God of the Gaps Atheism

The militant atheist movement is built on the belief that there is no evidence for God. Of course, such atheists are entitled to their opinions on this matter, but because of their militancy, and the way it serves their agenda, they will not acknowledge their opinion is an opinion. Instead, they posture as if they have discovered some objective truth – There is no evidence for the existence of God. We’re all supposed to agree.

Yet if we are supposed to agree with this claim, we’d like to know exactly what it is we are supposed to agree with. So we ask the New Atheists what would actually count as evidence for the existence of God. Typically, the New Atheists will tap dance around that question, insisting there is no evidence without telling us what such evidence would look like. This is their Hide-The-Goalposts tactic.

However, if pressed, some New Atheists will spell it out, especially when they are trying to make themselves look open-minded about the issue. One example is Gnu activist Jerry Coyne who, in a blog post entitled, “What evidence would convince you that a god exists?, writes:
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Atheist Safe Spaces

Tweety Dawk:

While Dawkins is mocking the whole idea of safe spaces, and I happen to agree with him on this, he fails to realize that atheists have been the safe space pioneers. Someone said a prayer in school? There is a Christmas tree in school? There is a picture of the Ten Commandments in the school? MAKE IT STOP! The atheist students are being traumatised by the scary expressions of Christian belief. If you think about it, the Freedom From Religion Foundation should be renamed the Making Atheist Safe Spaces Foundation.

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Defeating Jerry Coyne’s Argument about Science and Religion, Part 3

To make the case that science can determine whether or not God exists, Coyne believes that miracles can be part of a science. Yet the majority of scientists and philosophers insist that miracles can never truly be part of science. For example, philosopher Theodore Drange expresses this mainstream position:

It could never be a scientific finding that a miracle occurred, for science is the attempt to understand reality in terms of the laws of nature. To say that a miracle occurred is to abandon the scientific (= naturalistic) perspective on the matter. If a scientist were to end up with such a belief, then it would be incompatible with the scientific point of view. It would be as if to say, “Here is something that could never be naturalistically explained and so it lies outside the domain of science.”

Another way to think of a miracle is that it represents a Gap – something that cannot be explained by natural laws.

In essence, it would represent a gap in our scientific knowledge.That Coyne is ready to embrace belief in God because of a gap, some phenomenon that could not be explained by science – a nine-hundred-foot-tall-Jesus or the sudden appearance of Jesus’s head on Mt. Rushmore – shows that he is advocating the “god-of-the-gaps” approach.And anyone familiar with science knows that the “god-of-the-gaps” approach has no place in science.Things that cannot be explained by science are not part of science.

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Defeating Jerry Coyne’s Argument about Science and Religion, Part 2

Prof. Jerry Coyne writes, “Despite Gould’s claims to the contrary, supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science. All scientists can think of certain observations that would convince them of the existence of God or supernatural forces.” We’ve already seen that Coyne changes the focus from science and its realm to people who happen to be scientists and their perceptions. So let’s consider the fall-out from this change in focus.

So how is it that the “supernatural phenomena” (whatever that is supposed to be) falls into the realm of science? Coyne provides an example:

if a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus appeared to the residents of New York City, as he supposedly did to the evangelist Oral Roberts in Oklahoma, and this apparition were convincingly documented, most scientists would fall on their knees with hosannas.

That’s it?! That’s it. So we are supposed to believe that science can determine whether or not God exists because “a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus” would cause Prof. Coyne and his colleagues to “fall on their knees with hosannas.” Is this how science works? Why is Coyne’s observation of a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus supposed to be science?

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Defeating Jerry Coyne’s Argument About Science and Religion, Part 1

Jerry Coyne is a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. He also has a book coming out that promises to show science and religion to be incompatible.  Since it is highly likely the book will simply rehash many of the arguments he has already made elsewhere, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at an essay where he first began to make his case:  From The New Republic –  Seeing and Believing,

In this essay, Prof. Coyne not only superficially reviews the books of theistic evolutionists, Karl Giberson and Kenneth Miller, but uses these reviews as a platform to spread the message of New Atheism – Christian faith and science cannot be reasonably reconciled.

A key point in Coyne’s position is the ability of science to determine whether or not the Christian faith is true. Although Coyne has never published a single scientific study in the peer-reviewed literature to address the validity of Christian faith, he boldly makes his case in the pages of a popular magazine article:

Despite Gould’s claims to the contrary, supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science. All scientists can think of certain observations that would convince them of the existence of God or supernatural forces.

The first thing to note about these two key sentences is just how vague they are. Coyne’s tactic is one that is very common among the New Atheists – use the word science as much as possible without ever making an effort to define it. In his New Republic essay, Coyne uses the word ‘science’ 71 times and ‘scientific’ 45 times.Yet he makes no effort to rigorously and precisely define what science is. This is crucial, as ‘science’ can mean many different things to different people. Likewise, Coyne makes no effort to define the “supernatural.”

You would think that a high profile scientist who, in a high profile publication, claims “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science” would actually define ‘science’ and ‘supernatural’ for his readers. But not so.

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Science and the Resurrection Belief are Not Incompatible

A common talking point in the New Atheist community is the assertion that the resurrection of Jesus contradicts science and thus must be wrong. Yet this argument is seriously misguided, as it depends on a faulty understanding of both science and Christianity.

If you want science to have a say on the resurrection, then you need to a) consider what Christians actually believe and b) show how science can address it through experimentation.

As for a), Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate and that his death/resurrection were a miraculous confirmation of the salvation work that took place on the cross. In other words, the theology clearly makes sense of the resurrection as a one-time event that is a promise for our resurrection at the end of history. Nothing in Christian theology would have us predict God would continually incarnate and resurrect throughout human history.

Once we recognize the theological dimension of the resurrection, it becomes clear that science cannot address the actual Christian belief. For how could you possibly test this one-time divine intervention with an experiment?

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Jerry Coyne Rewrites History

Here is a video of Jerry Coyne giving a lecture on his “Incompatibility” argument. I suspect this lecture contains some of the core arguments of his upcoming book and, if so, his book will be premised on a set of incredibly weak arguments that will be easy to refute. However, I’d like you to focus on the lecture beginning at 19:02, as you will see just how rigorous Coyne can be when handling the evidence. Watch until 19:59.

Did you catch that? Coyne has a Power Point slide of that shows three books in the following order: Dawkin’s God Delusion on the left, Harris’s End of Faith in the middle, and Hitchen’s book on the right.
While showing this slide, Coyne says:

It’s the rise of New Atheism, which started with Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, which I think was 2006, then Sam Harris’s book, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett.

Let me repeat that quote by adding points of emphasis:

It’s the rise of New Atheism, which started with Richard Dawkins‘ God Delusion, which I think was 2006, then Sam Harris’s book, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett.

Whoa! Coyne just credited Dawkins with the “rise of New Atheism” in 2006. And then Sam Harris came along. Yet this is factually wrong. Harris wrote his book in 2004 and is the one who is thus credited with the rise of New Atheism. Dawkins came along in 2006. How could Coyne not know this basic fact? It’s New Atheism 101. At the very least, it demonstrates Coyne has a very superficial interest in the history of his beloved movement. The cynic might argue Coyne to trying push Harris aside given his recent interest in promoting mysticism and drugs.

But it gets worse.
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Jerry Coyne’s New Book Receives First Negative Review on Goodreads

Here is a short review from someone who received Coyne’s new book by winning a Goodreads giveaway.

Jerry Coyne has a thesis: Science and Religion are incompatible. Now the real question is this: Does he show this?
Well, no I don’t believe so.

This book is simply aimed at people who already accept the same conclusion as Coyne. Jerry Coyne does not approach this topic objectively or neutral. He is a New Atheist who has expressed his dislike of religion countless times (just go read his blog). While one must say that Coyne does bring up some interesting points (his discussion of accommodationism was somewhat interesting), I believe that Coyne simply does not explicitly show a substantial amount of conflict between science and religion.

Of course, Coyne also makes some absurd claims about the Bible that are just simply wrong. For example, on page 72 Coyne says: “Take the Resurrection of Jesus, for which the only supporting evidence is the contradictory accounts of the Gospels.” Wait….what? Did he read anybody besides Richard Carrier and Bart Ehrman to come up with this information about the Bible?

Basically, you will love this book if you already agree with Jerry Coyne.

I figured Coyne would preach to the choir, as that is where the money is. My guess would be that the book is mostly a rehash of many of the same old arguments he has made on his blog and in other articles. As for the Resurrection claim on page 72, it will be interesting to see if Coyne makes the same argument that Carroll and Harris did that was so easily refuted.

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Defending Science From Sam Harris’s Attacks

What do you do if you are an activist who does not do science, but want your activism to be perceived as science so you can exploit the cultural authority of science to carry out your activist agenda? Well, you do what activist Sam Harris does – you attack “the narrow definition of science” by dumbing down the definition of science so it becomes nothing more than “adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence.”

Let’s consider how Harris attacks science. He begins by offering up a valid definition for science:

When such claims and their methods of verification admit of experiment and/or mathematical description, we tend to say that our concerns are “scientific”

Actually, to be science, such claims and methods mandate an experimental and/or mathematical description.
Harris wants to change this definition:

the observation of which is the sine qua non of the scientific attitude—is between demanding good reasons for what one believes and being satisfied with bad ones.

This is an attack on science. How so? Pay attention to Harris’s sleight of hand.

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Defeating Sean Carroll’s Argument About Science and Religion, Part 2

Sean Carroll lays out his core argument for the “incompatibility” of science and religion:

The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look. Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.

So there you go?

Let’s begin with the first sentence: The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions.

Assuming this is true, we’re left wondering why this reasoning is arbitrarily restricted to religion. For example, in the real world, politics and science also reach incompatible conclusions. Yet oddly enough, the New Atheists never seem interested in exploring that, probabably because so many of them cling to their political approach to life. And this is a very serious problem. People like Carroll want to make the incompatibility argument and then they just…..stop. End of story. Time to move on. But a truly scientific approach would not stop so arbitrarily. If Carroll’s logic leads us to conclude science and religion are incompatible (but, so what?), a good scientist would ask, “Applying Carroll’s logic, what other forms of human expression are incompatible with science?” That the New Atheists interest in this argument is specific solely to science and religion is evidence this line of reasoning is born of rhetorical posturing, not critical thinking.

But we don’t need to assume Carroll’s assertion is true. We need to explore the supposed “incompatible conclusions.”

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