Francis Collins, BioLogos founder and current director of the National Institutes of Health, was profiled in the latest issue of National Geographic magazine. The profile, titled “Man of Science—and Faith”, included a short interview with Collins about how his faith impacts his scientific work, and his belief in the harmony between science and Christian faith. Here’s my favorite paragraph:
NatGeo: You’ve said that a blooming flower is not a miracle since we know how that happens. As a geneticist, you’ve studied human life at a fundamental level. Is there a miracle woven in there somewhere?
Collins: Oh, yes. At the most fundamental level, it’s a miracle that there’s a universe at all. It’s a miracle that it has order, fine-tuning that allows the possibility of complexity, and laws that follow precise mathematical formulas. Contemplating this, an open-minded observer is almost forced to conclude that there must be a “mind” behind all this. To me, that qualifies as a miracle, a profound truth that lies outside of scientific explanation.
On Saturday, I posted the link to this interview on Facebook. Since then, the post has shattered all of our social media records, being shared more than 600 times (as of the writing of this blog). The influence of Collins is clearly still growing, and we couldn’t be happier about it—after all, we owe our existence as an organization to his vision.
The Facebook post also engendered a large number of comments, from a mix of Christian and skeptical voices. Here’s my favorite exchange:
D. B.: Actually, wouldn't being an "open-minded observer" mean not jumping to conclusions? The physical parameters of the universe constitute one such area in which our questions exceed our answers. We cannot conclude our universe was configured for "complexity" unless we know the aggregate conditions under which complexity could have arisen. Faced with a limited understanding, we should not be too quick in reaching for the easy or intuitive conclusion, esp. when the history of science shows us how often this has led us into error. The idea is to withhold judgment until justifying reasons are found.
N. G.: If thinking something through rationally, deeply and with a deeply scientific mindset, like many other scientists have, is "jumping to conclusions" then yes, Francis is guilty. If there are rational grounds for jumping to a conclusion then why not jump?
D. B.: That's just it. Science doesn't tell us the universe is "fine-tuned" for anything. That's an interpretive gloss squeezed into a gap in our understanding. It is not scientific to jump to conclusions, something, again, the history of science shows very clearly.
J. G.: But science can certainly tell us that with only minuscule alterations in the constants and laws that define our universe, life within it would be impossible. The question then arises, 'why is our universe configured this way and not in some other way?' But this is a metaphysical question; whichever answer is postulated, be it theism or some sort of multiverse ontology, it cannot be subjected to test and observation in the same manner that science can evaluate the natural world. Whether you're a theist or a naturalist, your worldview contains some metaphysical assumptions which aren't determined by the scientific method.
There’s no doubt that many top scientists, like Collins, have concluded that the universe was designed by a creator. But I think the challenge from D.B. is a good one: On what grounds can a person make that sort of conclusion? And isn’t it naïve to claim that the universe is designed, if we are limited in our ability to understand the nature of the universe (or predict the progress of science in the future)? Perhaps the boundary line of science and metaphysics will eventually shift (as it has in the past). If so, is there any defense of God’s existence and power that isn’t some version of a God-of-the-gaps argument? Leave a reply below and let’s talk about it.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/francis-collins-interviewed-in-national-geographic-social-media-reacts