History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

Darwiniana header image 2

The strange case of Sam Harris

August 6th, 2009 · 4 Comments

The Strange Case of Francis Collins

I have frequently been critical of Francis Collins, and find the attempt to create a hybrid Christian Darwinism to be incoherent. But the current witchhunt against him by the New Atheists is entirely alarming, and the obsessive efforts of Sam Harris, of all people, in this direction are a head-scratcher.
Harris, who is a closet New Ager, with beliefs he put in writing on non-dual Vedanta in his End of Faith, ought to know better than to start putting Collins into a New Atheist inquisition.
The contradictions in Harris’ position are either severe confusion on his part, or else a deception brought on by the unexpected success of his atheism promotion, reqjuiring him to change his story and/or downplay his New Age/Buddhist (or whatever they are) beliefs.
The addiction to public attention spawned by a bestseller is easy grounds to conveniently downplay one’s real or previous beliefs to play to the gallery.
However, Harris has failed to get away with it.
Now, how is it that a student of non-dual Vedanta is having so much difficulty with Collins’ moral beliefs?
Here is Harris’ inqjuisitorial case against Collins:

Here is how Collins, as a scientist and educator, currently summarizes his understanding of the universe for the general public (what follows are a series of slides, presented in order, from a lecture that Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008):

Slide 1
Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.

Slide 2
God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.

Slide 3
After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced “house” (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the Moral Law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.

Slide 4
We humans use our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.

Slide 5
If the Moral Law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?

I find these views to be not fully coherent. However, they express perfectly the gaping hole in Darwinism whereby the question of evolution and ethics fails to find a proper account, instead giving us the extreme reductionist scenarios of group selection/kin selection, scenarios that make no sense and fail to expicate moral judgment in all its complexity.
So, if Collins, as a Darwinist, sees the problem here with his own beliefs, it is not surprising that he should move to create a hybrid to resolve the problem.

What I find strange is that Sam Harris should start obsessing over Darwian fundamentalism here. Surely a man as intelligent as Harris, with a background in New Age religion, must realize the limitations of Darwinian theory on the question of ethics.
Harris is acting stupidly here, and his position is hard to fathom.

I have recommended several times that the style of Collins’ moral argument might be clarified by a Kantian discourse on science and freedom, along with the various components of his moral theories.

Tags: ethics · Evolution · New Age

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Darwiniana » Why the New Atheists are afraid of Collins // Aug 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    […] We already discussed the question of Sam Harris’ obsession with Francis Collins: The strange case of Sam Harris […]

  • 2 Stephen P. Smith // Aug 6, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I think one problem is that these folks don`t understand that science is found restricted to what might be called the sender-receiver unity. All physics (quantum physics, and special and general relativity) can be recast as interactions that express the activity of sending and receiving. This is a major insight, and it limits science to empiricism and the existential. Even the second law of thermodynamics can be seen as activity involving sending and receiving. Therefore, all such scientific theories are provisional because they must necessarily be limited by the sender-receiver unity (which is a barrier to communication), and outside is only speculation (that may or may not be sound).

    Now what is important to note is that Darwinism violates the condition of the sender-receiver unity because Darwinism depends on adaptive causes and determinations. The worldview that permits Darwinism is stuck in the cause-and-effect world that is not consistent with the cause-cause world of the sender-receiver unity. Darwinism is the result of dualistic thinking! The sender-receiver world permits a sublime teleology and is found consistent with the non-dual Vedanta. The sender-receiver unity is found consistent with Taoism where we see Yang as sender and Yin as receiver. Therefore, the sender-receiver unity is consistent with ethics that are found self-evident. The cause-and-effect world is not!

  • 3 nemo // Aug 7, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Interesting: I will put this in the main sequence tommorrow: today I am past twenty five posts…!

  • 4 Darwiniana » Don’t be intimidated by Darwin thugs like Sam Harris // Aug 7, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    […] The strange case of Sam Harris […]

Leave a Comment