A recent editorial in Nature Immunology, a member of the Nature family of scientific journals bizarrely attacks Francis Collins, the current head of the NIH and former leader of the Human Genome Project, for his “openly religious stance”. The editorial claims that this stance “could have undesirable effects on science education in the United States.” Apparently this is because in the introduction of his new book Collins, “describes his belief in a non-natural, non-measurable, improvable deity that created the universe and its laws with humans as the ultimate aim of its creation.” which has the potential to “create opportunities for creationism adepts” – whatever those are.
I won’t get into the absurdity of the notion that Francis Collins, an accomplished and awarded scientist, is somehow corrupting science by his very existence. Nor will I attempt to address the notion that he is, despite his belief in and defense of Neo-Darwinism, a ‘creationist’. This is futile, given that atheists now apparently define a Creationist as, “Anyone who does not equate science with atheism”.
Instead I want to address this notion that a belief in ‘Creationism’ somehow corrupts one’s ability to study and work in the sciences.
Part of the answer to this of course comes down to how one defines Creationism. As I pointed out, in atheist parlance it is essentially equivalent to any defense of theism. More traditionally, it is the notion that specific Scriptures concerning the origin of the universe, life, and humans can be supported through scientific evidences (This is would be how creationists define themselves). The current conventional idea however, the one addressed in recent court rulings, statutes, and school board considerations is the idea that there is reasonable basis to be skeptical of wholly natural explanations of the origin of the universe, life, and humanity.
So we have to ask, how is it this last consideration can ‘threaten’ a science education?
The vast majority of sciences – chemistry, physics, engineering, genetics, medicine, agronomy, the computer sciences, etc, don’t rely in any way on a particular idea about origins at all. They deal with nature as it is not how it came into being. Some other sciences, like geology, astronomy/astrophysics, and biology deal with theories of origins to some extent, though rarely as a matter of essential practice. For example there is no definitive theory of the origins of life itself; no settled notion of the origin of the genome or the cell. In fact, there is a legitimate question as to whether there ever will be any certain knowledge concerning the natural processes that presumably governed the origin of life – this does not mean we cannot continue to study and understand living processes.
Much the same can be said for ideas about origins of the universe. Though the inception of the universe is widely understood to begin with the Big Bang, but the causes of this event, and the laws that governed it’s eventual manifestation as a universe where life can exist as it does, are certainly far from understood and again not critical to the ordinary cataloging and exploration of the universe as it is. There is certainly nothing there that requires anyone to be atheistic in one’s beliefs.
And in many ways limiting one’s ideas to a purely evolutionary schema can lead to absurd results. As I noted elsewhere, the attempted application of evolutionary origins to human psychology and sociology has been used to justify seeing a mental depression as a ‘good’ thing contrary to all common sense. Of course it has in the past been used to justify now defunct notions such as eugenics.
Also notable is the inherent contradiction in the reality that the US is simultaneously the most creationist friendly country in the world while being one of the most scientifically literate and accomplished countries. That fact in and of itself should put to death the notion that somehow a belief “non-natural, non-measurable” deity is incompatible with scientific literacy.
In the final consideration it appears that the only persons working in the sciences that see it as essential to reject any religious beliefs are those for whom the sciences serve not as a means of exploring the universe, but as means of justifying their own atheistic beliefs.
And that justification isn’t scientific at all.