National Geographic recently posted “Francis Collins: The Scientist as Believer,” an interview by John Horgan. The interview is nearly all about religion, but I have two comments touching on evolution.
First, Collins explains that though he believes in miracles as a Christian, “as a scientist I set my standards for miracles very high.” This is, of course, a wise foreign policy. But it brings back to mind the way Collins treats ID in his book The Language of God. Like Darwin before him, Collins uses a subtle rhetorical trick. He treats “special creation” as his interlocutor. That is, he writes as though the only games in town are blind Darwinian evolution and (perhaps a crude characterization of) the God of biblical fundamentalism poofing everything into existence in a capricious manner. Clearly this is a false dilemma–as the existence of scientists like Michael Behe testifies. Or again, what if nature manifests intelligence in an Aristotelian sense?
My second reflection regards altruism. Horgan asks Dr. Collins if he thinks Darwinism can explain altruism. Collins responds:
It’s been a little of a just-so story so far. Many would argue that altruism has been supported by evolution because it helps the group survive. But some people sacrificially give of themselves to those who are outside their group and with whom they have absolutely nothing in common. Such as Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, many others. That is the nobility of humankind in its purist form. That doesn’t seem like it can be explained by a Darwinian model, but I’m not hanging my faith on this.
Collins is surely right in noting that Darwinian accounts of altruism are just-so stories. In The Language of God, he even says that altruism “presents a major challenge for the evolutionist.” Indeed. But if Collins is willing to cede all of human biological development to a blind Darwinian process of mutation and selection, on what grounds does Collins then stand to challenge altruism or any other human behavior as not stemming from the Darwinian process? If the amazing human body developed under the influence of natural selection, how did the human psyche and brain escape such an apparently powerful process?
Dr. Collins is handling the universal acid like baby formula.