A number of bloggers and editors have commented about President Obama's appointment of Dr. Francis Collins to head the National Institute of Health (NIH). Collins is a rare specimen, both a born-again Christian as well as a brilliant and accomplished scientist. Collins discovered the genetic flaw that causes cystic fibrosis, and later headed the Human Genome Project.
Comments from the likes of scientists Sam Harris and Steven Pinker express worry that Collins' religion will be used politically, or that it will interfere with a balanced management of NIH policies. In a reply, Lisa Miller of Newsweek claims that Collins' work should be the sole test of his qualifications, and by that test, she asserts that Collins is unquestionably fit for the job.
I disagree. Not with Miller's premise, but with her conclusion. Collins should indeed be judge by his work: All of it, not just his science.
If Francis Collins' 2006 book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, is included as part of his resumé, as it must be, then by any measure, he is unfit for the job. When evaluating the man's competence as a decision maker, you could take all of his science achievements and set them on one side of the scale, and set The Language of God on the other side, and that book alone would tip the scale into the negative territory.
I've never understood what all the hullabaloo is about The Language of God. It is so full of logical fallacies a kindergartner could find them. I bought the book hoping for a real challenge, a genuine, well-reasoned explanation of how a highly-respected scientist is able to separate the domains of religion and science. I was sorely disappointed.
Collins spends a good part of the book explaining why evangelicals and creationists simply can't be right, what the scientific method is and why we should respect it, and spends a great deal of time criticizing the "God in the Gaps" crowd. "God in the Gaps" happens when scientists are able to explain something that formerly seemed magical; God is pushed out of that domain, and squeezed into ever-narrowing gaps in science's understanding of the universe. Collins does an excellent job of explaining this, and of berating those who try to cling to their God by pointing to the few remaining gaps and crying "It must be God!"
Then, his entire thesis comes crashing down, as Collins starts to explain his own faith, which proves to be the most massive case of God-in-the-Gaps I've ever seen. Collins, one of the most brilliant and accomplished scientists of our times, simply gives up all logical thought, and makes up some of the most obvious rationalizations I've ever encountered. Collins squeezes God into every gap he can find, doing exactly the thing he spent so much energy warning us about in the first part of his book.
In my opinion, a man who is capable of such a gross breach of rational thought, and who can't even see the glaring flaws in his work when it's about religion instead of science, has a lot to answer for. His appointment by President Obama may make political sense, but if we were judging purely by scientific credibility, Dr. Collins would not make the cut.