Monday, January 29, 2007

Francis Collins: Science and religion - a viewpoint of a scientist.

My brother pointed me to this fascinating interview with Francis Collins a renowned scientist involved in deciphering the human genome.

Some excerpts:

Re Freedom of choice:

"You're talking about genetic determinism, which implies that we are helpless marionettes being controlled by strings made of double helices. That is so far away from what we know scientifically! Heredity does have an influence not only over medical risks but also over certain behaviors and personality traits. But look at identical twins, who have exactly the same DNA but often don't behave alike or think alike. They show the importance of learning and experience—and free will. I think we all, whether we are religious or not, recognize that free will is a reality. There are some fringe elements that say, "No, it's all an illusion, we're just pawns in some computer model." But I don't think that carries you very far. "

Re the Holocaust and God:

"If God had to intervene miraculously every time one of us chose to do something evil, it would be a very strange, chaotic, unpredictable world. Free will leads to people doing terrible things to each other. Innocent people die as a result. You can't blame anyone except the evildoers for that. So that's not God's fault. The harder question is when suffering seems to have come about through no human ill action. A child with cancer, a natural disaster, a tornado or tsunami. Why would God not prevent those things from happening?"

Read more. There is some Ramban in there but mostly Rambam.


  1. If we don't attribute to God any evil that is done to us by either man or nature then why do attribute to him the benevolece?
    The Tanach is full of it,especially Tehillim.
    Every day a Jew prays from the Siddur & give thanks & praises the almighty for all the kindness he has done for him.

    However in Iyov 2:10 he says:
    גם את הטוב נקבל מאת האלהים ואת הרע לא נקבל
    Obviously he attributes good & evil to God.
    I remember in of Prof.Leibovitz books where he says that when someone says to him that he knows someone who was healed "b'ezrat Hashem",he replies that he knows someone who died "b'ezrat Hashem".
    Perhaps not in those exact words,but very similar.

  2. Ytschak, the problem is that by definition God cannot do evil which equals destruction. He would not be a perfect God if He would do that and therefore not God.

    I know the argument is circular but I was just responding directly to your question. In reality Francis Collin addresses it in his article where he says that what seems destructive short term may not be in the whole scheme of things. rambam devotes a whole perek to that in MN and I addressed some of it in my posts on hashgacha.

  3. David
    Thanks. There is also something known as epigenetics, which means that in addition to the specific code of DNA that determines gene expression there are other levels of copmlexity that will determine whether a particular gene will be expressed. To give a crude exaple like putting spaces between words. So the idea that identical codes means identical people even scientifically is not true. I hope I didn't get too technical