Dr. Collins as mildly demented?

Did you catch last week’s New York Times article on Francis Collins?  Here’s how it begins:

He drives a Harley-Davidson, wears a black leather jacket on his back and his religion on his sleeve, and plays a custom guitar with big-name rock stars.  All that would seem to have nothing to do with Dr. Francis S. Collins’s day job as the new director of the National Institutes of Health. Except that at the institutes, such things do matter. …

First, there is the God issue. Dr. Collins believes in him. Passionately. And he preaches about his belief in churches and a best-selling book. For some presidential appointees, that might not be a problem, but many scientists view such outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia. … (Gardiner Harris, For N.I.H. Chief, Issues of Identity and Culture, NY Times, October 6, 2009)

As I’ve posted in other places, I find this charge of dementia of particular interest.  Why? I recently participated in a discussion regarding how a physician might diagnosis Jesus’ mental condition based upon Mark 3 and dementia had been raised. What is dementia?

Deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as memory, concentration, and judgment, resulting from an organic disease or a disorder of the brain, and often accompanied by emotional disturbance and personality changes. — “dementia.” The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 13 Oct. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dementia>.

In this case, it appears to be an off-handed manner of name calling, i.e., declaring Collins mentally ill, even insane for his outspoken religious commitment in order to discredit his leadership.  What do you think?  Part of our exploration of The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship involves wrestling with how one responds to such comments, note:  this case highlights the war between science and religion/faith.

Have you ever faced such challenges?  If so, how have you responded?  How should Collins respond?  Should he stop wearing religion on his sleeve and just get his job done at the N.I.H., should he cut back on public declarations of faith, or should he keep on keeping on the way he is?

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • kpenguinz02@yahoo.com'
    Kelly commented on October 14, 2009 Reply

    I find this kind of funny, scientists calling “religous” people mildly demented…. sometimes I think to be in science you have to be “mildly demented” in some way or another to even be in or survive in the field!

    Seriously though, all scientists have faith in one way or another. You have to have faith in your hypothesis until it’s proven otherwise, and it has to be convincing, persuasive faith, or you won’t get funded. Being Christian in this environment is challenging, but I think he should keep on keeping on – it doesn’t seem to have stopped him yet, and he is internationally renowned for the quality of his science.

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on October 15, 2009 Reply

    I have long said there are only two templates for conservatives in academia and Hollywood. They are either a) evil (see: Cheney, Limbaugh), or b) idiots (see: G.W. Bush, Reagan). The same, I think, applies to people who believe the Bible. If you watch movies or TV and see a character who actually quotes the Bible, then the person is either a) going to be pure evil (see: Shawshank Redemption), or b) a benign idiot (see: Father Mulcahey of MASH, Slingblade). There are some notable exceptions, mostly in “historical” pieces such as Amazing Grace or Chariots of Fire. Also people who used to believe but now doubt.

  • mike.harper@sckans.edu'
    M. Harper commented on October 15, 2009 Reply

    I’d say one good tack might be to bolster Alvin Plantinga’s argument that theistic belief is properly basic, meaning that it is normal to believe in God. Those who find themselves believing in God have properly functioning cognitive faculties. The implication is that those that find that they do not have cognitive faculties that are not functioning properly. I’ve spoken with Dr. Plantinga during a lecture visit and he said that turning the tables on just this kind of claim is a good benefit of his argument. For what it’s worth…

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on October 19, 2009 Reply

    A similar argument was made by R.C. Sproul in an old book, “The Psychology of Atheism” (now out of print).

  • amywung@gmail.com'
    Amy commented on November 2, 2009 Reply

    This doesn’t add to the discussion much, but reading the comments reminded me of a Venn diagram I recently saw illustrating just how ridiculous the dry telling of Jesus’ resurrection sounds to a face-value rationalist.


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