As part of his book promo efforts, Gnu activist Jerry Coyne was interviewed by Gnu activist Sam Harris (the podcast is on Harris’s blog). It’s probably not worth your time to listen to the interview (as I did) largely because a) not much time is devoted to talking about Coyne’s book; b) very little is said that hasn’t been written about on blogs and c) worst of all, Harris doesn’t seem to understand what an interview is, as about half the podcast is Harris pontificating with his own views, opinions, and arguments in their mutual exercise of back-patting.
But there is one small section of the podcast that is significant, where it looks like Coyne’s version of the “Incompatibility Argument” is going to follow in the footsteps of Peter Boghossian and rely on some rather twisted, idiosyncratic definitions. For example, when talking about religion and science, Coyne says:
the two spheres approach their ways of finding truth in completely different manners and that’s what I define as compatibility, how you seek and find out whats real in the universe
Once again, I will remind people that the term compatible is most commonly defined as “able to exist together with something else.” That’s how I would define it and am quite confident that most of your would define it that way also.
Yet it appears that Coyne is trying to change the definition of compatible from “able to exist together” to “pretty much the same.” That is, the core reason Coyne seems to think science and religion are incompatible is because they approach reality differently. Yet of course they are different. No one ever claims religion is science and science is religion. Pointing out the two domains are different does not purchase the conclusion of incompatibility.
Coyne then argues that faith is the core of the incompatibility, insisting, “in science faith is a vice and in religion it is a virtue.” Coyne tells us it all thus comes down to faith.
So how does Coyne define faith?
“Belief without evidence sufficient to convince any reasonable person.”
So Coyne defines faith in a mushy, subjective sense that amounts to “I know it when I see it.” Afterall, who gets to decide if the evidence is “sufficient?” And who gets to decide if the person is being “reasonable?”
Interestingly enough, according to this definition of faith, it would appear the New Atheists themselves rely on faith. How so? Consider the common Gnu belief that “Religion is the Greatest Evil in the World.” This is a belief that Coyne, Harris, and Dawkins adhere to. It is such an important belief that it serves as the primary motivator for all their activism. But, according to Coyne’s definition, it looks like faith given they have failed to convince the vast majority of the world with their evidence. Never forget that Gnu atheists are only a small fraction of all atheists. And all atheists are only a small fraction of the Nones. And the Nones are a small fraction of the global population. Given that such a tiny minority of people hold to this Gnu belief, we really have only two possible explanations:
1. People like Coyne and Harris, and their followers like Craig Hicks, are the only reasonable people on the planet since only they think the evidence is sufficient.
2. People like Coyne and Harris, and their followers, rely on faith. That is, the evidence for their belief has failed to convince that huge fraction of the population of reasonable people.
The fatal flaw in Coyne’s reasoning is that he doesn’t seem to understand the limitations of science. The reason someone can be a scientist and a theist, for example, is because science cannot tell us whether or not God exists. Coyne would disagree, as he has done so before, but his arguments fail (as I have shown). Yet there is an easy way for any reader to know that I am right. Ask yourself one simple question – how many scientific studies have been published by Coyne that have falsified the existence of God? None. Has Harris, or Dawkins, or PZ Myers, or Pinker, or any other Gnu scientist ever published the results of a scientific experiment that has falsified the existence of God? Nope. In fact, not one Gnu scientist has ever published a scientific study that attempted to address the existence of God.
Keep in mind that people like Coyne and Dawkins are extremely motivated to falsify the existence of God. Given their skills and careers as scientists, and given their extreme motivations, how is it that not a single one has ever published a single peer-reviewed scientific study that has shown God does not exist? How do you explain that? Easy. Science cannot determine whether or not God exists. That is why Gnu scientists have to rely on armchair philosophy, published in popular books or on the internet, to make their case instead of relying on their experimental results.
If you think about it, the fact that Coyne has to write and promote a word salad instead of pointing to all the data he generated during his scientific career should clue you in to the vacuous nature of his claims.
Finally, the podcast does have one noteworthy quote from Professor Coyne. Toward the end, Coyne and Harris reassure each other they are right when it comes to the topic of free will. It’s all the same arguments we have heard before. But at one point, Coyne notes how he and Harris hold to such a distinctly minority position and attributes this to the powerful sense of agency we all have. Harris tries to correct him by preaching about meditation and how meditation helps us discover the illusory nature of the sense of agency.
That’s a level of spiritual advancement I haven’t attained yet.
Perhaps Coyne should attend one of Harris’s meditation seminars.