Friday, September 3, 2010

I took the time to read the recent New Yorker article on the head of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins. It was very interesting to learn of his unusual upbringing and his progression from, as he puts it, a fundamentalist atheist to a devotee of the Christian faith. The path started with an encounter with an dying patient who asked what he believed in. He felt uncomfortable that he did not have an answer and decided to research to "affirm his atheism." Part of this quest involved a discussion over a golf game with the pastor of the church is wife attended which ended with Collins writing on the score card -

"When God knocks on my door, in a way that I—not my wife or pastor, but I—know that it’s God who’s knocking on my door, I will then accept Jesus Christ."

He then gave it to the pastor and who signed it and the contract was sealed.

After the passage of several months and a hike in the Cascades in which

"...he turned a corner and saw a frozen waterfall, perfectly formed into three separate parts. He took it as a revelation of Trinitarian truth, the sign that he’d contracted for on Sam McMillan’s golf card. The next morning, he vowed to devote his life to the Christian faith."

This seems rather coincidental that he spoke to a Protestant minister and saw what he perceived as sign of the Christian triumvirate. Would he have seen a crescent moon and star if the contract had been with an imam or a star of David if the contract had been with a Rabi? Those would certainly be more spectacular to see a waterfall frozen in the shape of but that probably would have been written off as being created by man and rightly so. Could the symbol of three be the Triple Goddess (Maiden, Mother and Crone) of the Wiccan religion or the Hindu triumvirate of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu? It is only because of his upbringing and immersion in American society which follows, predominantly, the Abrahamic traditions that he can makes the assumption that the beautiful display of nature is a sign of the Christian God.

The paragraph above is really just an aside, I am more amazed frustrated concerned dismayed that an individual who is so well educated in the scientific method can jump to such a wild conclusion with regards to an easily observable, testable and repeatable natural phenomenon. He seems to think that an appropriate response to a spectacular and seemingly miraculous occurrence, such as water freezing, is to attribute it to a supernatural cause (a la 'God did it') rather than taking the time to research (or even think about for a few minutes) the possible natural ways it could have occurred.

I recognize and applaud all the positive steps he has made in improving the standing of science in the US most importantly his work towards repealing the ban on stem cell research. I continue to give him the benefit of the doubt because he has shown himself a staunch defender of the scientific method in all public domains within his control and of the research that has received funding from the NIH that has drawn criticism because of the oddity of the explanation of the research and the fact that lay people do not understanding its value. But I can help but have the smallest amount of apprehension that the unscientific conclusion jumping will rear it head again but in a way that will effects others and not just what Dr. Collins does with his Sunday mornings.

Read more about Francis Collins in the article in the New Yorker.

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