life can have meaning without there being some grand purpose to it all. So it is hardly necessary that religion confuse meaning with purpose, much less hold it as an unquestioned assumption that they both exist. For instance, I happen to hold there is both meaning and purpose in life; but, I question those assumptions almost everyday as a professional philosopher and as an advocate of the religious life.

Finally, as I'm sure others will point out, the following argument of Schweitzer's is inadequate: since God is all knowing, God would know "every animal that would exist." That God knows all the possibilities for how random processes might obtain should not be confused with God knowing all and exactly what must obtain. The latter view affirms a kind of puppet determinism on God that is now (happily) passing out of fashion in Christian metaphysics, and is hardly an axiom of a life of faith. I affirm evolution and also happen to believe in God. Luckily, the US will soon have a director of the NIH that thinks likewise.

Brint Montgomery, Ph.D.
Chair, Dept. of Philosophy
Southern Nazarene University
Oklahoma City, OK 73008



[1] Jeff Schweitzer "Another Opinion on Francis Collins Confirmation" Religion and Science Today August 11, 2009.

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At 12:57 PM, Blogger Chad said...

To what venue was your response to Schweitzer submitted? - Eich

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...

chad, it's noted in the reference. Just look below this article:

Jeff Schweitzer "Another Opinion on Francis Collins Confirmation" Religion and Science Today August 11, 2009.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Chad said...

AHA! I read your comments as if you were asked to write a response to be included in some form of publication (although the internet certianly has blurred the lines of what it means for something to be published). I thought that was simply a link to Schweitzers article. Also, your trap door spider post, specifically the linked video, led me to pause in both wonder and terror. Strangely it caused me to spend a few minutes contimplating my own mortality.


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