Given the copious amounts of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens debates, interviews, and conversations I’ve been watching over the past few months, I’ve been increasingly interested in hearing pro-God/pro-religious “preachers” (for lack of any better word) who can make a case for the existence of God without using the Bible as their basis. (Don’t worry, I’m not looking to convert myself, but just trying to round out my perspective on the issues at debate).
Probably, the most likely candidate for this would be Francis Collins, who is a well-known and admired geneticist and believer in Christianity.
I watched a presentation of his tonight and was enjoying his explaining his non-religious up-bringing, his “most likely agnostic” years in college, and then the time during his residency in med school when he was converted to religion.
He mentions that he saw people on their death beds a number of times and that they always seemed unafraid of death–due to their faith. He said that if he were in their place “I would not be at peace. I would be terrified.”
He goes on to recite the memory of a female patient of his, on her deathbed in the hospital, who told him that her faith gave her strength in those final moments. “And then she asked me the most simple question: ‘Doctor, what do you believe?’ ” He replies that he was at a loss for words.
These two statements is where I began to discredit the reasoning of Francis Collins.
1. Not everyone is afraid of death. I think a lot of atheists simply don’t consider it. Everyone dies and as long as it’s not torturous or unnecessarily painful, what’s to fear? It seems that people who have an awakening fear of death (such as Collins in this case) are then more likely to try to reach out for something to comfort that fear.
Sam Harris, a prominent neuro-scientist and propagator of human morality without religion, makes a wonderful analogy to death being nothing more than falling asleep at night and not waking. He argues that none of us worry about going to sleep at night, and yet we wait up hours later without any concerns of doing it again. He argues that death is simply “lights out” and as comfortable as falling asleep. (He believes fear comes from those who die not being able to care any longer for who they love, etc.)
2. The question: “What do you believe?” is also a tricky question because it presupposes that there is something to believe in. I remember someone once asking me if I believed in ghosts. I shrugged. “What do you mean?” They said: “You must believe that they do or don’t exist!” Why? I simply don’t consider ghosts and have no reason to. Same with religion. I have no reason to contemplate the existence of a god. So, when Collins was asked by this dying woman “What do you believe?” he was on the spot to provide an answer to a question that’s a little bit bogus. Many atheists simply don’t consider God. It’s the same way I don’t consider the existence of ghosts.
I think these two things came together for Francis Collins to lead him down the path of religion. While he is a great scientist, his rhetoric (in the presentation mentioned above) quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophetic diatribe, full of conspiracy-theorist-style “connecting the dots” to provide an argument for God.