– Dr Petra has a very nifty guide for how to spot PR-based research. That is, purportedly scientific research which has actually been commissioned and funded by a private interest, specifically to provide seemingly scientifically legitimate support for their PR campaign. This kind of easily digestible but misleading survey is much more likely  to appear in most tabloids than actual research done by scientists; it’s worth knowing what it looks like so that you can ignore it.
– PZ Myers has some simple questions for Francis Collins. Well, they’re Larry Moran’s questions, actually, but they’re all very simple. They all start with “Is there any evidence…”, and are directed at a series of claims made by Francis Collins.
Collins has done some fine science in his time, and I don’t think there’s much to disdain about his work with the Human Genome Project, but I can’t decide whether hearing him talk on the compatibility of religion and science is bewildering or just sad. He describes the history of the universe, through its billions of years of expansion and cooling, its millions of years of cumulative evolutionary processes, and so forth, entirely in line with the current scientific consensus, but then inexplicably throws in a load of stuff for God to do along the way, attributing acts to him where absolutely no agency is required.
The “mechanism of evolution” was apparently part of God’s plan from the start, rather than something that just follows logically from the existence of imperfectly replicating entities. His plan also “included human beings”, something that completely goes against evolutionary theory, which states that the random genetic variations which survive and propagate are determined by environmental factors, and there is no ultimate or long-term “goal” towards which evolution is striving. All the God stuff is just carelessly shoe-horned in there, with no regard to the fact that it’s completely unnecessary.
It’s clear that Collins needs to find room for his idea of God in his scientific worldview somewhere, but it’s entirely unconvincing. As Larry says, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence, at any stage in the history of the universe, that God’s intervention is as crucial as claimed. Even if it doesn’t directly contradict the scientific narrative for our history, it throws the principles of scientific skepticism straight out the window if you’re allowed to make things up like this and wedge them in however it suits you.
You know, I just noticed that I’ve been referring to the guy I disagree with by his surname, and the people whose message I approve of by their first names (or initials). I wonder if that’s meaningful. Or just an irrelevant linguistic quirk.
– Lastly, with a hat-tip to the Sceptical Letter Writer and Wikipedia, here’s a picture of the prophet Muhammad that Trey Parker and Matt Stone weren’t allowed to air on recent episodes of South Park: