Saturday, March 31, 2007

Science & God: Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins on "Fresh Air"

Last week National Public Radio's Terry Gross had back-to-back interviews with Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins on the issue of science and religion. In specific, her question was: can one be a scientist and a believer? Here is the link to Dawkins interview:

Richard Dawkins explains "The God Delusion"
In his most recent book, British scientist Richard Dawkins writes about the irrationality of a belief in God, examines God in all his forms and sets down his arguments for atheism. The book is The God Delusion.

Dawkins is a professor of "the public understanding of science" at Oxford University.

The New York Times Book Review has hailed him as a writer who "understands the issues so clearly that he forces his reader to understand them too."

An interesting part of the interview is when Dawkins is talking about the meaning of life (about 16 minutes into the interview)

And here is the link to Francis Collins interview:

Francis Collins on "The Language of God"

Geneticist Francis Collins is director of the National Human Genome Research Project. He is also an evangelical Christian, and author of the book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

He is quite clear about religious belief and evolution (about 16 minutes into the interview) and about the debate regarding stem cells research (32 minutes in). Unfortunately, he also brings in the old "fine tuning" argument (that the laws of universe are so finely tuned for the existence of humans, that it must have been done by a higher power) and issues of morals as evidence for God, while at the same time claiming that there cannot be any evidence that can show the existence of God (9 minutes into the interview).

Dawkins and Collins provide an interesting contrast. If you want to see a more head-to-head debate between the two, check out this Time magazine article from last year, that let them address each other more directly:
God vs Science

At many places Francis Collins appears reasonable, but on some issues his views are quite incompatible with science. Here is his response to a question about miracles:

TIME: Dr. Collins, the Resurrection is an essential argument of Christian faith, but doesn't it, along with the virgin birth and lesser miracles, fatally undermine the scientific method, which depends on the constancy of natural laws?

COLLINS: If you're willing to answer yes to a God outside of nature, then there's nothing inconsistent with God on rare occasions choosing to invade the natural world in a way that appears miraculous. If God made the natural laws, why could he not violate them when it was a particularly significant moment for him to do so? And if you accept the idea that Christ was also divine, which I do, then his Resurrection is not in itself a great logical leap.

TIME: Doesn't the very notion of miracles throw off science?

COLLINS: Not at all. If you are in the camp I am, one place where science and faith could touch each other is in the investigation of supposedly miraculous events.

DAWKINS: If ever there was a slamming of the door in the face of constructive investigation, it is the word miracle. To a medieval peasant, a radio would have seemed like a miracle. All kinds of things may happen which we by the lights of today's science would classify as a miracle just as medieval science might a Boeing 747. Francis keeps saying things like "From the perspective of a believer." Once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific--really scientific--credibility. I'm sorry to be so blunt.

COLLINS: Richard, I actually agree with the first part of what you said. But I would challenge the statement that my scientific instincts are any less rigorous than yours. The difference is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.

So how do you decide: Is there something that we don't understand just as yet, or is it a result of true supernatural intervention? May be this is a good place to recall Hippocrates from fourth century B.C., "Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things."

And to conclude, here is an appropriate cartoon:


CogSci Librarian said...

The full-text of both of these interviews is available online (for free) in the library database LexisNexis. You can get to it pretty easily from Hampshire and other libraries as well.

-a former Hampshire librarian

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks! This is great.