Monday, July 20, 2009

Should an Evangelical Christian run NIH?

On Ken Connor opines on the liberal atheists’ objection to having Dr Francis Collins as the head of NIH. His full essay is at:

A few observations:

I The portrayal of Richard Dawkins as an atheist bogeyman who is campaigning against Francis Collins is typical of the cynical manipulation of partial data i.e. the use of half-truths that conservative pundits so heavily rely on: For starters, the main subject of his interview with Bill Maher is not Francis Collins; Collins is one of many topics discussed in the interview. During the portion where they discuss Collins, Dawkins repeatedly refers to Collins as being “a bright guy”. He goes on to state i.e. claim that most scientists who profess religious belief or faith are not literalists. Bill Maher, who is interviewing him, refers to belief in “the talking snake” i.e. the snake in Genesis that convinces Eve to taste the apple. When Dawkins keeps interpreting Collins’ religious faith as not being literalist or fundamentalist, Maher insists that based on his conversation with him (Collins), “Collins does believe in the talking snake” to which Dawkins responds “…in that case, he’s not a very bright guy.” There are two important points here: 1) the portrayal of Dawkins as the atheist on the war path out to get Collins is a deliberate misrepresentation, and 2) would you really want a guy who thinks that a snake talked to a woman in a magical garden (where there is no death) into eating some fruit to be in charge of important medical research???

II This is going to be an ad hominem attack, but I’ll be honest in admitting it ahead of time: the web page that hosts Ken Connor’s essay has a prominent ad in which a cute blonde is wearing a t-shirt that says “I’d rather be waterboarding”. Excuse me? How christian is that? In case you visit the web page, and that ad is not there, don’t worry: I saved a screen shot, and can email it to you.
The web sites’ credibility is further degraded by an ad featuring Glen Beck a.k.a. the male Ann Coulter: blond hair, and that crazy Charlie Manson look in their eyes. I fantasize about a Manson parole hearing in which Glen Beck and Ann Coulter are on the parole board, and the three of them sit there, staring at each other with their bulging, maniacal eyes.

III Just curious: would Ken Connor rush to Collins’ defense if he (Collins) was a devout muslim?

IV This should have been #1, but look at this sentence in Connor’s essay:
“Regardless of the specifics of Dr. Collins's christian identity, the idea that his faith impedes his fitness to serve as the head of the NIH operates on the absurd premise that only atheists and agnostics are capable of being good scientists.”

Talk about obfuscation. The "absurd notion” that Connor proposes is not the thought i.e. fear that Dawkins or others may have. Collins' job at NIH would not be to sit at a microscope in a white lab coat, and Connor knows this. Collins' job would be to administer, manage and make policy. The fear is that Collins’ religious beliefs would cause him to make decisions based not on science, but on his particular religious beliefs that are specific to his religion. What if Collins was an orthodox jew or muslim, and he objected to the use of pig hearts, kidneys, or stem cells? Wouldn’t the rest of us, who enjoy a good pork chop now & then, start screaming bloody murder, because our diabetic nephew could be cured of his diabetes, but that nitwit jew/mulsim won’t let us have islet cells derived from pigs? What about a hindu head of NIH who won’t allow cow stem cells to be used?

V This is the most egregious obfuscation in Connor’s essay: the article has a link that the reader assumes will take him to another article in which we will find out that Obama has hired a madman, Dr John Holdren, in favor of forced abortion. The problems are multifold: 1) the link is to an article that has to be read, in order to find the relevant link to another article that bolster's Connor’s claim. This is no accident. Clearly, Connors intent is to make his readers decide that this is too much work, and just take his word for it. The article i.e. book was written by Holdren in 1977, exactly 70 years after Indiana passed the world’s first eugenics law, and 50 years after Buck vs. Bell, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of forced sterilization in Virginia. Virginia? Indiana? Aren’t those hotbeds of conservatism?

Does Holdren still believe these things today? Has he recently repudiated or confirmed his 1977 beliefs? I spent (wasted?) a bunch of time googling him, and I came up with links in two categories: 1) recent interviews or articles about his greenhouse gas issues, and 2) right-wing blogs harping on his 1977 writings. Hm, interesting…

I’d like to learn more about Dr Holdren and his radical population control ideas. I don’t agree with the idea of governments violating citizens’ rights in an effort to curb population growth, but Holdren’s presence in the Obama administration does remind us of the real cause of all our problems: too many people consuming too much water, petroleum, wood, coal, and arable land. People all over the political spectrum blindly hope that science will solve all of our problems, but I’m pessimistic: I don’t think that we can ‘science’ i.e. ‘technology’ our way out of everything, despite what my good personal friend Randy Weissbuch, the perennial libertarian congressional candidate thinks.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
You've fallen into your own trap.

If you want to berate Ken Connor for deliberate obfuscation (which is correct, in my opinion), then shouldn't you do the same for Bill Mahr? If you followed the link where Collins professes his faith, you will see quite a disconnect between "believing in talking snakes" and his very rational and thoughtful approach to faith.

To those who move away from the middle (of any ideology) someone who's snarky and inflammatory on their side of the spectrum are seen as provocative and insightful, but to the other side they're just assholes.

If you want true dialogue, then call a spade a spade.

Thomas Geza Miko said...

Hi Dave,
Well I did say that Maher insists that based on his conversations with Collins, "he believes in talking snakes". In other words, Maher is claiming that Collins is a holy roller. This does present another question: is Collins presenting one face when he is before Congress, and another, when he is out "evangelizing"?
Brushing all that aside, let's go full circle (how's that for a mixed metaphor?): I am not claiming Maher as a primary source of my information about Collins. What I am doing, though, is looking at the so-called "evidence" that the liberals in the media are conspiring against Collins.

I can only go with Maher's claim that he has spoken with Collins, and that Collins believes in "talking snakes" i.e. is a fundamentalist, not the other type of religiuous person that Dawkins described his as. keep ion mind, the claim that Connor puts forth is that Dawkins is on a crusade against Collins, which is not true. That should be the main point that we are arguing.

John Stewart of the Daily Show has stated more than once in interviews that it freaks him out that people (even if they agree with his politics) use him as a primary source of news, as much as it bothers him that people use the Faux News Channel as their primary source.
Maher not only does not call himself a journalist, but he has corrected others who called him that (I saw him do it on a PBS roundtable). He labeled himself a comedian.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any argument about whether Dawkins was on a crusade against one man. It's clear that he was responding, not instigating. But I do take issue with the dodge so often used that allows certain individuals to go unchallenged because they aren't "journalists". My point is that none of the blowhards (on either side) are journalists. Rush Limbaugh also likes to remind people that he's not a journalist. They are all in the entertainment business. And under that scenario, I wouldn't give anyone a pass simply because they want to characterize their particular slant as comedy.

You state, "I can only go with Maher's claim that he has spoken with Collins ..." Why does he get such a pass. If he's "only a comedian" shouldn't you assume he's lying through his teeth to get a laugh? Or, if you take what he says as a given, then why don't you take Connor's words as a given? Especially if he reaches that ill defined status of "journalist".

My point is that I'm not overly offended when the blowhards on the right get together with the blowhards on the left to perform political theater. Very little of it has any resemblance to the truth. Complaining about one side vs. the other is like betting on a pro wrestling match; it's a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the game.