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GMU Provost hosts The Language of God 7:30pm Wednesday, October 18, 2006

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December 2, 2005, the day after Eugenie Scott gave a talk Why Scientists Reject ID at GMU under the Provost’s sponsorship, I was providently invited to have tea with the Provost and had the opportunity to give him the pro-ID side of the story before a public gathering of Asian students. I presented a copy of Privileged Planet to him.

I reminded him of the Caroline Crocker ordeal. I pointed out she was far from the only science faculty member who was pro-ID and that there were sympathizers at the highest levels in the school whose identity I was not at liberty to divulge. I informed him several biology and science PhD’s from the school were pro-ID as were many current students in the science curriculum.

I told him that the IDers on campus weren’t aiming to have ID taught in the science class. I informed him the ID sympathetic faculty and students would probably understand that ID in the science curriculum could affect the hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants GMU receives, but as long as they were not publicly disrespected, there would no reason for trouble. Furthermore, there were other venues outside the science class where these topics could be studied anyway. Why can’t we all get along? After all, here in Fairfax, Virginia, pragmatism and the bottom line take precedence over ideology.

I expressed concern over the effect edicts like those made by Hunter Rawlings at Cornell and Timothy White at University of Idaho would have if it came from the head of GMU. I pointed out there was already an open civil war at Iowa State, and GMU didn’t need those kinds of controversies. I pointed out CBS Evening News film crews were buzzing the campus only a few weeks earlier over the Caroline Crocker affair (CBS has yet to air the report, if ever) during an IDEA meeting when Robert Hazen was speaking.

I was hoping the Provost would at least consider whether publicly taking sides on the issue might cause needless friction and whether such an action would cause everyone to lose in the end. I hoped he would rather follow the lead of other university chiefs who chose instead to steer clear of controversy like those reported by John Rennie in Cowardice, Creationism and Science Education. He said to me no edict would be made! Even though the majority of bio-faculty were against ID, he said it was his experience that formal public pronouncements about almost any issue from his office have only been a cause of misunderstandings and thus his office would not be commenting officially anytime soon. Whew!

He said that ID was already taught in the religion and philosophy classes. [Actually, unbeknownst to me at the time, in Biology 494 honors seminar, ID was a major topic.] He said the issue was too important to ignore and that in venues outside of the classroom it would be discussed. I was not sure whether he meant that there would be more Provost-sponsored talks like Eugenie’s, but even that would have been marginally acceptable to me since Eugenie’s talk was mostly tepid and respectful, and did not demean the pro-ID students and faculty. Frankly, Eugenie left the impression that it almost wasn’t that big a deal. She used no fear mongering, or of slamming Christians in her talk. She actually put in a good word for Mike Behe by showing a picture of him and Richard Dawkins side-by-side with the caption: “For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD”. lol.

So here it is a year later, and my eyes almost popped out when I discovered the Provost is hosting the talk The Language of God by Francis Collins. The talk will be at GMU, Wednesday, October 18, 2006 at 7:30 at the Johnson Center. Details here.

Collins, a pioneering medical geneticist who once headed the Human Genome Project, adapts his title from President Clinton’s remarks announcing completion of the first phase of the project in 2000: “Today we are learning the language in which God created life.” Collins explains that as a Christian believer, “the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship.” This marvelous book combines a personal account of Collins’s faith and experiences as a genetics researcher with discussions of more general topics of science and spirituality, especially centering around evolution. Following the lead of C.S. Lewis, whose Mere Christianity was influential in Collins’s conversion from atheism, the book argues that belief in a transcendent, personal God—and even the possibility of an occasional miracle—can and should coexist with a scientific picture of the world that includes evolution. Addressing in turn fellow scientists and fellow believers, Collins insists that “science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced” and “God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible.” Collins’s credibility as a scientist and his sincerity as a believer make for an engaging combination, especially for those who, like him, resist being forced to choose between science and God.

Though Collins is not friendly to biological ID, he is sympathetic to cosmological ID, and he is respectful toward IDers, and thinks science should accept the possibility of miracles. So I hope some of y’all come out to celebrate with me and Dr. Crocker The Language of God.

PS
Discovery Institute staff member Logan Gage did a wonderful job of highlighting the fact Collins is an ID proponent when it comes to the origin of the universe. See Science magazine reviews The Language of God by Francis Collins.

The Virginia/DC area is in a whirlwind of speakers on the subject of ID. Yesterday I saw Jonathan Wells. I could have seen Shermer today, but had a schedule conflict. Next week Francis Collins. The week after that, Richard Dawkins, then the week after that Michael Behe, Guillermo Gonzalez, Paul Nelson, William Lane Craig, Bruce Gordon, JP Moreland. I’m probably going to suffer withdrawal in December….

14 Replies to “GMU Provost hosts The Language of God 7:30pm Wednesday, October 18, 2006

  1. 1
    Gods iPod says:

    Is anyone putting together ID conferences with some of the top ID movers and shakers? It would be good to see something organized.

    I had the privilege of meeting William Dembski in Auckland, New Zealand where he was the guest of Focus on the Family at the Greenlane Christian Centre.

    Now that I am based in the US, it would be just great to see a large conference every 2 years that could pull together all the latest research and work for public display. I am sure there would be no problem filling seats.

  2. 2
    leebowman says:

    ” … my eyes almost popped out when I discovered the Provost is hosting the talk The Language of God by Francis Collins. The talk will be at GMU …”

    And you’re right. This is progress, since I think we all know that Francis Collins is a ‘believer’, albeit a proponent of a ‘spring wound’, front loaded creation, rather than the ID concept, although no matter what the process, design is design, i.e. a purposeful and directed process that has resulted in a world of incredible synergy, order and complexity.

    A provost may live in a sheltered world, surrounded by the prevailing scientific thought, your words may have had an effect on him. Your technique seems to be one of moderation and yes, reason. Rather than hammering away in a dogmatic style, you tend to raise questions in a skeptic’s (or a searching) mind that ultimately can lead to more logical conclusions than the established narrow mindset that unfortunately still prevails.

    You mentioned that Eugenie seemed somewhat low key in her presentation, and actually respectful of the DD’s (Darwinian dissenters). You know, I got the same impression after listening to her interview by Peter Robinson (Darwin Under the Microscope, 12/7/01, with Wm. Dembski). A lot of her arguments are based on spurious reasoning and misplaced legal directives, and I feel that she knows this. How would she argue her points if the Supreme Court altered its opinion regarding ID and the Establishment Clause? Although she sticks to her guns, and holds down the fort at NCSE pretty well, I see a kind of debility in her convictions.

    Anyway, I see by your schedule that you don’t sit still for long. Do us a favor. After Dawkins’ presentation, have a word or two with him. I doubt he’ll invite you to tea, though.

  3. 3
    scordova says:

    Even though I could not put my finger on why I was so delighted, I realized I simply was.

    There is something almost like the twilight zone going on here.

    1. Spring 2005 Caroline Crocker dismissed for presenting evidence in peer-reviewed literature critical of Darwinian theory ( ok, since when is peer-reviewed literature taboo?), and then mentioning a news item that some scientists accept ID.

    2. Then 4 months later in Semptember it’s ok to have an honors biology 494 seminar focusing on ID. Several homework assignments in other biology classes deal with understanding claims of ID. In AstroBiology, for example, ID is mentioned in passing in the textbook. Several other classes at GMU outside biology mention ID. Here is a list of classes: ID at GMU. In addition to that GMU professor Emmett Holman of the Philosophy Department (with a Physics Background), tells the AAAS that ID should be taught in public schools, and then teaches a section of it in his summer school class.

    3. Come December science teachers at GMU require their students to be corralled into a giant room to hear Eugenie Scott explain why scientist reject ID despite the fact several pro-ID PhD’s in biology were graduated from GMU, and several faculty members, dare I say all the way up to the chairman level in the sciences and engineering, privately accept ID (though not a word of it will be heard in the class room, or perhaps even amongst peers).

    4. October 2006, it probably is still ill-advised to criticize Darwin. However, I would not be surprised if even the atheists in the bio faculty, following the AAAS lead to reach out to Christian students were also behind getting Francis Collins visit. He is after all, A-OK in their mind because he is a Darwinist and an AAAS approved ambassador. Yet, he will be sharing his Christian faith, giving reasons to believe in God and miracles and why Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of mankind. Since the talk reaches out to Christians and speaks kindly of Darwin, it probably receives the full blessing of the biology faculty and the Provost. After all, the AAAS is trying to set a good example of reaching out to Christians with the “good news of Darwin” (cough)…

    5. Several GMU students and faculty will be attending McLean Bible church two weeks later to hear Michael Behe speak about Irreducible Complexity and Paul Nelson about ID. Combined, the two scientists could speak probably less about Jesus Christ in that church apologetics conference than Francis Collins at GMU. Yet, they would probably be unwelcome at GMU where it’s OK to declare Jesus as Lord, but not ok to say Darwin got it wrong.

    In any case, I posted this to point out, that probably a lot of IDers at the college level are not trying to get ID in even the college science classes. Heck, they lived without it in science class through high school, and why should they worry about now in college? They probably understand it might affect the school’s reputation. After all, they know to keep silent about it to protect their own careers, ergo, what’s good for them is good for the school, at least for now.

    Some of the ID leadership in Virginia have acknowledged that we would rather have pro-ID students graduate with clean transcripts. We wouldn’t want them being tarnished before a prospective employer for having gone to a school that taught ID in the science class room. We would much rather have on their transcripts that they took a philosophy and religion class on special topics, without the special topic being explicitly mentioned as ID. It would probably be OK to have the fact they took a class on the Christian faith as an elective in the religion department on their transcript, but ID in the biology department might raise an eyebrow. I sought Eugenie Scott’s blessing to have ID taught in the religion and philosophy departments. See: My Correspondence with Eugenie Scott on ID in the Universities. An appropriate theme for such a course would be William Dembski’s book, ID Bridge Between Science and Theology.

    Even Paul Gross (Barb Forrest co-Author) gives Virginia an A for science education, yet Viriginia has loads of pro-IDers students and faculty in their universities. So I suppose the token lip service to Darwin will continue in the form of students answering questions on exams. Most pro-ID students see it no different than answering test question about Greek mythology anyway….

    Like I said, the whole situation sometimes feels like it’s in the twilight zone….

  4. 4
    hrun0815 says:

    Salvador says: “1. Spring 2005 Caroline Crocker dismissed for presenting evidence in peer-reviewed literature critical of Darwinian theory ( ok, since when is peer-reviewed literature taboo?), and then mentioning a news item that some scientists accept ID.”

    Salvador, do you have evidence that Caroline Crocker was dismissed BECAUSE she presented “peer-reviewed literature critical of Darwinian theory” and BECAUSE she mentioned “a news item that some scientists accept ID”. Or did these things merely occur in the time before Caroline Crocker was dismissed?

  5. 5
    scordova says:

    hrun0815,

    You have no sense of humor. The truth is she was dismissed for her mild criticism of Darwin. I was using figurative language, but she used things already in the mainstream. Maybe a more charitable reading on your part would be helpful.

    The other item was the student who reported her had been reported by Crocker for cheating, so some vendetta was perhaps at play. The student would not even sign a statement to the effect that Crocker taught creationism.

    Sometime later, Crockers boss walked in the middle of one of Crocker’s lectures with supposedly a simple contract modificaiton, when in fact it was the equivalent of a termination. She signed it without carefully reviewing it. She realized she should have been more careful, but she trusted her boss not to pull something so underhanded. GMU then persuaded her attorney’s to drop her as a client. GMU offered a big financial incentive for Arnold and Porter to do so, and they dropped her. So everything is now legal and in print, but legal does not imply ethical. No one is now saying GMU did anything illegal as far as I know. However, this is not exactly a conducsive climate for a university, eh?

    Sal

  6. 6
    hrun0815 says:

    Salvador says: “You have no sense of humor.”

    Well, sorry, Sal, in this instance I don’t really see the humor in the situation. You accuse a University for terminating one of their teachers for presenting “peer-reviewed literature critical of Darwinian theory” and for mentioning “a news item that some scientists accept ID”. This constitutes a very serious accusation and should be supported by proof.

    Salvador says: “The truth is she was dismissed for her mild criticism of Darwin.”

    So this is the truth now? Or is this still “using figurative language”? If it is indeed, as you say, the truth, then I am sure you can support this with evidence, correct?

    Salvador says: “The other item was the student who reported her had been reported by Crocker for cheating, so some vendetta was at play.”

    And now we are tacking on a third reason. Again, I am not certain if this is supposed to be the truth or humor. If indeed the student was not willing to sign an affidavit, how did this figure into the dismissal of Caroline Crocker?

    Salvador says: “No one is now saying GMU did anything illegal, but Crocker’s boss was still a major league jerk. Not exactly a conducsive climate for a university, eh?”

    Well, noone might be too strong of a word. Seems to me that if GMU had dismissed her for what you originally say they dismissed her, that may actually have been illegal. But hey, maybe I do inded not have a sense of humor.

  7. 7
    scordova says:

    Some points regarding my position on the issues:

    1. I think pro-ID students and faculty would not want the reputation of the university to be harmed (as the unversity’s reputation reflects on them). Controversial topics like ID can be safely taught outside of science departments. Students are already accostomed to having to study things they deem useless in order to get a diploma. Darwinian evolution is just one other useless topic. I pointed out this fact in: In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom. So no one is advocating a change in the curricula at this time.

    2. It would be detrimental to a biology professor’s career to be friendly to ID in the classroom. One pro-ID professor at University of Idaho (not Minnich) evidently ( as far as we can infer) was given horrid student ratings simply for the fact he briefly mentioned he accepted ID when a student asked him in class what the professor really believed. The 5 second response, he believes resulted in a highly polarized set of student evaluations. We can’t know this for sure, but I would simply say, even if academic freedom were opened up to talk about ID in science class, students like an aspiring Lenny Flank junior or PZ Myers junior I would expect would punish their pro-ID professors with biased student evaluations.

    The point is, it is unwise at this time to even seek institutional avenues to teach ID in the university science curricula. Though acceptance of it is surprisngly high among students and faculty, it is a can of worms.

    The solution is to offer it in the philosophy and religion or other special topics departments. Or study ID at a private institution like Biola.

    The public schools are another subject entirely…..

  8. 8
    Patrick says:

    hrun0815: Why don’t you simply call Salvador a liar and be done with it?

  9. 9
    scordova says:

    hrun,

    It is true:

    1. she presented info from mainstream peer-reviewd literature

    2. she mentioned some scientists accept ID

    3. she was disciplined because a student claimed those actions were equivalent to teaching creationism.

    This constitutes a very serious accusation and should be supported by proof.

    What? You don’t accept Caroline Crocker’s words? GMU refuses to officially comment. If it means so much to you, go interview the school her supervisor and the student involved. Get statements from them with their real names and I’ll post it here along with their statements. How’s that sound? I mean, what are they going to say, Crocker was not dismissed for teaching creationism? In that case, it’s then ok for her and others to criticize Darwin in the class room using peer-reviewed literature….

  10. 10
    hrun0815 says:

    Patrick says: “hrun0815: Why don’t you simply call Salvador a liar and be done with it?”

    Why would I call Sal a liar. I don’t have any evidence that Sal purposefully misrepresented something that he know to be the truth.

    I questioned whether he has supporting evidence for his assertion. He did not. Thus, he clarified that his first point was actually meant to be humor and not the truth.

    Sal says: “What you don’t accept Caroline Crocker’s words? GMU refuses to officially comment. If it means so much to you, go interview the school and the student involved. Get statemets from them with their real names and I’ll post it here. How’s that sound. In the mean time, until you do so, you can stay off this thread.”

    Sal, as I mentioned to Patrick, I had no intention of calling you a liar. I merely pointed out that there was a strong accusation without supporting evidence.

    Since I have no interest in interviewing students from GMU about this matter, I will follow your suggestion and stay off this thread.

  11. 11
    scordova says:

    Let me comment that for parties involved in the Caroline Crocker affair, aside from what is now being told of the story, just about all parties involved have no intention of taking any more action.

    Of concern now is the future of faculty and students. If bio departments want to say, “only Darwinists will be awarded diplomas”, well that’s their option.

    Given they could drive away 1/3 of their student base, will they do something so ill-advised? I hope not. I will say at JMU, I talked to some influential bio-professors there and I got the distinct impression, though they have a distaste for ID, they’re not about to drive a way large numbers of their own students. What the heck would that accomplish?

    What the original discussion about was Francis Collins visit. The Provost and bio faculty are extending a welcoming hand to Christian students. I think there is some bottom-line sensibility coming into play. One can’t expect to be alienating half the student body for no good reason and expect to be competitive in student enrollment.

    People of all faiths should be welcomed into the university, and though I intensely disagree with Darwinism, Francis Collins is a good ambassodor and I see only good things coming from his visit.

  12. 12
    leebowman says:

    ” …Francis Collins is a good ambassodor and I see only good things coming from his visit… “

    Amen! I mean that I agree with that opinion, that is.

  13. 13
    ajl says:

    I read Collins’ book, and recommend it highly. It was really challenging, and well written. Even for ID folks, this is a great book to check out. However, I have a few questions that came up when reading and wondered if people here had any insights into it.

    1. He is quick to accept cosmological ID, but rejects biological ID. this seems inconsistent. As an example, he reject the Cambrian Explosion as evidence for a creator, calling it a god-of-the-gaps argument. He states that one day we may figure out what happened there. However, he looks at anthropic principles or the big bang, and says that he can’t figure out how it could of happened other than God. Isn’t this contradictory? Couldn’t someone say “some day we may figure out why the universe is fine tuned”.

    2. Related to #1, he rejects ID as both god-of-the-gaps and an incredulity argument. Yet again, he is willing to accept it in physics.

    3. And, to build alot of his god-of-the-gaps argument, he uses Paley. But, I think he dismisses Paley way too easily. I think his logic about electricity coming from electric companies, and therefore lightning coming from electric companies is severely flawed. Paley used a watch because there are no other examples of a watch without a creator. So when you see one, it is safe to assume that an intelligent being created it. WRT electricity, we know it can be formed by rubbing your feet on the carpet, spinning a magnet, or an electric company – there are many plausible reasons for electricity. So, I think that is a poor straw man argument. In contrast, whenever we see a written language, we assume an intelligence. Or, if we see a motor or a pump, we assume the same. The fact that he goes on for chapters about the human genome illustrates a language. So, I think he incorrectly used the Paley argument.

    4. I think the flawed logic in his dismissing of Paley might be why he came down so hard on ID. The reason for this I believe is that he is starting at a neo-darwinian view to begin with. Therefore, what he evaluates must fit with his primarly conclusion of the truth of RM+NS. So, the electricity argument was advantageous for him because it could dismiss Paley without dealing with the watch argument. Similarly, he indicates that Behe has already been dismissed as far as IC, saying that the BF and the blood clotting cascade have been mostly explained by ND mechanisms. Last I read Behe, however, Russell Doolittle still did not have a suitable argument wrt blood clotting and IC.

    So, while I think it is still a really great book, it definately shows that his starting point is that Neo-Deo and RM+NS is true. I think he did a good job of presenting evidence about YEC, but his ID logic appeared flawed and pre-determined. He never acknowledged the fact that there are significant issues with ND. I think that would have been more intellectually honest.

  14. 14
    jaredl says:

    Dr. Cordova,

    Can you do me a favor? I have a previous engagement, or I’d show up to the lecture to ask the following.

    Can you please ask Dr. Collins, during the QA, how strong he thinks his design inference is with respect to cosmology when he cannot produce evidence which demonstrates that the reference class of possibilities of sets of laws of nature doesn’t contain only one element, when he simultaneously rejects the design inference with respect to biology, where it can be demonstrated that the reference class of possibilities is quite large indeed with respect to DNA sequencing, on top of the biologically significant functionality of certain sequences of DNA constituting a specification?

    This is to say that the design inference with respect to cosmology is necessarily vacuous (according to Dembski’s theory of design), while the design inference with respect to biology is (or can be made) rigorous. This might be an opportunity to see if Dr. Collins rejects Dembski’s work on the design inference altogether.

    Thanks.

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