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Interview by Karl W. Giberson

Evolution, the Bible, and the Book of Nature

A conversation with Francis Collins.

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Evolution may seem from the outside to have a lot of complexities, and certainly there are lots of details we haven't worked out—and for anybody to say there are no arguments would be a total mistake. But nearly all scientists agree upon descent from a common ancestor, gradual change over a long period of time, and natural selection operating to produce the diversity of living species. There is no question that those are correct. Evolution is not a theory that is going to be discarded next week or next year or a hundred thousand years from now. It is true.

There is a remarkable claim being made today by anti-evolutionists that runs exactly counter to this. This is the claim that evolution is based on a big deception, that there isn't any solid basis at all for the theory, and that scientists are gradually abandoning evolution. Are there evolutionists jumping ship?

I haven't met any of these people. And I think I would hear about it, if it were true, as I have identified myself as a believer interested in studying biological evolution. No, I think those claims are completely without evidence.

Stating this is a convenient way to float the idea that evolution is a conspiracy that is about to be exposed. That's the idea behind the movie Expelled, which tries to make that same case—that there is a conspiracy to squash the truth. That viewpoint totally misunderstands the nature of science. Anybody who has lived within the scientific community would immediately—regardless of their worldview—rebel against the idea that science would be able to sustain such a conspiracy. Scientists are all about upsetting and overturning things. And if you're the one who's discovered how to overturn evolution, you're going to win the Nobel Prize!

The position that people on the outside of science—like the creationists and the people in the id camp—have adopted, that such a conspiracy could actually exist for more than thirty seconds, completely flies in the face of the realities of the sociology of the field of science. It's an insult.

What do you think of this project that the Discovery Institute has launched, with a laboratory where they want to do genuine scientific research, with their own in-house Intelligent Design scientists?

It is hard for me to imagine what they will do. id doesn't actually propose any falsifiable hypotheses. Science by its very nature ought to be unfettered by any particular perspective on what the right answers are supposed to be.

But are you being completely fair? Their rejoinder would be that what you've just described as science is kind of a mythology. Science isn't really that open-minded. In reality, there are a whole set of wide-ranging theoretical ideas that aren't really on the table when you go into the laboratory. You go in working within a framework or paradigm, and you put the pieces together within that paradigm. But you don't really acknowledge it, and sometimes you aren't even aware of the influences of your paradigms.

The ID people don't want to do their research within the paradigm of naturalistic evolution. Instead, they want to say, "Well, we'll do similar research except we're not going to insist that everything we consider has to fit within this naturalistic paradigm. We are going to go outside this paradigm and see whether we notice different things."

History shows that paradigms are sometimes misleading. For example, the paradigm that there couldn't be change in the heavens caused people to miss data for many centuries about new stars. The ID scientists would say that people like you wouldn't see the design in nature because you work under a paradigm that excludes that possibility.

Sure, we have paradigms that we use to try and organize things, but one of our goals is to upset these paradigms. If laboratories did experiments and said, "Hey, wait a minute, here is some data suggesting that evolution is wrong, it is not capable of explaining something," that would be a lightning rod for excited investigation. This idea would not be ignored because it wasn't consistent with a reigning paradigm.

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