Monday, July 13, 2009

Francis Collins: On Embyros and On Evolution

You're probably unlikely to find two more thoughtful pieces on the subject.

First, philosopher Justin Barnard sifts through the writings of the cagey rhetorician attempting to discern precisely what he does and doesn't believe about the value and dignity of human embryos in his article, The Embryo Troubles of Obama's Top Doctor. If the media wants to press Dr. Collins on this issue, this article is must-reading. Here's the conclusion:
Collins needs to come clean. Either he upholds the dignity of human life or he doesn’t. If he does, and he accepts the nomination to head the NIH, then it seems that he is deeply compromised as a professing evangelical Christian. If he does not, then the evangelical community needs to know. For his appointment to this position has the potential to cause great harm in the way of moral confusion to many unsuspecting evangelicals as long as his views on nascent human life remain veiled behind a cloud of sophistical rhetoric.
Second, philosopher Jeremy Pierce conducts a similar sort of analysis with regard to Collins's views on evolution and intelligent design. The value of both pieces is that these are examples of not merely "reporting," but rather careful thinking, filled with good distinctions and an ability to sniff out ambiguity. Here is Pierce's conclusion:
So did President Obama select an ID opponent or an ID supporter to head the NIH? I think the answer is a qualified "yes" to both. He selected someone who opposes most of the ID arguments, but he also selected someone who supports the principle of intelligent design and who is open to there being good arguments that we haven't discovered yet, as far as the principle of the thing goes. He certainly selected someone who believes that the universe and human evolution are intelligently designed. My prediction is that most people talking about this from a variety of perspectives are going to misrepresent Collins in some way by failing to see the philosophical distinctions I've laid out here. This whole issue can only be served by more careful attention to these distinctions, even if some of the distinctions don't amount to an important enough difference in the end. Such a conclusion needs to be argued for, while showing an awareness of the distinction to begin with, not by confusing two things that are distinct, as is too often done.
Both pieces are well worth reading in their own right.