Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


Francis Collins “Troubles” Sam Harris and Angers Creationists – Perfect!

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Francis Collins, President Obama’s pick to be the new head of NIH, strikes me as the perfect nominee. How can I, a non-scientist, make this claim? Do I really have the ability to evaluate the life work of this accomplished scientist? Can I make a reasonable conclusion about the implications of his appointment over the nation’s largest science-related budget? Of course not! But neither can individuals like Sam Harris or David Kilinghoffer, and that hasn’t stopped them. In fact, their fear-mongering and ranting on the subject suggest that we have much to celebrate about the President’s choice.
The appropriateness of Dr. Collins’ nomination to lead NIH can be measured by the degree of consternation it causes ideologues from both the savagely secular and rabidly religious camps, including Mr. Harris and Mr. Klinghoffer, respectively.


Unlike these two gentlemen who make a career out of the promotion of narrowly defined and highly aggressive ideologies, Collins has spent a life contributing to the advancement of science, while publically acknowledging beliefs which subject him to an extra degree of scrutiny by all sides. Sounds like a good leadership model to me.
Unlike his critics, whose careers are advanced only to the extent that they either convince people of their own views to the exclusion of all others, or become increasingly extreme in the views they hold in order to gain attention, Dr. Collins has spent his life testing and revising his conclusions, and like any scientist, is most successful when things he once thought true, are proved false, thus creating new knowledge. That of course, is the real difference between a scientist and a propagandist – a distinction which seems difficult for his critics to maintain, as they only want Collins to say that which they already believe.
What bothers Collins’ critics is precisely what makes his appointment so interesting. He is willing to live with limits as to the claims which can be made either by religion or science, and with full awareness of each, remains committed to both. While the most influential scientist in America need not be religious, he better possess a measure of modesty. Francis Collins does. It’s something which we should all celebrate, and from which his critics should learn.



  • Turmarion

    Excellent post, Rabbi! As a science and math teacher, I run into anti-evolution ideologues much more than I’d like, and as a believing Christian I also run into “fundamentalist atheists” now and then, as well. It’s nice to know that our President has appointed someone who tries to bridge the gaps between us, rather than digging them deeper!

  • shoshanna

    mazel tov, Rabbi, on finally joining the fray against
    the Christophole nudnick (and most recently, as a recent reader post on this blog noted, cyberstalker!) Klinghoffer.
    It is long overdue, given the potshots he has taken in the past at you and the thoughtfulness and refined common sense which you stand for.

  • Your Name

    Shoshanna,
    Thanks for your blessing, but I do not want to “join the fray against” anybody, at least not anybody writing on Beliefnet, especially the day before Tisha B’Av. Let’s all remember that many of the day’s terrible events were sparked by people telling the truth, but in harmful ways. That’s actually a really useful definition of Lashon Ha’Rah.
    David has, and I assume will,continue to take shots at me. That’s his problem. It’s only anybody else’s if they busy themselves reading what he writes. And if people do so, then they can not simply blame him for writing it, as if they stopped reading it, he would probably stop writing it, and it certainly would have little significance.
    I beg of you, especially if you value my work and the ethos of this blog, don’t curse the darkness, light a candle instead. Help me build the readership of Windows and Doors, and spread what you describe as my “refined common sense”.
    As we enter a dark day for the Jewish people, please recall that sharing gentle Torah and treating all people with as much love and respect as possible really does redeem the world.
    We don’t need to be weak, but being right should not become an excuse for being rough. Afterll, isn’t that what you object to the others doing? Go with your initial response to that kind of anger. You know it’s wrong, so why indulge it? You will be so much happier if you don’t.

  • http://crystalmatrix.us Major_Ray

    The Rabbi, like many cafeteria Christians sold out! I was once an accomplished scientist until I discovered the bigotry and bias in organized science research. I have abandoned organized religion because they too have sold out! I believe in all bible prophecies, including the return of Christ and an end to the foolishness of man. Since I have no collaborators, I decided to use design, science, and theology to prove my “biomatrixgenesis theory”. My peer review board is not of this earth.

  • http://webpages.charter.net/tsiolkovsky/ Thomas Lee Elifritz

    Christian American Retards.
    You just gotta love em.

  • Pearl Duncan

    I was a speaker at the Consumer Genetics Conference in June 2009 in Boston, where Dr. Francis Collins was the keynote speaker. Among speakers from academia, government and the private sector, Dr. Collins spoke to the audience of physicians and scientists about how much more still has to be researched to make medical diagnoses more effective, especially in the molecular, infectioous and genetics causes underlying diseases.
    http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/blog/7846-personalized-genomic-medicine-are-we-and-our-doctors-ready-23012.html
    He is such an avant garde scientist, he explained that he already had his own genome tested by the nation’s various genetics companies. These companies give DNA results about ancestral, medical and familial traits. Some DNA results even indicate one’s personality traits, including political and religious predilections. He did not say what his personality DNA revealed, but I guess that he has strong religious beliefs, combined with explorer DNA personality traits, so his nomination as the director of the National Institutes of Health is quite appropriate.
    http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/blog/7846-personalized-genomic-medicine-are-we-and-our-doctors-ready-23012.html

  • Dennis

    The Sam Harris article sited above in the New York Times is brilliant (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/opinion/27harris.html)and should be read by all. The existence of God can not be proven or disproven; it is, therefore, simply not an empirical scientific issue. Belief is not proof. Collins successfully compartmentalizes science and his faith. Hirschfield is predictably glib and evasive in dismissing the important issues raised by Sam Harris.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    I don’t know the ethos of this blog, I’ve only read this post, but what I see here is misunderstanding and hypocrisy.
    Why do you praise Collins because he draws the ire of two people with different views of evolution? What does that prove? Some kind of objective “reasonableness?” And Collins is not in the middle of any 1D line of possible positions. In fact the 3 men are at 3 different points in 3D of evolutionary explanations. Harris is materialistic, Kilinghoffer is Intelligent Design and Collins is mostly materialistic but reserves deistic intervention for things like “Moral Law.
    Harris is not trying to match his career, as a scientist or otherwise, vs. Collins. He is challenging Collins’ willingness to draw a line in the sand, past which science cannot go. You cannot be committed to science and proscribe its limits. Collins has spent his life testing and revising his scientific conclusions, but he is committed to his religious conclusions without testing or the possibility of revising them.
    Harris also doesn’t want Collins to say something Collins doesn’t believe or to change those beliefs. Given the fact that the next head of NIH will be religious (like all the others), Harris hopes that whatever religious convictions Collins has, that they not play any role in influencing his administrative decisions. With Collins’ very public advocacy that supernatural forces explain some facets of the world, this hope is on shaky ground. Only time will tell, but there is good reason to be worried.
    Finally, the hypocrisy is only evident from your comment to Shoshanna: “treating all people with as much love and respect as possible.” Do you think your original post accomplished that admittedly high standard?

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