Steven Pinker “Reviews” Coyne’s Book

It should be no surprise that New Atheist Steven Pinker would help promote the book of his fellow culture warrior, Jerry Coyne, with a positive review.

Pinker begins his review with some historical revisionism:

Between 2005 and 2007, a quartet of bestsellers by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens launched the New Atheism. Emboldened by the growing success of science in explaining the world (including our own minds), inspired by new research on the sources of religious belief, and galvanized by the baleful influence of religion in world affairs (particularly 9/11 and its aftermath), these Four Horsemen of the New Atheism — as they came to be called — pressed the case that God does not exist and that many aspects of organized religion are pernicious.

While New Atheists often try to cloud the issues by pretending that only religious people use the term “New Atheism,” we can clearly see that Steven Pinker himself has publicly acknowledged the existence of New Atheism. Yet the launch of New Atheism had nothing to do with “the growing success of science” or “new research.” It was all built on a knee-jerk reaction to 911. Sam Harris was the first to publish and he explains it clearly:

In my criticism of religion, I’m not reacting against any kind of fundamentalist upbringing; but nor was I told that there was no God. It really was not a subject of conversation. So my rather strident criticism of religion is really a product of very recent events. In my case, it’s September 11, 2001. So my upbringing isn’t so informative of my views at the moment.

Pinker then begins the attack on the “accommodationists” and “faitheists,” using Coyne’s faulty thinking about science to promote his militant atheism.

Pinker writes:

As with Michael Corleone’s offer to Nevada Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather Part II, Coyne’s offer to religion on the part of science is this: Nothing. This sounds more imperialistic and scientistic than it really is, because Coyne defi nes ‘science’ broadly, to encompass any system of belief grounded by reason and evidence, rather than faith. On this defi nition, many of the humanities, such as history and philosophy, count as ‘science’, not just the traditional physical and social sciences.

In other words, to mask the imperialistic and scientistic core of Coyne’s views, we have to sneakily dumb down the definition of science so that it is nothing more than “any system of belief grounded by reason and evidence.” This attempt to spin science “broadly” is rooted in intellectual dishonesty and this is easy to show.

First, my critiques of New Atheism and New Atheist leaders are grounded by reason and evidence. Thus, my critiques, and this blog, are science. It’s not Michael who criticizes the New Atheists and finds them wanting. It is science that criticizes the New Atheists and finds them wanting. Do you think Pinker is willing to acknowledge this given it falls out of the broad definition of science? Get serious. Rather than follow through on Coyne’s logic and acknowledge Shadow To Light is science, Pinker would stutter and stammer and then begin to furiously backpedal toward a definition of science that is not quite so broad.

Second, when it comes time to promoting the success of science, Pinker abandons the “broad” definition:

But Coyne’s own philosophy is more pragmatic than foundational: science works. It makes valid predictions, from hominin fossils to the cosmic background radiation, and it allows us to change the world, from curing urinary tract infections to putting a man on the moon.

Hominin fossils. Cosmic background radiation. Curing urinary tract infections. Putting men on the moon. Hmmmm. All examples of the physical sciences. Nothing from the social sciences, let alone the humanities is cited.

That Coyne and Pinker run so quickly from their “broad” definition of science when it suits them tells us this attempt to redefine science does not come from an appreciation of the value of science. After all, people who appreciate the value of science don’t try to redefine it so it can be used as a club in their socio-political wars.

Pinker then engages in some self-serving posturing:

This intransigence is not a quibble over the meaning of the word ‘science’; it’s a statement of how people with any appreciation of the value of science ought to fix their beliefs. They should treat all claims with skepticism, and provisionally accept only those that are warranted by arguments and evidence that anyone can recognize. They should not accept claims on the grounds of revelation, doctrine, authority, tribal solidarity, subjective appeal, or no reason at all — that is, on faith.

Is Pinker admitting he does not appreciate the value of science? After all, he is part of a movement whose leaders argue that a religious upbringing is child abuse. Where is Pinker’s skepticism? Where are the arguments and evidence to warrant such a crackpot position? What’s more, Pinker was part of the New Atheist group effort to smear Francis Collins and prevent him from heading the NIH over six years ago. Two years ago, I dissected Pinker’s malicious attack, which amounted to stereotypes, quote-mining, and fear-mongering. Yet six years after the attack, Pinker has still not acknowledged he was wrong nor has he apologized. Some appreciation for the value of science, eh?

Pinker/Coyne continue to undermine science by insisting science is capable of determining whether or not God exists. Pinker repeats some of Coyne’s talking points:

It could have contained uncannily prescient truths such as “thou shalt not travel faster than light” or “two strands entwined is the secret of life.” A bright light might appear in the heavens one day and a man clad in white robe and sandals, supported by winged angels, could descend from the sky, give sight to the blind, and resurrect the dead. We might discover that intercessory prayer can restore hearing or re-grow amputated limbs, or that anyone who speaks the Prophet Mohammed’s name in vain is immediately struck down by lightning, while those who pray to Allah five times a day are free from disease and misfortune.

Big problem. Pinker and Coyne don’t tell us WHY any of this would count as scientific evidence for God. Anyone who appreciates the value of science would understand that such a connection is essential to the core of science. Yet neither man seems interested in making it. Why is that? Because the connection entails the validity of God of the Gaps logic. That is, the only reason science could embrace the “God did it” explanation for any of these phenomena is because science would have no possible natural explanation. So is Pinker admitting that God of the Gaps reasoning has a place in science? But he just doesn’t want to be so obvious about the concession?

It’s pretty clear to me that the militant atheism of Jerry Coyne and Steven Pinker has damaged their brain’s ability to think like scientists. Such empirical events would not be scientific evidence for God. The most science can say is “There is no natural explanation for how or why such events occurred.” Such miracles could be personal/philosophical evidence for God that would extend from the fact that science could not explain them. In other words, while God of the Gaps reasoning has no place in science, and is not part of science, it could be used outside of science – in the realm of philosophy or theology. Pinker and Coyne seem incapable of escaping their confusion about these matters.

In the end, Pinker simply helps highlight what is fatally flawed with Coyne’s thesis – it redefines science in an arbitrary and harmful manner and tries to shoehorn God of the Gaps logic into science. Ironically, while Coyne and Pinker earn attention and money as Defenders of Science, they promote lines of thinking that undermine science, converting it into something so mundane that is no different from my own blog, while insisting “God did it!” is a possible explanation to consider as part of science.

As someone who truly does appreciate the value of science, I find their posturing inexcusable.

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22 Responses to Steven Pinker “Reviews” Coyne’s Book

  1. Dhay says:

    Steven Pinker is the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. His book argues that violent death rates per capita were very high in prehistoric and early historic times, and have progressively declined under the influence of modernity – the Enlightenment, the increase of secularism and the decline of religion. The Amazon blurb includes:

    Steven Pinker shows violence within and between societies – both murder and warfare – really has declined from prehistory to today. We are much less likely to die at someone else’s hands than ever before. Even the horrific carnage of the last century, when compared to the dangers of pre-state societies, is part of this trend.

    Looks like all-out nuclear war wasn’t factored into Pinker’s low figures for modern times, though I do not understand why not: what I do understand is the world came inadvertently very close to all-out nuclear war at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, then again in 1983 when a Soviet computerised risk assessment system declared the US was about to attack. If the death toll of all-out nuclear war would have been, say, 400 million, and the likelihood of that war and that death toll was, say, 50%, I reckon Pinker should have added in 200 million to his 20th Century death toll; or if it was a mere 10% likelihood, 40 million deaths; but not nothing, definitely not nothing; heck, human extinction has been suggested as being a quite likely outcome, and that’s hundreds of millions of allegedly narrowly-avoided deaths at more or less any likelihood.

    By ignoring deaths which, yes, didn’t actually happen, but didn’t actually happen only by the lucky happenstance of individuals and institutions that teetered but never quite tripped on the brink of disaster, Pinker has a) used poor methodology and b) ended up with arguably very distorted figures.

    But that’s my personal take on just one of Pinker’s egregious errors: there’s lots more, and there’s people better qualified than me to spot them.

    Here’s an article which, I think authoritatively demolishes the idea that 20th Century death rates per capita were anywhere like as low as Pinker claims; the authors accuse Pinker of using what looks like every trick in the book to distort the modern figures downwards, and the following example is but one of the many, many distortions perpetrated by this “transparent, but apparently unconscious, ideologue”:

    … in Figure 5-6, two armed conflicts stand out for their deadliness: The First and Second World Wars. But as this confutes the declining-violence-half of Pinker’s narrative, he urges readers to “Cover up the two outliers with your thumb” in order to produce the impression he wants to sustain: That the alleged “randomness” of these wars renders their timing and deadliness irrelevant to understanding them. Voila! The two World Wars were “statistical illusions.”

    http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/12/steven-pinker-on-the-alleged-decline-of-violence/

    The message I get, and very strongly, is that Pinker deliberately and systematically eschews and distorts facts in order to somehow, anyhow, support his ideological faith in modernity.

    Then there’s the contrasting violence Pinker alleges was prevalent in pre-history:

    The whole argument rests on the assumption, never proven and much in dispute, that violence and warfare have diminished since the Neolithic transition. This is, for the most part, progressivist and Panglossian bullshit coming from people like Steven Pinker. In “Pinker’s List: Exaggerating Prehistoric War Mortality” (2013) (pdf), anthropologist Brian Ferguson meticulously demonstrates this fact.

    http://genealogyreligion.net/war-progressive-faith

    Here’s a link to Ferguson’s “Pinker’s List” pdf article, which examines the archaeological evidence (grave data) used by Pinker, and which blows Pinker’s allegations of prehistoric violent death being common quite out of the water; here’s part of the Conclusion:

    Is this sample representative of war death rates among prehistoric populations?
    Hardly. It is a selective compilation of highly unusual cases, grossly distorting war’s antiquity and lethality. The elaborate castle of evolutionary and other theorizing that rises on this sample is built upon sand. Is there an alternative way of assessing the presence of war in prehistory, and of evaluating whether making war is the expectable expression of evolved tendencies to kill? Yes. Is there archaeological evidence indicating war was absent in entire prehistoric regions and for millennia? Yes.

    http://genealogyreligion.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/pdf.pdf

    The message I get once again, and very strongly, is that Pinker deliberately and systematically eschews and distorts facts in order to somehow, anyhow, support his ideological faith in modernity.

    This has been a long response, so it’s time to summarise: Pinker has shown himself incapable of letting the facts of pre-history overcome his personal strong faith in the values of modernity, Pinker has shown himself incapable of letting the facts of modern history overcome his personal strong faith in the values of modernity; he consistently allows his faith that modernity “must” have resulted in a reduction of violence over history to trump the relevant facts – which say violence has increased.

    With Pinker’s inability to elevate fact over personal faith so plainly demonstrated by his own book and by his own book’s critics, it is highly ironic that Pinker should review Jerry Coyne’s book, Faith vs. Fact: Pinker doesn’t value fact over faith himself.

  2. Dhay says:

    In his blog post dated July 6, 2015, entitled, “Brother Tayler reviews Faith versus Fact“, Jerry Coyne declares:

    I am collecting reviews of Faith versus Fact (sadly, there haven’t been many so far), and will eventually call attention to both the good ones and bad ones. I won’t try to refute the bad ones—I learned from Nick Cohen not to answer critics), but I think that if I highlight good ones, it’s only fair to call attention to the bad ones. …

    That’s a commendable attitude.

    How’s it panning out, though? Coyne was quick to link to Steven Pinker’s favourable review, dated 3rd August; yet if Coyne has drawn attention to Nick Peters’ five-part unfavourable review at Deeper Waters — the longest and most detailed I have so far seen — I have missed him doing so.

    http://deeperwaters.ddns.net/?p=8738 (There are links at the end to the other four parts.)

    Perhaps Coyne only intended, and intends, to call attention to reviews in major newspapers or in journals; but there was a basically unfavourable review in the Washington Post, dated 3rd August, which I found out about through one of Coyne’s own commenters (to the Pinker review post.)

    Since Coyne is slow to do so, allow me to call your attention to:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/science-and-theology/2015/08/03/77136504-19ca-11e5-bd7f-4611a60dd8e5_story.html?wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1

  3. Dhay says:

    Steven Pinker > In several sections, Coyne plays the ultimate empiricist trump card: data from Greg Paul showing that the godless democracies of northern and western Europe are thriving, while the religious ones — most pointedly the United States — have far higher rates of societal dysfunction, such as violent crime, preventable disease, and mediocre education.

    As a Briton, and a member of one of those relatively “godless democracies of northern and western Europe”, I would expect the alleged “far higher rate of societal dysfunction” of the United States to correlate far better with the commitment of Right and Left alike to what is, to European eyes, an astonishingly extreme level of unbridled Capitalism and a corresponding lack of commitment to social justice.

    But Pinker and Coyne (and I) are merely speculating: for the data to be “the ultimate empiricist trump card” that Pinker claims it is, Coyne has to show causation, including identifying and explaining the mechanism of causation; mere speculation is … mere speculation.

  4. Dhay says:

    Steven Pinker > Coyne defines ‘science’ broadly, to encompass any system of belief grounded by reason and evidence, rather than faith.

    In this rather vacuous definition of ‘science’, science is incompatible only with fideism.

    Perhaps Jerry Coyne’s book should more accurately have been entitled, Fedeism Versus Fact: Why Science and Fideism Are Incompatible.”

  5. Dhay says:

    Dhay > Perhaps Coyne only intended, and intends, to “collect” and call attention to reviews in major newspapers or in journals; but there …

    … is now a rather interesting unfavourable review by fellow evolutionary biologist Austin L. Hughes, entitled “Faith, Fact, and False Dichotomies”, in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society.

    Since Coyne is slow to do so, allow me to call your attention to: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/faith-fact-and-false-dichotomies

  6. Dhay says:

    Steven Pinker > [Jerry] Coyne’s final chapter is called “Why Does it Matter?”. The ultimate appeal of belief in belief is that religion is needed (at least by other people) as a bulwark against selfishness, shallowness, and immorality. Coyne replies that agreed-upon moral precepts, such as telling the truth and not harming others, are rules for living together that any intelligent gregarious beings would put into their social contracts, needing no divine sanction.

    The emboldened bit — my emboldening — is just plain wrong. A cousin of mine was at a UK Department of Trade and Industry seminar recently, where the lecturer posed the teaching question:

    You are in a car being driven by a family member, who knocks down and kills an elderly gentleman. When the Police arrive and interview you, do you tell the truth?

    My cousin and the others there would all have told the truth; but apparently “the further South you go, the more acceptable and normal it is to lie to protect your family, your tribe, your friends, and those in whatever other social in-groups you belong to.”

    Such ‘honour-shame’ societies, societies where telling the truth is secondary in importance and definitely subordinate to prioritising defending your in-group (because if you don’t look out for them, nobody else will, and nobody will look out for you) are to be found in huge swathes of the globe. Coyne’s glib assertion, echoed by Pinker, that “telling the truth” is one of the “rules for living together that any intelligent gregarious beings would put into their social contracts, can only come from, and be repeated by, someone very, very naive and very, very parochial. They should get out more.

    As regards “not harming others” being one of the “rules for living together that any intelligent gregarious beings would put into their social contracts”, Coyne and Pinker need to reflect on intelligent gregarious inner-city muggers; to reflect on Mutually Assured Destruction; and to either reconsider whether “not harming others” can truly be one of those rules, or to exclude knights in shining armour — in practice the pits of vicious depravity — from having been intelligent, gregarious, or both.

  7. TFBW says:

    I recommend “The New Atlantis” to which Dhay linked, above. I’ve also started reading a related article, “The Folly of Scientism”, but I’ll have to finish it later. It’s nice to read commentary from a scientist who recognises the shortcomings of his field, and has some appreciation for thought outside it. That sort of thing is all too rare these days.

  8. Kevin says:

    That review was awesome and will never appear on Coyne’s blog.

  9. Dhay says:

    In his blog post dated July 6, 2015, entitled, “Brother Tayler reviews Faith versus Fact“, Jerry Coyne declares:

    I am collecting reviews of Faith versus Fact (sadly, there haven’t been many so far), and will eventually call attention to both the good ones and bad ones. I won’t try to refute the bad ones—I learned from Nick Cohen not to answer critics), but I think that if I highlight good ones, it’s only fair to call attention to the bad ones. …

    That’s a commendable attitude.

    How’s it panning out, though? Well, the omissions from his readers’ attentions listed above remain omissions from his readers’ attentions; looks like “eventually” is probably “never” where most of the unfavourable reviews (or “bad ones”, as Coyne pejoratively puts it) are concerned.

    That intention didn’t last long, did it.

    > I won’t try to refute the bad ones …

    Odd, for Coyne has just spent 1412 words (or 2356 words if you add in Coyne’s inline quotations) “refuting” in detail a 1990-word combined unfavourable review of his Faith vs Fideism and favourable review of historian Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion. (See his blog dated August 9, 2015, entitled “A book review claims that there is no conflict between science and religion, but for dumb reasons”.)

    That intention didn’t last long, did it.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/a-book-review-claims-that-there-is-no-conflict-between-science-and-religion-but-for-an-unusual-reason/

    I expect the reason Coyne bothered with this review was that he convinced himself that the review “appeared in the Los Angeles Times.” It is typical of Coyne’s abysmal level of reading comprehension that he fails to understand what is actually very obvious: the review has never appeared in the Los Angeles Times, it was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

    In 71 comments so far, none of the commenters on Coyne’s blog has spotted Coyne’s rather obvious blunder; presumably they have all been taking his word on faith rather than checking fact.

  10. Dhay says:

    Evolutionary Psychology, Pinker’s speciality, is famous for its just-so stories, bollocks and bullshit, and as I have pointed out in my first response above that Pinker himself is guilty of providing just-so stories, bollocks and bullshit regarding warfare.

    Noting that the tail end of the previous article to Pinker’s in that Current Biology magazine issue shows a tribeswoman with a baby in a sling — this put me in mind of an entry in the ‘Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong evolutionary theory’, entitled, The crying game and sub-titled Infant distress vocalisation as a competitive advantage during violent conflict, which “explains” how prehistoric group-selection pressures led to current-day levels of babies irritatingly crying.
    Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm-sQnazFAQ

    Anthropologist Cris Campbell, whose interesting blog provided the ‘BAHFest’ link, comments that:

    If [the presenter] had substituted “religion” for “crying babies,” his presentation would have been taken seriously, and passed scientific muster, by those who argue that religion is a group level evolutionary adaptation that fosters social solidarity. It should go without saying, but it won’t, that such solidarity is said to “promote loyalty” and “foster altruism,” which is just a polite (or “scientific”) way of saying that religion, like crying babies, makes for fanatical warriors and competitive success. If you don’t believe me, just look at the models and maths.

    http://genealogyreligion.net/tag/crying-babies

    If I read this correctly, Campbell is warning that arguments that religion is an evolutionary biology phenomenon, group-selected for because it leads to greater success in warfare — such arguments are very probably as spurious and ill-founded as the argument that irritatingly crying babies are an evolutionary biology phenomenon, group-selected for because it leads to greater success in warfare.

    Which probably summarises very succinctly as: garbage in, garbage out.

  11. Dhay says:

    Dhay > Perhaps Jerry Coyne’s book should more accurately have been entitled, “Fedeism Versus Fact: Why Science and Fideism Are Incompatible.”

    In his blog post dated August 17, 2015 and entitled, “A new criticism of science as an exclusive “way of knowing””, Jerry Coyne says:

    … as I’ve argued before, “faith” in science really means “confidence based on experience”—which is not at all the same thing as religion’s “faith” as “belief without evidence.”
    [My emboldening]

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/a-new-criticism-of-science-as-an-exclusive-way-of-knowing/

    The “as argued before” linked to Coyne’s November 2013 Slate article which clarifies that for Coyne, “To state it bluntly, [religious] faith involves pretending to know things you don’t. Behind it is wish-thinking, as clearly expressed in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.””

    Ah, the one-liner to trump all counter-argument, and on a par with “… why are there still monkeys.” Hebrews 11:1 is the one-liner, prised from the voluminous works of the New Testament and Old, which is trotted out as a proof-text that Christian faith is “blind” faith, and that Christianity is Fideism.

    Coyne’s FvF misses its target because mis-aimed.

    So, relying not just on Steven Pinker’s review, but also on Coyne’s own words, it looks certain that Jerry Coyne’s book should more accurately have been entitled, “Fedeism Versus Fact: Why Science and Fideism Are Incompatible.”

  12. Dhay says:

    Or perhaps Jerry Cone’s book should have a different title altogether. In his blog dated August 21, 2015 and entitled “Templeton hosts a biology-and-faith conference where the outcome is—surprise!—predetermined”, Coyne says:

    O! What a wonderful and mutually supportive display of harmony between rationality and superstition! (My emphasis below):

    The organizers of the conference were delighted at the range of interests and backgrounds of attendees. Over a third were scholars and scientists; a significant portion were teachers; others were pastors. Disciplines represented included biblical studies and theology, paleontology and geology, biology and sociology. Many reported finding new ways of integrating their thinking about science and religion. One individual said, “Every speaker helped me to understand things better, to consider new ideas and prompt new questions.” “I am thrilled at what I heard and eager to learn more,” declared another.

    All in all, it was clear that people of faith can engage with contemporary science and discover that it informs and deepens their faith. There exists a profound hunger for more learning about evolution. The conference demonstrated this truth: evolutionary science and biblical faith can live together in productive harmony.

    Yes, you heard it: the conference demonstrated a truth. But is it really a truth? For some people, yes, though those people are suffering from cerebral compartmentalization of incompatible ways of apprehending truth. But not a single “incompatibilist” showed up, and I don’t see any young-earth creationists, either.

    Coyne really doesn’t like accomodationists™, does he. His problem is that the conference was packed with accomodationists™, people who see no incompatibility between Science (or “Fact” generally) and “Faith”, people who — contrary to the thesis of Coyne’s FvF — consider religion and science compatible, people who “are suffering from cerebral compartmentalization of [what Coyne alleges are] incompatible ways of apprehending truth.

    So who are the ones who stayed away? Who are the missing people who Coyne reckons would agree with the thesis of his book?.

    Coyne does tell us: “not a single “incompatibilist” showed up” — presumably he means free-will incompatibilists, which sounds rather like a euphemism for Coyne-type philosophical materialists; and he didn’t “see any young-earth creationists, either.”

    Looks like Coyne’s book might accurately have been entitled, “YEC Versus Free Will Incompatibilism: Why Philosophical Materialism and Fideism Are Incompatible.”

  13. TFBW says:

    The big irony about Coyne’s outlook is that it actually pits one kind of fideism against another: religious fideism versus scientistic fideism. The former is beholden to dogma pronounced by a religious priesthood who claim to know the truth through divine inspiration, and the latter is beholden to dogma pronounced by an intellectual priesthood who claim to know the facts through methods of superior human reason. And yes, those two kinds of fideism are quite incompatible, so at least his thesis makes sense in context. His major shortcoming is that he fails to recognise dogmatism in anyone except the religious, and is particularly blind to his own brand of it.

  14. Dhay says:

    Dhay > Looks like Coyne’s book might accurately have been entitled, “YEC Versus Free Will Incompatibilism: Why Philosophical Materialism and Fideism Are Incompatible.”

    Here’s the link I omitted: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/templeton-hosts-a-biology-and-faith-conference-where-the-outcome-is-surprise-predetermined/

    I’m wondering whether I should have better phrased it as:

    Looks like Coyne’s book might accurately have been entitled, “YEC Versus Free Will Incompatibilism: Why Extreme Philosophical Materialism and Extreme Biblical Literalism Are Incompatible.”

    Coyne reports that the few who would take his FvF book’s thesis seriously were not present. The many who were present, and who evidently much appreciated the conference and its content, would evidently not take his FvF book’s thesis seriously.

    Accomodationists™ are living testimony to Coyne’s failure to get his claims accepted by the community he most wants them accepted into. Accomodationists™ are living testimony to the general rejection of Coyne’s claims. No wonder that accomodationists™ are red rag to a bull for Coyne, and that he so consistently loses his rag at them; they are a slap in his face.

  15. Dhay says:

    Dhay (August 10) > It is typical of Coyne’s abysmal level of reading comprehension that he fails to understand what is actually very obvious: the review has never appeared in the Los Angeles Times, it was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

    In 71 comments so far, none of the commenters on Coyne’s blog has spotted Coyne’s rather obvious blunder; presumably they have all been taking his word on faith rather than checking fact.

    Ah, I see that on August 13 the Commenter who made the very latest of the so far 90 comments on Coyne’s blog spotted Coyne’s blunder. Well, this is evidence that one at least of Coyne’s commenters has a normal level of reading comprehension; or is it perhaps just evidence that one of Coyne’s commenters reads Shadow To Light responses.

  16. Dhay says:

    Steven Pinker > [Jerry Coyne] reiterates the point made by many philosophers that we don’t, in fact, ‘believe’ in reason; we use reason — as does, necessarily, anyone who raises the question of the validity of reason in the first place.

    Seems to me this makes just as much sense if, for “reason”, we substitute “free will” or “choice”.

  17. FZM says:

    Steven Pinker > In several sections, Coyne plays the ultimate empiricist trump card: data from Greg Paul showing that the godless democracies of northern and western Europe are thriving, while the religious ones — most pointedly the United States — have far higher rates of societal dysfunction, such as violent crime, preventable disease, and mediocre education.

    I wonder if the data he is refering to comes from Paul’s 2005 study? I recall reading this study some years ago. I seem to remember that the same issue of the journal in which it appeared contained another article by different academics highlighting that given the limitations of the methodology used to compile it it’s conclusions should probably be regarded as unreliable.

    Steven Pinker > As with Michael Corleone’s offer to Nevada Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather Part II, Coyne’s offer to religion on the part of science is this: Nothing. This sounds more imperialistic and scientistic than it really is, because Coyne defines ‘science’ broadly, to encompass any system of belief grounded by reason and evidence, rather than faith. On this defi nition, many of the humanities, such as history and philosophy, count as ‘science’, not just the traditional physical and social sciences.

    It’s interesting that this kind of broad definition of ‘science’ comes up again in Pinker’s review. This reminded me of something else which I remember thinking about when reading Paul’s study: for various reasons he chose to exclude from it the countries which until 1989-1992 were part of the USSR or Eastern Bloc.

    There were maybe some good reasons for this, but when looking generally at whether godlessness and a strong uncompromising commitment on the part of a government to ‘science’ and an atheistic ‘scientific worldview’ necessarily leads to a thriving society these examples would be relevant. This is especially the case when ‘science’ is defined in the broader sense outlined by Pinker. I can’t see how the Marxist-Leninist system of belief that prevailed in the USSR, for example, could easily be excluded from this kind of broad definition.

    Unless, perhaps, the definition of what constitutes true science and of what can truly be considered as grounded in reason and evidence is along the lines of ‘whatever contributes to maximising human well being/the Human Good’ etc. But I think this kind of definition raises issues of it’s own.

  18. TFBW says:

    Pinker’s quip about reason isn’t even true in any case. For one thing, radical postmodernists (for example) don’t “question the validity” of reason, since that is an expressly modern way of phrasing the matter. Rather, they assert something about “narratives”. For another, to say that he doesn’t “believe” in reason is to blow a smokescreen around the fact that he very much believes certain things about reason, such as what it is, what it produces, and who does and does not employ it in particular cases.

    In other words, I spy a tedious and entirely typical amount of deck-stacking and question-begging in that little quote.

  19. Doug says:

    For a good summary of Paul’s “study” (which Pinker uncritically accepts):
    https://web.archive.org/web/20061028200005/http://www.verumserum.com/?p=25

  20. Dhay says:

    In my first response I showed how Steven Pinker cherry-picks data abysmally to support the statistical results he wants to present; FZM and Doug have now demonstrated that Pinker follows Jerry Coyne in accepting Greg Paul’s statistics — themselves cherry-picked abysmally to support the statistical results Paul wants to present — without engaging his critical faculties.

    Makes you wonder whether Pinker (and Paul and Coyne) are capable of engaging their critical faculties and disagreeing with anything they want to be true — of eschewing their own ‘faith despite contrary evidence.’

    *

    Quoted from previous response > In his blog post dated August 17, 2015 and entitled, “A new criticism of science as an exclusive “way of knowing””, Jerry Coyne says:

    … as I’ve argued before, “faith” in science really means “confidence based on experience”—which is not at all the same thing as religion’s “faith” as “belief without evidence.”

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/a-new-criticism-of-science-as-an-exclusive-way-of-knowing/

    I have just rediscovered a blog post by aRemonstrant in which, in a detailed criticism of Peter Boghossian’s mangling of Hebrews 11:1 to force it into the Procrustean bed of the result Boghossian desires (contrary to the evidence, I note), namely to support his claim that in religion, “faith” is “belief without evidence.”

    Which Coyne has echoed without applying his critical faculties or hearing contrary evidence — it’s amazing how people so strident about using reason can be so mindless.

    The whole blog article is instructive, but these extracts will do for what I want to say:

    Notice the people mentioned as great examples of faith [in Hebrews 11]: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. When you look up these people’s stories in the OT you find that they had good reasons to believe God would accomplish his promises because most of them had seen God fulfill his promises in their lives before and most of them are recorded as having heard God call them. In some of these stories they appear to hear God in a very audible way. In other words, most of the people on this list had empirical evidence and experiences of God in the past which inspired their faith (strong conviction / belief). It is in this sense that their faith was being commended. Their faith remained even when they could not yet see evidence of what had been promised.
    [My emboldening.]

    What’s this? The writer is clearly appealing to a belief which was based in empirical evidence.

    There’s nothing here about faith meaning to be sure of what we believe despite evidence to the contrary. There’s nothing here about faith meaning to be certain of something that we have no reason to think is true.
    [Emboldening original.]

    https://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/a-manual-for-creating-atheists-part-3-2/

    Getting back to Coyne’s …

    … as I’ve argued before, “faith” in science really means “confidence based on experience”—which is not at all the same thing as religion’s “faith” as “belief without evidence.”

    … “faith” as “belief without evidence” is not religion’s “faith” — if Coyne (or any other) wants to argue it is, he will have to look to other evidence than Hebrews 11:1 to support his argument; aRemonstrant demonstrates that, actually, religion’s “faith” is “confidence based on experience”.

    Haven’t I seen that last before? Ah yes, Coyne said it about ‘science’s “faith”‘. Coyne has blundered — he would surely have cherry-picked some other definition had he realised it would yield identity instead of the desired outcome of polar opposition — into defining ‘“faith” in science’ as identical to ‘”faith” in religion.’

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