I started reading Francis Collins’s book but its not going very well. I was interested of a tale of an atheistic scientist that found God. The first argument and apparent centre piece is based on an unusual mix of the meta-ethics, argument from analogy, argument from design, and a bit of the ontological argument. He attributes it to CS Lewis with numerous quotes from his books. (And I thought I was bad with my narrow selection of quotations!) I have outlined the argument in as clear form as I can by separating the two main threads, then I have proceeded to “kick the tires”. It has been a while since I have attempted this type of activity. I am motivated and intrigued by the authors repeated claims of rationality and his previous work as a scientist.

The existence of the concepts of good and evil are accepted by most people.
Humans act in an altruistic manner.
Human altruistic behaviour and the concept of good has not been explained.

‘The argument that most caught my attention, and most rocked my ideas about science and spirit down to their foundations, was right there in the title of Book One: “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” […] Disagreements are part of daily life. […] each party attempts to appeal to an unstated higher standard. This standard is the Moral Law. […] Virtually never does the respondent say, “To hell with your concept of right behaviour.” What we have here is very peculiar: the concept of right and wrong appears to be universal among all members of the human species[…]’

The concept of “good” is analogous to a house that has been designed an architect. The concept of “good” must also have a creator, which is God.
The altruistic actions are analogous to a house that has been designed an architect. The concept of “good” must also have a creator, which is God.

If the Law of Human Nature cannot be explained away as cultural artifact or evolutionary by-product, then how can we account for its presence? There is truly something going on here. Francis Collins

If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicious? C S Lewis

Axioms: The argument relies on the axiom that the concept of good is universal. Unfortunately for this argument, counter examples exist – just look at existential philosophy. If we still use a weakened form of the argument, “most people believe in good”, we end up with an imperfectly universal “Moral Law” and therefore an imperfect designer. If we argue, “those existentialists are just deluding themselves”, the reverse argument is also allowable “the majority of people are deluded about Moral Law”. I don’t think this could be clearer:

My demand of the philosopher is well known: that he take his stand beyond good and evil and treat the illusion of moral judgement as beneath him. This demand follows from an insight that I was the first to articulate: that there are no moral facts. Twilight of the Idols, FN

So much for the universal concept of Moral Law. If only Nietzsche’s demand was more well known…

The other axiom is that people act in an altruistic way. Collins defines altruism as “the truly selfless giving of oneself to others with absolutely no secondary motives”. He cites Oskar Schindler and Mother Teresa as examples. Well I can think of one motivation: religion (they were both Catholic). Also, these individuals decided “they know best” in how to help people in distress. This generalising of a personal morality on to other cases generally seems very selfish to me!

Update: I should distinguish that the belief in a God (irrespective of the validity of belief) is a sufficient explanation in these cases. The existence of God is what Collins uses as the explanation of altruism.

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Luke 6:35 (my emphasis)

He wishes to succour, and does not reflect that there is a personal necessity for misfortune; that terror, want, impoverishment, midnight watches, adventures, hazards and mistakes are as necessary to me and to you as their opposites, yea, that, to speak mystically, the path to one’s own heaven always leads through the voluptuousness of one’s own hell. No, he knows nothing thereof. Gay Science Aph 338, FN

Argument from analogy: this is an unsure method of argument more suited to rhetorics. If the cases that are compared are not equal, the analogy does not necessarily hold. We must be particularly careful if we are comparing something like a house to something like “the concept of good”. On what grounds are we to compare “the concept of good” to any physical object, without invoking the characteristic of “design” which would be merely begging the question in that assumes a designer? This great quote from Hume rebuts comparison between the universe and a house but it might be equally applied to comparing a morality and a house.

…the subject in which you are engaged exceeds all human reason and enquiry. Can you pretend to shew any such similarity between the fabric of a house, and the generation of a universe? Have you ever seen nature in any such situation as resembles the first arrangement of the elements? Have worlds ever been formed under your eye; and have you had leisure to observe the whole progress of the phenomenon, from the first appearance of order to its final consummation? If you have, then cite your experience, and deliver your theory. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume

Argument from ignorance: In some ways, this argument should have been stated first since it is a simple logically flaw and not easily rebutted. If we don’t know where the concept “good” comes from, we can’t form any conclusion based on what we don’t know. If we allowed this, he might become religious based on an argument from ignorance but when an explanation emerges, is he compelled to renounce God? That would be absurd. This has been discussed many times before as “God of the gaps”.

Since this is an argument from ignorance, I could explain the concept of “good” being caused by extra-terrestrial alien interference. Although I don’t believe that theory, the flimsy supporting evidence is better than Collins’s no evidence whatever (in the context of this argument from ignorance).

Infinite regress: If there is evidence of an “architect”, what created the architect? The architect’s designer presumably. And who created that? And so on. I really can’t be bothered to flesh this out since this objection has been known for hundreds of years.

Some points that I found while flipping though the book:

“This principle [Occham’s razor] suggests that the simplest explanation for any given probelms is usually best. Occam’s Razor appears to have been relegated to the Dumpster by the bizarre models of quantum physics.”

This is a straw man of Occam’s razor. Does it only say the “simplest” argument is best? No. It doesn’t. And for a practicing scientist to claim this makes me worry. (If this really is Occam’s razor, the best theory would be “the universe is random, any pattern is a coincidence” and we can stop research since we have the “best” theory.)

“If God is outside of nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. If God is outside of nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. Atheism itself must therefore be considered a form of blind faith.”

Nice ad hominem tu quoque. But it is easy to restate this argument to say “religion can neither prove nor disprove his existence” and therefore it is “blind faith”. This refutes his own argument from evidence in one fell swoop. On the other hand, if God is “inside the universe”, science or atheists can comment on God’s existence. Oddly Collins seems to alternate between God being “outside the universe” and yet occasionally intervening in human affairs. Is he a deist or theist? From this quote, I don’t think he knows himself.

An alternative analysis I suggest is that “good” is a product of language to express social norms. Social and community norms exist in humans and other animals. Of the animals, we have the most complicated language – if we use a broad definition of “language”. The short cut to refer to community norms in language is what created the concept “good”. Not a big deal – and certainly no proof of God. My suggestion to Francis Collins: get a copy of Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” and read it (again, if applicable). I would have liked to have read his ideas on coexistence of science and religion but his first few chapters were so incoherence so I stopped and I don’t think I missed much by not reading on. But apparently he rejects creationism and ID. Perhaps scientists should say away from philosophy? (note to self…)

Anti Citizen One

PS I have less of a beef with religious people who don’t claim rational justification for God. This post obviously does not apply to you. 🙂