Over at Big Think, NIH director Francis Collins is interviewed about the science-religion divide. Most of what he says in his interview, called “Why it’s so hard for scientists to believe in God,” is pretty standard accommodationism. It’s rife with NOMA-ism, for instance, and with the idea that the two magisteria address different questions. But it’s intriguing how Collins describes the questions that he sees as the unique bailiwick of faith. I’ve put some sections in bold below:
But faith in its perspective is really asking a different set of questions. And that’s why I don’t think there needs to be a conflict here. The kinds of questions that faith can help one address are more in the philosophical realm. Why are we all here? Why is there something instead of nothing? Is there a God? Isn’t it clear that those aren’t scientific questions and that science doesn’t have much to say about them? But you either have to say, well those are inappropriate questions and we can’t discuss them or you have to say, we need something besides science to pursue some of the things that humans are curious about. For me, that makes perfect sense. But I think for many scientists, particularly for those who have seen the shrill pronouncements from extreme views that threaten what they’re doing scientifically and feel therefore they can’t really include those thoughts into their own worldview, faith can be seen as an enemy.
Notice that he doesn’t say that religion can answer questions: it can “address” them and help us “discuss” them and “pursue” them. I’m not sure whether this is deliberate evasion (I believe Karl Giberson takes the same tactic), but of course claiming that religion provides answers lays you open to queries about the different “answers” of other faiths.
The strangest part of the interview is where Collins describes how he thinks God affects the universe. It verges on deism. Again, I’ve put one part in bold:
Other aspects of our universe I think also for me as for Einstein raised questions about the possibility of intelligence behind all of this. Why is it that, for instance, that the constance that determines the behavior of matter and energy, like the gravitational constant, for instance, have precisely the value that they have to in order for there to be any complexity at all in the Universe. That is fairly breathtaking in its lack of probability of ever having happened. And it does make you think that a mind might have been involved in setting the stage. At the same time that does not imply necessarily that that mind is controlling the specific manipulations of things that are going on in the natural world. In fact, I would very much resist that idea. I think the laws of nature potentially could be the product of a mind. I think that’s a defensible perspective. But once those laws are in place, then I think nature goes on and science has the chance to be able to perceive how that works and what its consequences are.
In fact, this doesn’t verge on deism: it is deism. God set up the laws of physics and let things roll. But the curious thing is that if Collins really believes this, and “strongly resists” the idea that God manipulates what’s going on in the world by suspending natural laws, then he surely can’t believe in miracles. And yet, as an evangelical Christian, his faith rests squarely on miracles. The virgin birth, the resurrection, the miracle stories of the New Testament—all of those would have to go out the window.
I doubt that Collins has undergone a profound shift of faith, but I’d love to ask him how this apparent deism comports with his evangelical Christianity. I’m sure these sentiments aren’t welcomed at BioLogos, the organization he founded.
h/t: Sigmund, who also produced the following:
FRANCIS COLLINS SUFFERS CRISIS OF FAITH ON NEW HIKING TRIP