Francis Collins: A ‘second form’ of knowledge?
In 1914, 53 percent of a random sample of U.S. scientists expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of a god, a figure that rose to 67 percent by 1934. According to a July 1998 study in Nature, only seven percent of scientists in the National Academy of Sciences believed in a higher power. These statistics were brought up in a Michael Gersonop-ed in The Washington Post.
Gerson wants to know if and why it should matter that Francis Collins — President Obama’s pick for director of the NIH — is an evangelical Christian. Collins has said that in addition to knowledge gathered by the scientific method, there is a second form of knowledge. As Gerson writes:
“Collins argues that there is a second way of knowing — a realm of morality and metaphysics that involves not physical proof but probability based on evidence. Some scientists assert that anything beyond the possibility of touching and testing is equally mythological — from unicorns to God to morality to hope to meaning to love. Collins calls this kind of reductionism a “logical fallacy.” By definition, science yields information about only the physical world, which does nothing to prove that the physical world is all there is. As human beings, we still seek to know why things exist and how we should live. Science is silent on these matters; we need not be. Collins contends that the moral law within us, and the fine-tuning of physical constants in the universe, provides “signposts” (not proofs) that lead toward God.”
Gerson refers to Collins’ book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, for his full explanation of this concept.
Leaving the debate about stem cell research and abortion rights aside, should scientists worry about the sustained scientific integrity of the nation’s largest science funding agency under Collins’ watch?