Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church, Part 3

Bookmark and Share

March 19, 2011 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church, Part 3

This is the third in a six part discussion between BioLogos vice-president Karl Giberson and founder Francis Collins, co-authors of The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (note: Francis Collins' work on this project was completed prior to his appointment as director of the National Institutes of Health). The conversation first appeared as "Evolution, the Bible, and the Book of Nature" in Books and Culture and took place during a conference at Azusa Pacific University in 2008.

Karl Giberson: There is an interesting claim being made today by people like Phillip Johnson that runs exactly counter to this. This is the claim that evolution is based on a big deception, that there isn’t any solid basis at all for the theory, and that people are gradually abandoning evolution. Are there evolutionists that are jumping ship?

Franic Collins: I haven’t met any of these people. Those claims really fly in the face of my own experience. I suspect I would be one of those people who would hear about it, if it were true, as I have identified myself as a believer interested in studying biological evolution. If there was something of that sort going on, and there was a rational basis for it, this would be all over the place. You wouldn’t have to go look in hidden corners to discover it. No, I think those claims are completely without evidence.

KG: I agree completely. But you definitely hear this and you say “Well, who are these people?” the response is that “I can’t remember but I heard it in a sermon by D. James Kennedy, or I saw it in a video.”

FC: Well that’s a convenient way to try out their idea that evolution is a conspiracy. That’s the idea behind the movie “Expelled”, which tries to make that same case—that there is an academic conspiracy to squash the truth; that intelligent design is actually gaining support but that those who are willing to stand up and say so are losing their tenure opportunities; and there’s a systematic effort to try to weed out the truth and maintain support for Darwinism.

That viewpoint totally misunderstands the nature of science. Anybody who’s lived within in the scientific community would immediately—regardless of their spiritual worldview—rebel against the idea that science would be able to sustain a conspiracy at that point. What do scientists actually do? Scientists are all about upsetting and overturning things! And if you’re the one who’s discovered how to overturn evolution, you’re going to win the Nobel Prize! You’re not going to have to worry too much – you may encounter some resistance but, if the facts are on your side, you’re golden!

The idea that people on the outside of science—like the creationists and the people in the ID camp—have adopted, that such a conspiracy could actually exist for more than thirty seconds, completely flies in the face of the realities of the sociology of the field of science.

KG: This certainly seems the case. But I’m continually perplexed by some of the really sharp, well-informed, people who don’t agree. The dynamics of how some of them, like Paul Nelson or Kurt Wise, simply reject the data—or at least your conclusions from that data— from the genome project, is puzzling.

I watched you debate with Paul Nelson. He’s certainly not a dumb academic and he studies the literature. He wouldn’t be as well-informed as you are, but there are a fair number of people like him, but they’re not uninformed. Where does their confidence that you are wrong come from?

FC: I can’t, without peeking inside their hearts and minds, have a clear answer about what is driving that resistance to evidence that proves so compelling. But I think the resistance essentially derives from a sense of fear—if evolution is right then there are going to be consequences for them personally that they make them uncomfortable. And I don’t think we should ever underestimate how difficult that is.

Science Magazine, of all places, had this piece about how difficult it is for a creationist scientist – there are creationist scientists out there – to actually admit that their creationism is not going to be invincible on the basis of science. This is not something they can walk away from because it is so deeply ingrained in their sense of what God is like and what humankind is all about. We should not imagine that, just because the data is going to push somebody in that direction, it just happens. The issue goes way, way down to the core of who you are and how you see yourself in a relationship with God. I think that’s the main problem and I think those that are continuing to support these ideas from scientifically indefensible perspectives, even if there are sophisticated people on top of that, and I think they deserve our support and our sympathy even though it is hard to understand why it is so difficult for them to look at the facts.

KG: Do you feel like you can really communicate with somebody who has that deeply rooted kind of non-scientific problem? How do you talk about this?

FC: I don’t think you do that in a workshop. I don’t think a finger-wagging lecture is the way to get that kind of communication across. I think you only get there by getting on a more personal level, trying to understand the dynamics of a problem that’s so personal.

That’s a hard thing to get people to do. If you’re feeling uneasy already it’s hard to get into a long-term discussion with an outcome that may very well increase your uneasiness. It’s more tempting to go back and talk to your soul-mate who agrees with you.

But the data are so compelling that you think this would be over now. But instead, we have these parallel cultures that going in opposite directions. The vast majority of scientists are completely shaking their heads and wondering how anybody could deny the truth of evolution. And then we have fringe groups, very small in number but sometimes noisy in putting their case across to the unscientific public. These fringe groups are pretty much just speaking to each other and not necessarily having a chance to test their own position because it’s so discomforting to them.


Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.
Dr. Francis Collins is a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes. Collins founded the BioLogos Foundation in November 2007 and served as its president until August 16, 2009, when he resigned to become director of the National Institutes of Health. (Note: All blogs written by Collins were completed before accepting his duty as director of the NIH).

< Previous post in series Next post in series >


Share your thoughts

Have a comment or question for the author? We'd love to hear from you.

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Loading...
Page 1 of 1   1
Roger A. Sawtelle - #54813

March 19th 2011

Again I think that you need to distinguish between evolution and Darwinism, and also get rid of the notion that there is only one way to criticize Darwinism.  Creationism and ID are not the only alternatives to Darwin. There are scientific ways to question his views and the views of Dawkins & co.

Item:  The book, the Evolutionary World by Geerat Vermeij, published in December takes an adaptive approach to evolution very similar to ecological niche theory.

Item: A newer book, Life of the Earth by Stanley Rice, is clearer about basing his view of evolution on Gaia and the science of Lynn Margulis.

Are these books the beginning of general acceptance of an ecological, non-Darwinian view of evolution?  I cannot say, but I think that Dawkins & Co. have lost control over the science, which may be in the near future based more on the ideas of Margulis.

I remember reading where one scientist said that they would give Darwin the sesquecentennial of the Origin, and then they were going to dismantle his theory.  That could be what we are seeing now.  Time will tell and the truth will win out.  


conrad - #54943

March 21st 2011

Well 
Roger you are correct in that the organism mutates to fit the ecologic niche.

DNA is made to adapt to the conditions of the environment.

No “selfish gene”,.. [such as Richard Moron postulated] , will make a fish evolve on desert sand.
 The great thing about DNA [and life], is it’s adaptability.
 Life has plasticity.
BUT THEY STILL DO NOT KNOW HOW DNA ITSELF EVOLVED ORIGINALLY.

Glen Davidson - #54828

March 19th 2011

<blockquote>The idea that people on the outside of science—like the creationists and the people in the ID camp—have adopted, that such a conspiracy could actually exist for more than thirty seconds, completely flies in the face of the realities of the sociology of the field of science.</blockquote>


Yes, but without the conspiracy theory they’d have to face up to the fact that their claims have been properly evaluated, and found wanting.

With ID, though, the conspiracy theory goes deeper than for many other creationists.  Supposedly, there is “naturalism” or “materialism” that “atheistic scientists” rely upon without justification (philosophically, naturalism is essentially meaningless, and is only a scientific rule that proper evidence must be produced) that keeps out other “good science.”  Of course this isn’t true, as neither courts nor science has ever been able to operate without the standard “rules of evidence,” which is all that naturalism reduces down to in practice.  Nor have IDists shown any reason why supposed “naturalism” is adequate for geology yet inappropriate for biology.

Nevertheless, on the surface their own conspiracy theory is slightly more plausible, because in the American world of science “methodological naturalism” is typically understood to be essential to science—even though it’s not, as science works as well, and in the same way, when understood phenomenologically—and they are actually able to poke legitimate holes into its assumptions.  It’s still just a word game, and ID’s problem is that it doesn’t produce legitimate evidence for its claims, yet the shallowness of much science philosophy in this country does gift them with a convenient target.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

Gregory - #54834

March 19th 2011

“What do scientists actually do?” - Francis Collins

Let us focus this question more specifically: who is it that studies “what scientists actually do”? Iow, what is the *field* called that studies “what scientists actually do”?

The notion of ‘scientists studying themselves’ violates all principles of ‘social objectivity.’ Science as we all know, is a social activity. It must be a different type of scientist scientifically studying those ‘other’ scientists.

That “such a conspiracy could actually exist for more than thirty seconds” does not confuse “the realities of the sociology of the field of science” if one takes into account cases like T. Lysenko’s, whose conspiracy lasted much longer than 30 seconds.

Francis Collins (& Karl Giberson) needs to speak with Steve Fuller about this.


Jon Garvey - #54865

March 20th 2011

@Gregory - #54834

Quite quite Gregory. A conspiracy wouldn’t last 30 seconds, maybe, but there’s plenty of evidence from sociology that groupthink, vested interests and so on can, and do, affect whole societies as well as subcultures, not excluding scientists, within them.

Sadly, some of those sociological tendencies include demonisation of opponents, which is why the convenient dumping of groupings into catch-all categories is so harmful. Thus a quote from Philip Johnson can become a reason for dismissing every aspect of ID - and then a reason to conflate it with Creationism (which has already been subsumed into Fundamentalism and then into Insanity without the bother of actually listening to individual arguments and arguers). Conversely, of course, another social grouping can use the mere name of Dawkins to conflate TEs with New Atheists and the whole scientific enterprise. And biologists will dismiss information scientists, and natural scientists dismiss social scientists and philosophers, and so on.

Amongst all that, many individuals would have valuable contributions to make to understanding. If only they weren’t in the wrong tribe.


Cristian Pascu - #54885

March 20th 2011

<meta charset=“utf-8”><blockquote class=“webkit-indent-blockquote” style=“margin: 0 0 0 40px; border: none; padding: 0px;”>“But I’m continually perplexed by some of the really sharp, well-informed, people who don’t agree. [...] Where does their confidence that you are wrong come from?


I can’t, without peeking inside their hearts and minds, have a clear answer about what is driving that resistance to evidence that proves so compelling.


<meta charset=“utf-8”><meta charset=“utf-8”>

What makes a piece of evidence compelling? Two equally smart and informed persons will find the same piece of evidence to be compelling or not, depending on their background. So I think that’s also true to say that only looking into the hearts and minds of evolutionists one could understand why some evidence is so compelling. 

Science works with observations and interpretations of experimental data. The interpretations make the theoretical framework for understanding real phenomena. 

The fossils are not evidence, the geological layers are not evidence, the stars are not evidence, the red-shift is not evidence, the background radiation is not evidence. There’re observations. It’s the whole theoretical framework that was built around these mere observations that is compelling to some but not to all. 

The ‘Universe formed by itself grace to the natural laws’ scenario is compelling to those that can not or will not accept the creation alternative. The reasons for that are within the hearts and minds. More in the hearts, and less in the minds. 

conrad - #54984

March 21st 2011

Cristian I am so happy to see you mention the background radiation.
 But I want to warn you.
 The Biologos editors seem to consider that spam and they may “close” your comment after they read it.

conrad - #54909

March 20th 2011

I don’t care whether evolution is true or not.

 I only care about whether or not the Bible is true.
I personally don’t believe that only one or the other is true.

I think the Bible is true and evolution is sort of true.
 WHY IS THIS WEBSITE ONLY CONCERNED ABOUT WHETHER EVOLUTION IS TRUE OR NOT?
 Most of the evidence for a “true Bible” lies not in details about the biology of man,  [ the events of the late afternoon of the SIXTH DAY of creation],.... 
  The best Bible-science correlation comes on the early days of the creation story and lies in the field of  cosmology.
 THERE WAS A CREATION! 
A SUDDEN MIRACULOUS CREATION FROM NOTHING.
 We should be studying Hubble not Darwin.

conrad - #54930

March 21st 2011

If evolution is true,.... does that make the Bible untrue?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #54966

March 21st 2011

Conrad,

It sppears to me that there are two sets of people with apparently irreconcilable points of view it breaks down likfe this:

Group A.
Primary Value: Evolution (the fact) and Science the discipline are true. 
Secondary Value: Darwinism which seems to prove the primary value is true. 
Tertiary Value:  Meaning, Purpose, Design are untrue because they conflict with Darwinism, Scientism.

Group B. 
Primary Value: Design, Meaning, Purpose of Life, (Christianity) are true. 
Secondary Value: Creationism, ID, Biblicism, which seems to prove the primary value is true.  
Tertiary Value: Evolution is untrue because it conflicts with Biblicism, Creationism, and ID.   

Now what if we can determine that both of the primary values of these opposing groups are true.  In other words, Life did evolve and that it does meaning and purpose.  Both of which would seem to be very clear and obvious.  One would think that both sides would be happy and satisfied because both Science and Purpose (Christianity) are upheld and determined to be compatible. 

This does not happen because both groups would have to give up the secondary and tertiary values they have fought so hard and long to justify.  In other words they must die to the human arguments they have painfully constructed in order to gain the ultimate goal they claim to seek, which is to discover the truth about Reality and the justification of Science or Faith.. 

Both science and Christianity say that they seek the truth, but in this case right now neither is willing to set aside its prejudices to find the truth.  Sad to say we are too wrapped up in our human systems to step out on faith to discover God’s truth.


conrad - #54980

March 21st 2011

I think you nailed it there buddy.
 The original feud aver the original Darwinism was joined because the Christians saw Nietsche and Hitler looming from “survival of the fittest”‘s uncaring attitude toward the strong abusing the weak.

Remember this was in 1923.
 By 1933 Hitler was in power.

William Jennings Bryan was NOT WRONG!

Flanders - #54998

March 21st 2011

If I may, I’d like to request a little more specificity.  For example: 

1.  “...wondering how anybody could deny the truth of evolution.” 

As with so many others before you, you’ve tossed out one of the world’s most malleable terms and proclaimed it to be “true.”  But what are we talking about here:  Variation in moth coloration;  that biological change happens over time;  common descent;  that all of biology can be explained by random mutation filtered through undirected natural selection;  as Simpson has famously said, “it is already evident that all the objective phenomena of the history of life can be explained by purely naturalistic or, in a proper sense of the sometimes abused word, materialistic factors. They are readily explicable on the basis of differential reproduction in populations (the main factor in the modern conception of natural selection) and of the mainly random interplay of the known processes of heredity…. Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind”? 

I agree with some of these and not others, which causes me to wonder how academic folks can be so consistently imprecise in their use of terminology. 

2. “This is not something they can walk away from because it is so deeply ingrained in their sense of what God is like and what humankind is all about.” 

So, are you saying that Dawkins or Dennet, for example, aren’t influenced by their deeply ingrained sense of what God is like and humankind is about, or that these things don’t affect how they interpret the data?   Really?  Are only “creationists” subject to this sort of human frailty? 

3. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to provide a citation from Johnson demonstrating his view that “there isn’t any solid basis at all for the theory [of evolution]” (my emphasis).

4. “those who are willing to stand up and say so are losing their tenure opportunities….”  While I don’t particularly like the tone and tenor of Expelled either, are you saying that you think folks like Crocker and Sternberg got a fair shake?


Tim - #55006

March 21st 2011

What was the debate between Francis Collins and Paul Nelson that is mentioned in the article? Where and when did it take place?


John - #55012

March 21st 2011

Christian: “Science works with observations and interpretations of experimental data. The interpretations make the theoretical framework for understanding real phenomena. 
The fossils are not evidence, the geological layers are not evidence, the stars are not evidence, the red-shift is not evidence, the background radiation is not evidence. There’re observations.”

They are the evidence, and they were predicted by hypotheses and theories. You’re ignoring most of the evidence.

“It’s the whole theoretical framework that was built around these mere observations that is compelling to some but not to all.”

Again, you’re ignoring most of the observations.

 Flanders: “So, are you saying that Dawkins or Dennet, for example, aren’t influenced by their deeply ingrained sense of what God is like and humankind is about, or that these things don’t affect how they interpret the data?   Really?”

Christian and Flanders, please stop employing the canard that you’re examining the same evidence, because it is simply and spectacularly false. Real scientists are doing two aspects of science that the ID movement ignores:
1) examining all the extant data, and
2) making empirical predictions about future data.

A perfect example of this is the misrepresentation of the strongest data, the sequence data, as mere similarity. Tellingly, Christian didn’t even include the sequence data in his list!

Roger A. Sawtelle - #55053

March 21st 2011

Conrad wrote:

William Jennings Bryan was NOT WRONG!

Whether Bryan was right or not, a good way to lose today’s battles is to use yesterday’s tactics, especially when those tactics were not effective in the first place.  While I have some sympathy for the motives of conservative Christians, their Biblicism is a deadend.  Sadly the theology of liberal Christians is also lacking.  

Thus we need a new reformation.  I find it sad that the latest commentary on CC’s book has received so little attention.  Besides myself only one other person has commented.  It is a powerful and significant theological statement concerning Christianity and science.   
 

<!—/uploads/static-content/comment_flag.png—>


conrad - #55175

March 22nd 2011

Well Roger I go to 3 churches.
 The integration of views seems unlikely but some of the things you see are heartbreaking.
 I told my Baptist preacher that the “Creation Museum” was based on junk science so he stopped speaking to me.
 I seriously doubt if I shall ever get him to look at M-theory.
 It is sad.

But then the “liberal Christians will teach that the Bible is based on Ancient Near East Myths,...THAT WERE PLAGIARIZED.

 They not only scoff at a divine source they refuse to examine the possibility that the Bible reveals facts that NO CIVILIZATION KNEW ABOUT OR DREAMED ABOUT FOR 2000 YEARS…. like the “light” of “let there be light” [which we now call the microwave background radiation.]



The Singular Observer - #55182

March 22nd 2011

Flanders,

I know one should try and evaluate the argument apart from the one arguing, but in the case of Mr Johnson, it is difficult to take the uttering of a complete non-scientist seriously when he pontificates over science, especially when we keep in mind that he is also an AIDS-denialist. Neither is he a trained philosopher. 

That said, there are some critiques of his work out there that could be helpful for those interested in reading it. One of the best can be found here - http://ncse.com/cej/13/2/darwin-prosecuted-review-johnsons-darwin-trial


Gudnews - #55186

March 22nd 2011

This series of articles has provoked an idea. Perhaps Karl or somebody who’s really smart will know whether it’s worth pursuing… What if somebody (or somebody’s computer) could (1) draw a schematic of “the biological tree of life” as the most recent findings of genetics might portray it; (2) draw another schematic of “the biological tree of life” as the most recent findings of paleontology might portray it; and (3) lay the second schematic on top of the first and compare them. I’m sure secular science does this. Can Biologos either make such a resource or point to where a church can get it? A simple, visul, compelling way to illustrate to us fundamentalists the convergence (and therefore the force) of the evidence on evolution. It probably still wouldn’t convice me to go back and re-learn stuff… but it might help me help my kids and grandkids.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #55383

March 23rd 2011

Conrad,

I sympathize with you.

Let me tell you a secret.  Try attending a mainstream historically Black Church or two.  The Black Church is historically conservative theologically, but is concerned about morality and ethics, rather than science.  

In other words if you are interested in faith and the gospel, go to a Black Church.  If you are interested in science vs religion go somewhere else.   


Page 1 of 1   1