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John Horgan: Science should not try to absorb religion – and Jerry Coyne’s reply

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John Horgan at Scientific American:

Ironically, Wilson himself questioned the desirability of final knowledge early in his career. At the end of his 1975 masterpiece Sociobiology, Wilson anticipates the themes of Consilience, predicting that evolutionary theory plus genetics will soon absorb the social sciences and humanities. But Wilson doesn’t exult at this prospect. When we can explain ourselves in “mechanistic terms,” he warns, “the result might be hard to accept”; we might find ourselves, as Camus put it, “divested of illusions.”

Wilson needn’t have worried. Scientific omniscience looks less likely than ever, and humans are far too diverse, creative and contrary to settle for a single worldview of any kind. Inspired by mysticism and the arts, as well as by science, we will keep arguing about who we are and reinventing ourselves forever. Is consilience a bad idea, which we’d be better off without? I wouldn’t go that far. Like utopia, another byproduct of our yearning for perfection, consilience, the dream of total knowledge, can serve as a useful goad to the imagination, as long as we see it as an unreachable ideal. Let’s just hope we never think we’ve reached it.

John Horgan, “Science Should Not Try to Absorb Religion and Other Ways of Knowing” at Scientific American (June 25, 2021)

And now Coyne:

Since my views on the ambit of science (construed broadly) have been set out in the exchange with Gopnik, I won’t repeat my arguments here, but I deny Horgan’s claim that there are “ways of knowing” about the cosmos that do not employ the empirical toolkit of science. (See also pp. 185-196 in my book Faith Versus Fact.).

But I do agree with Horgan that the Grand Project to subsume art, literature, philosophy and morality completely into the “harder” sciences is futile. The thing is, hardly any scientist I know agrees with Wilson or with Horgan’s characterization. Yes, Sam Harris does think that science can determine what is right and wrong to do, but few agree with him about that (I dissent as well). And even the most “scientistic” scholar I know, Steve Pinker, doesn’t entertain the notion that full consilience is feasible.

Jerry Coyne, “John Horgan makes a strawman argument against consilience” at Why Evolution Is True (June 27, 2021)

I (O’Leary for News) wouldn’t trust either of these people to run the transit system if I need to get to church on time.

10 Replies to “John Horgan: Science should not try to absorb religion – and Jerry Coyne’s reply

  1. 1
    mahuna says:

    There was of course a VERY long time (thousands of years) where Science was based on Religion, and this was accepted as perfectly normal. The Hippocratic Oath was ALWAYS about how a medical professional was supposed to ETHICALLY treat patients. And there remains debate over whether Hippocrates himself flat out FORBID the use of aids to abortion, but for more than a thousand years the Oath specifically forbid abortion.
    On the other hand, there is some religion (Jewish?) where a baby is not “alive” until it has COMPLETELY exited the mother’s body. As I recall, up to the point in the birth where “even one FOOT” of the tiny human is still inside Mom, you can kill it with no more hesitation than you would apply to a cyst. I think Science updated its definition of “alive” quite a few centuries ago, dragging at least Christian theology along behind it.
    The more modern question is: if the patient on the operating table has no heart beat and no detectable brain functions, is the patient still alive BEFORE we bring out the jumper cables and give him a restart? Clearly, neither doctors nor biologists nor priests assume that the patient will NATURALLY “wake up”, unless of course God flips the “On” switch from God’s end.
    And several of the ancient, and modern, Cosmologists seriously propose that the pieces of the Universe that humans can see from Earth were ARRANGED to be spectacular and attention-getting for the ENJOYMENT of humans on Earth. “Look, Thoggetta, see how those 3 stars line up in a straight line? The Deity did that on purpose so YOU would look more closely at the sky each night and see that although it looks different throughout the year, it’s still always the same…”
    So where does the Science stop and the Theology begin?

  2. 2
    Seversky says:


  3. 3
    jerry says:

    Is there only one truth?

    So should religion and science be in sync? But there are thousands of religions. So this may be impossible for every religion. But for some? For one? For none?

    Then there is the issue of different sciences.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Jerry Coyne claims,

    “I deny Horgan’s claim that there are “ways of knowing” about the cosmos that do not employ the empirical toolkit of science.,,
    But I do agree with Horgan that the Grand Project to subsume art, literature, philosophy and morality completely into the “harder” sciences is futile.”

    First off, it interesting to note that Coyne himself has honestly admitted that evolutionary biology itself is not a ‘harder’ science,

    “In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history’s inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike “harder” scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.”
    – Jerry A. Coyne

    And indeed, as Jerry Coyne himself intuitively saw, detailed scrutiny of Darwinian claims has revealed that evolutionary biology is certainly not to be considered a ‘hard’ science.

    As Robert Marks stated, “Hard sciences are built on foundations of mathematics or definitive simulations. Examples include electromagnetics, Newtonian mechanics, geophysics, relativity, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, optics, and many areas in biology. Those hoping to establish Darwinian evolution as a hard science with a model have either failed or inadvertently cheated.,,, there exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. According to our current understanding, there never will be.,,,”

    Top Ten Questions and Objections to ‘Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics’ – Robert J. Marks II – June 12, 2017
    Excerpt: “There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. Hard sciences are built on foundations of mathematics or definitive simulations. Examples include electromagnetics, Newtonian mechanics, geophysics, relativity, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, optics, and many areas in biology. Those hoping to establish Darwinian evolution as a hard science with a model have either failed or inadvertently cheated. These models contain guidance mechanisms to land the airplane squarely on the target runway despite stochastic wind gusts. Not only can the guiding assistance be specifically identified in each proposed evolution model, its contribution to the success can be measured, in bits, as active information.,,,”,,, “there exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. According to our current understanding, there never will be.,,,”

    Moreover, as far as the ‘hard’ science of actually empirically testing the claims of Darwinian evolution is concerned, (i.e. scientifically testing to see if the claims are actually true), Darwinian claims have been falsified time and time again by the ‘hard’ science of empirical testing, and yet Darwinists themselves simply refuse to ever accept what the ‘hard’ science of empirical testing has to say about their atheistic theory,

    “In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”
    – Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

    Here are a few falsification of Darwin’s theory that Darwinists simply refuse to ever accept as falsifications of their theory,

    Darwin’s theory holds mutations to the genome to be random. The vast majority of mutations to the genome are not random but are now found to be ‘directed’.

    Darwin’s theory holds that Natural Selection is the ‘designer substitute’ that produces the ‘appearance’ and/or illusion of design. Natural Selection, especially for multicellular organisms, is found to grossly inadequate as the ‘designer substitute.

    Darwin’s theory holds that mutations to DNA will eventually change the basic biological form of any given species into a new form of a brand new species. Yet, biological form is found to be irreducible to mutations to DNA, nor is biological form reducible to any other material particulars in biology one may wish to invoke.

    Darwin’s theory holds there to be an extremely beneficial and flexible mutation rate for DNA which was ultimately responsible for all the diversity and complexity of life we see on earth. The mutation rate to DNA is overwhelmingly detrimental. Detrimental to such a point that it is seriously questioned whether there are any truly beneficial, information building, mutations whatsoever.

    Charles Darwin himself held that the gradual unfolding of life would (someday) be self-evident in the fossil record. Yet, from the Cambrian Explosion onward, the fossil record is consistently characterized by the sudden appearance of a group/kind in the fossil record(disparity), then rapid diversity within the group/kind, and then long term stability and even deterioration of variety within the overall group/kind, and within the specific species of the kind, over long periods of time. Of the few dozen or so fossils claimed as transitional, not one is uncontested as a true example of transition between major animal forms out of millions of collected fossils. Moreover, Fossils are found in the “wrong place” all the time (either too early, or too late).

    Darwin’s theory, due to the randomness postulate, holds that patterns will not repeat themselves in supposedly widely divergent species. Yet thousands of instances of what is ironically called ‘convergent evolution’, on both the morphological and genetic level, falsifies the Darwinian belief that patterns will not repeat themselves in widely divergent species.

    Charles Darwin himself stated that “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Yet as Doug Axe pointed out, “Basically every gene and every new protein fold, there is nothing of significance that we can show that can be had in that gradualistic way. It’s all a mirage. None of it happens that way.”

    Charles Darwin himself stated that “If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.” Yet as Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig pointed out, “in thousands of plant species often entirely new organs have been formed for the exclusive good of more than 132,930 other species, these ‘ugly facts’ have annihilated Darwin’s theory as well as modern versions of it.”

    Charles Darwin himself stated that, ““The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God. Yet ‘our conscious selves’ are certainly not explainable by ‘chance’ (nor is consciousness explainable by any possible reductive materialistic explanation in general), i.e. ‘the hard problem of consciousness’.

    Besides the mathematics of probability consistently showing that Darwinian evolution is impossible, the mathematics of population genetics itself has now shown Darwinian evolution to be impossible. Moreover, ‘immaterial’ mathematics itself, which undergirds all of science, engineering and technology, is held by most mathematicians to exist in some timeless, unchanging, immaterial, Platonic realm. Yet, the reductive materialism that Darwinian theory is based upon denies the existence of the immaterial realm that mathematics exists in. i.e. Darwinian evolution actually denies the objective reality of the one thing, i.e. mathematics, that it most needs in order to be considered scientific in the first place!

    Donald Hoffman has, via population genetics, shown that if Darwin’s materialistic theory were true then all our observations of reality would be illusory. Yet the scientific method itself is based on reliable observation. Moreover, Quantum Mechanics itself has now shown that conscious observation must come before material reality, i.e. falsification of ‘realism’ proves that our conscious observations are reliable!.

    The reductive materialism that undergirds Darwinian thought holds that immaterial information is merely ’emergent’ from a material basis. Yet immaterial Information, via experimental realization of the “Maxwell’s Demon” thought experiment, is now found to be its own distinctive physical entity that, although it can interact in a ‘top down’ manner with matter and energy, is separate from matter and energy.

    Darwinists hold that Darwin’s theory is true. Yet ‘Truth’ itself is an abstract property of an immaterial mind that is irreducible to the reductive materialistic explanations of Darwinian evolution. i.e. Assuming reductive materialism and/or Naturalism as the starting philosophical position of science actually precludes ‘the truth’ from ever being reached by science!

    Darwinists, due to their underlying naturalistic philosophy, insist that teleology (i.e. goal directed purpose) does not exist. Yet it is impossible for Biologists to do biological research without constantly invoking words that directly imply teleology. i.e. The very words that Biologists themselves use when they are doing their research falsifies Darwinian evolution.


    1 Thessalonians 5:21
    Test all things; hold fast what is good.

    So while Coyne himself may deny “Horgan’s claim that there are “ways of knowing” about the cosmos that do not employ the empirical toolkit of science”, Coyne himself is a shining example of someone who ignores the “empirical toolkit of science” whenever it contradicts his preferred worldview, and/or philosophy, of Darwinian Atheism.

    As to E.O. Wilson’s goal of subsuming the humanities completely into the “harder” sciences, first off it is important to note that E.O. Wilson himself is, for all practical purposes, an atheist who champions the pseudoscience of Darwinian evolution. Indeed, Wilson was once nicknamed, “The Darwin of the 21st century”.

    “Although the renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson affirms in The Meaning of Human Existence that humanity is “completely alone” in the universe—there is no God, no heaven—he writes in a religious manner,,, in a 2014 radio interview about the book, Wilson classified himself as a “provisional atheist,” leaving open the possibility that a supernatural power might exist.”

    Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929), usually cited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, naturalist, and writer. Wilson is an influential biologist[3][4][5] who on numerous occasions has been given the nicknames “The New Darwin”, “Darwin’s natural heir” or “The Darwin of the 21st century”.[6][7][8] His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he has been called the world’s leading expert
    – per wikipedia

    Secondly, if Wilson and Coyne’s pseudoscientific religion of atheistic naturalism is, for the sake of argument, assumed as being true, then in the process of subsuming the humanities into their atheistic naturalism, the humanities themselves must become illusions that have no real meaning, purpose, and/or significance.

    The reason the humanities must become illusory is because, if atheistic naturalism is assumed as being true, then humans themselves, as Coyne himself honestly admits, become ‘meat robots and ‘neuronal illusions’ that, therefore, can have no real meaning, significance, or purpose, to their lives.

    “You are robots made out of meat. Which is what I am going to try to convince you of today”
    Jerry Coyne – No, You’re Not a Robot Made Out of Meat (Science Uprising 02) – video

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – Ross Douthat – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession (by Coyne) that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.

    And as should be needless to say, if humans do not really exist, as Coyne himself holds to be true within his naturalistic worldview, then the ‘humanities’, (i.e. art, literature, philosophy and morality), also, of necessity, must become illusory and without any real meaning, significance or purpose.

    In short, without God to base his worldview on, the Darwinian atheist finds himself adrift in ocean of fantasy and illusion with no ‘anchor’ for reality to grab on to.

    Basically, because of reductive materialism (and/or methodological naturalism), the atheistic materialist (who believes Darwinian evolution to be true) is forced to claim that he is merely a ‘neuronal illusion’ (Coyne, Dennett, etc..), who has the illusion of free will (Harris), who has unreliable, (i.e. illusory), beliefs about reality (Plantinga), who has illusory perceptions of reality (Hoffman), who, since he has no real time empirical evidence substantiating his grandiose claims, must make up illusory “just so stories” with the illusory, and impotent, ‘designer substitute’ of natural selection (Behe, Gould, Sternberg), so as to ‘explain away’ the appearance (i.e. the illusion) of design (Crick, Dawkins), and who also must make up illusory meanings and purposes for his life since the hopelessness of the nihilism inherent in his atheistic worldview is simply too much for him to bear (Weikart), and who must also hold morality to be subjective and illusory since he has rejected God (Craig, Kreeft). Who, since beauty cannot be grounded within his materialistic worldview, must also hold beauty itself to be illusory (Darwin).
    Bottom line, nothing is truly real in the atheist’s worldview, least of all, beauty, morality, meaning and purposes for life.,,,
    April 2021 – Detailed Defense of each claim

    Thus, although the Darwinian Atheist and/or Methodological Naturalist may firmly believe that he is on the terra firma of science (in his appeal, even demand, for naturalistic explanations over and above God as a viable explanation), the fact of the matter is that, when examining the details of his materialistic/naturalistic worldview, it is found that Darwinists/Atheists themselves are adrift in an ocean of fantasy and imagination with no discernible anchor for reality to grab on to.

    It would be hard to fathom a worldview more antagonistic to modern science, indeed more antagonistic to reality itself, than Atheistic materialism and/or methodological naturalism have turned out to be.

    2 Corinthians 10:5
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

    Matthew 7:24-27
    “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

  5. 5

    It is so bleedingly obvious, the emperor has no clothes at all. The evolution scientists are all clueless about subjectivity, emotions, personal character, which are all inherently creationist concepts.

    1. Creator / chooses / spiritual / subjective / opinion
    2. Creation / chosen / material / objective / fact

    Emotions, personal character, and subjective opinion, are all category 1 of the creationist conceptual scheme.

    And this kind of willful ignorance about emotions and personal opinion, means evolution scientist are bad people. Got nothing much to do with academics anymore. They are evil people, who happen to do science. Evil is not some kind of interesting scientific position in a debate.

    Scientists who don’t accept creationism, the categorical difference between matters of opinion, and matters of fact, must be thrown out of universities.

  6. 6
    ET says:

    seversky thinks that archaeology and forensics are gap arguments…

  7. 7
    AnimatedDust says:

    Deleted. Unintentionally cross-posted here.

  8. 8
    conceptualinertia says:

    What you described is certainly not the Jewish view of abortion.
    In Judaism, a fetus is a potential person, valued and protected just not to the same degree as full life. Therefore, the mother’s life always takes precedence over the fetus. Additionally, once the head of the baby comes out into the air (or the majority of the body in the case of a breach birth), the baby is considered a full life with full protections.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    CI, change of location and means of acquiring nutrition, oxygen etc are not core, defining characteristics of individuality exhibiting humanity. KF

  10. 10
    conceptualinertia says:

    The simplest explanation for this position in Judaism is that the soul enters the body at the time of birth. Having a soul is the defining characteristic of being a person/human being.

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