Negative Reviews of “Faith vs. Fact” Keep Coming In

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.

Well stated!

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. 😉

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5 Responses to Negative Reviews of “Faith vs. Fact” Keep Coming In

  1. Ilíon says:

    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, …

    *gasp* Do you mean to say that the “religious fundamentalists” had his number from the get-go?

    Did you ever consder that just maybe you folk who look down your noses at the “religious fundamentalists” aren’t quite as bright as you think you are?

  2. TFBW says:

    Touché, Ilíon. Maybe I wasn’t sufficiently educated at the time, or maybe I was (and am) a religious fundamentalist, but I’ve never admired Richard Dawkins. I’ve always taken exception to his bad anti-theistic philosophy, which is present even in his first book, The Selfish Gene, where he invents the concept of a “meme” as a sophistical way to dismiss the entirety of religious thought without actually engaging any of it. He should have called that chapter, “The Selfish Genetic Fallacy.” There may be a book in which he doesn’t commit some such clanger of fallacious reasoning, but it’s far from rare.

    But anyhow, back to Coyne, since this post is about him and his book, not Dawkins. I have but one observation to make. Horgan said the following in his review.

    The arts, he argues, “cannot ascertain truth or knowledge,” and the humanities do so only to the extent that they emulate the sciences.

    So Coyne asserts that the arts cannot ascertain truth or knowledge. And how did Coyne come to know that there is no God? Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Do I need to elaborate on this point?

    At least when Dawkins commits clangers of fallacious reasoning, they are coated in sufficiently mellifluous prose that one might not notice what one has swallowed.

    [Footnote: I am indebted to Dawkins for introducing the word “mellifluous” to my vocabulary.]

  3. Cory C says:

    “So Coyne asserts that the arts cannot ascertain truth or knowledge. And how did Coyne come to know that there is no God? Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Do I need to elaborate on this point?”

    That is awesome! The lack of self-awareness on men like Coyne is remarkable.

  4. Ilíon says:

    [Footnote: I am indebted to Dawkins for introducing the word “mellifluous” to my vocabulary.]

    His voice-and-accent alone, knowing nothing else about him, creeps me.

  5. Dhay says:

    Another negative review of FvF has just (20 January 2016) been published by the philosopher Edward Feser. The original article, which includes such delicious and apt comments as “Reading Coyne trying to do something as simple as defining his terms is like watching him play tennis with himself. And losing.” is at: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/02/omnibus-of-fallacies

    What I especially savour is the first comment, by Eric Macdonald, on Feser’s blog:

    Wonderful demolition of Coyne’s book. I’ve been telling Coyne that this is what he has been doing for so long that I’ve lost count of the times that I have regaled him with similar criticisms. Coyne is completely out of his element in philosophy.

    Coyne’s work is, I’m afraid (not speaking of his biological specialty) simply a mare’s nest of contradictions, failure to define his terms, and simple ad hominem abuse. I am told that he acknowledges me in his intro. Well, trust me, if he takes responsibility for his failures, they really are all his!

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/review-of-coyne.html

    Damning comments indeed, from the man who had tried to teach Coyne philosophy and theology.

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