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Jerry Coyne and Faith in out of date “Facts”

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It’s no surprise that Coyne’s book is getting hostile reviews outside the new atheist community.  Closing off our religion coverage for the week, we note that prominent Darwinian evolutionist Jerry Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible is, unsurprisingly, receiving hostile reviews outside the new atheist community. But what’s curious is their focus.

From Austin L. Hughes at New Atlantis:

Coyne’s basic strategy is to contrast two monolithic entities that he calls “religion” and “science.” But he constructs his two monoliths in diametrically opposite ways. The “religion” monolith consists of everything that has ever been said by any person belonging to any religion whatever, lumping together official dogma, theological speculation, and popular belief…

Coyne’s procedure for describing “science” is very different; his “science” monolith represents only the very best of science, only those theories that are strongly supported by evidence and have withstood the rigors of numerous attempts at empirical falsification… Even apart from cases of outright fabrication, the mainstream scientific literature is full of false inferences and of theories so untestable that they fully merit designation as “pseudoscience.”

I know by painful experience that a continual admixture of junk with solid science is characteristic of my own field (which, like Coyne’s, is evolutionary biology). … We all know of ridiculous theories (Social Darwinism, eugenics, Marxism, Freudianism, Lysenkoism, and so forth) that in the not-too-distant past claimed for themselves the mantle of science, and it would be naïve to assume that the same thing can never happen again. Much of so-called “evolutionary psychology” (hailed by Coyne as a promising new development) is every bit as pseudoscientific as its Social Darwinist precursors; indeed one would be hard pressed to find a reason for saying that much of it is any more “fact-based” than the ideas of Mary Baker Eddy. More.

But isn’t Coyne really just contrasting new atheism with all other faiths, relying on the fact that anyone can call anything they want to a “science”?

From Edward Feser at First Things:

The book flies off the rails before it reaches page one. In an unintentionally comic passage in his preface, Coyne explains what he has in mind by “religion.” First, he tells us that his main target isn’t religions that emphasize practice, such as “the more meditation-oriented versions of Buddhism.” Rather, it is religions that emphasize controversial truth claims about the world—in particular, “theistic faiths,” those that affirm the existence of a God or gods. But even more specifically, he says, he will “concentrate on the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.” Two sentences later we learn that in fact it is “mostly the various brands of Christianity that occupy this book.” But far from all the brands, since in the very next sentence he adds that, actually, he “will talk mostly about science and religion in the United States.”

By the following page he qualifies this even further, indicating that the views of “regular believers” interest him more than do the fancy arguments of theologians. Next it is conceded that it is “only a few specific areas of science,” such as Darwinism, that are rejected by religious believers. Yet, as Coyne admits, even “evolution . . . is accepted by many Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and liberal Muslims.” In short, when all the qualifications are in, it seems that Coyne’s paradigm of “religion” is Bible Belt creationism. Apparently, he was absent the day his college statistics class covered the notion of a representative sample. More.

Darwinism is a good basis for the storytelling habit of mind. The Darwinist knows what story he wants to tell, and facts must just be cut and pasted to fit.

But more generally, as Tim Whitmarsh points out in the recent book Battling the Gods, atheism is not some brand new “science-based” enlightenment; it has always been one response to the ultimate questions. Coyne’s premise, in the end, is a forgettable one, of the sort that passes for deep thought in the age of pop Darwin.

See also: Atheism is natural to humans The book, Battling the Gods, sounds like a timely challenge to pop science “religion is hardwired” news.

Faith vs. Fact: Jerry Coyne’s flawed epistemology (Vincent Torley)

and

Science writer scorches Jerry Coyne, doesn’t worship him

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5 Replies to “Jerry Coyne and Faith in out of date “Facts”

  1. 1
    DonaldM says:

    I had considered writing a review of this book. Then I realized I’d have to actually read it (unlike many of ID’s foes who are able to review books without ever even holding it in their hands). Coyne’s influence outside the Darwinian “true believers” is minimal at best, so I couldn’t see the point of spending the time plowing through what looked to be an another beating up of a fantasy straw man called “religion”.

    I did read the intro and chapter one at the bookstore to get a flavor. I can’t see much difference in Coyne’s approach to that of Peter Boghassian’s “Manual for Creating Atheists”. First provide a definition of ‘religion’ that is either so narrow as to only apply to a very small sub-set of the actual category, then restrict the definition to something few would actually recognize as the actual meaning.

    Both Boghassian and Coyne define faith as “beliefs without evidence”. Right off, their core argument is predicated on a false premise. Very few Christians or other religious groups would hold to such a silly view of “faith”. Secondly, the definition itself only means that there isn’t anything that they, being such good, solid, card-carrying atheists, take to be evidence for religious belief, which is quite a different matter.

    Given the false premise and the straw man definition of the main concept against which they argue, there’s no reason to accept the rest of their argument as being valid. That’s not to say they might not hit some valid points here and there in what they wrote. However, neither of them hit the actual target for which they were aiming since, essentially, they shot first, then drew the bullseye around where their shot landed.

    So, I see no reason to bring any additional unwarranted attention to Coyne’s diatribe.

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    The present establishment is so morally and intellectually and politically and legally corrupt THAT IF THEY DON’T like Coyne’s book it would be a thumbs up for the common man.
    I think they are controlling their own troops really.
    Anyways.
    Of coarse the book is really taking on conclusions from bible believing Americans and God believers somewhat.
    Yes its aimed at puritan Protestantism. . Now called evangelical Christianity with side tribes.
    Its aimed at those large percentages that reside in the middle class .
    Thats the target and thats okay.
    Its not about Judaism, or Zeus, or Budda. They don’t matter in America or anyways.

    Its aimed to persuade that large group of Yanks who believe in the bible as Gods word.
    This will fail. Its hopeless. Especially because the bible is true.
    If you leave your circles and come to mainstreet then its a different quality of contention.
    America and modern civilization was built on Puritan evangelical curves within the English civilization.
    Your taking on father and mother. The kids can’t do it.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Meanwhile, the ghost of St Paul is knocking at the door:

    1 Cor 15: 1 Now I would remind you, brothers,1 of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

    3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

    6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

    8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

    10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

    11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed . . . .

    13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

    16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope2 in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

    20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [ESV]

    This is an appeal to objective fact presented via 500 eyewitnesses and by implication of the transforming encounter with God in one’s own life such that we do find reconciliation with God and reform of life, millions. Backed by textually recorded prophecies from 700 years beforehand that are fulfilled c 30 AD, preached for 25 years and particularly so to the Corinthians 50 – 55 AD, with manifestations of its power.

    So, the established fact of Christ’s resurrection upends the scheme of speculation that a priori rules out raising the dead. As Paul would say four years later in open court, why does it seem strange to you that God should raise the dead? These things were not done in a corner. (That is, have you shown that God — as is understood in ethical theism — is an impossible being? If not, the force of God as the inherently good Creator ex nihilo, a necessary and maximally great being at the root of reality worthy of loyalty and doing the good in service in accord with our evident nature obtains; where, reality cries out for such a root as were there ever utter nothing, credibly that would forever obtain for want of power to cause anything — non-being has no causal powers and contingent reality requires causal grounding. That is, once a serious candidate necessary being is possible, that being obtains in all possible worlds thus the actual. As, embedded in the framework for a world to exist.)

    It seems to me there is misunderstanding: knowledge itself is warranted, credible belief and embeds faith. Redefining faith self servingly as irrational, blind belief fails.

    Especially when evolutionary materialism is self referentially incoherent, self-falsifying and thus absurd.

    KF

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: More poetically . . .

    12
    Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
    enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
    13
    Who has measured[g] the Spirit of the Lord,
    or what man shows him his counsel?
    14
    Whom did he consult,
    and who made him understand?
    Who taught him the path of justice,
    and taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
    15
    Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
    behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
    16
    Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
    nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
    17
    All the nations are as nothing before him,
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness . . . .

    21
    Do you not know? Do you not hear?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
    22
    It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
    who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
    23
    who brings princes to nothing,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

    24
    Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
    when he blows on them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

    25
    To whom then will you compare me,
    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
    26
    Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
    He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name,
    by the greatness of his might,
    and because he is strong in power
    not one is missing. [ESV]

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N2: I think as well that “religion” is being put up as a strawman substitute for the province of learning that studies knowledge and its conditionalities, i.e. epistemology as a branch of philosophy. That is,

    e·pis·te·mol·o·gy (?-p?s?t?-m?l??-j?)
    n.
    The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.
    [Greek epist?m?, knowledge (from epistasthai, epist?-, to understand : epi-, epi- + histasthai, middle voice of histanai, to place, determine; see st?- in Indo-European roots) + -logy.]
    e·pis?te·mo·log?i·cal (-m?-l?j??-k?l) adj.
    e·pis?te·mo·log?i·cal·ly adv.
    e·pis?te·mol?o·gist n.
    American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

    So, scientism substitutes for genuine understanding of knowledge, and there is a failure to realise the fatal defects of scientism.

    KF

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