So Much for Academic Freedom and Tolerance
Francis Collins, the well-known director of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God, has been appointed as head of the National Institute for Health this past July. He is a fascinating figure because he is a conundrum for the atheistic community-a world-class scientist, scholar, and a convinced Christian that does not ignore the bigger questions. What is so interesting is how the hardcore atheist community has reacted to Collins's book on his faith and his appointment to the NIH. Some did not like this recent development at all and have squarely opposed it, such as Steven Pinker, who faults Collins for publicly advocating his faith! And Pinker's worst worry is that Collins might strengthen the faith of we blighted fundamentalists:
Collins, in his book, eggs on fellow evangelical Christians in their anti-scientific beliefs. He tells them that they are “right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible” and to “the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.” Granted, he is not a young-earth or intelligent-design creationist. But he has stated that God interacts with creation, in particular, that he designed the evolutionary process to ensure that human intelligence, morality, and Judaeo-Christian religious belief would evolve.
That is far more than just expressing an opinion. That is advocacy, which gives incalculable encouragement the forces that have been hostile to science for the past eight years. And this is not just a theoretical fear: a number of right-wing, religious apologists (e.g., Dennis Praeger, in his debate with Sam Harris) used Collins as a stick to beat secularists: “Here is a famous scientist who takes an interventionist God and the Bible seriously; who are you to contradict him?” This is going to be multiplied if Collins becomes an even more prominent face of science.
And yes, he's right, it does mean something to me as a believer that an outstanding (and wildly successful) scientist also is a believer in the God of the Bible. May his tribe increase! While it doesn't prove anything scientifically it does show that compatibility of the Christian faith with science and scientific research.
What seems a bit amazing to me is why do such hardcore atheists never seem to sit down and ask themselves, "why do other equally brilliant minds disagree with me on the question of God?" Instead, most of these hardcore atheists seem quite willing to just call all the rest idiots. How nice, how open-minded, how philosophically fairminded, how scientific!
While Collins was successfully apointed as head of NIH the reaction to his appointment shows what is at stake in the debates with new atheism. The new apologists for atheism are no longer willing to just have the niche carved out in the academic world over the past century and a half by their forebearers, instead they want the whole playground to themselves. If they can they are going to have the authorities send everybody home who won't play the game by their rules.