t f p g+ YouTube icon

Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church, Part 4

Bookmark and Share

March 26, 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 4

This is the fourth 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: What do you think of this project that the Discovery Institute has launched, with a laboratory where they want to do genuine scientific research, with their own in-house scientists? That’s a very strange development.

Francis Collins: It is very hard for me to imagine what they will do. Science by its very nature ought to be unfettered by any particular perspective on what these right answers are supposed to be. And yet here you are setting up this scientific circumstance that has as its goal to support intelligent design theory. That is counter to the way that science has to be conducted. And furthermore, as everybody has pointed out, intelligent design has this major fundamental flaw. It has no predictive value that anyone can discern. And it has no scientific strategy to demonstrate the correctness of its position because it’s implying divine supernatural intervention, which by definition science isn’t really able to establish. It’s the wrong set of tools.

I respect the sincerity and the passion of people like Douglas Axe who are driven to make this happen, but I don’t think it’s driven by a scientific motivation.

KG: But are you being completely fair? Their rejoinder, I think, would be that what you’ve just described as science is kind of a mythology. Science isn’t really that open-minded. In reality, there are a whole set of very wide-ranging theoretical ideas that aren’t really on the table when you go into the laboratory. You go in working within a framework, with a paradigm of some sort, and you put the pieces together within that framework. But you don’t really acknowledge it as a framework.

The ID people don’t want to do their research within this framework of naturalistic evolution. They want to check that and say instead that, “Well, we’ll do similar research except we’re not going to insist that everything we consider has to fit within this naturalistic paradigm. We are going to go outside this paradigm and see whether we notice different things.” Historical cases have been made that paradigms are sometimes misleading. For example, the paradigm that there couldn’t be change in the heavens caused people to miss data for many centuries about new stars. The ID people would say that you wouldn’t see the design in nature because you work under a paradigm that excludes that possibility.

FC: I would say again, though, as a person who has spent his whole career in science, that I don’t see that’s really a rift. Sure, we have paradigms that we use to try and organize things, but one of our goals is to upset these paradigms.

If a number of laboratories did different kinds of experiment and said, “Hey, wait a minute, here is some data suggesting that evolution is wrong, that it is not capable of explaining something,” that would be such a lightning rod for excited investigation. This idea would not be ignored because it wasn’t consistent with a reigning paradigm. I just don’t see that’s how science operates.

And the other problem with ID is something else that you mentioned. If what they’re setting out to do is to try to uncover things that might be actually better understood from an ID perspective, how would that work? Again, the fundamental premise of intelligent design is that there were supernatural interventions to explain irreducible complexity. And how, from a scientific perspective, are you going to catch those in the act when they are, by definition, supernatural? Science is really not set up to investigate those claims. You’ve got a mismatch of the approach. You’re using a set of tools that are categorically wrong for trying to demonstrate your premise.

KG: When we talk about the enduring power of creationism, it seems to me the best way to understand that goes back to something that is as old as Aristotle and that‘s the different ways that people get knowledge. Aristotle talked about knowledge that we get from thinking, and of the knowledge we get through experience, but there’s another category which I think in many ways is the largest and most important category – social knowledge.

We are a part of a social group and people you trust tell you things. The fact that I believe in evolution derives from the fact that people like you that I trust have told me that it’s true. I’ve never done a genome sequence, I’ve never done a fossil dig. So what do I—Karl Giberson—really know about evolution? All I know is that people that I trust have told me that it’s compelling and have made arguments that I buy and people that I have less confidence in have tried to challenge those things. Now, how are ordinary people supposed to navigate this complex web of social authority, to try and figure out which voices they should listen to, and which voices they shouldn’t?

Consider credentials. On paper the credentials of the better creationists and ID people are like yours and mine. Take you and Michael Behe. You both have Ph.Ds. You have done research and published articles and so on and so forth. Now your work is more significant that his, but it’s not likes he’s never done any work. So if somebody wants to put Behe up against Collins and say, “Well, here’s a guy and I like what he says. And here’s another guy and I don’t really like what he says. And you’re asking me to pick Collins over Behe? Well, why should I do that?”

FC: Well, that is a fundamental problem we’re facing in terms of our culture, especially in the United States. It’s why we have such a mismatch between what the scientific data would suggest and what many people believe about the age of the earth and about whether evolution is true or not.

In a rational world, if you’re asking about a particular data-driven question, about what is true and what’s the evidence to support it, about a problem related to the natural scheme of things—you would want to go to the people who are the professionals who spend their lives trying to answer those questions and ask, “Is there a consensus view?” So if you ask a question in that regards—“What is the age of the earth, for example?”—well, who does that work? It is the geologist or the cosmologist and the people who do radiocarbon dating and all kinds of other dating. It is the fossil record people and the paleontologists and so on and you would say, “Is there actually a sense that this is an unanswered question? Or do we have a pretty satisfying answer?”

And the answer you would get to the question about the age of the earth is: “This is pretty much a settled issue – 4.55 billion years, plus or minus a very small, uncertain percentage. This is the answer you come to from multiple different directions. And then, you would also say, “But there are some fringe folks out here – what are their credentials to answer this scientific question?” And one would quickly see that the creationists of the world who are arguing that this is all wrong do not come from that kind of strong, science, data-based, evidence-based perspective. They’re coming at this from a very different view that is not anchored in the facts of the matter.

So you would say, “Ok, then the answer appears to be that the age of the earth is 4.55 billion years and it is not 6,000.” But of course, that’s not the way things are. Our society, because of the polarization between the materialist perspective—which is assumed in many instances to not just be about nature, but is also intended to be an over-arching worldview that explains anything outside the material world, large numbers of our very religious society are suspicious right down to the core of what those groups are putting forward and having an agenda on. It’s not about the facts, but it’s actually about trying to invoke a atheistic worldview and they’re worried about that, afraid about that, and therefore ready to reject anything that sounds like it might be in some way colored by that non-scientific perspective which they assume is hidden there. So they’ll migrate, looking for other sources of authority and again, I’m a believer and my ultimate authority is God, and believers do need to take that view, otherwise your faith doesn’t mean very much, so you look for a God representative around you to tell you the truth and you go to the church or some organization that seems to be representing itself as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ and you get sometimes a very different message that is nicely packaged and even maybe reinforces your view that those academic scientists over there have an attitude that they’re trying to put something over on you and pretty soon, you have what appears to be a large group of people associating themselves with an answer to the question about the age of the earth that is driven on the basis of a real distortion of the facts but carry God’s authority with it in a fashion that compels people to sign on. That’s what we’re seeing and it’s a very strange dynamic, but it’s clearly very effective on the part of those who are taking that view, that “I’m going to tell you God’s truth”, you gotta listen to somebody who’s saying that.


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 >


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
Mike Gene - #55704

March 26th 2011

I don’t think Collins adequately answers Giberson’s question about paradigms and research.  He completely ignores the simple social fact that for most scientists, science is a career.  And scientists, being like most people, seek a career that is not only rewarding intellectually, but rewarding in the financial sense that it provides security and stability for everyday life and retirement.   And for most research scientists, this means the ability to attract large grants and publish their findings in mainstream, peer-reviewed journals.

So instead of treating science as philosophy or something only the rich do, it would be better to treat it for the social reality that it is.  And this means the question Collins should address is this:  is it easier to secure grants and publish results from within a reigning paradigm or by attacking a reigning paradigm?


David A. Danello - #55728

March 26th 2011

<mike gene, et al>
Important: The inventor of the Atomic Clock, Dr. Essen,  and the inventor of
                 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Dr. Damadian,
                 -both- should have received Nobel Prizes but were -rejected-
                 simply because they believed in Biblical Special Creation and -not-
                 “evolution”.  Dr. Gentry was a PhD geophysics student at Ga Tech
                  but had to leave because his department head was “afraid” his research
                  would have terrible consequences for the school’s basic position
                  -affirming- evolution over billions of years (see  halos.com  for details).
                  Dr. Jerry Bergman has written an entire book documenting specific
                  examples of disgusting persecution of legitimate, first-rate scientists
                  simply because their research refutes evolution -dogma-. He himself
                  was a victim of horrific persecution at a major university and now
                  teaches at Northwest State College in Archbold, Ohio.
                  That secular researchers often “must” conform to -dogma- is TRUE  !
                 
                 


John - #55710

March 26th 2011

“Mike Gene” tries to paint scientists as cynical and dishonest:

“And scientists, being like most people, seek a career that is not only rewarding intellectually, but rewarding in the financial sense that it provides security and stability for everyday life and retirement.”

That has to be one of the most insane things I’ve ever read. If one is seeking a career with security and stability, one does not choose science. FULL STOP.

“And for most research scientists, this means the ability to attract large grants and publish their findings in mainstream, peer-reviewed journals.”

What “Mike” is omitting here is that large grants tend to be awarded to those who publish in top-tier journals, and for those journals, the primary criterion is novelty, the polar opposite of what Mike wants his readers to conclude. The standards for publication and what one writes in an NIH grant application are quite different, although efforts are made to change the grant review process to better reward impact and creativity.

“So instead of treating science as philosophy or something only the rich do, it would be better to treat it for the social reality that it is.”

It would, but you are clearly doing nothing of the sort. You are grossly misrepresenting the social reality of scientific publication to justify your own inaction.

“And this means the question Collins should address is this:  is it easier to secure grants and publish results from within a reigning paradigm or by attacking a reigning paradigm?”

“Mike’s” question is phony, because publishing within a reigning paradigm does not advance careers. The standard for top-tier journals is the upsetting of a reigning paradigm or the resolution of conflicting hypotheses. That track record is what advances careers, not toeing the line.

Let’s see if “Mike’s” scenario applies to Stan Prusiner—nope, not at all. I predict that “Mike” would be unwilling to discuss applying it to Prusiner either.

Mike Gene - #55714

March 26th 2011

“Mike Gene” tries to paint scientists as cynical and dishonest:

Wrong.  This is nothing more than your own spin, “John.”  To point out that scientists are just as human as non-scientists is not cynical or dishonest. 

That has to be one of the most insane things I’ve ever read. If one is seeking a career with security and stability, one does not choose science. FULL STOP.

Well, that’s a silly response that assumes there are lots and lots of careers that are secure and stable.  So let’s take it one step at a time.  Do you deny that science has become a career?

What “Mike” is omitting here is that large grants tend to be awarded to those who publish in top-tier journals, and for those journals, the primary criterion is novelty, the polar opposite of what Mike wants his readers to conclude.

What “John” omits is that novelty is a relative term.  We would need to contrast novel ways of extending a paradigm vs. novel ways of overturning a paradigm.  Both approaches would require a cost/benefit analysis.  

Let us also ask where the grant money comes from in the first place. 


unapologetic catholic - #55717

March 26th 2011

Well, putting Mike Gene’s post modernism cycicism aside for a moment.

This 2008 interview related to the annoucenmetnof teh Bioogic Institute—the Intelliegnt Design Research rpogram.

Total output of the Biologic Insitute since 2008:  Zero.

It’s compelte vaporware:  http://www.biologicinstitute.org/


Mike, what research projects would you reccommend to the Biologic Institute?

Since they are funded by a Christian Reconstructionist organization can we simply dismiss the output as carreerism?


Mike Gene - #55721

March 26th 2011

Well, putting Mike Gene’s post modernism cycicism aside for a moment.

LOL.  So you prefer medieval cheer-leading?  Is this a situation where if you are not waving the pom poms, you are the enemy?



unapologetic catholic - #55730

March 26th 2011

“LOL.  So you prefer medieval cheer-leading?”

Not at all what I said.  By charcterizing scientists as motivitated entirely by money, you have painted with too broad a brush.  Your broad brush swipe tars all who work for money, inclduding the entire ID movement.  It doens’t matter what side you’re cheering for—it’s a given that people work for money.  Certainly, its clear that ID proponents have made a tidy living selling books, unsuessfully testifying as experts in losing cases and being paid by a Christian Reconstructionist organization whose stated goal is to subvert science. 

Scientists are motivated by a number of things and the money seems to go to those who make progress.  There are no “prevailing pargdigms”—there are only more—and less—successful fields of research.  Those who demostrate success can more easliy obtain funding.

Evolution, for example, explains how the genome works and how inehrited diseases and cancers can be addressed.  There is a lot of funding for that and much suceess has been made.

Does the Biologic Institute have any suggstions for cancer research based on an Intelligent Design pardigm?  If they do and can make the proposals I have very little doubt the money will flow.  But it’s been 3 yeasrs now with no grants, no publcations of any novel research and no results woth funding.  Not a peep from the Biologic Institute.

Your response to that charge of no progress from the Biologic Institute is to draw a false dichotomy that leads to a “post-mo, anything goe,s we can dismmiss everybody because they’re all in it for the money” method of distingushing between science and crackpottery.  I suggest otherwise—we can distinguish between solid science and crackpottery as easily as we distinguish between bankers and bank robbers even if both are ultimately motivated by money  (there are certain overlaps between these two groups jsut as some scientists are crackpots or dishonest).

Dismissing entire fields of human endeavor by claimign the participants are mtoivated by money and are therefore untrustworty is not a matter of choosing sides at all.  Cyncism chooses no sides. 


Mike Gene - #55740

March 26th 2011

Not at all what I said.  By charcterizing scientists as motivitated entirely by money, you have painted with too broad a brush.

Not at all what I said either.  I never characterized scientists as being motivated entirely by money.

Dismissing entire fields of human endeavor by claimign the participants
are mtoivated by money and are therefore untrustworty is not a matter of
choosing sides at all.


No where do I dismiss entire fields of human endeavor by claiming the participants
are motivated by money and are therefore untrustworthy. 


unapologetic catholic - #55754

March 26th 2011

Good.  Now that we have all that set aside, the Biologic Institute, the subject of the Collins interview, was founded in 2008.  It is now 2011.  Three years.  The total research on biological systems for that three years is ...zero. 

Based on that output, how much would you award to the Biologic Institute in research grants?  A research lab with that output in any scientific field can expect to attract no funding and no quality research scientists either. 

Has the Biologic Institute applied for any research grants?  I will guess that they have applied for zero grants. 


Mike Gene might be sigularly qualified to answeer this qustion:  What research projects woudl you recommend to the Biologic Institute? I’d like to see suggestions from anybody for research projects that could be done in a moderately equipped biology lab that would perform scientifc research based on an intelligent design paradigm and publish that research regardless of results.

The first suggestion that I would make is to develop a process to reliably identify irreducibly complex biological systems and make “predictions” based on that process by identifying several biolgical systems that cannot have evolved naturally.  If those predictions stand the test of time, then ID’s standing as a legitimate scientific endeavor will be greatly enhanced.

Mike Gene may have better or more focused suggestions based on his own background and writings.


Mike Gene - #55764

March 27th 2011

The first suggestion that I would make is to develop a process to reliably identify irreducibly complex biological systems and make “predictions” based on that process by identifying several biolgical systems that cannot have evolved naturally.  If those predictions stand the test of time, then ID’s standing as a legitimate scientific endeavor will be greatly enhanced.

That sounds about right given that the ID movement and its critics tend to think alike.  The ID crowds sees evidence against evolution as evidence for design while their critics see evidence for evolution as evidence against design.  Battle on.

You seem to be under the faulty impression that I spoke up to defend the ID movement.  I spoke up because I tend to call it as I see it.  Sorry, but I don’t buy Collins’ storybook version of science.  Then again, as a postmodernist cynic, neither do I believe lawyers and judges are all about using truth to bring about justice.  And I suppose some politicians might be upset with me if I don’t believe they are just public servants seeking the greater good for us all.  Perhaps someday UC, you’ll tell me how people and society really work.  I’d love to hear it as it might make for a nice bedtime story for the kids.



Unapologetic Catholic - #55800

March 27th 2011

I never have treated you as a defender of the ID movement.  I am familiar with your book and your internet postings and recognize you very unique perspective.  I was actually hoping that you would make some helpful suggestions for the Biologic Institute from that unique perspective.


But I see you cynicism about science extends to all aspects of our society.  I am aware of the general fact that there are thousands of undiscovered geniuses muttering to themselves cynically about how society, science or the prevailing paradigms have conspired together to deprive those geniuses of their deserved glory.

There’s a bedtime story for you, but it’s a sad one, isn’t it?



Mike Gene - #55811

March 27th 2011

I never have treated you as a defender of the ID movement.

Really?  When you wanted me to assist an organization that, according to you, is part of a conspiracy of Christian Reconstructionists to bring about a theocracy, I had assumed you believed I was willing to do so. 

I am familiar with your book and your internet postings and recognize you very unique perspective.  I was actually hoping that you would make some helpful suggestions for the Biologic Institute from that unique perspective.

I see you ignored my point.  Again, you are in the better position since the thinking patterns of the ID folks and their critics are much alike. 

But I see you cynicism about science extends to all aspects of our society. 

Sure.  You write, “I never have treated you as a defender of the ID movement.”  Yet you clearly seem to be under the impression that I did need to defend the Biologic Institute and that I even tried to do it through misdirection.  You wrote:

Your response to that charge of no progress from the Biologic Institute is to draw a false dichotomy that leads to a “post-mo, anything goe,s we can dismmiss everybody because they’re all in it for the money” method of distingushing between science and crackpottery.

So, you not only seriously misrepresent my position, but you treated me as if I am supposed to defend the ID movement while claiming, “I never have treated you as a defender of the ID movement.” 

You, unapologetic catholic, feed my cynicism.  And I don’t need to mutter about it.  As you can see, I can just point at it.


Bilbo - #55812

March 27th 2011

UC:  ” I was actually hoping that you would make some helpful suggestions for the Biologic Institute from that unique perspective.”

Yes, the Biologic Institute could learn a lot from Mike.  So could Francis Collins.  But he doesn’t need to make any suggestions to them.  All they would need to do is read his book and his blog. 


Gregory - #55815

March 27th 2011

Time for ‘Mike Gene’ to drop the pseudonym then, Bilbo, and to publish something in a real Journal?

Every single time I’ve asked you to speak about ‘non-evolving’ things or ‘non-designed’ things, you’ve disappeared.

That you think the head of the NIH could “learn something” from a self-proclaimed internet big-mouth, who claims that ID is not ‘science’ & who is now (imo, wisely so) distancing himself from the IDM, presumably about biology is

I kinda like Mike Gene too. But let’s be serious: “because of us” is not a ‘theory’ or ‘method’ around which one can build a significant biological contribution. It attempts to be ‘reflexive’ (& succeeds, to a decent degree) in a field in which ‘reflexivity’ is not only rarely practiced (more in the field, less in the lab or comp. sim), but oftentimes actively attacked.

If Mike wanted to put some substance behind the idea of an anthropic principle in biology, that would be saying something. He continues to fall short of doing this.

Maybe, when he breaks from the IDM enough to establish an alternative ‘movement’ or more likely ‘theory’ (i.e. that which is not called ‘intelligent design’, e.g. matrices, patterns) would any progress he may or may not be making in biology or genetics, be given more appropriate consideration. Right now perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Mike Gene (the unknown) is getting quoted in one of Dembski’s books.

I suspect there is much more possible given his capabilities than that!


Gregory - #55816

March 27th 2011

That you think the head of the NIH could “learn something,” presumably about biology, from a self-proclaimed internet big-mouth (Mike Gene), who claims that ID is not ‘science’ & who is now (imo, wisely so) distancing himself from the IDM, is obviously a far-fetched claim, with little basis for anybody to accept your opinion.


Bilbo - #55819

March 27th 2011

Far-fetched?  Before he became a professional, I also predicted Tiger Woods would win at least 10 majors by the time he was 30.  So there. 


Gregory - #55838

March 28th 2011

Bilbo - #55819

You sound like a shoe commercial: impossible is nothing.


Rich - #55885

March 28th 2011

The following statement is above attributed to Francis Collins:

“Again, the fundamental premise of intelligent design is that there were supernatural interventions to explain irreducible complexity.”

This is incorrect.  Intelligent design has no such premise.

Intelligent design theory is a theory of design detection, not a theory of miracle detection.  It does not and cannot *exclude* the possibility of  supernatural interventions, but does not *require* such interventions in order to do its explanatory work.  And if it does not require them, then such interventions can hardly be its fundamental premise.  I submit, with all due respect to Dr. Collins (who is a great geneticist, and well deserving of his NIH post) that he is misinformed about what ID claims. 

And he is not the only one.  I would estimate that 90% of the TE/EC people I have ever read or conversed with have misrepresented ID along these lines.  I do not understand why this misrepresentation persists when Behe, Dembski and others have pointedly corrected it in very public places.  Is the misrepresentation caused by careless reading, or careless listening?  Is it caused by insufficient research, or reliance upon hearsay?  Whatever the cause, it is academically unacceptable practice to impute to people views that they have denied that they hold.

I realize that Dr. Collins cannot at the moment engage in debate, and must remain above the fray.  But I challenge anyone who works for Biologos to produce clear, unambiguous statements from the *theoretical works* of ID proponents—not from the private, personal ruminations of ID theorists when they speak as individual Christians about their historical views on origins, but from writings where they are speaking strictly as ID theorists —that supernatural interventions are an intrinsic part of ID as a theory.


John - #55896

March 28th 2011

Rich:

“Intelligent design theory is a theory of design detection…”

There is no such thing as “intelligent design theory.” 

A theory is a hypothesis that has a long track record of empirical predictions. ID promoters won’t even advance a single testable empirical prediction, much less produce new data from testing one. 

ID promoters like Meyer, in addition to concealing the amazing truth about the ribosome from his readers, offer up NON-empirical predictions, when even Rich can stumble upon real ones (from which he quickly scurries away in fear).

Maurizio - #56411

April 1st 2011

It’s folks like Ken Ham and organizations like AIG that are dishonest. In their attempt to completely brainwash young minds and set back years of scientific discovery by teaching such ludicrous ideas about our planet, the universe and humans, they are doing more harm than any scientist could do by trying to get grants to fund their research!


Page 1 of 1   1