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Noted Neuro-Buddhist Sam Harris has this to say about the President’s choice to head the NIH:

Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” and that “the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.”

One can only hope that these convictions will not affect his judgment at the institutes of health. After all, understanding human well-being at the level of the brain might very well offer some “answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” — questions like, Why do we suffer? Or, indeed, is it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself? And wouldn’t any effort to explain human nature without reference to a soul, and to explain morality without reference to God, necessarily constitute “atheistic materialism”?

Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?

As our more astute readers have doubtless already noticed, there’s some serious funny business going on with the changing meanings of the phrase “human nature” in this op-ed.  That aside, let’s take a step back and recognize that the same kind of sophistry would imply that no believer in the ineffable is qualified to head up a cosmological research institute. Is it possible that a mere belief in the immaterial renders one unable to study the material? Well, some people think so, and they’re called “fideists”. I wonder if Dr. Collins is one? By Harris’ own account:
Dr. Collins’s credentials are impeccable: he is a physical chemist, a medical geneticist and the former head of the Human Genome Project. He is also, by his own account, living proof that there is no conflict between science and religion. In 2006, he published “The Language of God,” in which he claimed to demonstrate “a consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between 21st-century science and evangelical Christianity.

Nope, not a fideist — and hardly a Siger of Brabant either. Rather he seems well placed within the mainstream of a long-standing tradition of men of faith and reason who have used the scientific method to study God’s creation while at the same time understanding the limitations of that method. Men who resisted the modern inclination to confuse epistemology with ontology, and so gave us a deeper and richer picture of the cosmos than we had ever had before.

Sam Harris may want to look them up.

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