Jerry Coyne’s Book, “Faith Vs. Fact,” is Incompatible with Science

Jerry Coyne is trying to cash in on the New Atheist Movement by writing and selling a book that purports to show religion and science are incompatible. On Amazon, his book is described as follows:

In his provocative new book, evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne lays out in clear, dispassionate detail why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion—including faith, dogma, and revelation—leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions.

In other words, Jerry Coyne has lost the ability to think like a scientist. The entire premise of his whole book is an exercise in cherry picking propped up by straw man argumentation.

First, the straw. Coyne exists in a cartoon version of reality where religion excludes reason and evidence. While there is great diversity among religious people, it is fair to say that the majority of religious people do not eschew reason and evidence.

As for cherry picking, Coyne sets up the cartoon reality by pretending that all of reality can be fitted into two tidy categories – science and religion. But as we know, human reality is much more complicated than that. For an obvious example, where does Coyne’s blog fit into the picture? Is his blog science? Or is it religion? Those of us who understand critical thinking will recognize Coyne’s blog is neither science nor religion.

Coyne is responding to a national climate in which over half of Americans don’t believe in evolution (and congressmen deny global warming), and warns that religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise.

Fear-mongering? But the same Jerry Coyne oftens brags about the inevitable death of religion and its influence. We have already seen that Coyne speaks out both sides of his mouth on this topic.

Extending the bestselling works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, he demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable “truth” by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science.

More cherry picking. What would happen to many of Jerry Coyne’s beliefs if we subjected “those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science?” So why does Coyne think that only religious claims should be subjected to those test? Why does he sheild his own views from such standards?

Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm—to individuals and to our planet—in mistaking faith for fact in making the most important decisions about the world we live in.

Wow. Fear-mongering propped up with a sense of absolute certainty.

Okay, consider what we have here – straw men, cherry picking, fear-mongering, intellectual inconsistency, and a sense of absolute certainty about the truth. None of these traits belong in science and are, in fact, incompatible with science.

All of these leads to an irrefutable demonstration – Jerry Coyne’s book, “Faith vs. Fact,” is itself incompatible with science.

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54 Responses to Jerry Coyne’s Book, “Faith Vs. Fact,” is Incompatible with Science

  1. And under what does the belief that human beings have value and It matters if Mankind has to suffer from those things fall under?

  2. Luis says:

    The book has not been released, and will not be available until May. Speaking of straw men, writing a hardly coherent screed attacking a book you haven’t read is incompatible with rational conduct.

  3. The original Mr. X says:

    “Coyne is responding to a national climate in which over half of Americans don’t believe in evolution”

    Just a wild guess, but maybe that’s got something to do with the New Atheists’ constant equation of atheism and evolutionary theory?

    “Extending the bestselling works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, he demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable “truth” by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science.”

    Somebody should ask Coyne what scientific tests he’s done to prove his belief that we should only believe what scientific tests have proved.

  4. Crude says:

    Or, for that matter, Coyne’s claim that evolution is completely unguided and that this is the scientific position. Which, by the by, runs utterly contrary to Eugenie Scott’s view.

    Coyne’s an abuser of science, plain and simple. The fact that he’s upset because Americans don’t accept his, frankly, unscientific view of evolution does nothing to excuse that.

  5. Kevin says:

    It’s always fascinating to me to run into one of those “SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE INCOMPATIBLE!!!!” atheists. (An absurd premise to begin with, science and religion are no more inherently incompatible than carpentry and vegetarianism, but I digress). Young earth creationists have more of a struggle, but any Christian who accepts evolution and the Big Bang completely undercuts these atheists. Yet they will still sputter and rant about how religion and science are incompatible.

    I know one thing that’s for sure, antitheism and rationality are highly incompatible.

  6. Speaking of straw men, writing a hardly coherent screed attacking a book you haven’t read is incompatible with rational conduct.

    What is “hardly coherent” about it?

    The whole purpose of this preview is to tell you the things that are going to be talked about in the book. Which is exactly what this post addressed.

  7. Dhay says:

    > [Jerry Coyne is] one of those “SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE INCOMPATIBLE!!!!” atheists.

    Coyne is also one of those “Science and free will are incompatible!!!!” atheists. I predict Coyne will argue this claim in his book; which will ensure that many, probably most, atheist philosophers, also most of his blog-readers …

    “I’m now used to the fact that most readers on this site don’t agree with me that compatibilism (the idea that physical determinism is still compatible with the idea of “free will”) is a largely useless philosophical exercise: an exercise in semantics that accomplishes nothing of substance.”
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/a-question-for-compatibilists/

    … and of course many of his reviewers, too, will find much to criticise in Coyne’s book.

  8. Dhay says:

    Luis > The book has not been released, and will not be available until May. Speaking of straw men, writing a hardly coherent screed attacking a book you haven’t read is incompatible with rational conduct.

    Edward Feser, a professional philosopher, has a very scathing opinion of Jerry Coyne’s ability to write anything sensible:

    As longtime readers of this blog know from bitter experience, there’s little point in engaging with Coyne on matters of philosophy and theology. He is neither remotely well-informed, nor fair-minded, nor able to make basic distinctions or otherwise to reason with precision. Nor, when such foibles are pointed out to him, does he show much interest in improving.

    Naturally, his incompetence is coupled with a preposterous degree of compensatory self-confidence. As I once pointed out about Dawkins, Coyne may by now have put himself in a position that makes it psychologically impossible for him even to perceive serious criticism. The problem is that his errors are neither minor, nor occasional, nor committed in the shadows, nor expressed meekly. He commits a howler every time he opens his mouth, and he opens it very frequently, very publicly, and very loudly. His blunders are of a piece, so that to confess one would be to confess half a decade’s worth — to acknowledge what everyone outside his combox already knows, viz. that he is exactly the kind of bigot he claims to despise. That is a level of humiliation few human beings can bear. Hence the defense mechanism of training oneself to see only ignorance and irrationality even in the most learned and sober of one’s opponents; indeed, to see it even before one sees those opponents.
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/the-pointlessness-of-jerry-coyne.html

    OK, we need to wait and see what he eventually produces, but Coyne has a poor track record.

  9. Dhay says:

    In Jerry Coyne’s March 7, 2015 blog post entitled, “Wonkette finds Jesus!”, he declares himself “astounded” that one of his favourite political bloggers has “abandoned” “her incisive analysis of politics … to throw herself unquestioningly into the arms of Jesus.”

    It’s a standard Coyne rant, with, as it’s central theme, the allegation that Cox has regressed from incisive analyst to mindlessly unquestioning Christian, so I’ll just single out this one dismissive sentence: “Belief without good reasons: the classic definition of faith.”

    One of the more colorful scientific de-conversion stories comes from Jerry Coyne, a professor of genetics and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. It happened in 1967 when Coyne, then 17, was listening for the first time to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album while lying on his parents’ couch in Alexandria, Va.

    Suddenly Coyne began to shake and sweat. For reasons he still doesn’t understand, it dawned on him at that moment that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died. His casual Judaism seemed to wash away as the album played on. The crisis lasted about 30 minutes, he says, and when it was over, he had left religion behind for good. He went on to study how new species evolve, and found the Darwinian view of nature perfectly in tune with his abandonment of faith.
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/jerry-coynes-conversion-to-atheism-had-nothing-to-do-with-science/

    What did Coyne say: “Belief without good reasons: the classic definition of faith.”

    I would say that the “reasons he still doesn’t understand” (reasons?!) are actually no reasons; certainly they cannot be or have been good reasons; evidently they were irrational at the time, and remain irrational and still inexplicable today. As for his abandonment of faith, it looks like in that half-hour of shaking and sweating he lost “casual Judaism” but irrationally substituted a replacement faith, his atheism.

  10. Dhay says:

    Here’s one of two blog posts where Jerry Coyne acknowledges that “the moment I became an atheist” was while shaking and sweating while listening to the Sgt Pepper album.

    “I finally got to go through some of my possessions that were in my mother’s care when she died. Two of them were notable. The first is the very album I was listening to at the moment I became an atheist. Jeremy Manier explained in an article from the Chicago Tribune, reprinted at the Dawkins site: [quoted in previous response.]”
    Correction: [JAC: it was ARLINGTON, Virginia], not Alexandria.
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/holiday-snaps-2/

    Here’s a man writing an anti-faith book, “Faith Vs. Fact”, whose formative “moment I became an atheist” was during a period of physical and mental abnormality.

    I suppose we (and Coyne) should be glad that that moment has passed and that the causative abnormality has vanished; it would have been a tragedy if Coyne had dedicated the rest of his life to, eg, OCD anti-theist attacks, fancy boots, or a fantasy daily homily from a Polish talking cat. You need to be well anchored in reality to be credibly writing a book called, “Faith Vs. Fact”.

  11. George Locke says:

    Late to the party here.

    Preview:

    …Coyne lays out in clear, dispassionate detail why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion—including faith, dogma, and revelation—leads to…”

    Blog:

    First, the straw. Coyne exists in a cartoon version of reality where religion excludes reason and evidence.

    The preview suggests that religion isn’t “based on reason,” but this is an argued conclusion. You can dispute the conclusion, but you can’t say it’s a straw man merely because you disagree.

    Blog:

    As for cherry picking, Coyne sets up the cartoon reality by pretending that all of reality can be fitted into two tidy categories – science and religion.

    He does? This is far from obvious, and you make no argument to support it. I honestly have no idea where you’re coming from here.

    Preview:

    Coyne… demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable “truth” by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science.

    Blog:

    What would happen to many of Jerry Coyne’s beliefs if we subjected “those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science?”

    Without additional context, your objection appears to be irrelevant. Whether or not Coyne’s beliefs stand up to scientific scrutiny says nothing about whether religious claims withstand the same. If you are correct, Coyne might be a hypocrite, but that wouldn’t imply that this particular argument he’s making is wrong.

    I can imagine what you might be trying to get at, something like, “Coyne thinks that all beliefs should withstand scientific scrutiny, but this standard is not meaningful when applied outside the domain of science.” I’d guess that you’d agree with that statement, but I can’t tell whether it has anything to do with what you were trying to say here.

    Preview:

    Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm

    Blog:

    Fear-mongering propped up with a sense of absolute certainty.

    You mention fear-mongering earlier, and in both cases, your claim amounts to mere bluster. You disagree with Coyne about the problems he’s addressing, ergo his bringing them up is “fear-mongering.” Maybe he is fear mongering, but you saying it doesn’t make it so.

    As to the “absolute certainty” business: someone working for Coyne’s publisher thought adding the word “irrefutably” would make the blurb punchier. You can’t use advertising copy like this as an argument that Coyne is a dogmatic thinker.

    Blog:
    Okay, consider what we have here – straw men, cherry picking, fear-mongering, intellectual inconsistency, and a sense of absolute certainty about the truth.
    * Straw men: you disagree with Coyne’s conclusions, but argued conclusions are not straw men
    * cherry picking: “cherry picking” is using outliers to stand in for the larger group. Your allegations of “cherry picking” seem to have more to do with hypocrisy.
    * fear-mongering: again, your disagreement with Coyne’s warnings does not entail that those warnings are fear-mongering.
    * intellectual inconsistency: you may have a more substantive point here. I’d be interested to hear more.
    * absolute certainty: a single adverb in advertising copy is poor evidence to support this allegation.

  12. Michael says:

    The preview suggests that religion isn’t “based on reason,” but this is an argued conclusion. You can dispute the conclusion, but you can’t say it’s a straw man merely because you disagree.

    If the “argued conclusion” does not accurately reflect reality, it is a straw man.

    He does? This is far from obvious, and you make no argument to support it. I honestly have no idea where you’re coming from here.

    Is Coyne also going to apply to “toolkit of science” to all the other various forms of human expression, belief, and inquiry? That is far from obvious. It looks to me like the book is all about Science Vs. Religion.

    Without additional context, your objection appears to be irrelevant. Whether or not Coyne’s beliefs stand up to scientific scrutiny says nothing about whether religious claims withstand the same. If you are correct, Coyne might be a hypocrite, but that wouldn’t imply that this particular argument he’s making is wrong.

    It would imply Coyne’s whole argument is irrelevant. If I am correct, it means more than Coyne being a hypocrite (something that has already been established elsewhere). It would mean 99.99% of all blogs would not stand up to scientific scrutiny (just for starters). So if religion also doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, so what?

    I can imagine what you might be trying to get at, something like, “Coyne thinks that all beliefs should withstand scientific scrutiny, but this standard is not meaningful when applied outside the domain of science.” I’d guess that you’d agree with that statement,

    Yep.

    You mention fear-mongering earlier, and in both cases, your claim amounts to mere bluster.

    Nope. It’s fear-mongering. And bluster:

    warns that religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise” and “irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm

    This is the type of fear-mongering atheists have been using for decades. I’m surprised there is no mention of the “Coming Theocracy.” Coyne taps in to the fear to sell more books.

    As to the “absolute certainty” business: someone working for Coyne’s publisher thought adding the word “irrefutably” would make the blurb punchier.

    How do you know this? All we know are the facts: 1) The official book description promises an irrefutable demonstration, 2) The book description has been up for months and, 3) Coyne, who blogs 9 time a day, has never corrected the description or tried to distance himself from it. So there is no reason to make any excuses.

    You can’t use advertising copy like this as an argument that Coyne is a dogmatic thinker.

    We’ve already established Coyne as a dogmatic thinker in other contexts. The advertising copy reads just like something he himself would write.

  13. George Locke says:

    If the “argued conclusion” does not accurately reflect reality, it is a straw man.
    You claimed that Coyne was making a “straw man argument,” not merely that his conclusions were inaccurate. You may disagree with him, but that’s different from saying he merely invents a wrong version of religion to argue against. He argues to establish that religion is a certain way, which is different from the “mere invention” that characterizes the straw man fallacy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

    Is Coyne also going to apply to “toolkit of science” to all the other various forms of human expression, belief, and inquiry? That is far from obvious. It looks to me like the book is all about Science Vs. Religion.
    If I write a book about Ali vs Foreman, does that mean I’m categorizing all the world as being either Mohammed Ali or George Foreman?

    You said that Coyne divides all the world into two categories: science and religion. If Coyne applied scientific scrutiny to everything under the sun, that wouldn’t imply that he’s trying to determine whether, for example, athletics is science or religion. It might imply that he was trying to divide *claims* into those which are backed by scientific evidence and those which aren’t, but this is very different.

    So if religion also doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, so what?
    If Coyne’s beliefs didn’t qualify to his own standards, that would be irrelevant to whether religious beliefs meet those standards. You argue instead that the standards are bogus to begin with, and that Coyne acts as though he agrees with you since he is inconsistent in applying those standards. Now that I have some more context for what you were saying, it doesn’t appear to be irrelevant. I’m not convinced, but I’ll table the issue for the moment.

    Nope. It’s fear-mongering.
    So then, in your opinion, all warnings are fear mongering? Or would it only be fear mongering when you disagree?

    How do you know this?
    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=who+writes+the+blurb+of+a+book

    So there is no reason to make any excuses.
    One should expect that advertising copy will be exaggerated, so exaggerations in themselves are not remarkable. Saying tht

  14. Michael says:

    You claimed that Coyne was making a “straw man argument,” not merely that his conclusions were inaccurate.

    If it’s Science, based on reason and empirical study vs. Religion, based on faith, dogma, and revelation, that’s a straw man right there.

    You said that Coyne divides all the world into two categories: science and religion. If Coyne applied scientific scrutiny to everything under the sun, that wouldn’t imply that he’s trying to determine whether, for example, athletics is science or religion. It might imply that he was trying to divide *claims* into those which are backed by scientific evidence and those which aren’t, but this is very different.

    I see. So only science and religion make *claims*?

    So then, in your opinion, all warnings are fear mongering? Or would it only be fear mongering when you disagree?

    Nope, just the same old chicken little “warnings” we have heard for decades. Look, I understand that fear-mongering sells. And Coyne is motivated to make some money here.

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=who+writes+the+blurb+of+a+book

    I understand that. But I asked how you know that? Of course it is reasonable to think some marketing guy spiced it up. The book is being sold as having an irrefutable demonstration when it does not. I guess we ought not expect truth in advertising when it comes to New Atheist apologetics books.

  15. George Locke says:

    If it’s Science, based on reason and empirical study vs. Religion, based on faith, dogma, and revelation, that’s a straw man right there.
    This is non-responsive. I’ve suggested reasons why this isn’t necessarily the case, and you have not responded.

    So only science and religion make *claims*?
    No… there are lots of claims and not all of them derive from science and religion….

    Nope, just the same old chicken little “warnings” we have heard for decades.
    Coyne isn’t saying that the sky is falling. He’s saying that religion does damage.

    But I asked how you know that?
    How do I know what? That publishers write advertising copy? Shall I refer you to google again? I happen to know many people working in the publishing industry.

    My argument is that you don’t have the necessary information to infer from advertising copy that Coyne has absolute certainty. The simpler explanation for the presence of “irrefutably” is that it’s advertising fluff. We already know that publishers insert such fluff, and this is sufficient to explain the word without resorting to the additional premise that Coyne has absolute certainty.

    I guess we ought not expect truth in advertising when
    I believe the end to the sentence you were looking for is, “when living on planet earth.”

  16. Billy Squibs says:

    “Coyne isn’t saying that the sky is falling. He’s saying that religion does damage.”

    So does politics. So does science. So does just about any endeavour of humanity.

    It would be interesting to See if Jerry takes a nuanced approach to religion (hint – not all religions are the same and therefore it’s of no help to take a broad-brush approach when criticising religion) and if he can talk about the good that follows from personal and corporate religious beliefs and practices.

  17. TFBW says:

    Coyne isn’t saying that the sky is falling.

    Claiming that the Republicans want to establish a Theocracy qualifies as that level of hysteria/propaganda in my estimation. You disagree?

  18. Michael says:

    This is non-responsive. I’ve suggested reasons why this isn’t necessarily the case, and you have not responded.

    Anyone who lives outside the bubble of New Atheist rhetoric knows that religion is more than faith, dogma, and revelation. Even science is more than reason and empirical study. Coyne is presenting cartoon versions of science and religion. As for your reasons, I’m not quite sure what you are getting at. Are you saying that Coyne has some powerful argument that will establish the cartoon as reality?

    No… there are lots of claims and not all of them derive from science and religion….

    Yes, and a scholar would take this “scientific scrutiny” and apply them to all the other claim sources (politics, media, governance, interpersonal communication, history, etc.). Of course, no scholar would do this, because it would be rather silly to show that areas outside of science do not satisfy the demands of science (like finding out that people on the beach don’t wear tuxedos).

    Then again, Coyne is not a scholar on this issue, nor is he writing scholarship. He is simply an activist trying to cash in on the atheist movement.

    Coyne isn’t saying that the sky is falling. He’s saying that religion does damage.

    See TFBW’s response.

    How do I know what? That publishers write advertising copy? Shall I refer you to google again? I happen to know many people working in the publishing industry.

    I’m not sure you understand what the word ‘know’ means. Anyway, the claim was:

    “Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm…”

    So you know the publisher wrote “irrefutably,” yet when it comes to “grave harm,” that’s Coyne saying that religion does damage.

  19. George Locke says:

    Anyone who lives outside the bubble of New Atheist rhetoric knows that religion is more than faith, dogma, and revelation.
    The blurb refers to the “toolkit of religion,” not religion per se, and it says only that this toolkit includes faith, dogma, and revelation.

    However, even if Coyne were arguing that these were the entire composition of religion, if he tried to make that case rather than shoving it under the rug, then he wouldn’t be making a “straw man argument.”

    If all we know is that your description of your opponent’s position is wrong, that is not sufficient to establish that you’re making a “straw man fallacy.” There’s more to it. When you address the question of whether your characterization of your opponent’s position is reasonable, you avoid the straw man fallacy, because the fallacy is precisely a failure to do just that.

    You consider Coyne’s description of religion to be inaccurate, but Coyne has apparently gone into detail to argue that it is accurate, so he doesn’t commit the fallacy.

    Yes, and a scholar would take this “scientific scrutiny”…
    I don’t see how any of this addresses the issue at hand, namely your original point that Coyne thinks “all of reality can be fitted into two tidy categories – science and religion.”

    TFBW’s response:
    Claiming that the Republicans want to establish a Theocracy qualifies as that level of hysteria/propaganda in my estimation.
    The OP discusses Coyne’s new book, claiming that the blurb/book engages in fear mongering. That is the assertion I was challenging. Whether Coyne has engaged in fear mongering elsewhere is a separate issue, and I’d rather not get sidetracked.

    I’m not sure you understand what the word ‘know’ means.
    If you can show that there’s something I claim to know that I don’t, fine. There’s no need to get obnoxious.

    I am making the case that your inference is faulty by providing a better explanation than the one you’ve offered. To make this case, knowing background probabilities is sufficient.

    So you know the publisher wrote “irrefutably,” yet when it comes to “grave harm,” that’s Coyne saying that religion does damage.
    Again, I don’t “know” that the publisher wrote “irrefutably”, but I have argued that it is a more likely explanation than yours. Essentially, what I’m saying is that you’re asking for ad copy to read like an essay, which is unreasonable.

    (Regarding the second half of this sentence: from my perspective, it doesn’t matter much who wrote that grave harm is demonstrated. What matters there is whether the statement represents fear mongering.)

  20. TFBW says:

    George Locke said:

    The OP discusses Coyne’s new book, claiming that the blurb/book engages in fear mongering. That is the assertion I was challenging. Whether Coyne has engaged in fear mongering elsewhere is a separate issue, and I’d rather not get sidetracked.

    If you’re using the OP as a guide to what’s on topic, then I approve of the principle, but I note that your analysis is incorrect. The OP analyses the blurb with reference to what we know about Coyne from his writings elsewhere. The OP quotes the blurb as saying, “Coyne … warns that religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise,” and categorises this as fear-mongering — reasonably so, in my view, with the key tone words being “prejudices”, “strictures”, and “on the rise”. The connotation is that religious bigots are trying to impose restrictions on your freedoms — a propaganda alarm call. The OP compares this to Coyne’s other writing, analysed previously, which vacillates between “the Theocracy is coming” hysteria and “religion is dying” triumphalism.

    In short, you’ve declined to engage my point on a technicality, but your technicality is based on a factual error (that Coyne’s other writing is OT), and is therefore invalid. Please reconsider your response, also taking into consideration that I’ve clarified how the blurb employs fear-mongering language. I’ll concede in advance that the blurb’s fear-mongering is less hyperbolic than Coyne’s usual “the Theocracy is coming” hysteria, but it is clearly a toned-down version of the same alarm, which is why the comparison was relevant in the first place.

  21. George Locke says:

    @TFBW

    The OP says that the blurb engages in fear mongering, and until you stepped in, this assertion was more or less unsupported. If Michael says that you speak with his voice on the issue, I’ll will take his word on that. You say that Coyne’s other writings have led Michael to his interpretation, which is not unreasonable. (The OP makes only one reference to Coyne’s other writing, and this reference is made in such a way that it doesn’t actually support anything he says here. It’s an aside that points to a separate issue regarding the consistency of Coyne’s thinking. As Michael doesn’t support his position by citing Coyne’s other writings, I think I can be forgiven for understanding Michael to be talking about the blurb in itself. This is apparently not what he meant to be doing.)

    So, let me respond to you.

    Let’s define fear mongering as emotionally inflammatory communication designed to excite fear about something far beyond what is merited by the actual threat. Hopefully there’s nothing controversial about this definition.

    So, we have to establish whether the blurb is inflammatory, and to what extent its warnings outstrip the real dangers. The title of Coyne’s post about “theocracy” is certainly hyperbolic, but the quotes he pulls from that “family forum” do suggest that mainstream Republicans want the government to enforce Christian policies:
    * “Somebody’s values are going to decide what the Congress votes on…it needs to be our values—values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers”
    * “The 10 Commandments were the foundation for our law.”
    * “we will never have rest, because that law does not comport with God’s law”

    (I won’t defend Coyne’s copious insults in that post except to say that he’s not making the ad hominem fallacy, he’s just being obstreperous.)

    When I read, “religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise,” I must agree. So, from my perspective, the warning does not outstrip the real danger. The leap he makes in that post to theocracy goes beyond what we can say for sure, so it is arguably fear mongering in that case. I’m not convinced, but, more to the point, if he did go beyond the facts there, that doesn’t entail that he’ll go beyond the facts every other time he talks about the issue.

    I don’t find the language here to be particularly inflammatory, either. How would you phrase this warning so that it would be less inflammatory? I don’t think it’s really possible. (We have seen that it is possible to voice these sentiments in a inflammatory language.) The only thing would be to not make the warning in the first place, which brings us back to whether there is a danger.

    What do you think about this?

  22. Michael says:

    The blurb refers to the “toolkit of religion,” not religion per se, and it says only that this toolkit includes faith, dogma, and revelation.

    You are right. It looks like I could be reading too much into it. Perhaps Coyne is only making the more modest and less interesting point that something like “empirical study” is more reliable than “dogma.”

    However, even if Coyne were arguing that these were the entire composition of religion, if he tried to make that case rather than shoving it under the rug, then he wouldn’t be making a “straw man argument.”

    Wrong. If Coyne is arguing these are the entire composition of religion, the nature of his apologetic case does not matter. He would be making a straw man argument because we already know most religions are not composed solely of faith, dogma, and revelation.

    I don’t see how any of this addresses the issue at hand, namely your original point that Coyne thinks “all of reality can be fitted into two tidy categories – science and religion.”

    As you noted, “there are lots of claims and not all of them derive from science and religion…” yet Coyne chooses to focus only on on claims derived from science and religion. How would this approach differ from someone who did believe all of reality can be fitted into two tidy categories – science and religion?

    The OP discusses Coyne’s new book, claiming that the blurb/book engages in fear mongering. That is the assertion I was challenging.

    You can challenge until you are blue in the face. Ultimately, any perception of fear-mongering will be just that – a perception. I suspect that you do not perceive fear-mongering because you embrace the New Atheist talking points on this issue.

    So, are you are New Atheist?

  23. TFBW says:

    George Locke said:

    Let’s define fear mongering as emotionally inflammatory communication designed to excite fear about something far beyond what is merited by the actual threat. Hopefully there’s nothing controversial about this definition.

    It seems a little over-qualified. That final qualifying clause, in particular, is going to give us trouble, because we must then accurately assess the threat before we can determine the validity of the charge. I really don’t see how one could measure a political thing like that accurately, or even objectively.

    In any case, where did you get that definition? When I Google “define:fear-mongering”, I get, “the action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue.” (The source isn’t stated, but appears to be the Oxford.) This seems like a much more straightforward definition, and doesn’t have the problematic qualifiers: we’d just label fear-mongering for what it is, then have a separate argument over how “emotionally inflammatory” it is, and whether it’s proportionate to the actual threat or not.

    Given that you are arguing about the severity of the actual threat, I take it that you agree that the blurb qualifies as fear-mongering, given this independent definition. In that case, the matter is settled: “fear-mongering” was a fair description. I don’t want to argue the side issues of whether the threat is real or not, or whether the language is “inflammatory” or not: it’s OT and won’t establish anything useful. Suffice it to say that if you think the threat is real, then you are part of the target audience for the book.

  24. George Locke says:

    @Michael
    If Coyne is arguing these are the entire composition of religion, the nature of his apologetic case does not matter.
    It’s as though you didn’t read what I wrote. I don’t know how many ways I can say this. What you’re saying is that Coyne’s characterization of religion is wrong, and therefore he’s making a straw man argument. But that’s not enough to conlcude that a straw man argument is being made.

    The straw man argument is a specific error in rhetoric/reasoning. The allegation is not merely that Coyne has a wrong idea of what religion is about, but that he is relying on his reader’s ignorance. If Coyne makes a good faith assessment of the facts and informs the reader about religion and then comes to a conclusion that you think is wrong, this is not a fallacy.

    Coyne chooses to focus only on on claims derived from science and religion. How would this approach differ from someone who did believe all of reality can be fitted into two tidy categories – science and religion?
    If a person writes a book about Foreman vs Ali, and focuses on that conflict, this doesn’t imply that he is unaware of a world outside of boxing. In general, writing a book about an opposition between two things is not the same as dividing all the world into either of those two categories.

    Ultimately, any perception of fear-mongering will be just that – a perception. I suspect that you do not perceive fear-mongering because you embrace the New Atheist talking points on this issue.
    Essentially, you’re saying that you agree with my initial characterization: “You disagree with Coyne about the problems he’s addressing, ergo his bringing them up is ‘fear-mongering.'”

    I’m saying the blurb isn’t fear mongering because it makes its claims without undue bombast.

  25. George Locke says:

    @TFBW

    the action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue
    By this definition, warning people to get off a sinking ship is fear mongering. If that kind of warning is fear mongering, then fear mongering isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    To the extent that the public ought to be afraid of something, there’s nothing wrong with stirring up fear about it. Making people afraid of something that they should be afraid of but aren’t is a prosocial act (provided you don’t overdo it). So if our working definition of fear mongering includes that kind of behavior, then establishing that Coyne is fear mongering wouldn’t tell us whether he was doing anything wrong. But I thought we were discussing whether Coyne was acting responsibly.

    I agree that it’s impractical for us to assess the truth of Coyne’s claims here. Asking whether Coyne’s understanding is due to irresponsible ignorance seems more tractable although still difficult. However, this latter question actually is at issue. If responsible people could take Coyne’s position, then he’s only doing something wrong if he’s voicing his position in an unnecessarily inflammatory way.

    Here’s another way that I can state my position:
    Coyne is fear mongering if: (a) his position is nominally reasonable but he’s making his argument using inflammatory language or (b) his position is based on a negligent assessment, so any attempt to raise the issue raises fear about something that is not worth fearing.

    To extend the sinking ship analogy:
    (a) the ship is sinking, but the warning sounds like “the ship is sinking, we’re all going to die” (b) Coyne has no good reason to believe the ship is sinking. (I’ll qualify (a) a bit more since I think it’s relevant. Maybe the ship is sinking or maybe it isn’t, but Coyne has made a good faith effort to assess the matter, and he has good reason to think he’s capable of making the assessment. Without these, it would be irresponsible for him to raise the alarm. I stipulate that if he’s not accounting for his own bias, then that’s irresponsible.)

    (Also, it’s an analogy, and all analogies break down. A sinking ship is a mortal threat in a way that religion is not even on Coyne’s view.)

    Given that you are arguing about the severity of the actual threat, I take it that you agree that the blurb qualifies as fear-mongering, given this independent definition.
    As I said, I don’t find the language used particularly inflammatory. “How would you phrase this warning so that it would be less inflammatory? I don’t think it’s really possible. (We have seen that it is possible to voice these sentiments in a inflammatory language [sic. should have been “more inflammatory language].) The only thing would be to not make the warning in the first place, which brings us back to whether there is a danger.”

  26. Michael says:

    It’s as though you didn’t read what I wrote. I don’t know how many ways I can say this. What you’re saying is that Coyne’s characterization of religion is wrong, and therefore he’s making a straw man argument. But that’s not enough to conlcude that a straw man argument is being made.

    If Coyne is arguing relgions are composed entirely of faith, dogma, and revelation, he would be making a straw man argument because we already know most religions are not composed solely of faith, dogma, and revelation.

    The straw man argument is a specific error in rhetoric/reasoning. The allegation is not merely that Coyne has a wrong idea of what religion is about, but that he is relying on his reader’s ignorance. If Coyne makes a good faith assessment of the facts and informs the reader about religion and then comes to a conclusion that you think is wrong, this is not a fallacy.

    I see your error. You are working from the assumption that Coyne is a scholar bringing an objective analysis to the table. You need to come to terms with the facts. Coyne is an activist and apologist. He is part of an anti-religious movement. The activist wrote the book not only to become a bigger player in the movement, and to help the movement, but to cash in on the movement. Given these facts, the default assumption is not that he is making a good faith assessment of the facts. That’s not how activists and movements work. Given your complaint is premised on Coyne making good faith assessments of the facts, it has been tentatively defeated. The only way to resurrect your complaint is for you to come up with powerful evidence that the activist is doing his best to be objective and fair. Since that would be an extraordinary claim, you would need extraordinary evidence.


    If a person writes a book about Foreman vs Ali, and focuses on that conflict, this doesn’t imply that he is unaware of a world outside of boxing. In general, writing a book about an opposition between two things is not the same as dividing all the world into either of those two categories.

    Your analogy is flawed, as a person writing a book about Foreman vs Ali is unlikely to be an activist who is part of a movement that has a socio-political agenda. Coyne comes to us as an activist with an agenda. It is in his movement’s interest to create the illusion that all the world can be divided into two categories, which is why Coyne often finds himself sneering at complaints of “scientism” and has to mislead the public by dumbing down the definition of science.

    In the end, your complaints won’t matter. If Coyne does ignore all the other varities of claims just to make the case that religion cannot pass the tests of scientific scrutiny, his argument will be easily deflated by noting the other varities of claims that likewise cannot pass that test, even the myriad of claims the activist has made on his blog (and likely to be found in his book).

    Essentially, you’re saying that you agree with my initial characterization: “You disagree with Coyne about the problems he’s addressing, ergo his bringing them up is ‘fear-mongering.’”

    The chicken little claim about religion being “on this rise” would seem obviously false to me (even Coyne likes to crow about the decline of religion). And I’m not quite sure how one objectively determines whether the “harm” is “grave.” But there is more than disagreement. Who is Coyne’s primary target audience? His New Atheist base, a population that has been afraid of the “Coming Theocracy” for a long time now. I thought you were supposed to have some knowledge of advertising. If so, you should know that a little fear-mongering sells.

    I’m saying the blurb isn’t fear mongering because it makes its claims without undue bombast.

    Oh, please. If it came with “undue bombast”, Coyne risks overplaying his hand. He doesn’t want to come off as being shrill and hysterical. Since he is an activist, he’ll want his book to reach beyond his base and be taken seriously by journalists in the mainstream. Can’t do that if you are too over-the-top with the fear-mongering.

    Yes, it is fear mongering. The clever type of fear mongering designed to sell books in the popular market to help advance a socio-political movement.

  27. TFBW says:

    George, I’m sorry if this seems like short shrift, given the effort you put into that comment, but you’re going off into territory which seems tangential. I’ll try to answer briefly while staying true to the topic. You said:

    … I thought we were discussing whether Coyne was acting responsibly. … Asking whether Coyne’s understanding is due to irresponsible ignorance seems more tractable although still difficult.

    I think there’s a simpler question that we can ask and answer: is Coyne consistent with regards to his presentation of religion as a threat? If religion is an actual threat, then responsible behaviour demands consistent reporting about that threat. But, as we’ve already seen, Coyne vacillates between “the Theocracy is coming” hysteria and “religion is dying” triumphalism. The book is, no doubt, an attempt at presenting the former message in moderate tones, but Coyne betrayed his inconsistency long ago, and it’s far too late to apply the veneer of sober moderation now. We know he’s not sincere about religion as a clear and present danger, because he’s just as likely to proclaim its impending extinction any other day.

    Maybe the ship is sinking or maybe it isn’t, but Coyne has made a good faith effort to assess the matter, and he has good reason to think he’s capable of making the assessment.

    Good faith? Doesn’t pass the laugh test, sorry. Coyne hates religion with a passion, and wants other people to hate it and attack it too. He’s not fussed whether they are better motivated by “we’re losing” fear-mongering, or “we’re winning” bravado, so he does it both ways. Truth, as always, was the first casualty of that war.

  28. Michael says:

    Good faith? Doesn’t pass the laugh test, sorry. Coyne hates religion with a passion, and wants other people to hate it and attack it too. He’s not fussed whether they are better motivated by “we’re losing” fear-mongering, or “we’re winning” bravado, so he does it both ways. Truth, as always, was the first casualty of that war.

    Exactly. George seems to believe that Coyne is coming to the table as a scholar with his “good faith” arguments and concerns. But we know that is not the case, thanks for years and years of Coyne blogging. For Coyne and his fellow activists, the ends justify the means. It doesn’t matter if he is relying on straw men, cherry picking, and fear mongering. All that matters is whether those help him advance the agenda.

    Here are a couple of quotes from George’s “good faith” scholar:

    Our writings and actions are sincere attempts to rid the world of one of its greatest evils: religion.

    or

    What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity? The sooner that religion goes away, the sooner these ills will abate.

    BTW, I noticed George didn’t answer when I asked if he was a New Atheist.

  29. Michael says:

    (Also, it’s an analogy, and all analogies break down. A sinking ship is a mortal threat in a way that religion is not even on Coyne’s view.)

    Other than that, Coyne’s just like a guy who notices the ship is sinking? Please. The analogy never got off the ground. Coyne is an activist who is part of a movement that has an agenda – “to rid the world of one of its greatest evils: religion.”

  30. George Locke says:

    @Michael
    You need to come to terms with the facts.
    You believe that Coyne is biased and a jerk, so anything he says can be written off as biased and inflammatory. Your whole argument is basically that since you already know that Coyne is full of shit, it’s easy to see that this blurb is also full of shit.

    You’ve followed the New Atheist movement, and Coyne in particular, for some time, so this isn’t mere caprice, it’s your considered opinion. Nevertheless, this is 100% unconvincing to someone who doesn’t share that opinion. I don’t share your views on New Atheism, so, from my perspective, it appears that you have no case.

    Your views on New Atheism explain how you’ve arrived at the views expressed here, but trying to use those views as the basis of an argument to convince me of your position is poisoning the well. Having an agenda doesn’t mean that you arrived at that position because of bias or that your agenda precludes us from taking you seriously. Everyone has an agenda, including you and me.

    I find it rather telling that you want to pidgeon hole me as a New Atheist. The premise seems to be that if I am a New Atheist, then I am tarred with the same brush.

    If you have something to say besides the fact that you already know that nothing Coyne can ever say will ever be reasonable, I’m all ears.

  31. George Locke says:

    @TFBW
    …is Coyne consistent with regards to his presentation of religion as a threat?
    For the sake of argument, I’ll grant you that he’s inconsistent. How does this inform your opinion that he’s fear mongering? Or are you talking about something else?

    Good faith? Doesn’t pass the laugh test, sorry.
    I’m not going to try and convince you that you’re wrong to deny Coyne the assumption of good faith. I’ll just repeat what I wrote to Michael, which is that while this may explain your view, it doesn’t justify anything to someone who doesn’t share your prior opinion. Using this premise to convince me of anything is poisoning the well.

  32. TFBW says:

    George Locke said:

    For the sake of argument, I’ll grant you that he’s inconsistent. How does this inform your opinion that he’s fear mongering?

    I’m taking into consideration your requirement that the fear-mongering be irresponsible. Coyne promotes two mutually incompatible messages: that religion is a threat, and that religion is dying. If it’s dying, then the fear-mongering is based on a lie, and is therefore irresponsible. Either Coyne is lying about religion dying, or he is engaging in irresponsible fear-mongering about it being a threat — take your pick.

    I’m not going to try and convince you that you’re wrong to deny Coyne the assumption of good faith.

    I would grant him the assumption of good faith if it weren’t for all the available data which paints a very clear picture of his stake in the fight. The man is vehemently anti-theistic. He’s an extremist. Why on earth would anyone expect anything remotely “good faith” from him in terms of balanced analysis? That would be idiocy.

    I’ll just repeat what I wrote to Michael, which is that while this may explain your view, it doesn’t justify anything to someone who doesn’t share your prior opinion.

    And if we hadn’t backed up our views with supporting evidence, I would understand that. What I don’t understand is why you want to evaluate the book while pretending that it was written in a vacuum by an unknown party. Given the written record that Coyne has left behind him prior to this book, I can understand how ignoring the evidence would aid in creating an assumption of good faith, but assumptions of good faith should not be granted when there is evidence of bad faith.

    I don’t understand your stance on this. You can’t be genuinely ignorant of Coyne, because even if you were, we’ve been providing ample links to prior analysis. Are you suggesting that our prior analysis — that Coyne is a vehemently anti-religious activist who routinely uses exaggeration to promote his cause — is not supported by the evidence? What are your grounds for suggesting that we ought to grant Jerry Coyne an assumption of good faith, given what is known about him?

  33. Michael says:

    You believe that Coyne is biased and a jerk, so anything he says can be written off as biased and inflammatory. Your whole argument is basically that since you already know that Coyne is full of shit, it’s easy to see that this blurb is also full of shit.

    I see. So rather than deal with the facts, you’d rather put words in my mouth and deal with those. I never said Coyne was a jerk, therefore we can dismiss anything he said. I pointed out the facts. Coyne is an anti-religious activist. He is part of an anti-religious movement. As an activist who is part of a movement, he comes to us with a socio-political agenda. He has made the extreme nature of his agenda clear with his own words – “Our writings and actions are sincere attempts to rid the world of one of its greatest evils: religion.”

    Given these facts, the default assumption is not that he is making a good faith assessment of the facts. That’s not how activists and movements work. Given your complaint is premised on Coyne making good faith assessments of the facts, it has been tentatively defeated. The only way to resurrect your complaint is for you to come up with powerful evidence that the activist is doing his best to be objective and fair. Since that would be an extraordinary claim, you would need extraordinary evidence.

    You’ve followed the New Atheist movement, and Coyne in particular, for some time, so this isn’t mere caprice, it’s your considered opinion. Nevertheless, this is 100% unconvincing to someone who doesn’t share that opinion. I don’t share your views on New Atheism, so, from my perspective, it appears that you have no case.

    Then it sounds to me like you have some critical thinking flaws, where you are gullible enough to treat the claims of an activist with a socio-political agenda is if those words were written by a scholar in academia trying to open-mindedly explore an unknown.

    What is 100% unconvincing is your blind faith in your leader. You suggest Coyne “makes a good faith assessment of the facts” when it comes to religion. What is your evidence?

    Your views on New Atheism explain how you’ve arrived at the views expressed here, but trying to use those views as the basis of an argument to convince me of your position is poisoning the well.

    Coyne himself is the one who poisoned his own well in abandoning a scholarly career to pursue the fame and riches of an activist. He has poisoined his own well with his own words:

    “Our writings and actions are sincere attempts to rid the world of one of its greatest evils: religion.”

    “What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity? The sooner that religion goes away, the sooner these ills will abate.”

    That you want to sweep these relevant comments under the carpet simply erodes your own credibility on this matter.

    Having an agenda doesn’t mean that you arrived at that position because of bias or that your agenda precludes us from taking you seriously. Everyone has an agenda, including you and me.

    Oh, please. This attempt to put us all in the same boat is lame. I am not a leading activist in constant contact with other lead actvists in a movement. I am not even an activist or part of any movement. I’m not out to “rid the world of one of it’s greatest evils.” I don’t eschew dialog and call for the eradication of atheism. I’m not out there giving speeches and having private meetings with organizations to help sell a book.

    Coyne doesn’t just have an “agenda.” He is an activist who is part of a movement. He is a culture warrior on a mission.

    I find it rather telling that you want to pidgeon hole me as a New Atheist. The premise seems to be that if I am a New Atheist, then I am tarred with the same brush.

    I find it telling that you don’t want to admit to being a New Atheist. That way, you can try to posture as Mr. Objective where it’s supposed to be significant that you find my case ” 100% unconvincing,” right?

    If you have something to say besides the fact that you already know that nothing Coyne can ever say will ever be reasonable, I’m all ears.

    LOL. Lashing out from a position of weakness, eh? I never said or implied “I already know that nothing Coyne can ever say will ever be reasonable.” That’s your paraphrase, not a quote from me. I pointed out that since Coyne is an activist who is part of a movement with an extreme anti-religious agenda, the assumption of him making a “good faith effort” is unwarranted. I told you that’s not how activists and movements work.

    So in the end, my description of this book blurb stands – it draws upon straw men and engages in cherry picking and fear mongering – exactly the type of traits we would expect from an activism book designed to help promote the agenda of the socio-political movement. If you have any valid criticism of my description, I’m all ears.

  34. Dhay says:

    If anyone wants an independent analysis — lots of analyses — of where Jerry Coyne fails, I recommend the many posts on the “The Verbose Stoic” blog, whose “Coyne” search page is linked below..
    https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/?s=Coyne

  35. George Locke says:

    Michael wrote,
    He has made the extreme nature of his agenda clear with his own words – “Our writings and actions are sincere attempts to rid the world of one of its greatest evils: religion.”

    Given these facts, the default assumption is not that he is making a good faith assessment of the facts. That’s not how activists and movements work.
    TFBW wrote,
    The man is vehemently anti-theistic. He’s an extremist. Why on earth would anyone expect anything remotely “good faith” from him in terms of balanced analysis? That would be idiocy.
    Both of these sentiments amount to the claim that anyone who cares passionately about a subject cannot be trusted to say anything worthwhile on that subject.

    The only evidence presented to suggest that Coyne should be denied the assumption of good faith is that he holds an “extreme” opinion that you don’t share, and that he acts on his beliefs to try and change the world for the better, as he sees it, and that he has allies in this project. If this is enough to disqualify someone’s opinion, then who can we trust? Anonymous bloggers?

  36. TFBW says:

    George Locke said:

    Both of these sentiments amount to the claim that anyone who cares passionately about a subject cannot be trusted to say anything worthwhile on that subject.

    No, they amount to the claim that anyone who is an extremist activist like Coyne can not be trusted to provide a balanced analysis of the subject in question, or even present an argument which honestly engages the true challenges faced by his position. Activism and honest philosophy are at odds with each other: honest philosophy wants to “feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of” (John Stuart Mill), whereas activism just wants to win quickly and expediently.

    The fact that Coyne is unlikely to say anything worthwhile on the subject is merely a side-effect of this. He tends to mock and jeer a great deal, for example — presumably because he thinks that’s a good way of swaying people to his side — but I’ve never learned anything useful from exposure to that bile, with the possible exception of the word “osculate”.

    The only evidence presented to suggest that Coyne should be denied the assumption of good faith is that he holds an “extreme” opinion that you don’t share, and that he acts on his beliefs to try and change the world for the better, as he sees it, and that he has allies in this project.

    I think, George, that if you wanted to understand my position, you would have done so by now. Evidently, however, your real interest is in trying to spin it so that I look unreasonable. Whatever — I’m at the stage where I’d just be repeating myself if I tried to respond, and I usually take that as a sign that I’m engaged in a futile discussion. I do not believe that you are making a good faith attempt to engage my argument. Given that you’re obviously a follower of Coyne, I guess that’s to be expected.

  37. George Locke says:

    At the very least, I hope it is clear that the points raised by the OP stand only if one begins with the view that Coyne is acting in bad faith.

    Here’s the evidence that I’ve seen to support the claim of bad faith:

    * an example of inconsistency
    * quotes demonstrating that he’s “vehemently anti-theistic” (which is stipulated. Coyne is vehemently anti-theistic.)
    * verbose stoic has written about him (I have read VS some in the past, but haven’t looked at it recently – he’s a reasonable guy i often disagree with)

    Re inconsistency: It’s simple to reconcile the two positions that TFBW and Michael hold out as inconsistent: religion in the US is a rising threat in the near term, but “long after we’re worm food” this will no longer be the case. So there are trends working in opposite directions that operate at different time scales. His own words suggest this interpretation. So I don’t see that there’s anything to complain about here.

    So the inconsistency isn’t particularly inconsistent. I can’t be expected to respond to VS’s whole blog (if there’s something in particular you’d like me to see, I’ll try and take a look). So that just leaves the obvious fact that Coyne opposes religion. Have I missed something?

    TFBW wrote,
    No, they amount to the claim that anyone who is an extremist activist like Coyne can not be trusted to provide a balanced analysis of the subject in question

    The only reason to label Coyne an “extremist activist” is that he disagrees with you and acts on those beliefs. Having a “stake in the fight” is no indication that he chose sides without considering the issues. (One could easily make the contrary argument, that not having a stake in the fight means we shouldn’t take you seriously.)

    I can think of two ways to interpret the claim that activists can’t be trusted: (1) you shouldn’t trust people who argue in favor of their own position, which is obviously ridiculous. (2) Activists are people who will say anything to get their way.

    Certainly there are people who will say anything to get their way, but this claim seems nearly as ridiculous as the first. An activist is just a name for a person who cares enough about something to do something about it, and if caring is a crime, then we’re all guilty. The evidence presented here (aside from the spurious issue of inconsistency) suggests merely that Coyne cares. So the claim that he’s not to be trusted looks like poisoning the well.

    I do not believe that you are making a good faith attempt to engage my argument. Given that you’re obviously a follower of Coyne, I guess that’s to be expected.
    I’m not lying, and I am trying to engage with your arguments on its merits. I don’t know what more you expect of me. From my perspective, this only confirms that you’re all too willing to simply write off the words of people who disagree with you.

    However, if you’re signing off, fare thee well.

  38. George Locke:

    The only evidence presented to suggest that Coyne should be denied the assumption of good faith is that he holds an “extreme” opinion that you don’t share, and that he acts on his beliefs to try and change the world for the better, as he sees it, and that he has allies in this project.

    At the risk of Godwinning this thread, neo-Nazis hold “extreme” opinions that I don’t share, act on their beliefs to try and change the world for the better, as they see it, and have allies in this project. If I hear that a prominent neo-Nazi is writing a book to expose the international Zionist conspiracy for what it is, you bet I’m not going to assume he’s writing in good faith. That’s because people’s past behaviour is generally a reasonable guide to what they’ll do in future, and if somebody has spent however many years composing crackpot rants about a certain topic, and everything he says about said topic is a crackpot rant, it’s highly likely that what he writes about the topic in future is going to be a crackpot rant as well. All the evidence points in that direction, and, well, new atheists are always telling us to follow the evidence…

  39. Michael says:

    Both of these sentiments amount to the claim that anyone who cares passionately about a subject cannot be trusted to say anything worthwhile on that subject.

    Whoa. You are not only a Gnu, but a Coyne fan. For Coyne is the one who tries to spin Gnu extremism as “passion.”

    Since you like analogies, let me try one. Coyne is passionate about religion like Ann Coulter is passionate about President Obama and the Democratic Party. Hold on, just thought of a better one.

    The A+ atheists are clearly passionate about rape and feminism. So much so that PZ Myers’ passion for the topic led him to use his blog to accuse Michael Shermer of rape. Does this passion add to the credibility of the rape accusation?

    Look, passionate people could possibly make worthwhile claims just as a used car salesman might have a worthwhile point in his sales pitch. What we are noting is that we are under no rational obligation to embrace their passionate claims as claims made in “good faith.” Passionate people typically thrive on confirmation bias, as such bias is what helps to keep the flames of passion going. The proper response to passionate people is the listen to their claims from a position of critical thinking.

    The only evidence presented to suggest that Coyne should be denied the assumption of good faith is that he holds an “extreme” opinion that you don’t share,

    His positions are indeed extreme and only shared by Gnu atheists. For example, his whole position on the incompatibility of science and religion is rejected by various mainstream scientific organizations. His anti-religious views are so extreme that he must resort to mocking other atheists as “accomodationists” and “faitheists.” So it’s not just me not sharing his opinion, now is it?

    and that he acts on his beliefs to try and change the world for the better, as he sees it

    His idea of “changing the world of the better” was the same idea held by Russian atheists – to “get rid of religion” because it is one of the world’s “greatest evils.” He has declared he is not interested in “dialog” with Christians, only the “eradication” of Christianity. Why are we supposed to trust such a culture warrior to be fair- and open-minded about “one of the world’s greatest evils?”

    ,and that he has allies in this project.

    And his allies think a world without religion would be better than a world without rape, that a religious upraising is worse than the sexual abuse of children, and that religious faith should be classified as a mental disease in need of government intervention.

    If this is enough to disqualify someone’s opinion, then who can we trust? Anonymous bloggers?

    Trust is earned. You want others outside your group to trust your leader. You suggest he “makes a good faith assessment of the facts” when it comes to religion. But what is your evidence?

  40. Michael says:

    At the very least, I hope it is clear that the points raised by the OP stand only if one begins with the view that Coyne is acting in bad faith.

    That may be clear to you, but that’s because you are here defending one of your leaders. I think it clear to most people who are not part of your movement that the OP stands just fine.

    Here’s the evidence that I’ve seen to support the claim of bad faith:
    * an example of inconsistency
    * quotes demonstrating that he’s “vehemently anti-theistic” (which is stipulated. Coyne is vehemently anti-theistic.)
    * verbose stoic has written about him (I have read VS some in the past, but haven’t looked at it recently – he’s a reasonable guy i often disagree with)

    What a nice demonstration of the subjective dimension of “evidence.” For despite all that has been offered, all you “see” are those three claims.

    First, we don’t need to demonstrate “bad faith.” You are the one who has proposed Coyne was making a “good faith” case. When asked for evidence to support your contention, you ignored the inquiry.

    Second, there is plenty of evidence that prevents us from granting the assumption of “good faith.” Coyne is an activist. And an extremist. He is part of a socio-political movement that is incredibly hostile to religion. Coyne has told us his writings are designed to rid the world of religion, something that he views not only as “evil,” but “one of the world’s greatest evils.” He has abandoned the acadmic value of “dialog” and calls for “eradication.” Those of us who value and understand critical thinking recognize such traits as good reason to suspend any “good faith” assumptions. Put simply, Coyne has far more in common with a far right or far left politician than a scholar. Buyer beware.

    The only reason to label Coyne an “extremist activist” is that he disagrees with you and acts on those beliefs.

    Wrong. Anyone with a decent dictionary can determine Coyne is an activist. As for being an extremist, there is plenty of evidence. Only an extremist would argue religion is “one of the worlds greatest evils”, dismiss dialog, and call for “eradication.” Coyne’s views are rejected by a large number of fellow atheists and secularists. Can you, for example, name anyone outside the extreme Gnu atheist movement who actually opposed Francis Collins being named to head the NIH? Or consider this. Can you name some other atheists who are more extreme than Coyne?

    I can think of two ways to interpret the claim that activists can’t be trusted: (1) you shouldn’t trust people who argue in favor of their own position, which is obviously ridiculous. (2) Activists are people who will say anything to get their way.

    LOL. George, the New Atheist, thinks we are supposed to have faith in his leader. He demands that we trust Coyne. On faith.

  41. TFBW says:

    George Locke said:

    I’m not lying, and I am trying to engage with your arguments on its merits. I don’t know what more you expect of me. From my perspective, this only confirms that you’re all too willing to simply write off the words of people who disagree with you.

    I’m sorry if I came across as accusing you of lying. I withdraw my remarks about you not operating in good faith. However, I’m abandoning the discussion for lack of progress. I’ve been piling up the reasons for expecting bias from Coyne, and your response is, “the only reason to label Coyne an ‘extremist activist’ is that he disagrees with you and acts on those beliefs.” If that is your sincere evaluation after all that has been said, then your position seems utterly impervious to any amount of supporting argument on my part, and I give up. I honestly have no idea what it would take to shake your faith in Coyne.

  42. Koho says:

    Wow – judging by the length and vehemence of these comments, based on *absolutely no one* having read the book, Jerry Coyne must have hit the nail right on the head.

  43. Michael says:

    LOL. Are you expecting some novel, powerful “science and religion are incompatible” argument?? Coyne has been making these arguments for years. If his book has some new and powerful argument, feel free to float it here so it can be refuted with the rest of his intellectual slop. 😉

  44. pulseteresa says:

    What hilarious nonsense! A rambling horribly argued review of a book synopsis pawned off as a rambling horribly argued review of the book. Never underestimate the liars for Jesus (which, it should go without saying, is not all Christians). Pathetic, sad, and shameful.

  45. Michael says:

    What hilarious nonsense! A rambling horribly argued review of a book synopsis pawned off as a rambling horribly argued review of the book.

    Huh? I thought I made it clear I was responding to the official book promo description: “On Amazon, his book is described as follows:[….]”
    Can you point out where I pawned it off as a book review?

    Never underestimate the liars for Jesus (which, it should go without saying, is not all Christians).

    Name-calling. How predictable.

    Pathetic, sad, and shameful.

    Are you implying the official book promo description is misleading?

  46. As an evolution supporter, I wholeheartedly detest Jerry Coyne. He seems to be interested in criticizing religion in general, then giving any real teaching about evolution. Hopefully one day, they publish a book called Jerry Coyne vs. Real Facts: Why Jerry Coyne is Wrong on Science and Religion.

  47. George Locke says:

    He’s interested in attacking religion _because_ it prevents people from accepting the truth, e.g. evolution.

    Where do you think anti-evolution sentiment comes from?

  48. Kevin says:

    George,

    Francis Collins is a distinguished scientist who has made it one of his priorities to reconcile people’s Christian beliefs with evolution. Coyne trashes Collins’ efforts (despite Collins being a far better scientist).

    So, is the problem getting Coyne’s panties in a twist the fact that some forms of Christianity deny evolution (which really harms no one), or is it that Coyne is an anti-religious bigot first and foremost? The evidence supports the latter.

  49. TFBW says:

    In the case of Coyne, I’m not even convinced that his pro-evolution stance is based primarily on the evidence. After all, his early conversion to atheism has given him plenty of motivation to accept evolution. You can be a theistic evolutionist, but you can’t be an atheistic creationist.

  50. Michael says:

    Francis Collins is a distinguished scientist who has made it one of his priorities to reconcile people’s Christian beliefs with evolution. Coyne trashes Collins’ efforts (despite Collins being a far better scientist).

    So, is the problem getting Coyne’s panties in a twist the fact that some forms of Christianity deny evolution (which really harms no one), or is it that Coyne is an anti-religious bigot first and foremost? The evidence supports the latter.

    Good point. People like Dawkins and Coyne don’t care if people accept evolution. In their superficial little minds, if you accept evolution, you are supposed to become an atheist.

  51. flies01 says:

    “So, is the problem getting Coyne’s panties in a twist the fact that some forms of Christianity deny evolution (which really harms no one), or is it that Coyne is an anti-religious bigot first and foremost?”

    Coyne’s claim is that faith predisposes you to deny facts. I say again, where do you think anti-evolution sentiment comes from?

    For Coyne, defending evolution without addressing the religious motivation for denial is like bailing water out of a boat without plugging the leak.

  52. flies01 says:

    “People like Dawkins and Coyne don’t care if people accept evolution. In their superficial little minds, if you accept evolution, you are supposed to become an atheist.”

    Two things: both Coyne and Dawkins oppose theism, so they’d both say, “you are supposed to become an atheist,” regardless of whether you accept evolution. And, it’s hard to imagine why they would have written their pop-sci evolution books if they didn’t care about whether people understood and believed in evolutionary science.

  53. Michael says:

    And, it’s hard to imagine why they would have written their pop-sci evolution books if they didn’t care about whether people understood and believed in evolutionary science.

    No it’s not. They are both atheist activists who believe that if someone accepts evolution, it will ultimately lead to an embrace of atheism. Thus, it is easy to imagine that they view writing pop sci books about evolution as a form of proselytization for atheism. That’s why they are both deeply annoyed by us theists who accept evolution.

  54. George Locke says:

    it seems like my replies are getting held up in moderation…

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