In a recent piece for the New York Times, atheist Sam Harris has told us that he isn’t comfy with Francis Collins being appointed by President Barack Obama as the new director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination.
You see, Dr. Collins isn’t an atheist. He’s an evangelical Christian. And Sam Harris is uncomfortable with scientists who are Christians. He also doesn’t like the way Dr. Collins thinks :
As someone who believes that our understanding of human nature can be derived from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, among others, I am troubled by Dr. Collins’s line of thinking.
Apparently, unless you arrive at the conclusion that human beings and their properties of mind can be wholly reduced to strictly materialist terms of explanation (even though scientists have as yet been unable to do so) then Sam Harris is troubled by your way of thinking. In other words, if you don’t share Harris’s faith in naturalism (that is, his materialism and atheism), and if you don’t believe that naturalism can and will provide (someday) a global explanation for all phenonmena, then you are troubling to Mr. Harris. And so, with regard to Dr. Collins, Harris is troubled.
I like the way that Kenneth Miller, a Catholic, and a biologist at Brown University, in a letter to the editor of the Times, confronts Harris’s soft bigotry head-on:
Sam Harris’s article attacking Dr. Francis S. Collins, President Obama’s nominee to be the director of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates nothing so much as Mr. Harris’s own deeply held prejudices against religion. Dr. Collins’s sin, despite credentials Mr. Harris calls “impeccable,” is that he is a Christian. Mr. Harris is not alone in holding this view. A leading science blogger, also attacking Dr. Collins, demonstrated his own commitment to reasoned dialogue by calling the scientist a “clown” and a “flaming idjit.” When reason has such defenders, Heaven help us.
My guess is that Miller is alluding to something that PZ Myers must have said about Collins. It certainly sounds like Myers, doesn’t it?
Is this what contemporary unbelief has come to? Rush Limbaugh-style Manicheanism? Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, and PZ Myers? What a degrading come down from atheists of even fifty years ago. Whatever happened to the measured, sane, and unbigoted public atheists (like Albert Camus and C.P. Snow) of previous decades? Where are they?
NOTE: I guessed right (not hard in this case). It was PZ Myers who called Collins a “clown” and “flaming idjit”. See here.