[asa] Worthy of response?

From: Austerberry, Charles <cfauster@creighton.edu>
Date: Fri Aug 31 2007 - 10:51:33 EDT

Dear Colleagues:
I've been wondering how one might respond to Sam Harris' latest salvo
against Francis Collins. It's part of a letter (in the "Correspondence"
section) he sent to the journal Nature. It appears on p. 864 of the
August 23 2007 issue (Vol.448, No. 7156). It's titled "Scientists
should unite against threat from religion."

Here's an excerpt:
Nature praises Collins, a devout Christian, for engaging "with people of
faith to explore how science - both in its mode of thought and its
results - is consistent with their religious beliefs".

But here is Collins on how he, as a scientist, finally became convinced
of the divinity of Jesus Christ: "On a beautiful fall day, as I was
hiking in the Cascade Mountains... the majesty and beauty of God's
creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a
beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew
the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the
sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ."

What does the "mode of thought" displayed by Collins have in common with
science? The Language of God should have sparked gasping outrage from
the editors at Nature. Instead, they deemed Collins's efforts "moving"
and "laudable", commending him for building a "bridge across the social
and intellectual divide that exists between most of US academia and the
so-called heartlands."

Jesus admonition about not casting pearls before swine comes to mind;
not that I'm equating Harris with swine, but that Harris' ability to
value what Collins experienced is similar to a pig's ability to value
pearls. Maybe responding to Harris would just be wasting more pearls.
I've experienced that same kind of mockery when explaining to local
atheists why Christ's suffering and death and resurrection are so
important to me. Not much one can say, perhaps. I'm also reminded of
Jesus' deeply meaningful silence before Pilate and Herod, for example.

However, perhaps there is a point to be made about the difference
between scientific and religious ways of knowing, and that one and the
same person (Collins) can be proficient in both. Of course, Collins is
not a professional philosopher or theologian, and previously on this
list folks have rightly noted some weaknesses in Collins' book. But I
think Harris' criticism comes from some pretty basic misunderstandings
of his own about philosophy and theology.

I'm not planning to send any response to Nature myself. Maybe Collins
will, and/or maybe another ASA member (or several) should.

Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Hixson-Lied Room 438
Creighton University
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
Phone: 402-280-2154
Fax: 402-280-5595
e-mail: cfauster@creighton.edu
Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education

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Received on Fri Aug 31 10:55:28 2007

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