Negative Reviews of “Faith vs. Fact” Keep Coming In

Jerry Coyne’s book has not received many reviews yet, but two recent reviews have been quite negative. First, John Horgan reviews the book for the Wall Street Journal and skewers Coyne with some rather humorous insights:

Mr. Coyne castigates not only religious believers but even non-believers less hostile to religion than he is. He reviles “accommodationism,” the notion that science and religion can find common ground. This view, he claims, “gives unwarranted credibility to faith, a credibility that, at its extremes, is responsible for many human deaths and might ultimately contribute to the demise of our own species and much other life on Earth.” If we don’t all agree with Mr. Coyne, in other words, we’re doomed.

Than one made me laugh out loud when I read it. But it would make sense that someone who thinks it should be illegal to raise a child in a faith tradition would also try to blame religion for the extinction of humanity.

Another good one from Horgan:

Mr. Coyne overlooks any positive consequences of religion, such as its role in anti-slavery, civil-rights and anti-war movements. He inflates religion’s contribution to public resistance toward vaccines, genetically modified food and human-induced global warming. Conversely, he absolves science of responsibility for any adverse consequences, such as weapons and ideologies of mass destruction. “The compelling force that produced nuclear weapons, gunpowder, and eugenics was not science but people.” Right. Science doesn’t kill people; people kill people.

If science does something good, it is science. If science does something bad, it is people. Got it.

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Pot Scolds the Kettle

In a previous posting, we saw Gnu activist Jerry Coyne’s idea of co-existing with religious people in a pluralistic society:

If religious people just kept to themselves, just went to church, respected the findings of science and a) didn’t teach it to their kids (which I think is a form of child mistreatment) and b) didn’t try to take their religious beliefs into the public sphere and make them law for everybody else, than I wouldn’t care so much.

Of course, there is a certain kind of familiarity with this kind of militancy, one that was apparently picked up by Coyne’s interviewer. For she responded with a very good question:

But we do now have experience of atheistic societies. I’m thinking of the Soviet Union and post-1949 China, both of which rejected religion and claimed to be scientifically-based societies. If you take faith out of the picture, don’t other crazy schemes emerge? Is it really religion that is a danger to science and society or is it human beings that are a danger to science and society?

Coyne’s response is quite lame:

The problem with the Soviet Union and China is that religion was replaced by an ideology which was largely anti-science and certainly anti-rational. In Russia, under Stalin, the cult of the leader replaced religious belief. That’s why they didn’t like religion, because it displaced people’s affections for the leader. It was in the Soviet Union that Lysenkoism, which is explicitly anti-scientific, took over and ruined Russian genetics for 30 years.

An “anti-science”, “anti-rational” ideology? That is certainly not how the Marxists viewed and promoted themselves. Like the Gnu atheists, the communists/Marxists postured as Champions of Science as part of their anti-religious worldview.

In fact, that leads to the great irony.

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Prof. Coyne Quote-Mines in his New Book

Ah, the irony. Tom Gilson has been reading Jerry Coyne’s new book and has already discovered a juicy example of quote-mining. It looks like Coyne was trying to portray Alvin Plantinga as someone who says one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. But to do this, it sure looks like Coyne had to lift things out of context:

Anyway, as I said, Coyne’s first quote is obviously lacking in context. I’m happy to supply that information for you…..In other words, Coyne turned this passage’s meaning completely upside down.

You should read Tom’s blog entry for the details.

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Sufficiently Militant to be the Fourth Horseman

Atheist Brandon Robshaw liked Jerry Coyne’s extreme views so much that he reached the following conclusion:

Jerry Coyne is the perfect candidate to replace the late Christopher Hitchens as the fourth Horseman of the New Atheist Apocalypse.

Well,….Coyne’s views are militant enough to merit a position as fourth Horseman. In another interview, Coyne outlines his vision of victory in his culture war:

I don’t care if a religious person accepts science and practises their own private faith. The problem is that this acceptance of faith — which means belief without substantial evidence — as a useful means to ascertain truth has invidious social consequences. In my country, it’s opposition to abortion, it’s opposition to gay marriage. Creationism is the least of our worries. It’s this enabling of faith, this untoward respect for belief without evidence, that has caused so much mischief. If religious people just kept to themselves, just went to church, respected the findings of science and a) didn’t teach it to their kids (which I think is a form of child mistreatment) and b) didn’t try to take their religious beliefs into the public sphere and make them law for everybody else, than I wouldn’t care so much.

That’s a nice and clear summary of the demands of the New Atheist culture warriors.

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The Infanticide-Atheist Connection

We are told that atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in God. While this claim passes the dictionary test, the problem is that as we observe what atheists believe and say, there appears to more to atheism than simple lack of God belief. I think this is because our views about the existence of God are linked closely to our views about the nature of humanity.

There are many ways to see this connection. Let me draw your attention to one of them – the connection between atheism and infanticide.

I first noticed this connection many years ago. What I noticed, with help from internet search engines, was that anyone out there who was trying to “challenge” our ethics by proposing or defending infanticide also happened to be an atheist.

Now, it’s important to recognize that I am NOT saying all atheists support or promote infanticide. What I am proposing instead is a hypothesis called the Atheist-Infanticide Connection (AIC):

If someone adovactes for infanticide, or attempts to support infanticide with argument, it is highly likely that advocate/supporter is an atheist.

This hypothesis was based on the observation that well-known supporters of infanticide were also atheists. For example, philosopher Peter Singer has supported infantide and is also an atheist. Philosopher Michael Tooley has supported infanticide and is also an atheist.

Then there is Professor John Harris:

One of British medicine’s most senior advisers on medical ethics has provoked outrage by claiming that infanticide is “justifiable”.

Professor John Harris, a member of the British Medical Association’s ethics committee, said that it was not “plausible to think that there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal” – suggesting that there was no moral difference between aborting a foetus and killing a baby.

The professor’s comments were made during an unreported debate last week on sex selection, which was held as part of the Commons Science and Technology Committee’s consultation on human reproductive technologies.
Prof Harris, who is also a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, was asked what moral status he accorded an embryo and he endorsed infanticide in cases of a child carrying a genetic disorder that remained undetected during pregnancy.

He replied: “I don’t think infanticide is always unjustifiable. I don’t think it is plausible to think that there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal.”

He declined to say up to what age he believed infanticide should be permissable.
“People who think there is a difference between infanticide and late abortion have to ask the question: what has happened to the foetus in the time it takes to pass down the birth canal and into the world which changes its moral status? I don’t think anything has happened in that time.

Is Harris an atheist? Yes.

So I decided to further test the IAC.

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Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne on Science, Faith, and Religion

As part of his book promo efforts, Gnu activist Jerry Coyne was interviewed by Gnu activist Sam Harris (the podcast is on Harris’s blog). It’s probably not worth your time to listen to the interview (as I did) largely because a) not much time is devoted to talking about Coyne’s book; b) very little is said that hasn’t been written about on blogs and c) worst of all, Harris doesn’t seem to understand what an interview is, as about half the podcast is Harris pontificating with his own views, opinions, and arguments in their mutual exercise of back-patting.

But there is one small section of the podcast that is significant, where it looks like Coyne’s version of the “Incompatibility Argument” is going to follow in the footsteps of Peter Boghossian and rely on some rather twisted, idiosyncratic definitions. For example, when talking about religion and science, Coyne says:

the two spheres approach their ways of finding truth in completely different manners and that’s what I define as compatibility, how you seek and find out whats real in the universe

Once again, I will remind people that the term compatible is most commonly defined as “able to exist together with something else.” That’s how I would define it and am quite confident that most of your would define it that way also.

Yet it appears that Coyne is trying to change the definition of compatible from “able to exist together” to “pretty much the same.” That is, the core reason Coyne seems to think science and religion are incompatible is because they approach reality differently. Yet of course they are different. No one ever claims religion is science and science is religion. Pointing out the two domains are different does not purchase the conclusion of incompatibility.

Coyne then argues that faith is the core of the incompatibility, insisting, “in science faith is a vice and in religion it is a virtue.” Coyne tells us it all thus comes down to faith.

So how does Coyne define faith?

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Science and Religion Are Not Incompatible

According to the New Atheists, science and religion are supposed to be incompatible.  Nonsense. To appreciate the nonsensical essence of this belief, let’s have a look at Jerry Coyne’s old USA Today article entitled, “Science and religion aren’t friends.” It is worth looking at this article as it represents the Gnu Atheists best shot at convincing the general public religion and science are incompatible.

We’ll start with the way Coyne sets up his case:

The biggest area of religious push-back involves science. Rather than being enemies, or even competitors, the argument goes, science and religion are completely compatible friends, each devoted to finding its own species of truth while yearning for a mutually improving dialogue.

There is no need for all the extra fluff about being friends with a mutually improving dialog. Note simply that Coyne does not bother to define what he means by “compatible.” So he must be relying on his USA Today readers using a definition that would be commonplace. As such, let’s check the dictionary. Five definitions are cited and the one that I think of when this debate comes up is as follows:

able to exist together with something else:

Yep, that’s how I think of it. Two things are compatible if they can co-exist together. They are incompatible if co-existence cannot be maintained.

The nice thing about this definition is not only does it enable communication due to its widespread usage, but it is also empirically detectable. As such, we can easily demonstrate the compatibility of religion and science with one picture.

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Jeffrey Taylor: The Delicate, Angry Atheist

Jeffrey Taylor is an angry atheist who writes for As you might guess, the angry atheist is once again angry. And what makes the angry atheist angry? Religion. Of course. Taylor’s recent excuse to coddle and nurture his anger is President Obama’s proclamation for a National Day of Prayer. Taylor goes off on a long rant about it. For example:

But I won’t deal with the faith-imbued cretinism of the Republicans in this essay. What concerns me now is what President Obama has just wrought to insult that most aggrieved (yet steadfastly growing) American minority, the advocates of reason, those who insist on evidence before accepting the truth of a given proposition, especially grand propositions about the origins of the universe and our species. On Wednesday, President Obama marked the deeply pathetic traditional outrage to rationalism that is the National Day of Prayer (since 1988 the first Thursday of May) with a proclamation bearing the stark, yet somehow comically august, title “A PROCLAMATION.”

Did you catch that? The most aggrieved American minority? The Angry Atheist wants to play the “Atheist as Victim” card. That’s hilarious.

What’s even more amusing is how Taylor pats himself on the back and engages in self-flattery. How so? By portraying the Gnus as “advocates of reason, those who insist on evidence before accepting the truth of a given proposition.” Anyone who has ever interacted with Gnu atheists knows, from experience and empirical evidence, that the Gnus are NOT advocates of reason, insisting on evidence before accepting the truth of a given proposition. In reality, they tend more to be advocates of emotion (usually anger and hate), insisting others accept their truths or be mocked.

Taylor himself shows this attitude. Consider this Champion of Reason’s “argument” for abolishing the National Day of Prayer:

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Is Sam Harris Lying?

We have seen that two weeks after losing his email debate with Noam Chomsky, Sam Harris is still concerned about it, leading to him upload a podcast where he can have the last, last word (the first “last word” came in his postscript).

In the podcast, Harris essentially denies he lost the debate because, well, y’see, he wasn’t even having a debate. Harris tells us it was all part of experiment/project to see if people could have “conversations” with their ideological opponents.

Here are some key exceprts from Harris’s podcast:

1:27 – “I’ve been experimenting by reaching out to people to have difficult conversations.

At 2:11, he wants to “draw a distinction between conversation and a debate.”

At 2:27, he says a debate is “an incredibly counterproductive way to frame any inquiry into what is true.”

At 2:48, he says “my dialog with Maajid was not a debate, it was rather a conversation. And on the heels of that success, I decided to attempt a similar project with Noam Chomsky”

At 3:35, he complains many people misunderstood his intentions and mistakenly think the “conversation failed because [Harris ]arrogantly challenged Chomsky to a debate.”

At 4:35, Harris says, “Anyone who thinks I lost a debate doesn’t understand what I was trying to do…..I really was trying to have a productive conversation with Chomsky.”

Harris then begins to complain how mean Chomsky was and spends the rest of his time trying to win the debate after it has been over for two weeks.

Note that Harris never explicitly denies he was debating, but I think if you listen to the first 5 minutes of his podcast, and consider the above excerpts, it’s pretty clear that is indeed how he is trying to frame the incident.

One problem. Sam Harris uses Twitter. And on 4/23/15, he made it crystal clear he was out to debate Noam Chomsky (HT to Al):

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Sam Harris STILL Arguing With the Empty Chair

Sam Harris must really be hurting after his public humiliation from his misguided attempt to engage Noam Chomsky (recall that Chomsky views Harris as a “religious fanatic”). We can tell this because he is in full damage control mode.

Harris, the man who tells us he has discovered there is no self through scientific experimentation with his meditation and drugs, is a man who is totally obsessed with his self-image. And this whole embarrassing incident with Chomsky allows us to watch him try to micromanage his self-image.

Consider when Harris first posted the exchange, he ended his introduction as follows:

I will let readers draw lessons of their own.

But that wasn’t true. When the critical stories and critical tweets began to pour in, Harris was no longer content on letting readers draw their own lesson. He decided to add a lengthy postscript, where he could continue to scold the empty chair that Chomsky left behind.

Harris, who seems quite impressed with himself, probably thought he turned the tide with that post-script. Not so. Web articles kept coming in, laughing at Harris. People were laughing at him on Twitter, likening him to a kid who was convinced he was winning a video game when his controller wasn’t even connected to the console. PZ Myers and his fans piled on, portraying Harris as a boxer who punched himself unconscious. In addition to all this, notice that none of Harris’s allies came to his defense. Neither Coyne, nor Dennett, nor Dawkins ever tried to defend Harris. Harris was left standing all alone with his mind-numbed followers.

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