Jerry Coyne’s book has not received many reviews yet, but two recent reviews have been quite negative. First, John Horgan reviews the book for the Wall Street Journal and skewers Coyne with some rather humorous insights:
Mr. Coyne castigates not only religious believers but even non-believers less hostile to religion than he is. He reviles “accommodationism,” the notion that science and religion can find common ground. This view, he claims, “gives unwarranted credibility to faith, a credibility that, at its extremes, is responsible for many human deaths and might ultimately contribute to the demise of our own species and much other life on Earth.” If we don’t all agree with Mr. Coyne, in other words, we’re doomed.
Than one made me laugh out loud when I read it. But it would make sense that someone who thinks it should be illegal to raise a child in a faith tradition would also try to blame religion for the extinction of humanity.
Another good one from Horgan:
Mr. Coyne overlooks any positive consequences of religion, such as its role in anti-slavery, civil-rights and anti-war movements. He inflates religion’s contribution to public resistance toward vaccines, genetically modified food and human-induced global warming. Conversely, he absolves science of responsibility for any adverse consequences, such as weapons and ideologies of mass destruction. “The compelling force that produced nuclear weapons, gunpowder, and eugenics was not science but people.” Right. Science doesn’t kill people; people kill people.
If science does something good, it is science. If science does something bad, it is people. Got it.
Mr. Coyne repeatedly reminds us that science, unlike religion, promotes self-criticism, but he is remarkably lacking in this virtue himself. He rejects complaints that some modern scientists are guilty of “scientism,” which I would define as excessive trust—faith!—in science. Calling scientism “a grab bag of disparate accusations that are mostly inaccurate or overblown,” Mr. Coyne insists that the term “be dropped.”
Actually, “Faith vs. Fact” serves as a splendid specimen of scientism. Mr. Coyne disparages not only religion but also other human ways of engaging with reality. The arts, he argues, “cannot ascertain truth or knowledge,” and the humanities do so only to the extent that they emulate the sciences. This sort of arrogance and certitude is the essence of scientism.
Another review comes from biology professor Darrel Falk, who used to be president of the BioLogos Foundation (which is probably not good for Coyne’s blood pressure).
Falk notices something I predicted – Coyne does not come to us and this topic as a scholar:
There is every reason to greatly respect Jerry Coyne as an evolutionary geneticist and a successful communicator of the precepts of evolutionary biology for a general audience. His book, “Why Evolution is True” cogently lays out the many ways in which the science of biology makes it abundantly clear that all living organisms were formed through evolutionary processes. This book is different, however. This is a book about science and religion, with a focus on Christianity. He especially zeroes in on what he calls the “accommodationist” branch of Christianity—that branch which accepts the tenets of evolutionary biology, while maintaining that the tenets of orthodox Christianity, including evangelicalism remain intact. In attempting to accomplish this particular purpose, the book is unscholarly and not what one ought to expect of a person highly steeped in the rigors of scientific investigation. True, he has read broadly, but he has not read deeply and his criticism of those who seek to accommodate science, and the disciplines of Christian theology and biblical hermeneutics are superficial. I’ll give a few examples of what I mean.(emphasis added)
After going through a couple of examples, Falk ends with this:
Much more could be written about why this book ought not serve Jerry Coyne’s reputation as a scholar well. Still, for atheists looking for more superficial ammunition to lob in the direction of Christian thought, it will be well-received. However, for those who genuinely seek truth, my hope is that they will recognize that skimming the surface is not the same as digging deep; carefully considering an alternative view and writing a book on it is not the same as concluding in advance that those views are crazy and seeking through superficial means to show why. Jerry Coyne decided at the age of 17 while listening to the Beatles that there was no God. Since then he’s become a great evolutionary geneticist, but when it comes to being a well-informed atheist, I think he’s still that same 17 year old boy listening through his headphones to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Love that last point! In fact, that’s something else I noticed some time ago.
Let me repeat another point I have made before – New Atheism is bad for a scientist’s reputation. We can see that clearly in the case of Richard Dawkins, who was once highly respected and admired by anyone who was a) educated and b) not a religious fundamentalist. These days, however, Dawkins has become something of a joke and its because of the dumb and extreme things he has said while zealously promoting New Atheism. Coyne himself is now at risk. He has written a book that stakes out an extremist position that is shared only by the wingnut, Madalyn Murray O’Hair branch of the atheist blogosphere and dead communists from the Soviet Union. So there are two possibilities before us. Either Coyne will succeed in getting a huge surge from the scientific community to join him in the fight against The Great Evil (known as religion). Or, he will have made it clear to more and more that he is part of some oddball extremist fringe that very few people want to be associated with. Only time will tell. 😉