Richard Dawkins seems to have several roadblocks in his quest to rid the world of religion. While there are better-known issues, I think that perhaps the most persistent and important of them is the existence of Dr. Francis Collins.
Francis Collins is best known as the director of the Human Genome Project, and is now the NIH director. He is also a professing Christian, and a walking contradiction of much of the philosophy of the New Atheists. He is far too respected a scientist for Dawkins to indignantly ask him if he understands the elegance of evolutionary theory. The simple example of Collins has forced the New Atheist writers to qualify many of their statements about the supposed contradictions between faith and science.
But they could learn a great deal more from Collins if they’d care to look. Most particularly, anyone who is interested in the issue of the relationship between evolutionary theory and Christian theology should be aware of the BioLogos foundation. Here, Collins has gathered many experts in both science and theology to promote the idea that there is no contradiction to be found here.
Though there are religious groups who will be offended at the concept, the overwhelming majority of Christians worship in churches which agree with Collins. Atheists interested in supporting evolution, however, seem to stand to gain as much as any Christian from the efforts of this group.
That is to say, there is a clear body of respected Christian scholars explaining to Christians, in terms not offensive to them, why it is theologically acceptable and rationally sound to believe in evolution. If his project were simply about the promotion of science, this would be the best thing that ever happened to Richard Dawkins.
But it isn’t. Dawkins simply waves off Francis Collins as an exception and moves on. The fact is that, though Collins stands a far greater chance of actually persuading religious individuals to believe in evolution, his method would cost Dawkins his favorite banner to wave in the fight: the idea that one must choose between faith and science.
For this and other reasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that the promotion of science is not at all at the heart of the New Atheists’ attack on religion. Many of them seem willing to jettison science if it means an advance of secularism in our culture.
Therefore, it is also clear that, whether one is a theist or an atheist, the best way forward is not the conflict model of Dawkins, but the more peaceful approach of Collins.