[asa] open letter about your attack on Francis Collins

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu Sep 03 2009 - 15:45:41 EDT

Dear "Defend Science,"

I am contacting you in an open letter, publicly accessible on a list owned
by the American Scientific Affiliation (www.asa3.org), in order to challenge
the consistency of two of your own statements. One of them, "An Urgent Call
by Scientists to Defend Science,"
(http://www.defendscience.org/statement.html) contains the following
"Many who continue to hold religious beliefs can and should rally to this
call to DEFEND SCIENCE. This is not about science trying to destroy
religion. It is about defending science from a specific right-wing political
agenda which, coupled with a fundamentalist, Biblical-literalist religious
ideology, is setting out to implement a program that will fundamentally
pervert and undermine science and the scientific process itself."

This suggests that your organization wants Christian scientists to join
with you in opposition to the things you enumerate elsewhere in this "Urgent

Apparently, however, I have misinterpreted your intentions. How else can I
account for your frontal attack on the beliefs of Francis Collins, in the
commentary posted at http://www.defendscience.org/ds_commentary16.html? You
say or directly imply that Collins' views contradict evolution, when in
reality they contradict only certain philosophical and religious
interpretations of evolution (which you apparently hold, despite your
overture to religious scientists); that Collins is a "creationist," if not
an "extreme creationist," when in reality (I say this as a recognized
authority on "creationism" and its history) the gulf between Collins and
those advance the "creationist" view is much larger than you admit that it
is; and that Collins' appointment to direct the NIH "will have harmful
effects on science itself, and beyond that, will only embolden opponents of
science from the Discovery Institute to their many right-wing Christian
Fundamentalist backers. They will interpret Collins’ injection of his
brand of creationism into the heart of the federal government's medical and
health research establishment as an opening to them injecting their brand of
anti-scientific poison into the science classroom."

If you think that someone like Collins represents a danger to science, then
I have to question your competence to make this judgement. You obviously
have no clue about the range of opinion that exists in this nation
concerning science and religion, a range that is today actually much richer
than it has been at some other times, such as in the 1920s when the "Scopes"
trial was held. [For more on this, see my article, “Science and Religious
Fundamentalism in the 1920s: Religious pamphlets by leading scientists of
the Scopes era provide insight into public debates about science and
religion.” American Scientist 93.3 (May-June 2005): 253-60.] If you think
and hope that religious scientists will join with you in your call to
"defend science," then why in the world are you saying these things about
Collins and his beliefs? If results of many polls throughout the past
century are not wildly inaccurate, then a very large minority of American
scientists have believed and still do believe in both a personal God and
personal immortality. Collins is clearly in this category, and so are tens
of thousands of other scientists. If you aren't interested in having the
support of someone like him, then who are the religious scientists you are
thinking of?

Collins takes both his science and his religion very seriously, and he does
not see them at odds with one another. You disparage this position, which
(again) makes me wonder why any religious scientists would want to support
you. Most religious scientists, like most other religious people, believe
that the universe has a purpose, and that this purpose extends to humanity,
whether or not this is evident simply from natural selection or any other
aspect of evolution. You think that science rules out the possibility of
such a conclusion, when in fact science is silent about ultimate meanings
because its methods are not designed to find them. If you are convinced
that science makes any such conclusions untenable, then (again) why do you
think that religious scientists would support you?

You are concerned that Collins wants to talk to widely influential
religious leaders such as Rich Warren (I could add several other names but I
will pass over that), ignoring the fact that even a leading non-religious
scientist such as E. O. Wilson has invited dialogue with conservative
Protestant leaders in order to promote better understanding and perhaps even
productive cooperation where it might be possible.

Furthermore, the general tone and attitude conveyed by your attack on
Collins is no less religious (or anti-religious, which is a religious
attitude of it own) than Collins' own statements about "theistic evolution."
 Either your realize this or you don't. If you don't realize this, then you
don't know enough about religion to comment on Collins' views at all, and
you should just remain silent. If you do realize this, then why (again) are
you making such anti-religious claims, by implying that anyone seeking to
harmonize their religious beliefs with science is simply doing the
impossible? You do not seem to recognize that scientific theories do not
interpret themselves, in terms of larger philosophical frameworks within
which they might fit. For example, you say, " Stephen Jay Gould and other
evolutionary biologists have further emphasized that the evolutionary
process does not follow any pre-determined course, (let alone one who's
'purpose' is to create homo sapiens or any other particular species)." The
late Mr. Gould certainly believed that, and perhaps he was correct; but his
was not the only possible interpretation of the evidence. Simon Conway
Morris, who probably knows as much about that evidence as Gould did, differs
markedly with Gould on this very point -- as is well known. I could
multiply this example many times.

Overall, I find your attack on Collins to be nothing more than a
thoughtless political screed, similar to what can be heard on certain radio
stations or read in certain publications. It's also inconsistent with your
own invitation to religious scientists to join with you -- I doubt that very
many will actually do that, under the circumstances.


Edward B. Davis
President, American Scientific Affiliation
Distinguished Professor of the History of Science
Messiah College
Grantham, PA 17027

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Received on Thu Sep 3 15:46:55 2009

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