The Language of God, Chapter 5
By B.J. Marshall
The tagline of this books is “A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” I’ve seen that the central thesis of the book is trying to harmonize religion and science, so I was surprised to find Collins spending a lot of time talking about how he mapped the genome – I could almost read the nostalgia in his voice – including the privatization issue that arose when Craig Venter (Celera) got into the genome-mapping fray. Part of how Chapter 5 begins is useful because it gives the reader a foundation to understand how heredity, mutations, and evolution work; he’ll touch more on those points later. However, Collins doesn’t really further his thesis with his discussion of using genomics to tackle the hereditary persistence of fetal hemoglobin variety of sickle-cell disease or finding the cause of cystic fibrosis in the majority of patients – the deletion of just three letters (CTT) in the protein-coding part of a gene now named CFTR.
But these two stories do bring home a really good point that his readers should not ignore. Given that I have often heard that faith is belief in the absence of or despite evidence, and that Collins’ goal is to harmonize science and faith, perhaps the BioLogos Foundation should adopt this as its logo (courtesy of XKCD).
I ended up appreciating Collins’ difficulty in discovering the cause of cystic fibrosis and his handling of hereditary persistence of fetal hemoglobin. Those were clearly problems that didn’t have solutions before. So it dismays me when I read about problems we previously solved that are either willfully ignored or coming back through a campaign of misinformation.
The first category involves those faithful who think God alone will heal their children. I could see how one who wants to harmonize science and faith would contend that God gave humanity these awesome minds so we could come up with cures for diseases. (Of course, then they’d have the more difficult question of why God would give us diseases in the first place, but that’s a different problem.) It seems every week, I read a blog post or see a news article about families who don’t give their children medical attention to save their lives. Fortunately, people have begun to take action. Courts have been sending to trial (negligent homicide) parents whose children die from impotent placations to their equally impotent gods.
For the second category, this gets to a broader notion of pseudoscience. Clearly, Creation Science / Intelligent Design falls in this camp, but there are plenty of non-faith-centric areas of pseudoscience out there: acupuncture, chiropractic (link to audio describing chiropractic’s start), and probably too many to list. My biggest pet peeve among pseudoscience quackery is the antivax movement, because it has a relative large body count. (It’s not the only one with a body count, mind you; people have died from chiropractic, too.) It is not my intent to spend this blog post debunking the entire antivaxxers movement; interested readers should check out the Science Based Medicine blog, the Centers for Disease Control, and other science-based sites. Brian Dunning at Skeptoid has a great podcast discussing the ingredients in vaccines.
As always, don’t take my (or anyone’s) word for it – it should be up to you to conduct your own research to validate the facts and follow the conclusion the evidence points you towards. That said, I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to create their own cache of empirical evidence before reaching a conclusion. It doesn’t seem very plausible for everyone to go out to conduct their own clinical double-blind trials to determine anything. But I think I have enough confidence in the bodies of evidence argued for by a general consensus among professionals in the field to warrant my conclusion in, say for example, anthropogenic global climate change.
The Internet is a great place to conduct one’s own research, provided one doesn’t get distracted by lolcats.
Other posts in this series: