Getting it Wrong

Four years ago to this date, Jerry Coyne attacked Francis Collins, opposing his nomination to head the NIH:

I am funded by the NIH, and I’m worried. Not about my own funding (although I’m a heathen cultural Jew), but about how this will affect things like stem-cell research and its funding. If appointed, Collins will have wide latitude in how to disperse the $30 billion annual budget, and can steer it towards or away from various projects. I’d be much more comfortable with someone whose only agenda was science, and did not feel compelled to set up a highly-publicized website demonstrating how he reconciles his science with Jesus. (Truthdig has published Sam Harris’s evisceration of Collins’s wacko book.)
[….]
We are just recovering from the theocracy of G. W. Bush, and I was happy that federally-funded stem-cell research was allowed to go ahead. Now what will happen? This is NOT a presidential appointment designed to smooth the waters roiled by our previous administration.
[…]
Collins may indeed be a good administrator, but this appointment is a mistake.

Four years later, we can all clearly see that Coyne was wrong and had no rational basis for being “worried.”

Dr. Coyne is supposed to be a scientist. He preaches, and preaches, about the need to adopt the scientific method and the need for evidence. Yet in 2007, he had no evidence to back up his wacko concerns and four years later, he still has no evidence to back up his wacko concerns.

What’s more, during the entire four year span since he publicly aired concerns about Dr. Collins, has he ever tried to gather data to test them? No.

So, has he ever admitted his worries were not supported by the evidence? No.

Has he ever acknowledged he was wrong? No.

Four years later, the question is not “Should Dr. Collins head the NIH?” That was always a wild-eyed question that only resonated among the anti-religious bigots. The question in 2013 is different: “How in the world could Dr. Coyne have been so embarrassingly wrong? “

In 2007, I knew there was nothing to worry about. How could I be so right and he be so wrong?

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Jerry Coyne, New Atheism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Getting it Wrong

  1. Caleb says:

    I haven’t followed Coyne, but there are valid concerns about the Collins appointment regardless. For example Collins believes that our moral intuitions (“Moral Law”, his term) are not the product of evolution. Thus despite our observations of fairness, reciprocation, etc. in primates, Collins says that some kind of divine intervention took place in the evolution of our brains. Well that might be the case — nobody could disprove it — but that’s not a scientific attitude. It is clearly problematic when the head of the NIH declares by fiat that God Did It, as it can affect allocation of resources among other things.

  2. TFBW says:

    …there are valid concerns about the Collins appointment regardless. For example Collins believes that our moral intuitions (“Moral Law”, his term) are not the product of evolution.

    Your observation assumes that any failure to assent to extreme Darwinian reductionism is a concern. Such an attitude, in and of itself, is of no concern to anyone except “fundamentalist Gnus”, as our host would say.

    Well that might be the case — nobody could disprove it — but that’s not a scientific attitude.

    I doubt that anyone could disprove the converse, either. Unless and until such time as you can come up with a relatively uncontroversial means by which the question can be addressed empirically, without begging the question, then science is not competent to adjudicate the matter. Collins is entitled to his extra-scientific opinions, just like the rest of us.

  3. Michael says:

    I haven’t followed Coyne, but there are valid concerns about the Collins appointment regardless. For example Collins believes that our moral intuitions (“Moral Law”, his term) are not the product of evolution. Thus despite our observations of fairness, reciprocation, etc. in primates, Collins says that some kind of divine intervention took place in the evolution of our brains. Well that might be the case — nobody could disprove it — but that’s not a scientific attitude. It is clearly problematic when the head of the NIH declares by fiat that God Did It, as it can affect allocation of resources among other things.

    LOL. If you are going to preach about the need to have a “scientific attitude” at all times, you should practice what you preach. Instead of blindly repeating old Gnu talking points, deal with the fact that a) Collins has been head of the NIH for four years and b) you still have no evidence to back up your wacko concerns. His nomination was “clearly problematic” only to anti-religious bigots. Can you cite one person who opposed, or still opposes, his nomination that is not an anti-religious bigot?

    You and Coyne have had four years to gather the data to make the case, with evidence, that Collins is bad for the NIH. Where is it? Then again, as I have shown again and again, Gnus don’t care about the evidence.

    Read my blog entry:

    Four years later, the question is not “Should Dr. Collins head the NIH?” That was always a wild-eyed question that only resonated among the anti-religious bigots. The question in 2013 is different: “How in the world could Dr. Coyne have been so embarrassingly wrong? “

    In 2007, I knew there was nothing to worry about. How could I be so right and he be so wrong?

  4. Caleb says:

    TFBW: “Your observation assumes that any failure to assent to extreme Darwinian reductionism is a concern.”

    That doesn’t follow. Not engaging in God of the Gaps does not imply “extreme Darwinian reductionism”. The scientific alternative to God Did It is “I don’t know; let’s investigate.” But Collins asserts that God Did It. Scientists would be rightly concerned if the head of the NIH was a creationist (the epitome of God of the Gaps), so a lesser form of divine interventionism (God of the Brain Gap) should also raise concerns.

    “Unless and until such time as you can come up with a relatively uncontroversial means by which the question can be addressed empirically, without begging the question, then science is not competent to adjudicate the matter.”

    People have been researching the origins of morality for decades, e.g. reciprocation and fairness behavior in primates. That doesn’t sound controversial to me. Science proceeds by methodological naturalism. There is never a point where science adjudicates on divine intervention — after all, objects could still fall to Earth due to God’s will acting as an inverse square law. But the presumption of divine intervention presents a barrier to increasing scientific knowledge.

    Michael —

    I think you’ve misunderstood. I wasn’t addressing Coyne or your dispute with him, I was just saying what my own concerns were at the time of the nomination. An action is properly judged based upon the reasons for the action, not on the result. For example if I drive recklessly, it doesn’t become an ethically neutral action if I don’t happen harm or kill anyone, and it doesn’t become a bad action if I do. It was a bad action from the outset, whatever the outcome.

  5. Michael says:

    I think you’ve misunderstood. I wasn’t addressing Coyne or your dispute with him, I was just saying what my own concerns were at the time of the nomination. An action is properly judged based upon the reasons for the action, not on the result. For example if I drive recklessly, it doesn’t become an ethically neutral action if I don’t happen harm or kill anyone, and it doesn’t become a bad action if I do. It was a bad action from the outset, whatever the outcome.

    It’s fascinating to watch how bigots rationalize their anti-religious bigotry. I’m not interested in your attempt at sophistry. You claimed that Collins’ nomination to head the NIH was “clearly problematic.” You supported your fringe views with nothing more than rhetoric, as you had and have no evidence to back up your views. None. Yet you still cling to your bigoted views regardless. Thank you for demonstrating that Gnu atheists really don’t care about evidence.

    What’s funny is that how you preach to TFBW about science when it is obvious you do not know how to think like a scientist.

  6. Caleb says:

    The evidence that Collins believes our morality (“Moral Law”) comes from divine intervention is found in his book “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”. It’s also covered in this lecture he gave http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjJAWuzno9Y where at 1:05:53 he says

    After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced “house” (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the Moral Law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.

  7. Michael says:

    So? You said his views “can affect allocation of resources among other things.” You have had fours years to test this paranoid claim. Where is your evidence? You said his views are “clearly problematic” and that scientists should be “concerned.” You have had fours years to test these paranoid claims. Where is your evidence?

  8. Caleb says:

    My view doesn’t depend upon being a theist or an atheist, and I don’t think it is controversial. If a scientist asserts that God Did It then that is clearly problematic, for practically any value of It. And we are not talking about just any scientist, but the person who oversees the allocation of literally billions of dollars in research funding.

    If Collins said that cancer is caused by divine intervention, wouldn’t that preclude his consideration for the position? But when we replace cancer with something less well understood then suddenly it’s OK? That’s the old God of the Gaps.

    If we agree on that simple point then that’s all there is. How long ago the appointment was, or what has transpired since, does not affect the original concern. If we agree that driving recklessly is a bad idea, then even a lifetime of driving recklessly without a single accident would not prove that driving recklessly is OK after all. To continue the analogy, you’re demanding evidence that driving recklessly is bad, but I’ve already stated that it’s bad no matter what the outcome happens to be. In the context of allocating taxpayer dollars to advance scientific knowledge, God of the Gaps and presuming divine intervention is problematic even if there happens to have been no known ill effects attributed to that view.

  9. Michael says:

    My view doesn’t depend upon being a theist or an atheist, and I don’t think it is controversial.

    You are able to cling to this view because you ignored my question – Can you cite one person who opposed, or still opposes, his nomination that is not an anti-religious bigot? Only anti-religious bigots opposed his nomination. You are arguing an extreme, fringe point of view.

    If a scientist asserts that God Did It then that is clearly problematic, for practically any value of It. And we are not talking about just any scientist, but the person who oversees the allocation of literally billions of dollars in research funding.

    This is nothing more than your private, subjective opinion. And it is an opinion that is not rooted in empirical reality and is not supported by any evidence. Collins has been in charge of the NIH for four years. That’s over 200 weeks. That’s over 1400 days. If your subjective impression of him as being “clearly problematic” was rooted in reality, where is the supporting evidence?

    Atheists tell us that our beliefs must be supported by evidence. But then why is it that they constantly exempt themselves from having to support their beliefs with evidence?

    If Collins said that cancer is caused by divine intervention, wouldn’t that preclude his consideration for the position? But when we replace cancer with something less well understood then suddenly it’s OK? That’s the old God of the Gaps.

    LOL! Er, the evidence from the last four years tells us that his nomination HAS been OK.

    If we agree on that simple point then that’s all there is. How long ago the appointment was, or what has transpired since, does not affect the original concern.

    So the evidence doesn’t matter.

    If we agree that driving recklessly is a bad idea, then even a lifetime of driving recklessly without a single accident would not prove that driving recklessly is OK after all. To continue the analogy, you’re demanding evidence that driving recklessly is bad, but I’ve already stated that it’s bad no matter what the outcome happens to be. In the context of allocating taxpayer dollars to advance scientific knowledge, God of the Gaps and presuming divine intervention is problematic even if there happens to have been no known ill effects attributed to that view.

    Such sophistry. Your analogy is full of holes, but I’m not interested in side-tracking the issue with word salads, Caleb. Stick to the evidence. Data. Empirical facts. There is no evidence that Collins has been bad for the NIH or its role in science. Are you admitting that beliefs need not be supported by evidence?

    If you knew how to think like a scientist, this is the point where you would begin to question the validity of our original concerns.

  10. TFBW says:

    Caleb said:

    Not engaging in God of the Gaps does not imply “extreme Darwinian reductionism”. The scientific alternative to God Did It is “I don’t know; let’s investigate.”

    So replace “extreme Darwinian reductionism” with “extreme materialist reductionism which specifically anathematises any reference to God as a possible causal agent of any sort.”

    Scientists would be rightly concerned if the head of the NIH was a creationist (the epitome of God of the Gaps), so a lesser form of divine interventionism (God of the Brain Gap) should also raise concerns.

    Are you going to present any evidence that these heinous beliefs have any impact on one’s ability to conduct the duties associated with head of the NIH, or are your subjective evaluations of how such a belief would affect one’s competence all the substance you can offer? Presumably the latter, since I’m sure you’d be thrusting any straw of evidence you could muster in our collective faces. I’ll take this particular absence of evidence as evidence of absence.

    People have been researching the origins of morality for decades, e.g. reciprocation and fairness behavior in primates.

    No, people have been studying animal behaviour, not “the origins of morality”. Lots of people tell evolutionary stories about the emergence of moral behaviour — stories which are intended to cohere with the observations of ethology, of course — but it’s hugely presumptuous to think that you can study the origins of morality by watching monkeys throw temper tantrums over unequal treatment. Do you think we can study the origins of mathematics by observing that monkeys have a basic grasp of the concept of “quantity”?

    But the presumption of divine intervention presents a barrier to increasing scientific knowledge.

    The main thing wrong with that statement (aside from the usual lack of supporting evidence) is its narrow focus. Presumptions of any sort have a tendency to get in the way of increasing knowledge of any sort, and Gnus are a terrifically presumptuous lot. Would we be better off without Sir Isaac Newton’s contributions to science, or without the contributions of the top ten Gnu scientists?

  11. The Deuce says:

    TFBW:

    …it’s hugely presumptuous to think that you can study the origins of morality by watching monkeys throw temper tantrums over unequal treatment.

    Indeed. One of the primary defining aspects of morality is that there is a distinction between what we actually do and what we know we should do, and between how we think and and how we know we should think. Animal behavioral studies don’t even touch on that. It’s also intrinsically tied to intentionality, and a coherent materialistic account of it isn’t even possible.

    Do you think we can study the origins of mathematics by observing that monkeys have a basic grasp of the concept of “quantity”?

    On top of that, any argument for the idea that moral reason and the concepts of right and wrong in moral affairs are the product of materialistic evolution, applies with equal force to reason in general and the concepts of right and wrong (aka true and false) in general.

    Yet, oddly, Gnus almost always want to use evolution to deconstruct moral law and nothing else. They’ll bitch and moan that Collins is being “unscientific” to think that there are objective moral facts that were not invented by materialistic evolution, but they fail to insist that mathematical truths are also mere contrivances of materialistic evolution, or modus ponens and the law of non-contradiction. They want to have their cake an eat it too.

    Why, a cynic might even conclude that this inconsistency is nothing more than a reflection of Gnu’s political and religious obsessions! They’re adamant about the supposedly “scientific” deconstruction of moral law because they hate and resent Christian morality, but they’re oddly unconcerned about the “scientific” deconstruction of logic and mathematical truth because that sort of post-modernism would undermine their endless blather about what “rational” devotees of “Reason” they are.

    Presumptions of any sort have a tendency to get in the way of increasing knowledge of any sort, and Gnus are a terrifically presumptuous lot. Would we be better off without Sir Isaac Newton’s contributions to science, or without the contributions of the top ten Gnu scientists?

    Bingo. And notice that Caleb, while whining about Collin’s supposed presumptions, would harm science by denying career advancement to scientific giants like Collins, in favor of mediocrities like Coyne, based on nothing more than his own bigoted and incoherent presumptions.

  12. Caleb says:

    Michael: “Can you cite one person who opposed, or still opposes, his nomination that is not an anti-religious bigot?”

    That looks like a trick question. If I mention someone then you’ll just say that he or she is a bigot. But if you are yearning for an answer, Steven Pinker (not a bigot) and myself (not a bigot).

    Again I’m not saying anything that is tied to theism or atheism, and I think you may agree with my view if you think about it. It begins with this question: If the person nominated to head the NIH believed that cancer is caused by God’s supernatural intervention, should that raise legitmate concerns? I look forward to your answer.

  13. Michael says:

    Pinker is a Gnu and a good ally of anti-religious bigot Dawkins. Pinker may not be the bomb-thrower that Dawkins is, but that’s not his style. His bigotry can be detected by the type of arguments and demands he made in his letter of opposition. For example, as Santi Tafarella noted:

    Once again, notice Pinker’s hang-up with Collins’s “public advocacy.” Pinker wants those who hold a science position in the US government to be of only two sorts: (1) those who are atheists; or (2) those who are privately religious, but engage in no outside public advocacy…. I’d ask those who call themselves liberals (as well as agnostics and atheists) to absorb the implications of that statement. Pinker is saying that to work for the US federal government you should drop the private projects that give your life meaning. This is, to put it bluntly, what is said by somebody who is a totalitarian of the spirit.

    So far, the list of those who opposed the nomination reads like a speaker schedule at the Gnu conference – Harris, Coyne, and Pinker. I’ll dissect Pinker’s letter on July 11.

    As for you, you do come across as a bigot. Your position is one of intolerance. You can’t justify this intolerance with evidence. In fact, you express contempt for the evidence and would rather focus on some arm-chair philosophy concocted to rationalize your fringe position. In the past, you have used a different screen name to argue that religion is a form of child abuse.

    Again I’m not saying anything that is tied to theism or atheism,

    Let’s see. Who opposed the nomination? Harris? Atheist. Coyne? Atheist. Pinker? Atheist. You? Atheist. No connection there, people. Move along.

    and I think you may agree with my view if you think about it.

    In thinking about your view, I have found it to be without evidence. It always has been without evidence. Are you telling me beliefs do not need to be supported by the evidence? I asked you that before, but that’s one of the questions you chose to ignore.

    It begins with this question: If the person nominated to head the NIH believed that cancer is caused by God’s supernatural intervention, should that raise legitmate concerns? I look forward to your answer.

    Like a bigot, you think it begins with a litmus test. Are you also arguing that someone who believes in the resurrection of Jesus should not be allowed to head the NIH?

    I prefer the scientific approach. I would not care about the person’s metaphysical beliefs. I would look at their track record of success as a scientist and as a leader. I would focus on the evidence. That approach is foreign to you.
    As I mentioned above, Coyne was wrong and I was right. That’s because Coyne opted for the litmus test approach and I approached the issue like a scientist.

    So here’s another question we can begin with. What would it take for you to admit you are wrong about Collins?

  14. Caleb says:

    You’ve confused me with someone else — I’m not an atheist, and as I’ve been saying that doesn’t even matter with regard to my view on Collins.

    You didn’t answer my question: If the person nominated to head the NIH believed that cancer is caused by God’s supernatural intervention, should that raise legitimate concerns?

    Indeed that is a litmus test! Anyone who thinks that cancer is caused by divine intervention should not be director of the NIH! That is my view, what is yours?

    I did answer your question, twice, but you appear to have misunderstood what I said. You could take the first step in understanding by answering this question: If someone drove recklessly for 20 years without an accident, would that prove that driving recklessly is an OK thing to do? Can I claim that driving recklessly is bad because of the potential consequences it entails, regardless of whatever actual consequences that may occur in practice? A review of Hume’s is-ought distinction may be in order.

  15. Michael says:

    You didn’t answer my question: If the person nominated to head the NIH believed that cancer is caused by God’s supernatural intervention, should that raise legitimate concerns?

    I answered your question. I told you that I reject the litmus test approach. I prefer the scientific approach. I would not care about the person’s metaphysical beliefs. I would look at their track record of success as a scientist and as a leader. I would focus on the evidence.

    Indeed that is a litmus test!

    And thar she blows! The bigot concedes he/she wants to impose a metaphysical litmus test.

    I have three simple questions.

    1. Since the litmus test is unlikely to involve only beliefs about the origin of disease and morality, I’d like to know if you think anyone who thinks Jesus rose from the dead should be barred from heading the NIH. Yes or no?
    2. Do you think beliefs need to be rooted in evidence? Yes or no?
    3. What would it take for you to admit you are wrong about Collins?

  16. The Deuce says:

    Caleb:

    If the person nominated to head the NIH believed that cancer is caused by God’s supernatural intervention, should that raise legitimate concerns?

    It’s a phenomenally dumb and unrealistic question. If someone had a mindset or beliefs about disease that prevented them from being able to perform scientifically, they wouldn’t be in a position to get nominated to head of the NIH on the first place, because they wouldn’t be able to put together the track record to do so.

    Collins was able to become the nation’s top geneticist because his beliefs about morality don’t conflict with or contradict any actual scientific knowledge, nor do they hamper his scientific performance, regardless of how much you wish your own incoherent, fact-free, and inconsistently-applied personal philosophical litmus test were something other than that.

  17. TFBW says:

    I think all this speak of a “litmus test” is a bit harsh on litmus tests. The test that springs to mind in my case is “shibboleth”, or possibly “fumi-e”.

  18. Caleb says:

    Michael —

    You’re still misunderstanding. When I said “litmus test” I was referring to an NIH director believing that God causes cancer. There is in fact a continuum ranging from “absolutely not” to “concerning” to “no problem”. This isn’t a controversial idea, and I think you’ll have to agree with it.

    Let’s bring in another example for more contrast. Suppose the new candidate for director of NIH thinks that all scientists should be executed. Certainly that should disqualify him! You should agree! We don’t need evidence that hiring this person is a bad idea — we know it on principle. If he gets hired and ends up refraining from murdering, I wouldn’t look back and say, “Well I guess I was wrong about him after all!” However according to your argument, I wouldn’t have evidence that his murderous intent actually caused a problem, so therefore I was wrong to oppose the nomination. To answer your recent questions in this context, (2) my opposition to this murderer-wannabe is not rooted in evidence and (3) I won’t change my mind about my opposition. Therefore I’m a bigot who doesn’t care about evidence.

    Now let’s back up to the NIH director believing in God-caused cancer. This also, in my mind, is clearly an inappropriate view for someone in that position to hold. I would suspect his directorship could have bad consequences. I wouldn’t know for sure — I have no evidence! — but nonetheless I would have good reason to oppose the nomination. But again according to you, my opposition is wrong-headed because it’s not rooted in evidence. I’m a bigot who doesn’t care about evidence.

    Now to the case of the NIH director believing in God-caused moral behavior in humans. God-caused cancer and God-caused morality are both God of the Gaps stances, and the difference between them is only one of degree. The Gap is bigger for our understanding of morality, so God more easily fits into it. However the size of the Gap is not actually relevant; any kind of God of the Gaps presumption is inappropriate for the director of NIH, in my mind. In this case it seems that less is at stake, though, so my opposition would be less strong. I wouldn’t know for sure that problems would spring from his directorship — I have no evidence! — but nonetheless I would have good reason to oppose the nomination. But again according to you, my opposition is wrong-headed because it’s not rooted in evidence. I’m a bigot who doesn’t care about evidence.

    And finally to your question (3), what about an NIH director who believes in a miracle that happened 2000 years ago? Well that’s not an active field of scientific investigation, whereas cancer and human behavior are. There isn’t a Gap that’s being filled. So no problem.

  19. Michael says:

    You’re still misunderstanding. When I said “litmus test” I was referring to an NIH director believing that God causes cancer. There is in fact a continuum ranging from “absolutely not” to “concerning” to “no problem”. This isn’t a controversial idea, and I think you’ll have to agree with it.

    I’m not misunderstanding anything, Caleb. Your distinction is irrelevant – according to you. It is a simple fact that you did and do want to discriminate against Collins because of your litmus test. You write, “God-caused cancer and God-caused morality are both God of the Gaps stances, and the difference between them is only one of degree. The Gap is bigger for our understanding of morality, so God more easily fits into it. However the size of the Gap is not actually relevant; any kind of God of the Gaps presumption is inappropriate for the director of NIH, in my mind.”

    So we have established that your intolerance is expressed by imposing litmus tests.

    As for my questions, it appears as if you are trying to mask your answers with hand-waving, so let me check to see if I am correct in deciphering your answer.

    I asked: Do you think beliefs need to be rooted in evidence? Yes or no?
    It looks to me like your answer is “no.” Am I correct?

    I asked: What would it take for you to admit you are wrong about Collins?
    It looks to me like you are admitting that nothing can change your mind about this as there is nothing that could exist to make you admit being wrong. Am I correct?

  20. TFBW says:

    Caleb said:

    You’re still misunderstanding. When I said “litmus test” I was referring to an NIH director believing that God causes cancer. There is in fact a continuum ranging from “absolutely not” to “concerning” to “no problem”. This isn’t a controversial idea, and I think you’ll have to agree with it.

    There are beliefs which are relevant, beliefs which are not relevant, and beliefs which are indirectly relevant (and thus relevant only in a limited sense). Of the beliefs which are relevant, not every belief will be simply black-and-white “appropriate” or “inappropriate”: there are matters of policy and emphasis over which legitimate disagreements can occur. In this case, the object of the relevance (the thing to which the beliefs are relevant) is the NIH mission. The beliefs of the NIH director are only relevant to his suitability for the position to the extent that those beliefs impact the NIH mission.

    I trust that this is the point you are trying to make with your hypothetical questions, and that you do not consider it controversial. I find that it aids clarity to spell out one’s position like this, rather than press the other party towards that position using hypothetical questions — the sheepdog approach.

    Having spelled that out, it becomes clearer whether any particular belief is germane, or whether it’s simply being used as a touchstone for tribalism. In a nutshell, the mission of the NIH is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems, and apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. A belief like “God causes cancer” might be indirectly relevant: one needs to probe further and determine whether this has any impact on, for instance, one’s attitude towards the study of cancer. If it also followed that the person thought that cancer could not be prevented or should not be cured, then that would be directly relevant and inappropriate. One can not simply assume that such an inappropriate secondary belief follows directly from the first, however: the person in question may be a misotheist who believes that God is a cancer-causing monster that we ought to oppose.

    To cut a long story short, then, your initial concern was that, “Collins believes that our moral intuitions … are not the product of evolution.” Like most things, this is, at most, indirectly relevant. In order to raise this concern above the level of tribal prejudice, you must show that this belief relates to another belief which Collins holds — one which is directly relevant and inappropriate. You’ve been hinting at this with your “God of the gaps” talk, but you really ought to just cut to the chase and spell out what it is that Collins believes which is directly relevant and inappropriate.

    If you don’t, then you’re just casting aspersions — flinging poop — and can be lightly dismissed as a disgruntled ideologue who resents that the wrong kind of person has been granted a position of leadership and authority.

  21. Caleb says:

    Michael —

    Sorry but you are still misunderstanding. I have shown that your argument and your questions rest on flawed assumptions. The first assumption is

    (a) No personal belief should cause concern or disqualify someone from being the director of NIH.

    This is clearly not true. If someone holds a belief that conflicts with the purpose or aim of a job then that should cause concern, and he may be considered unsuitable for it. He may be well-qualified for other positions, but not that particular one. To convey this idea, I asked: If the person nominated to head the NIH believed that cancer is caused by God’s supernatural intervention, should that raise legitimate concerns? Your answer was that you “reject the litmus test approach”. I don’t think you really believe that, and to show why I gave the example: What about someone who believes that scientists should be executed? That should clearly disqualify him. This is a fatal blow to the idea of “no litmus test”, at least in the way that you are using the term.

    There is a sound principle of “no litmus test” which applies for example in the nomination of judges. However asking a judicial nominee “Do you believe in upholding the Constitution?” would not be called a litmus test in this context; it is simply a question to determine if the candidate is qualified. An answer of no would lead to disqualification. That’s not discrimination based on personal belief; that’s being unqualified based on personal belief.

    The next flawed assumption is

    (b) If an action is considered to have potentially negative consequences, and no negative consequences ultimately result from the action, then it was wrong to believe that the action had potentially negative consequences.

    That is not valid, and I explained by example: “If we agree that driving recklessly is a bad idea, then even a lifetime of driving recklessly without a single accident would not prove that driving recklessly is OK after all…it’s bad no matter what the outcome happens to be.”

    Herein I have assumed that there have been no negative consequences of the Collins appointment, but I’ll make a note on the side that we don’t actually know that. To answer that question would require extensive study.

    Now to your questions,

    “Do you think beliefs need to be rooted in evidence? Yes or no?”

    Yes (obviously). We have the evidence of what Francis Collins states as his own views, which suggest to me a conflict of interest. It is a mistake to assume (a), that beliefs don’t matter.

    “What would it take for you to admit you are wrong about Collins?”

    I could be wrong about Collins in many ways. For example he may have misstated his views or left out essential qualifications to them, or I may have misunderstood them due to my own fault. In any case it is a mistake to assume (b).

  22. Michael says:

    Sorry but you are still misunderstanding. I have shown that your argument and your questions rest on flawed assumptions.

    You have shown it only to yourself.

    The first assumption is

    (a) No personal belief should cause concern or disqualify someone from being the director of NIH.

    You are the one misunderstanding, for this is not my working assumption. My assumption is that such hiring decisions should be based on the evidence – a track record of success and previous accomplishments. That is the working, default assumption. I told you that is the approach I prefer, given that human history is a history of “justified” discrimination. Now, in rare and extraordinary circumstances, a personal belief could become relevant. But if we are to walk down that prone-to-abuse road, the burden of proof is on those who want to bring it into play and the burden should be set quite high.

    The next flawed assumption is
    (b) If an action is considered to have potentially negative consequences, and no negative consequences ultimately result from the action, then it was wrong to believe that the action had potentially negative consequences.

    No, that is not my assumption. Any action can have “potentially negative consequences.” So that observation is irrelevant. It is wrong to oppose Collins’ nomination because of “potential” negative consequences because that litmus test could be applied against anyone and is therefore poised for serious abuse. You would need to make the case that his nomination would come with likely negative consequences and you would need evidence to back up that assertion. My assumption is that if Collins’ beliefs would interfere with this ability to serve as head of the NIH, we would have evidence to support this contention. But there is none and never has been any.

    I’m not sure why you reject my approach, since it is a fairly mainstream approach. Did you ever bother to ask yourself why it is that Harris, Pinker, and Coyne were never able to develop any traction for their objections?

    As for your two imaginary situations to justify your litmus test approach, you don’t seem to understand that the evidence-based approach would screen out your imaginary candidates. Any person who seriously wanted to execute all scientists would not be able to generate a track record of impressive scientific discovery and leadership. Any person who seriously believed all cancer poofed into existence would not be able to a track record of impressive scientific discovery and leadership. How can you know I am right? Evidence, Caleb. Evidence. For let me ask you one thing – can you name one person who has an outstanding record of scientific discovery and leadership (sufficient for consideration to head the NIH) who also advocates killing all scientists? Clearly, you have invented some unrealistic, hypothetical situations in a purely ad hoc manner, trying to paint targets around your bigoted arrows.

    Now, can we name one person who has an outstanding record of scientific discovery and leadership who also believes in God and believes God gifted humanity with a sense of morality? Sure. Francis Collins. Clearly, the evidence shows his Christian beliefs have in no way served as an obstacle for becoming a man with a stellar track record in terms of science and leadership.

    I asked
    “Do you think beliefs need to be rooted in evidence? Yes or no?”

    And you replied:

    Yes (obviously). We have the evidence of what Francis Collins states as his own views, which suggest to me a conflict of interest. It is a mistake to assume (a), that beliefs don’t matter.

    That’s a weaselly answer. Yes, we have evidence that Collins is a Christian. But that was never in dispute. You have no evidence that his Christian faith is somehow incompatible with being head of the NIH. Yes, we know his faith “suggests to you” there is some conflict of interest. But that’s nothing more that your own subjective opinion rooted in your prejudice. Collins has been head of the NIH for four years, and you still have no evidence that any “conflict of interest” is part of reality. Why do you expect me to buy into your fantasy?
    As for beliefs mattering, it’s clear that for you, all that matters are beliefs. Collins is a Christian and that “suggests” to you personally there is some mysterious “conflict of interest” and that’s all that matters. No evidence. Just the litmus test. What you don’t seem to get is that the litmus test approach only works with those who share in your bigotry and prejudice. Which explains why such a tiny, fringe minority opposed his nomination.

    As for my other question: “What would it take for you to admit you are wrong about Collins?”

    You replied:

    I could be wrong about Collins in many ways. For example he may have misstated his views or left out essential qualifications to them, or I may have misunderstood them due to my own fault. In any case it is a mistake to assume (b).

    Another weaselly answer. Explain what type of misstatement, omitted qualification, or misunderstanding would get you to admit you are wrong.

    Finally, you should make an effort to engage TFBW’s comments.

  23. Caleb says:

    Michael —

    The murderous-intent nominee came about in response to your answer “I reject the litmus test approach” when confronted with a nominee that thinks God directly causes cancer. If that’s not enough for disqualification, then what would be? I was only trying to understand what your position was, which was also the reason for the God-cancer guy. The purpose of the thought experiments is to clarify arguments, not to “prove” anything, obviously.

    You have no evidence that his Christian faith is somehow incompatible with being head of the NIH.

    Whoa whoa hang on. I never said that. In fact I stated the very opposite: I said “no problem” to your question of the resurrection. Being a Christian in no way necessitates a God of the Gaps outlook.

    Conflicts of interest arise all the time in government, science, private enterprise, everywhere. Judges recuse themselves. Objections to government appointments based on conflict of interest are commonplace. If a person publicly advocates for a cause, and he is nominated for a position whose duty is to act contrary to that cause, then we have a conflict of interest.

    Collins has taken a public position of claiming, without evidence, that God tweaked human behavior through divine intervention. As director of NIH, his duty is, at root, to take the opposite position: to seek natural causes for observed phenomena (which in practice entails administration and the directing of monies to enable others to do so). Human behavior is one of those phenomena being studied, and it’s an important one. This is a clear case of conflict of interest. The evidence is the conflict of interest. The passage of time doesn’t make the conflict of interest go away.

    Collins’ work prior to NIH had nothing to do with the study of human behavior. There was no conflict of interest. We could even suppose that he is the greatest living scientist, but that still wouldn’t erase the conflict of interest with the NIH directorship.

    As another thought experiment to understand your position (and not to “prove” anything), if the CEO of an oil company was appointed head of the EPA, wouldn’t that suggest a conflict of interest? Would I be wrong in opposing the appointment because I had no “evidence” that it is likely to have negative consequences? And what exactly would this “evidence” be, besides the conflict of interest itself?

  24. Caleb says:

    TFBW —

    The statement “But the presumption of divine intervention presents a barrier to
    increasing scientific knowledge” is either self-evident or a tautology, so your demand for evidence of it is puzzling. If one looks for natural causes then one is not assuming that God Did It. If one assumes that God Did It then there’s no reason to seek natural causes. History is brimming with examples of people believing that certain phenomena are divinely caused, and believing so for long stretches of time until someone puts the assumption aside and undertakes to find natural causes.

    You mentioned Newton, so let’s take him as an example. Newton believed that the planetary orbits were stabilized by divine intervention. He had the ability and the mathematics for taking the next step to perturbation theory, but he stopped short at God Did It. And so it sat for years until Laplace came along.

  25. Michael says:

    Collins has taken a public position of claiming, without evidence, that God tweaked human behavior through divine intervention. As director of NIH, his duty is, at root, to take the opposite position: to seek natural causes for observed phenomena (which in practice entails administration and the directing of monies to enable others to do so). Human behavior is one of those phenomena being studied, and it’s an important one. This is a clear case of conflict of interest. The evidence is the conflict of interest. The passage of time doesn’t make the conflict of interest go away.

    It is a “clear case” of conflict of interest in your mind alone, Caleb. Collins, as a Christian, believes that God gifted humanity with a moral sense, free will, and a soul. If true, science can neither confirm this nor refute this, as such a view lies outside the realm of science. Furthermore, there is nothing in this view which would prevent him from seeking out natural causes for human behavior, as I am sure he accepts that much of human behavior is tied up with natural causes. What’s more, even if he embraced a hardcore “God of the Gaps” view on this, even that would not necessarily mean he would oppose anyone who sought out natural causes. For example, creationists often encourage the study of abiogenesis precisely because a failed research program better supports the God of the Gaps approach than no research program.

    To make a “clear case” of conflict of interest, you would need to show that Collins has publicly advocated that the science of human behavior should be stripped of all funding because it would be a complete waste of time. TFBW nailed ya:

    To cut a long story short, then, your initial concern was that, “Collins believes that our moral intuitions … are not the product of evolution.” Like most things, this is, at most, indirectly relevant. In order to raise this concern above the level of tribal prejudice, you must show that this belief relates to another belief which Collins holds — one which is directly relevant and inappropriate. You’ve been hinting at this with your “God of the gaps” talk, but you really ought to just cut to the chase and spell out what it is that Collins believes which is directly relevant and inappropriate.

    If you don’t, then you’re just casting aspersions — flinging poop — and can be lightly dismissed as a disgruntled ideologue who resents that the wrong kind of person has been granted a position of leadership and authority.

    The evidence is the conflict of interest.
    Nonsense. There is no evidence of any conflict of evidence.

    The passage of time doesn’t make the conflict of interest go away.

    The passage of time helps us confirm or disprove if the “conflict of interest” truly existed. If it exists only in the realm of Chicken Little Logic, the supposed conflict of interest will not manifest itself as empirical reality. If there truly is a conflict of interest, we would expect it to manifest itself as some negative consequence (the very reason “conflict of interest” becomes relevant). Harris and Pinker implied what it would be, but as we can see, they were wrong and now have egg all over their faces.

    Of course, you might want to argue that we have a conflict of interest that does not manifest itself as negative consequences. If that is the case, who cares if there was a conflict of interest, as empirical reality would determine it to be irrelevant.

    In summary, you have no evidence to support your opposition. As such, you are forced to retreat into some shadowy “conflict of interest” rationalization, yet you have no evidence any conflict of interest exists. What’s worse, even if there was a “conflict of interest,” the last four years of data have shown it to be irrelevant.

    So there you are. No evidence. No argument. Alone with nothing more than your prejudice. And unless you come up with some evidence, there is no reason to continue this discussion.

  26. TFBW says:

    In response to Michael, Caleb said:

    Collins has taken a public position of claiming, without evidence, that God tweaked human behavior through divine intervention. As director of NIH, his duty is, at root, to take the opposite position: to seek natural causes for observed phenomena (which in practice entails administration and the directing of monies to enable others to do so).

    To the extent that the NIH is interested in human behaviour, its mandate is not to “seek natural causes” for it, but to understand it, and to understand the specific cause/effect relationships in which it plays a part. Collins believes that God is the ultimate cause behind certain aspects of human nature, whereas materialists think that the laws of physics are the ultimate cause. Neither of these positions is particularly relevant to the practical application of science, which deals in proximal causes, such as the influence of drugs or environmental factors. As far as practical science is concerned, ultimate causes are just narrative gloss.

    If someone were looking for a grant to support research into a theory of ultimate causes of human behaviour, then they should probably seek funding from an organisation that specialises in philosophy, not health. If Collins were head of such an organisation, then you might have a point.

    In response to me, Caleb said:

    Newton believed that the planetary orbits were stabilized by divine intervention. He had the ability and the mathematics for taking the next step to perturbation theory, but he stopped short at God Did It. And so it sat for years until Laplace came along.

    Laplace thought that God could be rigorously excluded from science. He had the ability and the mathematics for taking the next step to general relativity, but he stopped short at perturbation theory. And so it sat for years until Einstein came along.

    …proving nothing in either case.

    On analysis, in fact, I find that to be a patently fallacious form of argument. Among other things, it’s an argument from an implied counterfactual: if only Newton had been a materialist, he would also have discovered perturbation theory — or so you invite us to think. It’s the kind of thing you can’t say outright, because people would immediately call your bluff, but you can imply the same thing by strategic placement of phrases like, “but he stopped short at God Did It.” The implication is clear: if he didn’t believe that God Did It, he wouldn’t have stopped short. The argument thus assumes what it sets out to prove: namely, that people are better at science if they are philosophical materialists. In other words, you’re begging the question.

    You know what? I’m pretty sick of atheists who present themselves as great bastions of reason, especially compared to the irrational theists, and yet who always present their arguments in rhetoric and innuendo. Prove me wrong and surprise me with a syllogism, why don’t you?

    Let’s look at it a different way: who contributed more to modern science? Newton, or Laplace? If philosophical materialism is as important to the process of science as you say it is, then the materialist Laplace will cast a long shadow over Newton the theist in terms of his achievements, yes?

    I’m going for modus tollens on that one.

  27. Caleb says:

    Michael —

    I still see several points of confusion.

    First I must reiterate that Christianity in no way implies a God of the Gaps outlook, and that there is no problem with the director of NIH being Christian. I take issue with Collins’ particular God of the Gaps claim alone.

    Second, it is not at all clear what you mean by “no evidence” in a case where a conflict of interest is present. Earlier I asked: If the CEO of an oil company was appointed head of the EPA, wouldn’t that suggest a conflict of interest? Would I be wrong in opposing the appointment because I had no “evidence” that it is likely to have negative consequences? And what exactly could this “evidence” be, besides the conflict of interest itself? I did not receive an answer, so I still don’t know where you are coming from. It appears that any objection to any appointment based on conflict of interest would be considered by you to have no evidence.

    Third, I still notice the faulty assumption of (b) being made. I don’t think you have adequately addressed this point. I will restate it as

    (c) If a conflict of interest is recognized regarding an appointment to a position of power, and it turns out that no ill effects ultimately resulted from the appointment, then the perception of the conflict of interest was wrong.

    This is false. For example if I object to an oil executive being appointed head of the EPA, and it turns out that nothing apparently goes wrong over the course of four years, that does not imply my objection was in error.

    Putting the above confusions aside, I think the essential place where we disagree is whether or not a conflict of interest exists in the Collins appointment. To me this is the only interesting point, with everything else being fluff.

    It seems to me uncontroversial to think that someone who claims “God did X” should not be placed in charge of overseeing the funding of scientific research into X, especially when I consider X to be very important. X is basically devalued as a field of scientific research, and it can’t be wrong to suspect that some kind of consequence may result. I don’t see how one could object to some values of X (cancer, AIDS) but not others.

  28. Caleb says:

    TFBW —

    To the extent that the NIH is interested in human behavior, its mandate is not to “seek natural causes” for it

    Scientific research means methodological naturalism, i.e. “seek natural causes”. Maybe you are thinking of the Discovery Institute.

    Science does not entail philosophical naturalism or philosophical materialism.

    I did not say or imply that philosophical materialism is important to the process of science.

    Someone who is not a philosophical naturalist is not obliged embrace God of the Gaps.

    I leave it to google to explain the problems with God of the Gaps.

    My Newton example does not imply “if only Newton had been a materialist, he would also have discovered perturbation theory”, nor does it imply “that people are better at science if they are philosophical materialists”. I am, however, saying that scientists would do better to avoid the God of the Gaps fallacy.

    Despite the misperceptions in your last comment, you did say something interesting about proximate and ultimate causes. If Collins believes that the proximate causes of morality are discoverable by methodological naturalism while the ultimate cause lies in philosophy then I would have no objections.

    However that is not at all how I understand his view. In his book he argues against the evolution of altruistic behavior and he seems to dismiss the field of sociobiology out of hand. At times it reads like a creationist tract. He’s quite explicitly taking a stand: science can’t explain it, therefore God. That’s God of the Gaps, inserting a proximate cause of God.

  29. TFBW says:

    Scientific research means methodological naturalism, i.e. “seek natural causes”.

    You might think that it entails that, but it certainly doesn’t mean that. Assuming you meant “entails”, then please clarify: what are the implications for science if some things do not, in fact, have natural causes?

    I did not say or imply that philosophical materialism is important to the process of science.

    Is it permitted for a scientist to ascribe any kind of causal activity to any non-material (i.e. “supernatural”) entity? Or, at least, to be open to the possibility that such a causal link might be possible? It seems to me that such language is strictly prohibited by your philosophy of science. As far as I can tell, one is permitted to be something other than a philosophical materialist if (a) one does not claim to be a scientist, or (b) one holds to a strict causal separation of the natural and supernatural, such that the supernatural can not interact at all with the phenomenal world. In other words, one must be a philosophical materialist in practice, if not in principle.

    Correct me if I’m wrong. It’s not like you’ve spelled your position out in detail. I’m surmising.

    My Newton example does not imply “if only Newton had been a materialist, he would also have discovered perturbation theory”, nor does it imply “that people are better at science if they are philosophical materialists”. I am, however, saying that scientists would do better to avoid the God of the Gaps fallacy.

    Please excuse me for trying to find something in your words which would have permitted that conclusion to be derived logically, rather than simply asserted with an accompanying smokescreen of rhetoric to make it look less like a bare assertion.

    I note that you’re not willing to assert that Laplace was the greater contributor to science, despite your approval of his philosophical leanings. If Newton is what we get from God of the Gaps arguments, then frankly we could do with more of them. Of course, Newton isn’t that, despite your heavy hinting to the contrary. The smoke you’re blowing isn’t making your point any stronger.

    I note that you’re not going to surprise me with any syllogisms, either. Are you sure there’s no way that I could goad you into using actual logic? Arguing against rhetoric is tedious, and there are only so many ways you can point out that someone has failed to present anything approximating a valid argument before it gets repetitive.

    In the absence of an actual argument from you, I’ll have to take a stab at what you mean. Feel free to correct it: it is, no doubt, cast in an unflattering light.

    1. Nobody who employs a “God of the Gaps” argument is suited to be head of the NIH.
    2. Collins employs a “God of the Gaps” argument in his book.
    3. Therefore, Collins is not suited to be head of the NIH.

    However that is not at all how I understand his view.

    Would I be right in supposing that you consider yourself to have fairly acute analytical skills? And that you can detect fallacious reasoning in an argument? And that you used these skills to determine that Collins presents a fallacious “God of the Gaps” argument in his book?

    In the interests of disclosure, I’d like to point out that I haven’t read his book at all. To what extent have you read it?

  30. Michael says:

    Caleb –
    I am afraid you are confusing yourself.

    I already explained to you there is no evidence of any conflict of interest. I wrote:

    “Collins, as a Christian, believes that God gifted humanity with a moral sense, free will, and a soul. If true, science can neither confirm this nor refute this, as such a view lies outside the realm of science. Furthermore, there is nothing in this view which would prevent him from seeking out natural causes for human behavior, as I am sure he accepts that much of human behavior is tied up with natural causes. What’s more, even if he embraced a hardcore “God of the Gaps” view on this, even that would not necessarily mean he would oppose anyone who sought out natural causes. For example, creationists often encourage the study of abiogenesis precisely because a failed research program better supports the God of the Gaps approach than no research program.”

    And even if there was a conflict of interest, the evidence from the last fours years gives us no reason to think it relevant since there is no evidence Collins has done anything wrong. I also showed that you were wrong in insisting my views were built upon faulty assumptions (a) and (b).

    So now you seek to morph “faulty assumption b” into a newer version you now call (c):

    If a conflict of interest is recognized regarding an appointment to a position of power, and it turns out that no ill effects ultimately resulted from the appointment, then the perception of the conflict of interest was wrong.

    No, here is the actual assumption:

    If a conflict of interest is recognized regarding an appointment to a position of power, and it turns out that no ill effects ultimately resulted from the appointment, then the perception of the conflict of interest was irrelevant as the conflict of interest was inconsequential.

    You yourself just wrote, “It seems to me uncontroversial to think that someone who claims “God did X” should not be placed in charge of overseeing the funding of scientific research into X, especially when I consider X to be very important. X is basically devalued as a field of scientific research, and it can’t be wrong to suspect that some kind of consequence may result.”

    Well, Collins has headed the NIH for four years now. And you have shown no interest in the fact that there is no such evidence some kind of negative consequence has resulted. In fact, you erected an argument that explains away your problem by citing some silly reckless driving analogy. In other words, you have all your bases covered. If Collins were to shut off funding to neuroscience or evo psychology, you’d pounce and claim you were right. But since he hasn’t, you rationalize it away with analogies. Either way, you’re right.

    In summary, I think it clear your opposition to Collins’ nomination is not rooted in evidence as you have none. Nor is it rooted in reason, as it is an elaborate rationalization that incorporates confused thinking and straw men arguments. It is rooted in prejudice and bigotry. Which is not surprising given a) there is no evidence to support your opposition and b) you have no way of admitting you are wrong and c) opposition is an extreme fringe position championed only by anti-religious bigots. Prejudice on display.

    You write, “I think the essential place where we disagree is whether or not a conflict of interest exists in the Collins appointment.” All that you have offered is fluff. But yes, you have not shown any evidence of a conflict of interest. Worse than that, even if you were right, it also looks like your whole reason to object has been rendered irrelevant as there is no evidence of any negative consequence.

    So you need evidence of a conflict of interest – instead of minting new analogies, deal with the topic directly for once and show us where Collins has argued that he will shut off funding to behavioral research. Then, show the evidence that he has been doing that for the last four years. If that evidence is not in your next comment, the discussion is over.

  31. Caleb says:

    TFBW —

    what are the implications for science if some things do not, in fact, have natural causes?

    How does one arrive at the conclusion that it is a fact that a thing does not have a natural cause? We need to pause and address this first because it affects everything else. I’d also like to know if I’m getting pulled into rehashing Discovery Institute talking points.

    “One is permitted” to hold any philosophy, but that doesn’t mean engaging in logical fallacies is OK, and the God of the Gaps fallacy is one that scientists should particularly avoid. Theologians also argue that it’s bad, by the way.

    I did not assert “if only Newton had been a materialist, he would also have discovered perturbation theory” or “that people are better at science if they are philosophical materialists”, and neither can be derived logically from what I’ve said.

    As I mentioned earlier, I’m not an atheist.

    I never said that I approved of Laplace’s philosophical leanings.

    I don’t think it’s possible to arrive at a common metric for Newton and Laplace because they are a century apart. Aristotle had some peculiar beliefs about physics, but that doesn’t exclude his mention among the great thinkers. I don’t consider the idea of deciding a “winner” among scientists in history to make much sense in any case.

  32. TFBW says:

    It looks like we’re not going to get a response.

  33. Michael says:

    It looks like we’re not going to get a response.

    His comment was held up in moderation because I was serious when I wrote. “So you need evidence of a conflict of interest – instead of minting new analogies, deal with the topic directly for once and show us where Collins has argued that he will shut off funding to behavioral research. Then, show the evidence that he has been doing that for the last four years. If that evidence is not in your next comment, the discussion is over.”

    You can have the last word.

  34. TFBW says:

    Thanks, Michael,

    @Caleb, if you’re still with us:

    How does one arrive at the conclusion that it is a fact that a thing does not have a natural cause?

    Deal with that problem as you see fit. Tackle it as part of the question that was asked. It’s a relevant issue. Please proceed with your explanation.

    “One is permitted” to hold any philosophy, but that doesn’t mean engaging in logical fallacies is OK, and the God of the Gaps fallacy is one that scientists should particularly avoid.

    So… you’re still referring to this “God of the Gaps” fallacy, and you haven’t mentioned anything about my translation of your argument into a categorical syllogism. I take it that I’ve represented your case fairly and accurately, then? Side note: one is permitted to hold any philosophy except the idea that “God of the Gaps” is a fair argument. Just sayin’…

    …and neither can be derived logically from what I’ve said.

    Yes, but that’s because nothing at all can be derived logically from what you’ve said. I’ve tried, and got nothing from you but denials that your statements have implications. If all your statements are laid end to end, they still don’t reach a conclusion. It would be easier to pin down a greased weasel.

    Yes… a greasy weasel is an apt metaphor, I think. For the record, then, I’m not going to be interested in any more of your replies either, unless they contain something solid enough to support a conclusion. Given what’s gone before, that seems like an unrealistic demand.

  35. Dhay says:

    Updating this with a link to Jerry Coyne’s blog entry for May 8, 2014 — http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/lying-for-darwin/ :

    Although I think scientists who are religious are engaged in a form of subconscious cognitive dissonance, I’ve never said that religious belief automatically prevents somebody from doing good science. …And although I vehemently object to Francis Collins’s [sic] touting scientific evidence for God (i.e., “The Moral Law”), I’ve said repeatedly that Collins was a good scientist and that I had no scientific objections to his heading the National Institutes of Health.

    In his blog entry for May 27, 2009 Coyne did have unscientific objections to Collins’ heading the NIH, namely that Collins is an evangelical Christian and BioLogos director. But he did quote another scientist’s unreserved admiration for Collins’ work, the quoting of which presumably implies Coyne’s own admiration:

    Elias Zerhouni, Collins’ would-be predecessor, voiced his approval for the pick, telling Bloomberg that Collins has “done things many scientists wish they could do once in their lifetime, and he’s done it repeatedly.”

    And in his recent blog he goes on to quote his complaint to a Dr Hess, that Hess had misrepresented him:

    Dr. Hess, I have never said any such thing as “in order to contribute to modern science you have to an atheist.” In fact, I’ve touted Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, as a good scientist several times…

    I am not sure I have spotted those times in his voluminous blogs, which I tend to skip a lot, the Zerhouni quote above excepting; but Coyne has at least said that Collins is OK (which is perhaps not the same as saying he is a good scientist): http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/collins-is-okay/

  36. Dhay says:

    An update: possibly Jerry Coyne is mellowing yet further; recently (May 2016) a Physics professor who Coyne had drawn attention to in 2013, and had castigated for teaching Intelligent Design in a public university (which is contrary to the Constitution, I gather), gained tenure, and Coyne was approached by a reporter for his comments on the appointment; unlike the Francis Collins NIH appointment, Coyne had no objections.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/id-advocate-eric-hedin-gets-tenure-at-ball-state/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s