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.

So Coyne’s willingness to include miracles/gaps in science runs contrary to mainstream views of science. What’s more, it runs into two major problems:

  1. Coyne speaks of “documenting” these miracles. Yet with many of his examples, he fails to explain HOW science would go about documenting a miracle and reaching the conclusion that a miracle truly occurred.
  2. Coyne doesn’t seem to understand “documenting” something doesn’t really capture the essence of science. Science is concerned with explaining phenomena in terms of cause-and-effect, where the cause of one effect can be the effect of another cause. Science is thus focused on how things work and how things are connected – a focus on mechanisms. If Coyne introduces gaps into science, he has radically redefined science such that the focus on explanation and mechanism has been suspended. A scientist would want to understand the mechanism behind the miracle – how did that face of Jesus materialize on Mt. Rushmore. If the cause is supernatural, how could scientists, trained to use natural laws to derive explanations, ever hope to probe the mechanism of this miracle?

In the end, Coyne’s argument about incorporating the supernatural into science is a train wreck. This should not be a surprise given that Coyne never bothered to define “science” and “supernatural,” has never published a single scientific study that addresses a supernatural cause, and shifts the focus from “science” to the observations/beliefs of scientists.

At this point, Drange says something that is quite pertinent

Scientists can claim that miracles occur, but when they do so, they do so only as laypersons, not as scientists.

Coyne is free to embrace a miracle as a person, but when doing so, despite the fact that he is a scientist, science is not incorporating the miracle.

A miracle does not need to be documented by science or incorporated into science to have happened.

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

  1. chicagoja says:

    These kinds of debates go nowhere because neither side can ever prove their case. Non-believers will forever be trying to prove a negative and believers will never convince anybody unless God were to hold a press conference to announce his existence (and maybe not even then). Both sides try to use science to bolster their case which is fruitless because science is a process of observation and measurement (of the observable universe) and therefore scientists will never be able to do anything other than theorize about what lies beyond space and time. So scientists like Coyne or Stephen Hawking will be forever pretending that science can answer all of man’s questions. Hawking, of course, coined the expression,”One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.” His arrogance is simply astounding.

  2. Michael says:

    Hawking, of course, coined the expression,”One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.”

    The problem with celebrity scientists is that no one ever seems to ask them challenging questions. In this case, one simply needed to ask Hawking “What would make God necessary?” At that point, his answer would be along the lines of something science cannot explain. In other words, a gap. At that point, ask him, “Is God of the Gaps reasoning a legitimate form of reasoning in science?” At that point, the celebrity scientist is stumped.

  3. chicagoja says:

    In other words, he does not use the scientific method, right?

  4. Dinklage says:

    “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.”

    Exactly. Miracles occur precisely when/where those laws of nature break, so a scientific understanding in terms of laws is impossible. Honestly, what is Coyne doing? If he “can’t bother” to get anything right, he should have the decency to keep his mouth shut.

  5. chicagoja says:

    Actually, a miracle could be viewed as something that occurs that is outside of our ability to understand. In that case, our understanding of the laws of nature should be considered incomplete. Science is always changing so it should as no great shock to anyone that we do not fully understand the laws of nature. Besides, there is more to creation/nature than just our little three dimensional bubble. Quantum physics says that there are other worlds with other laws of physics which interpenetrate our world. These interactions/synchronicities should be viewed, perhaps, as miracles.

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