Zingrone: Religious ideas must yield to new knowledge

William Zingrone Associate professor of psychology

The Christian Faculty Racers took out an ad recently featuring prominent scientist Francis Collins, director of the NIH, co-discoverer of the cystic fibrosis gene and head of the government effort that mapped the human genome.

He is an Evangelical Christian, but claims there is no conflict between religion and science: “God can be found in the cathedral or the laboratory.”

I feature Collins and two other Christian scientists in my evolution lecture, given in my PSY 180 courses every semester. Psychology textbooks refer to evolution regularly in explaining human behavior, and I provide my students detailed information on evolution most have never heard since many Christians do not share Collins’ conciliatory view of science and religion.

William  Zingrone Associate professor of psychology

William Zingrone
Associate professor of psychology

Poll after poll show nearly half of the U.S. population denies evolution thanks to the well-funded efforts of conservative Christians. Sounds like a mighty big conflict of religion versus science to me. I show my students that denial of evolution is absurd given the oceans of data and using Collins and the others as examples of Christians and scientists who defend evolution. Though inviting students to read Collins story, my colleagues at CFR neglect to suggest students go to his website: “BioLogos.” There, he tries to convince Evangelical Christians their religion must be interpreted in terms of modern science, tacitly acknowledging there is an undeniable clash of religious and science claims; else he wouldn’t need the website at all!

The only way to reconcile the inescapable conflict of religion and science is for religious ideas to yield to new knowledge.

Religious claims are proven wrong by science, never the other way around. It has been going on for centuries and is now accelerating exponentially due to the incredible advance of science in the modern age. Collins’ BioLogos website unequivocally supports the very new and damning genetic evidence that humans could not have evolved from only two people: the Adam and Eve story is a metaphor at best, myth at worst.

Modern human populations are descended from thousands of individuals not two, and 10’s of thousands of years ago, not six. As a non-theist I wholeheartedly applaud Collins’ efforts and admire him greatly as a scientist and have no issue with his rather deistic perspectives on God that one gets from reading his interview on the CFR website or his book “Language of God.”

If you believe that there must have been a Creator being, that some agent must have started it all, go for it, enjoy.

Interestingly, Collins believes miracles may have occurred long ago, but admits they haven’t happened in his lifetime and are most likely incredibly rare if they happen at all. As a practicing scientist he knows they do not figure in the pursuit of knowledge.

Like the other Christian scientists I feature in my lecture he leaves his religion at the laboratory door. God is not found in the lab; he can’t get in. No matter how devout a scientist may be, and I don’t doubt Collins’ sincerity one bit, he doesn’t expect prayers to be answered in his lab.

He didn’t hope for miracles to make the cystic fibrosis gene magically appear one day beside a burning bush, he didn’t expect to beat the private attempt to map the human genome by having the three billion base pair sequence handed down to him inscribed on stone tablets.

He knows the world doesn’t work that way. Just what is so special about the few hundred square feet that make up a scientist’s lab that God never seems to have any influence inside it? What if you do fieldwork? No conflict between science and religion you say?

As a scientist, Collins knows the earth isn’t the center of the solar system, Adam and Eve is a metaphor, females do not issue from males ribs, Evolution happened: not Noah or the flood, there were never giants in the human race, the earth is 4.3 billion years old, human longevity was never hundreds of years, female humans don’t have offspring in their 90s, language evolution is well documented without a Tower of Babel, and if someone hears voices in their head to slay their son with a knife for a burnt offering, they need medication, and quickly. Francis Collins and science: 10, Bible: 0 … and we aren’t even out of Genesis yet!

That’s how the conflict is settled; religious claims are reinterpreted or outright rejected. I invite all of the Murray State community, students and faculty alike to attend the University of Chicago evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne’s lectures Nov. 21 and Nov. 22 in Freed Curd Auditorium on “Why Evolution is True” and “Faith is not a Virtue: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible.” Decide for yourself.


Column by William Zingrone, Associate professor of psychology