Egg on their Faces

Jerry Coyne was not the only scientist to express his crackpot concerns about Francis Collins’ appointment to head the NIH four years ago. He had help from his New Atheist allies:

As someone who believes that our understanding of human nature can be derived from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, among others, I am troubled by Dr. Collins’s line of thinking. I also believe it would seriously undercut fields like neuroscience and our growing understanding of the human mind……One can only hope that these convictions will not affect his judgment at the institutes of health. After all, understanding human well-being at the level of the brain might very well offer some “answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” — questions like, Why do we suffer? Or, indeed, is it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself? And wouldn’t any effort to explain human nature without reference to a soul, and to explain morality without reference to God, necessarily constitute “atheistic materialism”? – Sam Harris

Also, the human mind and brain constitute one of the frontiers of biomedical science. Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience. The idea that there is divine design and teleology behind these functions, on the basis of Iron Age and medieval dogma, is antithetical to this vibrant research area. How will Collins preside over the allocation of research priorities if he believes in ““the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted”? – Stephen Pinker

We are now in the position to put this intolerant Gnu Gnonsense to the test.

Here’s something from 3 weeks ago:

More than 150 neuroscientists descended on Arlington, Virginia this week to begin planning the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—an ambitious but still hazy proposal to understand how the brain works by recording activity from an unprecedented numbers of neurons at once.

President Barack Obama announced the initiative on 2 April, which will be carried out by three federal agencies—the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—alongside a handful of private foundations.
One day earlier, the same hotel hosted the first face-to-face meeting of the NIH ‘Dream Team’ — a panel of 15 neuroscience researchers appointed by NIH director Francis Collins to lead the agency’s efforts on the BRAIN Initiative.

Okay, not only did Pinker and Harris try to smear Collins without having any evidence 4 years ago, and not only have they been unwilling to test their malicious claims during the last four years, it now turns out they are ignoring data that falsify their claims.

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4 Responses to Egg on their Faces

  1. The Deuce says:


    Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience.

    I mentioned it in the last post, but notice how Pinker leaves rationality, the laws of math and logic, and the concept of truth off his litmus test list of things that must be assumed to be the products of evolution and neuroscience, even tough there’s no objective basis for doing so given his premise.

    His focus, unsurprisingly, is mainly on those same things that Gnus are obsessed with debunking: namely religion and moral law. Applying his premises to reason, logic, and truth in general, would result in logical absurdity and imply the subjective relativism of truth, which would be incompatible with the whole idea of scientific discovery and would fatally undermine the Gnu pretense to rationality and scientific objectivity.

    His “concerns” are nothing more than a blatant and thinly-disguised metaphysical and political ideology that he’s trying to force onto the practice of science. To put an even finer point on it, he’s trying to distort science and hold it hostage to his particular worldview, while projecting that desire onto others.

  2. The Deuce says:

    Also, it’s quite enlightening to hear Sam “Xenoglossy” Harris’ opinions on this matter, I must say.

  3. Justin says:

    At least Pinker said Iron Age instead of Bronze. I was always embarrassed for Gnus who couldn’t even get their genetic fallacies right.

  4. Dhay says:

    In his book, “The Believing Brain”, Chapter 2, prominent atheist Michael Shermer says he quotes Francis Collins’ book, “The Language of God”, often, to support him, when debating creationists; and in that chapter he briefly summarises Collins’ chapter about human evolution, because it “well captures Collins’ integrity before the facts”.

    He goes on to say that, “Intellectually, Collins is tightly aligned with his fellow scientists when it comes to explaining everything in the world by natural law, with two exceptions: … [that is] in the realm of the cosmic origin of the laws of nature and the evolutionary origins of morality.

    With such praise for Francis Collins’s scientific integrity and tight alignment with his fellow scientists coming unsolicited from Michael Shermer, why then should the two New Age Horsemen – Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris – together with wannabee Horseman Steven Pinker, be behaving like headless chickens.

    Or if you prefer, why are they behaving like Chicken Little in the children’s tale, proclaiming that the result of Collins’ appointment to head the NIH must be that the sky is now falling on scientists’ heads.

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