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Dawkins v. Collins Debate - Comments

Billy Sands's Avatar Comment 1 by Billy Sands

Dont you just love the way that theists invent properties for a god there is no direct evidence for. No one has ever been able to come up with a good biblical arguement that god is out side space and time, and as mentioned, there are plenty of times when he does appear in space and time (according to the bible anyway).
And whats all this about god not wanting to prove his existance. Is that not the reason that John wrote his gospel?
Like all theists, Collins seems to want to argue by his own rules, for which there is no evidence. This allows him (in his own mind at least) to "win"

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 03:16:00 UTC | #21169

MIND_REBEL's Avatar Comment 2 by MIND_REBEL

Francious Collins is a typical Christian, and i'm highly suspicious of any "science" he's involved in. I wish there was some sort of standard system to prevent theists from making it "in", or at least a disclaimer that went along with any research they've done so that normal people would know they're dealing with a memeset.

Religion is a delusion, and us atheists, need to live our lives without supporting memes in any way shape or from.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 03:40:00 UTC | #21170

bitbutter's Avatar Comment 3 by bitbutter

@ mindrebel: as i (mis?)understand it; memes are necessary, inevitable and not the problem here (some memes will be more representative of the truth than others). As Dennet points out, words are memes too.

Dogmatic faith is what should be thrown out.

(edited to remove quote marks from around 'the truth' ;) )

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 04:40:00 UTC | #21174

SteveN's Avatar Comment 4 by SteveN


"Francious [sic] Collins is a typical Christian, and i'm highly suspicious of any "science" he's involved in."

As an atheist and professional biologist, I too have trouble understanding how one can do good science during the day and then abandon this way of thinking when it comes to pondering the existence of a magic sky fairy. I must say, however, that there are many very good scientists who are theists, so this lack of understanding appears to be a failure on my part. Unfortunately for my confusion, Collins is a very good scientist indeed. As head of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH he contributed significantly to one of the greatest achievements of biology of the last decade or so, the sequencing of the human genome. His day-job "science" cannot be faulted, I'm afraid.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 04:41:00 UTC | #21175

Tom Day's Avatar Comment 5 by Tom Day

MIND-REBEL: "I wish there was some sort of standard system to prevent theists from making it..."

I share your frustrations at the familiar arguments trotted out by Collins, but as SteveN points out, Collins is an excellent scientist in his day job. We need to be measured in our approach I think and focus on attacking religious beliefs, not those who hold them - unless their intentions are dangerous, which is not the case with Collins I think.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 05:25:00 UTC | #21177

Tom Day's Avatar Comment 6 by Tom Day

BillySands wrote: "Dont you just love the way that theists invent properties for a god there is no direct evidence for".

Actually this point is one that doesn't get so much attention in public debates, as most of the discussion tends to be around whether a God exists or not in the first place. However, the mental gymnastics theologians have to go through to defend their belief in God are nothing compared to those required to support their other beliefs about his properties or elements of doctrine like the resurrection, although lazy ones will often simply argue (as Collins does) that once the case for God's existence has been accepted, everything else is logically permissible i.e. once you've abandoned all reason, anything goes.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 05:48:00 UTC | #21180

MIND_REBEL's Avatar Comment 7 by MIND_REBEL

I guess what i'm saying is that society might be better off if the scientific commununity were to somehow not allow theists like F. Collins to make it into the research world in the first place. It's unfortunate because he has given theism a certain degree of credibility, which it doesn't deserve. Maybe this could have been avoided if there was some sort of scientific oath or test, or even some sort of internal regulatory group that could make sure that "scientists" were really scientists in the day jobs and personal life.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 05:52:00 UTC | #21181

savroD's Avatar Comment 8 by savroD

I've read interviews with this dude Collins before. And although I cannot see anything negative in his Scientific work, I certainly think he is a religious nutcase! RD always wins the technical case. Who the hell really cares about style. Nobody, can build a case on style, except for hmmmm... maybe the naive, or more directly, the theists.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 06:06:00 UTC | #21183

madpatriot's Avatar Comment 9 by madpatriot

Mind_Rebel, it sounds like you're advocating some sort of thought police guarding the gates to the scientific community. A big problem with this would be the ammunition it would provide to creationists. They already try to insinuate that scientists are all anti-Christian, and now you want to give them proof?

Not to mention that you'd be elimininating large numbers of scientists who might make valuable contributions to their fields. Turning the scientific community into a perfect monoculture of rationalists and atheists would probably weaken it.

Besides, peer review exists for precisely this reason. If a scientist's work is invalid because of their irrational worldview, it shouldn't get very far. If the work is valid, it shouldn't matter if the scientist himself believes in nonsense.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 06:23:00 UTC | #21184

BaronOchs's Avatar Comment 10 by BaronOchs

MIND_REBEL seems to want something like an atheist equivalent to the catholic "anti-modernist oath" which the church made its scholars swear until not so long ago. This is ridiculous, if someone wants to be a scientist there shoudl be only one condition: that they can do science!!

The kind of policy you want is hardly new, for instance in the C19th you had to sign the 39 articles to get into oxford or cambridge university, but I think it is evident that in a free society any form of this is unacceptable.

Perhaps Science degrees should include study of the wider implications of science including those for religious faith which might be a more productive step forward.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 06:28:00 UTC | #21185

NormanDoering's Avatar Comment 11 by NormanDoering

"Francious Collins ... I wish there was some sort of standard system to prevent theists from making it 'in', ..."

That's being too bigotted in a way that's not smart for our minority situation.

Science is for those who can do it well no matter what their beliefs.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 06:29:00 UTC | #21186

BaronOchs's Avatar Comment 12 by BaronOchs

This reminds me though that I did once read at least some of C.S.Lewis' The Problem of Pain (yes I was not ever thus) and as I recall he accepted evolution in some form but in that book he claims that before the fall, which he sees as a specific event in history, biological functions like digestion were not involuntary like they are now.

If anyone has the book do please have a look to clarify what I'm on about. How does Francis Collins as a champion of Lewis put up with such ridiculous and unscientific nonsense?

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 06:38:00 UTC | #21187

padster1976's Avatar Comment 13 by padster1976

I am reminded by Collins form of arguement being that of a child - in that he makes it up as he goes along.

And he talks about

'Occam says you should choose the explanation that is most simple and straightforward--leads me more to believe in God than in the multiverse, which seems quite a stretch of the imagination.'

Stretch of the imagination? Has he heard himself?

No. Collins argument is based on a very simple, think of anything for an answer because under 'faith', it doesn't have to be proven.


Sorry to be rude but everything he said he cannot know. It doesn't answer anything except if your forgo your ability to think at all.

I thought Dawkins to be restrained.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 08:35:00 UTC | #21197

an_arbitrary_name's Avatar Comment 14 by an_arbitrary_name

In another post, MIND_REBEL stated that he has fallen out with his parents over their religious beliefs. I'm concerned that he's going a little too far with his atheism.

MIND_REBEL, I know it's frustrating when people can't see the obvious—that the whole idea of a god is entirely unjustified, and, as someone here said, you have to jump through hoops just to keep it from being falsified— but people are people. For example, I was quite shocked recently when I found out that my father is a theist, because he is usually very sceptical. I guess that when it comes to theistic beliefs and the like, people just lose all sense of rationality, perhaps using some kind of compartmentalisation. I guess they just can't help it.

By all means invite them to debate religion, but, please, live and let live. Everyone has their crutches, and imperfections, no matter who they are.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 08:51:00 UTC | #21200

scot's Avatar Comment 15 by scot

"But he said that there is not a good naturalistic explanation for altruism of the type exhibited by people such as Oskar Schindler who provided safety to Jews during the reign of the Nazis. It appears that people sometimes risk their lives and in the process also their genes in order to help strangers from whom they have no expectations of help in return. Collins implied that this altruism is a sign of God's existence and a gift from him. Dawkins asserted that altruism in these cases is a kind of carry-over from ancient times when altruism had survival value for people living in small clans. Going beyond altruism, Collins then pointed to the existence of "moral law" or the "absolutes … of good and evil" within the human species as evidence for the existence of God."

The term altruism confuses the issue to begin with because people have different ideas of what the word means. In the above statement, it is implied that Oskar Schindler did a good thing selflessly, at a risk to his life, expecting nothing in return and that this altrism is a sign of the existence of God.

Human beings have volition and are capable of choosing between what their values deem right and wrong, or, good and evil. We don't act "absolutely" according to the fairy in the sky's law. Collins also points to moral law or the absolutes of good and evil within humans as evidence for the existence of God. These are more rationally explained by the choice humans have between life and death. A rational person values and chooses life and recognizes that they must act accordingly if they are to live.

So why would Schindler risk his own life for "strangers"? Perhaps because he valued not only his own life, but the lives of other innocent people and saw the threat to their lives as ultimately a threat to his own life and values and chose not to live in a world where human life was so grossly violated. Benevolence and justice toward other people is a recognition of the values we share and we lose our pride in ourselves and run the risk of ending up in the same unjustified situation ourselves if we don't do what we can to protect them.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 09:01:00 UTC | #21202

DerrickB's Avatar Comment 16 by DerrickB

One of the major problems with debating any theist is that we can rarely be certain what it is that they actually believe, unless of couse they are a fundamentalist in their particular religion. All the 'moderates' seem able to slip around challenges by moving on to vaguer and vaguer claims to faith or the mysterious nature of their god.

Maybe the best approach in any such discussion forum is to try to flush out first exactly where the theist is positioned on the spectrum of belief by a series of clear questions.
eg for Christians:

- Do you accept the literal truth of the Bible (completely, or just the New Testament?)
- Do you believe in Jesus's miracles, virgin birth, physical ascencion to Heaven?
- Do you believe that God regularly intervenes in the natural universe eg by answering prayers, or in the design of organisms?

Then the debate can narrow down to the most ludicrous beliefs that the theist has admitted to, rather than get hung up on trying to challenge undefined notions of faith or god.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 09:38:00 UTC | #21205

MorituriMax's Avatar Comment 17 by MorituriMax

Of course he (Collins) seemed more self-assured and gentlemanly in his interpersonal style. He didn't ever have to worry about providing any actual evidence for anything and could just make up anything as he went along to explain away any objections in the subject matter.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 10:53:00 UTC | #21210

Roy_H's Avatar Comment 18 by Roy_H

"From my perspective, God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God's existence is outside of science's ability to really weigh in."
Ah I see, God does exist but he does not exist anywhere.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 10:54:00 UTC | #21211

L.Minnik's Avatar Comment 19 by L.Minnik

I agree with what has been said before.

What I miss in many debates on this issue is a clear definition of "God" in the beginning. That would define what is actually discussed, because there are so many concepts.

If in this case God is outside time and space, then what is he/she/it? How do we know of this existence? (or why should we suppose he/she/it exists)
What are the characteristics of he/she/it? And how do we know that they are such?
If any, what is this God's "relationship" to humans and why would one assume that?

Maybe just giving a precise definition is so difficult that trying to do so in a discussion would be enough to show how vague this concept is, and especially how difficult it makes it to be certain of what humans should do because of this "God".

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 11:44:00 UTC | #21216

L.Minnik's Avatar Comment 20 by L.Minnik


Sometimes I have the impression that the definition of "God" is incoherent in a discussion, it changes to fit the issues raised.

If one claims "God" created the universe, that does not imply that "God" needs to give humans moral instructions directly. That is a separate claim and would need a separate explanation.
If the definition of "God" is based on the Bible, it still needs to be defined clearly because of possible differences of interpretation.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 12:06:00 UTC | #21220

epeeist's Avatar Comment 21 by epeeist

Comment #23381 by scot

Collins implied that this altruism is a sign of God's existence and a gift from him.

If goodness and a moral code the gift of god then, since the universe is his creation, evil and immorality must also be a gift.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 12:31:00 UTC | #21221

NJS's Avatar Comment 22 by NJS

The chrisian God of the bible is very much "of this space and time". For me everytime I read a theist doing this goalpost moving thing of starting to define a God "outside of space and time" I honestly think we're winning. This being may or not exist but if it does its not "their" God so why do they believe in the biblical version?

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 13:33:00 UTC | #21228

Bremas's Avatar Comment 23 by Bremas

Regarding Post 17 by DerrickB

I agree with you and have been thinking about that approach a lot lately.

Begin with the assumption that they buy into the most outlandish religious beliefs and then work your way up.

I've been trying it from the other direction (assuming a rational person to begin with) and have had little success (moving goal posts).

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 15:51:00 UTC | #21251

MelM's Avatar Comment 24 by MelM

Improbable constants?

Although Dawkins seems to present the two best currently available alternatives to Collins' God hypothesis to explain the life-enabling values of the physical constants of our universe, he and Collins both seem to accept without any skepticism the proposition that our universe is improbable.
I agree with the writer's analysis here; basically that improbability requires evidence. Has the whole mutliverse idea been invented to provide support for the "improbable" assertion? Seems that if one doesn't give away this assertion, then the theist hasn't got anything to play with and there's no need to invent a multiverse to answer the theist. Any questions about why the constants are the way they are can be answered with one explanation: "nature". "Gaps" should be filled with "nature" instead of "god" or nothing at all. And, there's really no validity to inventing things just to anticipate theists. Anyway, this is my take on what's happened here.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 16:27:00 UTC | #21254

MelM's Avatar Comment 25 by MelM

escape-proof mental trap

In Paul's apologetics, he cleverly anticipated and headed off any objections or reservations that waverers might have; and once netted, sought to keep them that way. Paul's arguments have been the staple of proselytizers for two millennia now. Although the illogic of these arguments is apparent to the rational, they become more and more effective and compelling, the deeper one succumbs to the Christian line. In combination they make Christianity into a virtually escape-proof mental trap.

I found this on a Deist web site and don't know anything about the author but it's interesting. It dovetails with the attacks on reason that theists constantly use to keep people from attacking religion. A book about all these mind-screwing games would expose the whole scam: go for it.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 16:48:00 UTC | #21256

mmurray's Avatar Comment 26 by mmurray

The only test for admission to science should be can you do good sciennce. That's why we aren't a religion. Othewise you are off down a dangerous road of the Stalin/Lysenko kind.

I don't understand why people get excited about the fundamental constants all being exactly right for life. The question isn't

"What is the probability of the constants all having these values"

it is

"Given that there is intelligent in the universe what is the probability of the constants having these values"

The answer to the later question is apparently around about one. It is interesting that it is so unstable in the sense that a small change in any constant and life won't exist. But that doesn't have anything to do with existence of a god.


Wed, 28 Feb 2007 19:37:00 UTC | #21261

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 27 by Alovrin

Well, Another I/v where Prof Dawkins is sort of playing devils advocate. I am getting weary of this kind of thing.

All the Theist gasp OOOWWww he said God doesnt exist.
Sharp intake of breath... How dare he.
Of course the media love it, team an atheist with as theist and sit back. Its a silly game, and as long as there are theist's around atheist's will have to play it until we say no more.
In The God Delusion Prof Dawkins put forward the propostion that religion is a by product of some other mental process. In both Chapters 5 & 10 he, far too briefly, outlined some ideas and works in progress along these lines.
This is the kind of thing I want to see more of, more so than having to watch Prof Dawkins, Sam Harris, or D Dennett demeaning themselves anymore arguing with god botherers over f***ing fairies. STOP IT

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 19:45:00 UTC | #21263

hoops mccann's Avatar Comment 28 by hoops mccann

There's something that I don't understand about Dawkins' response to the "perfectly tuned constants" issue. When confronted, he responds by arguing either that the underlying structure of the universe makes the values inevitable or by invoking the anthropic principle/multiverse argument. Why not just point out that describing the constants as "perfectly tuned" for life is putting the cart before the horse? It was life that adapted to the conditions in the universe and not the universe that adapted itself (or was pre-determined) for life. If the conditions (constants) had been different, life would have been different (but still possible). This seems to be a simpler way to get around the design argument than resorting to esoteric and hypothetical theories. Am I missing something here?

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 19:46:00 UTC | #21264

savroD's Avatar Comment 29 by savroD

I find this whole compartmentalization thing disturbing. Let's all agree to dispell this Bantha poodoo now. Look, you can be a good scientist, and still believe in nonsense; however, you'll never be an excellent scientist. This is because as science advances, your theist nuthatch becomes smaller and smaller. Religion is analogous to a theoretical black hole. Science is sucked into it's clutches and can never escape long enough to make any sense. That is until it fades away...............

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 19:49:00 UTC | #21266

Bizarro Dawkins's Avatar Comment 30 by Bizarro Dawkins

"Collins started on the wrong foot by doing a little question begging; he assumed God's existence from the outset without presenting any evidence for the inference."

I believe you're misinterpreting what Collins said and setting up something of a strawman. His statement does indeed assume the existence of God, but it does so in order to explain a particular attribute of God in order to serve as a premise on which to defend His existence. It was meant only as a proposition regarding the nature of God's existence, not as a proof of God's existence per se. I fail to see how this is improper.

"It is common for religious apologists like Collins to talk about things "outside nature" or "the supernatural," but they always seem to fall short in presenting any evidence that anything "supernatural" exists."

I beg to differ. The fact of our existence is evidence enough for me, and I'm not an easy person to convince. It becomes so tiresome to me when the atheists that I debate recoil in horror at the word "supernatural". It simply means that which exists outside the known confines of nature. The concept of the supernatural is supported primarily by the Principle of Universal Causation, being only one among a list of other supporting evidences. It is rather simple reasoning. If every event is caused, then there must be a cause for every event (of course, we could get into agency theory and the such, but I would assert that agency theory is logically invalid without invoking a supernatural agent). When this causal chain is traced back to the Universal origin, then we are led to a rather obvious inference: there must have been an un-caused cause to "start the chain" so to speak. Now we have never observed any phenomena in nature defy the Principle of Universal Causality, but the logical implication of said principle implies that the creation event did in fact disregard this principle. Therefore, since the creation event defied the principle of causality, then it was a supernatural event. Supernatural events require supernatural causation by their very nature. This seems like good evidence to me.

"Have we ever observed anything outside space and time?"

This is very shallow reasoning. It is not necessary that we observe something directly in order to believe it. We don't observe black holes, but we still accept their existence based on numerous plausible inferences. The supernatural may not be directly observable, but it is certainly not outside the realm of reasonable implication.

"2. it leads to the classic problem of infinite regress. If there must be something outside our universe, i.e. God, to explain the existence of our universe, then there must be something outside of God, i.e. "Z," to explain God. Then something is needed to explain "Z," ad infinitum."

This is presupposing however that God is restricted by natural laws, namely that of causation. This however would cause God to cease to be God. God by His very nature must exist as a supernatural entity or His Creator status, along with his general God status, would be compromised. It only logically follows that God, being defined as a supernatural entity, does not necessitate an explanation. In other words, God is His own cause, therefore His existence does not require further explanation.

"A big problem with this approach is that it tends to put a damper on further investigation."

This statement is highly ambiguous. The God explanation certainly has no bearing on empirical science. Most reasonable scientists, atheist or not, can affirm this. In the realm of historical science however, I would say that the God explanation is necessary to explain supernatural events, as I've stated before. This statement presupposes that every question worth asking can be answered by science using purely naturalistic methodology, which as we've observed is certainly not the case.

"Thus, if not strictly the opposite of one another, faith and reason are certainly incompatible."

Once again, this statement demonstrates very shallow reasoning. Faith and reason are not diametrically opposed concepts. In fact, faith is a necessary condition for belief. For instance, you cannot prove I exist. Your belief in my existence is based on sensory experience, which is not always reliable. People on cocaine feel bugs in their skin, and schizophrenics can see Joe even though everyone else can't, but this does not constitute the existence of either. There is therefore a level of uncertainty in even your most basic beliefs, including your belief that I exist. In order to hold even the most reasonable belief then, one must still involve the element of faith.

A mistake that Dawkins and many other atheists make is that they fail to draw a distinction between blind faith and reasonable faith. Blind faith is believing that for which there is no justification, such as a belief that there resides an indestructible candy bar in the center of the sun. Reasonable faith however involves evidence and logic, such as your belief that I exist. You cannot absolutely prove it, but it is a reasonable belief based on the general self-evident concept that our senses can be trusted most of the time. However, there still exists the element of faith.

You also take on faith that your senses are reliable, due to the lack of non-circular justification that can be provided for such a proposition. You take on faith that testimony and memory are reliable. Even though these basic assumptions seem reasonable, there is no supporting evidence that can be presented without resorting to circular reasoning. Of course, we can assert the rationality of such beliefs based on the principle of belief conservation, but they still remain essentially un-justified assumptions.

Wed, 28 Feb 2007 22:47:00 UTC | #21273