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Kingdom of Priests

Genome scientist and Evangelical Christian Francis Collins got the nod from President Obama today to head up the National Institutes of Health. Atheists are already on the attack. Thus Jerry Coyne at the U. of Chicago pronounces himself “worried”: “I’d  be much more comfortable with someone whose only agenda was science, and did not feel compelled to set up a highly-publicized website demonstrating how he reconciles his science with Jesus.”

Just so happens I have an op-ed in the Forward this week reflecting on precisely the fight over “accomodationism,” pitting Coyne et al. v. Collins et. al. The issue: can science and religion be reconciled, or does it perhaps make a difference what you mean by “science”? Readers of this blog will know that I’ve shown how Francis Collins makes a mash of the very serious religious belief that human beings are made in the image of God. More on Collins and his insipid theology here.
Excerpt from my Forward piece, and more after the jump:

Today in academia, a believer like…Francis Collins, or like Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller at Brown University, can count on being ridiculed by the anti-accommodationists. In academia, where reputation is everything, you would not want to be an ambitious young scientist in their mold.

This is despite the fact that both men strenuously deny that there can be any empirical evidence of God’s creativity in nature. [T]hey affirm that the history of life could have produced intelligent creatures very different from human beings for God to enter into a relationship with. Perhaps “a big-brained dinosaur, or… a mollusk with exceptional mental capabilities,” as Miller has speculated, surrendering the basic Judeo-Christian belief that the human face and body mysteriously reflect the image of a non-corporeal God.

That may sound as if we’ve come to a final parting of the ways between science and religion. However, it all depends on what you have in mind when you speak of “science.”

Must religion indeed accommodate any scientific idea — even if the idea is wrong, even if it’s bad science, ideologically motivated in its origins, intended to explain nature specifically with the view of keeping God out? If that’s what science requires, then of course there can be no reconciliation.

But remember — alongside the secular Enlightenment view of science, there runs a parallel tradition, seeking to explain nature without preconceptions, secular or otherwise. That way of thinking still exists among individual scientists, though it is in need of a good revival. With that tradition — older, grander, more open-minded, even more enlightened, you could say — there is no need for a truce with faith, no need for a separation, no need for a divorce.

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