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?

As I explained in the previous message, making an observation does not qualify as science. If Jerry Coyne observed a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus, it might indeed have a great impact on Jerry Coyne, but we could not say from his observation that “science has detected the existence of Jesus.”

Ah, but maybe the science comes in at this point – “and this apparition were convincingly documented.” If so, Coyne provides no clue as to how science is supposed to document an apparition of a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus. Let’s say a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus appeared to the residents of New York City on June 19, 2009. How would science document this? By taking testimony from witnesses? You mean, like interviewing people who have seen UFOs? That’s not science.

Perhaps science can convincingly document the apparition by gathering photographs. You mean, like photos of UFOs? That’s not science.

Let’s say that the National Enquirer has a picture of the nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus and it convinces Coyne and his colleagues to fall on their knees with hosannas. Does this mean the National Enquirer is now part of the scientific community? And one also has to wonder why Coyne and his colleagues are so quick to fall on their knees. How did they use science to determine the nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus was really Jesus? How did they rule out the possibility that some intergalactic alien youths were playing a practical joke on the people in New York?

So while Coyne tells us that supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science, his leading example completely fails to support his claim. Observing a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus does not qualify as science for the simple reason that any observation, by itself, is not science. And when it came to convincingly documenting the apparition, Coyne does not provide a single clue as to how science would do this.

Coyne also writes: “In a common error, Giberson confuses the strategic materialism of science with an absolute commitment to a philosophy of materialism. He claims that “if the face of Jesus appeared on Mount Rushmore with God’s name signed underneath, geologists would still have to explain this curious phenomenon as an improbable byproduct of erosion and tectonics.” Nonsense.”

Actually, Giberson has a much better handle on science that does Coyne. Lets’s imagine that we wake up tomorrow, turn on the TV, and find reporters from all over the world excitedly showing pictures of Mt. Rushmore which now has a fifth head that appeared sometime during the night – the face of Jesus with God’s name signed underneath. Millions of Christians would see this as a sign from God and when Coyne himself traveled to see it in person, he would fall on his knees (so he claims).

But what about the role of science?

Remember that Coyne has never defined “science” and has shifted the focus from science to the perspectives of those who happen to be scientists. So consider which of the following sentences would best describe this embrace of God belief in relation to science:

A. We have found something that science cannot explain – a miracle.

B. Science has determined that God made the face on the mountain.

I think it obvious that just about everyone would adopt position A and view the face of Jesus on Mount Rushmore with God’s name signed underneath as a sign from God precisely because science could not account for it. If anyone would favor position B, their burden is to outline how science actually determined God made the face on the mountain without stealing from the logic of (A).

Coyne also adds:

There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature. And it explains why so many scientists, who have learned to disregard God as an explanation, have also discarded him as a possibility.”

At this point you should notice the pattern: nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus, a spontaneous appearance of Jesus’s face on Mt. Rushmore, people being healed of blindness and raised from the dead, etc. Coyne is thus willing to redefine science to include supernatural causation if only he can witness a MIRACLE. Coyne believes science can incorporate miracles as long as science can somehow “document” their occurrence.
In other words, Coyne is like the scientist who outlined his “explanation” on the board:

As long as he is personally convinced of the miracle, and the miracle explains something science cannot explain, Coyne feels no need to be more explicit and includes it in science.

So, to make the case that science can incorporate supernatural causation, it turns out that Coyne is arguing that scientists (people) who witness miracles can include such miracles in their science (the process). The only problem, says Coyne, is that no clear miracles have been documented.

Since Coyne believes that, in principle, miracles have a place in science, I’m not sure he realizes just how far out on a limb he is. Let’s see what happens next.

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