The answers to the below question might well reveal it was a mistake to ask it. Still, it would be fun. OK, fun for a philosophy professor at least.
This is your final essay question. Your answer must be at least 2000 words. Remember to use spell check and word count. All outside sources MUST acknowledged.
PRESIDENT OBAMA has nominated Francis Collins to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health. It would seem a brilliant choice. Dr. Collins’s credentials are impeccable: he is a physical chemist, a medical geneticist and the former head of the Human Genome Project. [As a very religious man who has written about belief in the Christian faith] he is also, by his own account, living proof that there is no conflict between science and religion.
But most scientists who study the human mind are convinced that minds are the products of brains, and brains are the products of evolution. Dr. Collins takes a different approach: he insists that at some moment in the development of our species God inserted crucial components — including an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc. Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” and that “the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.”
Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?
How would you decide the question asked at the end? Discuss the issues with reference to the course readings, particularly Descartes, Hume and Kant. Remember that since this is a philosophy course, your answers are NOT to be justified with reference to the Bible or other religious texts.
Hint: Consider whether the philosophers think we have immortal souls, free will, genuine altruism and so on.
And who said philosophy is not revelant? The thing is, one might be just a bit uncomfortable with their relevance to the choice of the NIH Director. I mean, we’ve already had Bush’s ethical council that debated stem cell research and other bio-ethical questions. Do we really want to continue the confusion that the separation of church and state could avoid?
Now, having read way too much about Sotomayor’s comment about a wise Latina woman, we might feel that Collins should not be stuck with the odd comment or two. However, he has reiterated on a number of occasions his belief that science in effect leaves explanatory gaps for religion to fill, if I’ve got him right.
I’m indebted to an Intro class that wanted to look at scientific alternative to Gazzaniga’s The Ethical Brain for the internet searches that led us to Collins and his arguments. I’m not sure the issues are clear cut. PLEASE wade in!
Just about all the text of the question comes from the NY Times. Not the bits about word count or Descartes, Hume, and Kant, of course.