Neuroscientist Sam Harris had some harsh words for one of the nation’s top scientists during a recent podcast.
The outspoken atheist said that Francis Collins, the current head of the National Institute of Health and the former director of the international Human Genome Project, was an example of an intelligent person who peddled religious “bullshit.”
Harris started off by saying that many “otherwise well-behaved” and reasonable individuals held extreme religious views.
“There are people who have really been terrorized by their parents, and people who terrorize their kids with a fear of hell, for instance. I hear from people who their entire life — they’re in their 40s and they’re only now just coming out of the prison of having spent their entire lives being afraid of being tortured (for) an eternity by Satan. This is in the 21st century, in the United States.”
“These people are convinced — these are the only ones I hear from — but these are people who are convinced by our arguments against the beliefs that were drummed into them on their mother’s knee, but they’re still afraid of burning for an eternity in hell,” Harris continued. “So there is that side — all the homophobia and all the other social issues of intolerance that we are well aware of, but are just immensely influential in our society, to say nothing of what is going on in the Muslim world.”
“But on the other side of it is the so-called sophisticated nuanced people,” he remarked. “When you actually press for nuance and intellectual honesty in the domain of their religious convictions, you really just land in an area of unprincipled rule changes in intellectual discourse. The nuanced positions for the most part are bullshit.”
“Now, this is not to say that people don’t have great experiences that they want to capture in religious language,” Harris said. “But when you look at someone like Francis Collins, who is running the NIH, who is a medical geneticist and obviously a very smart guy who has made real contributions to science — but he is also a bit of a Bible-thumper, he’s an evangelical Christian. He believes in evolution, thankfully, but he also believes that immortal souls and free will were just downloaded onto the hard drive of only one species of primate at some point in history by an almighty God.”
“And when you ask him about the resurrection, he believes in the resurrection (of Jesus) and he believes in the coming resurrection of the dead, and he, I think, is sensitive to how unseemly it is for the head of the NIH to talk about these things, so when you ask him for details, he says, ‘Well, this is all very complicated and you should consult the work of John Polkinghorne and N.T. Wright.’ And when you consult their work, you get just pure madness. It is just a word salad, which is foisted on scientifically illiterate people by scientifically literate people for reasons that are patently emotional.”
“I think we should be even more critical in some sense of people like Francis Collins, the so-called nuanced religious person,” Harris concluded.
Listen to audio below: