Jerry Coyne: Mighty Slayer of Straw Men

Another scientist, this time physicist Tom McLeish, has argued against the notion that science and religion are incompatible.  And sure enough, activist Jerry Coyne is again unnerved and feels the need to fire off a rapid response.

But before looking at his arguments, take a moment to consider the larger context.  Coyne is a well-respected scientist who has given so much thought to this issue that he actually wrote a book arguing for the incompatibility of science and religion. While the book itself was something of a flop that never gained any traction in the wider scientific or academic community, this does tell us that Coyne can be viewed as one of New Atheism’s experts on this topic.  In other words, what Coyne offers is among the best of the best when it comes to arguments insisting that science and religion are incompatible.  Yet if this is the case, ponder why it is that such elite arguments have such a powerful tendency to rely on straw man positions.

Let me now demonstrate, clearly, the many ways in which Coyne argues against straw men.

Coyne writes:

There are religious scientists, but they judiciously wall off the atheism they assume when they enter the lab, and the superstition they swill when they enter their church.

and

all scientists do their work as atheists—as practical materialists and naturalists.

This is simply false.  If someone is both a Christian and a scientist, they do not have to assume atheism is true when they enter the lab.  Nor do they must work as atheists.  Let me demonstrate with a common example.

Say you are a Christian working on one of the cell’s tiny molecular machines known as the proteasome.  The proteasome is kind of like a paper shredder that eliminates various proteins from the cell’s cytoplasm.  Now imagine you are working on a protein that alters the activity of the proteasome and trying to understand its mechanism.  Here comes the question.  Why do you have to assume the Christian God does not exist in order to do the experiments?  Unless Coyne, or someone like him, can answer that question, his whole claim collapses.  And I don’t expect anyone can answer it.

Look, the only type of god you would need to assume does not exist is some trickster god.  A god that delighted in performing mischievous miracles to screw with people’s heads. Then, you would have no way to control for such behavior and could never be sure of the meaning of your results.

But from a Christian perspective, God does not behave in this way.  God created and sustains an orderly, comprehensible, predictable reality.  This is an old Christian belief intertwined with Christian theology.  There is no reason in the world to assume such a God does not exist in order to do scientific experiments.

When Coyne assumes that theists everywhere must assume atheism is true to do science, he is assuming their theism entails a trickster god who does so many arbitrary and mischievous miracles that science could not exist.  In other words, Coyne’s position invokes a straw man version of theism.  But more than that, his position depends on straw men.

To prop up a straw man-dependent position, one typically has to invoke more straw men.  The straw men will multiply.

Which is exactly what we see:

Faith is not the belief in things for which there’s no evidence. My response to this claim is “Yes it is!” 

McLeish explains that, for him, faith is not belief in things for which there’s no evidence. The vast majority of Christians would agree.  As one with Christian faith, I can also agree.  And I bet most Christians on this board also agree.

So what is Coyne’s response to such a reality?  He pounds the podium insisting “Yes it is!” His straw man demands it!  In other words, Coyne’s position not only depends on a straw man version of God, but now it depends on a straw man version of faith.  Straw man begat straw man.

This enslavement to the straw man-dependent approach continues.  In response to McLeish’s thoughtful explanation, Coyne feels the need to spin with straw:

What “reasoned faith” means is this: “I want to believe in God and Jesus, so I reason out ways that they must be real.” 

Y’see?  Christian faith is all about wanting God to exist and propping it up a false sense of certainty (it must be real).  But this fails to describe my Christian faith, and I suspect it fails for most others too.  In other words, more straw men.

What’s likely to be happening here is projection.  Coyne is the one who wants his incompatibility thesis to be true.  It must be true.  He wants it to be true because he wants to weaponize science against religion to help facilitate his deluded notions of a “better society.”  Because he wants it so bad, yet it is not true, he must retreat into the realm of “Yes it is!” – a straw man-dependent reality that he wants so badly to believe in.

But the straw just won’t stop:

In contrast, Collins changed from atheism to evangelical Christianity simply by gazing at frozen water, which he alone construed as evidence for the Trinity. 

This is simple false.  It is such a blatant misrepresentation that we could characterize it as lie.  But since it fits so comfortably in Coyne’s straw man-dependent approach, it is probably the case that Coyne gullibly believes this and thus is not a true lie.

One of the ways we can tell Coyne’s incompatibility position is false is it’s straw man-dependent essence.  His position is one big hazy dustcloud of straw.  It gets in your eyes. It gets in your nose.  It gets in your hair.

If your position needs to rely on a cloud of straw men to get off the ground, and needs the continual invocation of more straw men to exist, it’s a position that exists in fantasy land.  It is a position that is cut off from reality and cannot, in any way, be considered a scientific position.

None of this is surprising.  The “science and religion are incompatible” position is nothing more than propaganda embraced by anti-religious activists. After all, is it a coincidence that Soviet propagandists once tried to promote the very same notions?

 

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26 Responses to Jerry Coyne: Mighty Slayer of Straw Men

  1. Neil Rickert says:

    Why do you have to assume the Christian God does not exist in order to do the experiments?

    You don’t.

    However, this is your own strawman. Here “atheism” just means “without theism”. It is not “anti-theism”. Science is atheistic in the very limited sense that it doesn’t assume God. It also doesn’t deny God. Whether or not there is a god should be irrelevant to science.

    Yes, Coyne says a lot of silly things on this topic. Can you try to avoid going to the opposite extreme?

  2. Kevin says:

    Neil,

    I’m a Christian, but I don’t assume that my smartphone functions due to any direct intervention from God. The belief that my phone doesn’t require God’s influence is not an atheistic belief, it is simply assuming no supernatural component. But it still fits perfectly within a theistic framework.

    Assuming materialistic causes for a phenomenon is not the same as assuming atheism. Very different things there. Michael is spot-on.

  3. Michael says:

    Science is atheistic in the very limited sense that it doesn’t assume God.

    So too is rape atheistic in the very limited sense that it doesn’t assume God.

  4. Featherfoot says:

    Neil,

    I’ve read your comment twice, and oddly, it sounds like you agree with Michael. Coyne is the one saying that science and religion are incompatible. Michael is pointing out that everything a scientist does in the lab can be entirely consistent with their religious faith. If you’re right, and science and religion are irrelevant to each other, then that also means they’re fully compatible. My car can run on asphalt and it can run on cement, because the exact material of the pavement is irrelevant. That’s another way of saying my car is compatible with both. In the same way, the scientific method is compatible with both theism and atheism.

  5. Neil Rickert says:

    I’ve read your comment twice, and oddly, it sounds like you agree with Michael.

    I mostly agree. But I disagreed with one specific point.

  6. TFBW says:

    Neil Rickert said:

    Here “atheism” just means “without theism”.

    The perennial need of atheist apologists to tailor the precise definition of the term “atheism” to the circumstances in which it must be defended never ceases to surprise me. But let’s grant the special pleading in this case. If atheism in this sense is necessary in order to practice science, then one must operate “without theism” in order to practice science. Belief in the God of Christianity is an example of theism, so one of the things precluded is belief in said God. According to Coyne, then, one must operate without belief in the God of Christianity (inter alia) in order to practice science.

    If there’s an important distinction between, “you have to assume the Christian God does not exist,” and, “one must operate without belief in the God of Christianity,” which makes the former worthy of the “opposite extreme” scolding Neil gave it, it’s not obvious. The former is, after all, an example of how to fulfil the latter. At most, it’s marginally over-prescriptive, but I think it’s extremely pedantic to dismiss it on that basis. Indeed, if Neil is not conceding the statement, then what of Coyne’s position is he conceding, exactly?

  7. Neil Rickert says:

    Belief in the God of Christianity is an example of theism, so one of the things precluded is belief in said God.

    You seem to be trying to miss the point.

    And the point is only that, to do science, you must not allow your theistic (or anti-theistic) view to affect your results.

    And no, I am not agreeing at all with Coyne’s position on this. t

  8. TFBW says:

    You seem to be trying to miss the point.

    You seem not to have one. You disagree with Coyne, yet you accuse Michael of attacking a straw man when he criticises Coyne’s position. However, your basis for this accusation seems to be that you hold a different position than Coyne, and therefore … this is where it gets unclear. Did Michael misrepresent Coyne’s position? If so, how? If not, why the charge of “straw man?”

  9. Kevin says:

    Neil,

    Michael’s question that you claim is a strawman is in response to what Coyne said: “all scientists do their work as atheists”.

    That statement is factually incorrect. For you to say that by “atheist” he doesn’t mean “atheist”, you’d have to demonstrate it. Otherwise Michael did not err by addressing Coyne’s strawman.

  10. grodrigues says:

    “Science is atheistic in the very limited sense that it doesn’t assume God. It also doesn’t deny God.”

    So “atheistic” in this context actually means holding that the question of God’s existence is irrelevant for the purpose of doing Science. What as that about saying “a lot of silly things on this topic”?

  11. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne, OP > In contrast, Collins changed from atheism to evangelical Christianity simply by gazing at frozen water, which he alone construed as evidence for the Trinity.

    That’s rather a mischaracterisation of Francis Collin’s long conversion process. Let’s hear it from the anti-Christian polemicist Michael Shermer, who I’m sure would have loved to have knifed Collins’ reputation if he could have, tried to do so by insinuating that “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons”, but was too honest ** to distort the fact that Collins’ “…journey from atheist to theist, which at first was a halting intellectual process filled with the internal debates scientists typically have with themselves when working on new ideas.”

    ( ** Or was too wary of a potential libel suit, was too wary of being exposed as as pig-ignorant and prejudiced as Coyne evidently is, or he just wanted to highlight how Collins is truly the smart guy of his insinuation.)

    Those who wish to criticise Collins, please do so using science, evidence and reason; insinuation just doesn’t cut it.

    Let’s re-write Coyne’s words to apply to himself:

    In contrast, Coyne changed from casual Judaism to New Atheism in a moment simply by listening to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album while lying on his parents’ couch in Alexandria, Va. [JAC: it was ARLINGTON, Virginia]. Which he alone construed as evidence that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/holiday-snaps-2/

    Can you get more irrational than that. And what’s really weird is that although one might expect such irrationality from a 17 year old kid (who was probably out of his mind on LSD at the time), half a century of adulthood and scientific pursuits later he’s still blithely unaware enough of its irrationality that the story’s proudly reproduced in the foreword of his FvF book. Now that’s really irrational.

    What would Shermer say? Ah yes, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons”. That does seem to apply to Coyne.

  12. Dhay says:

    Featherfoot > My car can run on asphalt and it can run on cement, because the exact material of the pavement is irrelevant. That’s another way of saying my car is compatible with both. In the same way, the scientific method is compatible with both theism and atheism.

    It’s a nice analogy. In his 29 January 2018 blog post entitled “Tom Clark on the upside of determinism” Jerry Coyne embeds a 47 minute videoed lecture and tells us:

    Tom dispels a number of common misconceptions about determinism, and, toward the end, suggests—and I agree—that accepting determinism prompts empathy and compassion in a way that might not arise otherwise, and describes several other salubrious side effects.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/tom-clark-on-the-upside-of-determinism/

    Ah, so accepting determinism prompts (causes or brings about) empathy and compassion in a way that might not arise otherwise: funny, I thought Christianity and the other major religions (and Humanism) already did that; if there’s a need for some people to accept determinism in order to be or become empathic and compassionate, it must be atheists.

    I don’t see why accepting determinism should prompt major changes in the judicial system and the treatment of perpetrators of crimes; it’s not just the perpetrator but everyone else directly, indirectly or even remotely involved who is a puppet of their genes and environment ** : those who currently blame the perpetrator do so because of genes and environment; likewise those who seek to punish or who want revenge on the perpetrator, those who decline to spend money on rehabilitation treatments or even those who would or do kangaroo-court and lynch the perpetrator — these people too are each and every one of them puppets on the strings of their own genes and environments; hence they are no more deserving of blame or censure for these vengeful or neglectful attitudes and behaviour (so reprehensible to Coyne) towards the perpetrator than the perpetrator is for his or her own behaviour towards his victim; on the Coynian view any and every behaviour whatsoever is justified because it is just unchosen, inescapable, uncontrollable genes and environment.

    ( ** See cartoon and text in https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/02/06/tuesday-hili-dialogue-184/)

    ‘Genes and environment’ justifies not only moderate and gentle treatment of an alleged perpetrator but also the most extreme and over-the-top barbaric behaviour also; even the flaying and burning to death of a Black man who spoke to your sister.

    What’s wrong (on the Coynian deterministic view) with harsh and violent treatment of offenders: ‘genes and environment’ is a shorthand for ‘things just happen’; if it’s harsh and violent treatment — however harsh and violent — that too ‘just happens’. And you famously don’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’; neither one way, nor the other.

    Even those who seek the most humanitarian treatment possible for the perpetrator do so because of genes and environment; and if the one is not to be considered blameworthy and despised the other is not to be considered praiseworthy and worth copying. If you dispense with ‘bad morality’, you dispense with ‘good morality’ also.

  13. Dhay says:

    Featherfoot > My car can run on asphalt and it can run on cement, because the exact material of the pavement is irrelevant. That’s another way of saying my car is compatible with both. In the same way, the scientific method is compatible with both theism and atheism.

    In the above I missed pointing out, as I had intended to from the start, that empathy and compassion are compatible with both determinism (Jerry Coyne alleges — I’m not so sure myself) and Christianity. The “car” of empathy and compassion runs well on the “asphalt” of Christianity, it doesn’t need the extraordinary running surface of philosophical determinism. I’d say determinism is redundant.

  14. Dhay says:

    > Coyne is a well-respected scientist who has given so much thought to this issue that he actually wrote a book arguing for the incompatibility of science and religion.

    Here’s an autobiographical story that Jerry Coyne likes to quote — repeatedly; a variant even found its way into the foreword of that book:

    One of the more colorful scientific de-conversion stories comes from Jerry Coyne, a professor of genetics and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. It happened in 1967 when Coyne, then 17, was listening for the first time to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album while lying on his parents’ couch in Alexandria, Va.

    Suddenly Coyne began to shake and sweat. For reasons he still doesn’t understand, it dawned on him at that moment that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died. His casual Judaism seemed to wash away as the album played on. The crisis lasted about 30 minutes, he says, and when it was over, he had left religion behind for good. He went on to study how new species evolve, and found the Darwinian view of nature perfectly in tune with his abandonment of faith.

    In a 06 July 2018 Why Evolution Is True post entitled “R.J. “Sam” Berry, 1934-2018” Coyne’s biologist friend Greg Mayer writes a glowing obituary for Berry, who “for decades, had been a major figure in population and ecological genetics.” I note that, in sharp contrast to Coyne, Berry found the Darwinian view of nature perfectly in tune with his wholehearted embracing of Christianity; Mayer writes:

    He was an engaged member of the Church of England, and wrote a number of books arguing the essential compatibility of science and religion, and he was the Gifford Lecturer on natural theology in 1997-98. … As a prominent accommodationist, his views were in strong contrast to Jerry’s frequently expressed view, epitomized in Faith vs. Fact, that science and religion are incompatible.

    Coyne flies off the handle whenever there’s an accommodationist™ in sight; Mayer’s post or similar could never be posted by Coyne — and would surely not have been posted by Mayer, either, had Coyne’s hands not been temporarily off the editorial reins. Coyne would really have detested Berry, red rag to a bull.

    In sharp contrast to Coyne, Berry found the Darwinian view of nature perfectly in tune with his wholehearted embracing of Christianity. Reading Coyne’s blog, one could easily come away with the idea that any and every Darwinian must necessarily be an atheist, that Darwinism is compatible only with atheism and incompatible with Christianity. That that is not so is demonstrated by Berry, who lived and worked with the opposite view.

    Who would have heard Coyne’s name except he wrote the student text book he borrowed the name of his blog from. Coyne’s eminent or pre-eminent in his field? Hardly. He’s a professor (emeritus), but so far as I can tell he’s just a professor, a relative nobody, his work run of the mill rather than ground-breaking or widely admired like Berry’s or Francis Collins’.

    Coyne is evidently a maverick, an almost lone voice of dissent drowning in a flood of accommodationists™ and accommodationism™.

    *

    It seems to be a strange feature of US atheism that it’s taken for granted that Christians oppose both Darwinism and environmentalism:

    Joining his religious convictions with one of his secular interests, he was a leading advocate of Christian environmentalism …

    Berry was an enthusiastic advocate for both Darwinism and environmentalism.

    (Being a member of a small church with but a part-time minister, hence reliant on co-opting ministers and ‘retired’ ministers from the surrounding churches and from a variety of denominations, I can attest that in the UK, Christian environmentalism is mainstream.)

    *

    As Michael says in the OP:

    > If someone is both a Christian and a scientist, they do not have to assume atheism is true when they enter the lab. Nor do they must work as atheists.

    Which, according to Mayer, was well demonstrated by Berry:

    I can find no evidence that Berry’s work, in lab or field, was influenced by his religious commitments– in all of it he was a thoroughgoing participant in the mainstream of Darwinism. Indeed, I read his work for decades before appreciating his religious views.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/07/06/r-j-sam-berry-1934-2018/

    Being a committed Christian is no impediment to a commitment to Darwinism or to the practice of good science.

  15. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne fired off two “rapid responses” to Tom McLeish: the Coyne blog post Michael links to is the second, dated 02 February 2018; the first was posted 21 January 2018 and included “I think it’s time I contributed an article to The Conversation showing why science and religion are incompatible …”

    Well, Coyne got round to it eventually, and on 21 December 2018 The Conversation published an article by Coyne entitled “Yes, there is a war between science and religion”, and Coyne announced it to his readers, urging his own readers to click through to read his article and to counter the adverse comments he expected from that site’s readers:

    (You’re welcome to make comments and to engage with the commenters who, inevitably, will be upset by my ideas.)

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/12/21/my-anti-accommodation-article-at-the-conversation/

    That was Coyne’s first blog post of eight – he’s obsessed with the views and comments he’s had, and with the mostly adverse comments: –

    #2. The 22 December “I get emails from theists” blog post includes:

    I’ve been bombarded with emails and “requests for interaction” (The Conversation allows readers to contact you this way), with the latter being largely “requests for you to listen to my point of view.” … I’ve learned two things through bitter experience. … The second is that I need to learn the lesson given by Christopher Hitchens, who said something like: “Unsolicited emails deserve to go unanswered.”

    Coyne there displays a lack of commonsense understanding: when you write an article for The Conversation – hint, hint – and sign up to allowing readers to contact you by e-mail, those e-mails are most certainly not unsolicited. And we there learn that Coyne is not fulfilling his part of the conversation. Coyne is happy to push his views to The Conversation readers, but doesn’t like it, and won’t engage, when the readers respond with their own contrary views.

    Not does he like those responses:

    The comments posted at The Conversation and, especially, on Pinker’s retweet of my article (see below) are largely ignorant (also ignorant of what I actually wrote), angry, or irrelevant. … … Finally, check out some of the 193 comments appended to Pinker’s tweet. I’m pretty sure Steve doesn’t read comments, as he’s busy and most of the comments are pretty nasty.

    Of the Tweet comments Coyne says:

    Did these people even read my piece?

    #3. The 23 December “Science versus religion redux” blog post includes:

    I continue to be besieged by emails and comments from readers who don’t like my view that science and religion are incompatible … the article is a precis of the book [Faith Versus Fact] … the piece is the most-read piece on The Conversation U.S. site this week, which is pleasing to the ego, and probably to my editor as well. It has 69,700 views on that site, and there are 455 comments and counting. … Even though most are critical (as I expected), and some are outrageously stupid, I’m not really bothered.

    Of course he’s not, that’s why Coyne keeps posting again and again about them. He continues:

    But I am a bit puzzled why some people didn’t grasp the article’s main points, to wit: [Five numbered points.] All this seems pretty straightforward to me. Now you can argue about the definition of “faith” or of “incompatibility,” but since I defined them at the outset, if you accept my construals then the result is pretty much QED.

    There you have it, an admission of failure: if you accept Coyne’s definition of “faith” and “incompatibility” (actually also “science”, “religion” and more) – if you accept faith (etc) is ‘faith as defined by Coyne’ (and so on for the others) then it’s a straightforward QED. Ah yes, if you cannot hit the bullseye, draw one around what you can hit.

    Someone told Coyne he had read Hebrews 11:1 (“Now faith is …”) out of context, so shouldn’t have defined “faith” as, basically, fideism’ (itself, basically, blind faith, irrational faith) – a definition and truth claim which is very common in New Atheist circles, it’s a bullseye they can hit even though they miss the mark entirely. Coyne replied by quoting all of Hebrews 11 with the bits that he says “construes faith as a way of understanding what’s true” highlighted; presumably he thinks and implicitly claims that this construal is somehow obvious … the obviousness utterly escapes me, perhaps you need to be a confirmation-biased atheist to construe thus. See the excellent aRemonstrant’sRamblings post on the subject:

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

    #4. The 24 December ““Scholars” explain religion to me” blog post includes:

    Yesterday I got three longish emails taking issue with my [article]. Two of them were incoherent and don’t deserve reproducing here, much less mentioning. The one below, however, came from a person who said he was a scholar of religion, and I wanted to post it to show the kind of criticisms that are arising. … I don’t want to get into this in detail, as I am not fond of people who tell me I’m wrong because they are scholars in the field and therefore know more than I. This kind of credential-mongering obviates the real issue: the nature of my arguments.

    Coyne immediately continues:

    In this case the person takes issue with my definition of religion, which was Dan Dennett’s:

    “Social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.”

    OF COURSE that doesn’t hold for all bodies of thought that we see as religions (viz., Buddhism), …

    Now, so far as I know there is no universally agreed definition of religion which adequately fits all, so I’ll not weigh in on that. What I will comment on is that integral to Buddhism is the notion of ‘karma’ a supernatural agent (or impersonal force) ensuring that the bad get punished and the good rewarded by their next reincarnation. Coyne, for all that he claims to be well-read and knowledgeable about religion, is a clueless bullshitter who doesn’t understand the basics.

    (Now Buddhism, as I’ve argued in other responses, really is incompatible with science: a Buddhist Newton’s response to the famous apple would have been, not “I wonder if there’s a Universal Law of Gravity?” but “Thoughts!”)

    Coyne adds disparagement of the credentialed commenter:

    The person is, in other words, a self-styled Sophisticated Theologian™ who thinks that his take on religion is the only one worth considering. Everybody else is just WRONG.

    Pot and kettle, anyone. Coyne also thinks that his take on religion is the only one worth considering. Everybody else is just WRONG.

    #5. The 24 December “My Christmas Ham” blog post shows Ken Ham’s FaceBook post’s brief response to the article and whether there is a war between science and religion. In brief, No.

    #6. In the 27 December “A Mormon beefs about my anti-accommodationism” blog post (the title says it all) Coyne continues to delight in the attention he’s got, which is now:

    nearly 100,000 views and 655 comments. I can’t say I’m not chuffed, but of course most of the comments take issue with what I said. Well, that’s okay by me: at least they heard me.

    But his critic is a Mormon, so Coyne’s response was to publish the e-mail and some rejoinders on his blog, invite his readers to troll the guy’s e-mail in the comments, then e-mail the guy back with where to come to read the trolls.

    #7. In the 28 December “More emails from readers who question my philosophical cred” blog post Coyne’s noticed the reader’s from Utah, so might be a Mormon, so Coyne reproduces their “pollut[ing]” e-mail and his own rejoinders, but evidently doesn’t feel malevolent enough to openly set the trolls upon them. I discern from that post title this is is by no means the first e-mail questioning Coyne’s “philosophical cred”, and evidently the questions rankle – Coyne defends himself:

    I’d say that a moderate knowledge of religion and of religious people would suffice, but people like the one below, who sent me a petulant email, think that years of study are required …

    And the guy gives Coyne some suggested reading, which irrtates Coyne no end:

    I wonder if this guy knows as much about evolutionary biology as I do about theology and religion? Has he read On The Origin of Species? Where is HIS expertise. The fact is, though, that it doesn’t take years of study to make the points I did in my article.

    I fully agree with that last sentence: it doesn’t (and didn’t) take years of study to make the points Coyne did in his article.

    There are good reasons to question whether Coyne is credible as a philosopher, theologian, or both …

    #8. In his 01 January 2019 “Another religionist emails me, accusing me of reading only my own writings” blog post Coyne continues to delight in the attention he’s had:

    The emails—most either annoying or downright pompous, keep coming in, inspired by my [article] on the incompatibility of science and faith. With over 100,000 views and over 750 comments, that piece has legs …

    And one of those e-mailers patronised Coyne by calling him Jerry, so his response was to publish the e-mail and some rejoinders on his blog, invite his readers to troll the guy’s e-mail in the comments, then e-mail the guy back with where to come to read the trolls. Ah, revenge is sweet, is it? (Coyne does this a lot, I notice.)

    And the patroniser told Coyne, “You might benefit from reading something besides your own writings”, which sparked:

    Of course I read more than my own writings. I read tons of theology, plus the Bible and the Qur’an (and some of the Book of Mormon) for Faith versus Fact. I’m absolutely sure I know a lot more about theology and religion than this benighted chap knows about evolution. It’s odd that believers don’t think they have to study evolution or science in detail before criticizing me for not knowing enough theology! If you say that you have to have studied both to pronounce on the incompatibility of science and religion, well, I’ve done my job and almost none of my critics have.

    Coyne spent about two years in part-time directed reading while holding down a full-time job as a University Professor and without any apparent abatement in his prodigious hence prodigiously time-consuming blogging – one wonders not just when Coyne got the time to read, but also whether: the Bible alone is a massive read, more so if you read it with attention seeking understanding, and Coyne has also read the Koran and tons of theology. Plainly Coyne has but skimmed through. This, I judge, shows in Coyne’s Faith versus Fact, where his practice is to mention and quote minus misunderstanding theologians and philosophers of religion, rather than engage with their ideas.

    We know it was directed reading because Coyne told us while studying that his tutor ‘Uncle’ Eric MacDonald had set it – well-directed, then; but we also know that MacDonald became increasingly disaffected with Coyne’s inability to understand what he was reading, to the extent that MacDonald broke away from Coyne, and when Edward Feser wrote a scathing review of Faith versus Fact MacDonald chipped in in the comments with “Coyne is completely out of his element in philosophy”. Despite former tutor MacDonald’s condemnation, Coyne is emphatic that he does have “expertise” in religion and theology: I see the Dunning–Kruger effect in play here.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/more-coyne-hilarity/#comment-12076

    *

    This has been a long response, and it could be longer yet if I wait for Coyne to post more such. My purpose has been to illustrate, in an effort much smaller than Coyne’s, just how obsessed he has become with his The Conversation article and the responses thereto. And to touch briefly on some of Coyne’s fallacies and idiocies.

  16. unclesporkums says:

    What a rabid turd. Inciting mobs of trolls, too full of himself to admit he has an incorrect reading comprehension.

  17. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne declares himself a philosopher of religion who has claims to have read and understood (and dismissed) the Bible, and also claims to have read and understood (and dismissed) sophisticated™ theology.

    In his 09 January 2019 blog post entitled “Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ murder” which reproduces the eponymous cartoon strip, which this time suggests Peter murdered Ananias and Sapphira, Coyne is plainly out of his depth, floundering:

    Today’s Jesus and Mo, called “fell”, is a bit puzzling to me, but then again it’s not yet 6 a.m. in Hawaii and I haven’t had coffee. Perhaps a reader or two could explain the strip. Why is “fell down” so important?

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/01/09/jesus-n-mo-n-murder/

    Coyne’s evidently been reading too much sophisticated™ theology. What’s to explain for anyone with half a brain? How does anyone flounder and fail to understand something so simple, so obvious?

  18. unclesporkums says:

    Of course, no historical evidence to back this up, but as these fools have whined in the past, the “burden of proof” isn’t on them.

  19. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne has once again posted proof of his limited ability to understand the obvious:

    [Re-]Tweets from Matthew. I’m not sure how this first one illustrates the point given that there’s an English translation:

    One of the many benefits of speaking Welsh is that you can walk faster than non-Welsh speakers.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/wednesday-hili-dialogue-and-leon-monologue-14/

    Even for the linguistically challenged, the 6 and 8 make original Tweeter Dylan Thomas’ point obvious. Is Coyne numerically challenged also?

    Coyne’s evidently been reading too much sophisticated™ theology. What’s to explain for anyone with half a brain? How does anyone flounder and fail to understand something so simple, so obvious?

  20. unclesporkums says:

    Lay off the acid, Jerry.

  21. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne has once again posted proof of his limited ability to understand the obvious:

    This will anger philosophers for sure. . .

    Existential Comics
    Does philosophy make progress?
    Of course! We don’t understand far more than the Greeks ever could have imagined not understanding.

    http://www.twitter.com/existentialcoms

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/tuesday-hili-dialogue-228/

    Coyne, who occasionally claims to himself be a philosopher — but who here appears to be sneeringly distancing himself from them — here shows that he is definitely not a philosopher.

    A philosopher wouldn’t get angry; a philosopher would not only understand the joke but understand that this is a joke.

  22. Dhay says:

    > Does philosophy make progress?
    Of course! We don’t understand far more than the
    Greeks ever could have imagined not understanding.

    Does physics make progress?

    There’s the famous misquote from 1894 or 1900 that: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Wrong, badly wrong.

    We know (or think we do) just about everything about ordinary matter — baryons, leptons and whatever, what’s in the Standard Model; yet that’s just roughly 4% of what’s out there; the other 96% — dark matter and dark energy, possibly dark flow also — is an unsolved mystery, natures unknown.

    Then there’s quantum mechanics, which has an embarrassment of explanatory models undetermined by the evidence. Presumably eventually one (or two or more that are in principle and mathematics equivalent) will be settled on as correct, but we don’t know which.

    Time is a puzzle, consciousness is a puzzle, free will is a puzzle.

    Does physics make progress?
    Of course! We don’t understand far more than the
    Greeks [**] ever could have imagined not understanding.

    ( ** And more recently Albert Michelson and Lord Kelvin.)

    *

    Coyne’s lost outside of his own specialist bubble: he fails to recognise and laugh at the philosophers’ in-joke; he fails to recognise that even taken literally clarifying difficulties with Greek (and subsequent) philosophical ideas which the Greeks didn’t even recognise is progress; and he fails to recognise that that same quote can be said of physics. (And is no more a criticism of physics than the original was of philosophy.)

    *

    If Coyne thinks his own (former) research area, of biology, genetics and evolution, has nothing to learn apart from refining what’s already known to sixth decimal point precision, if he supposes that, basically he and his (former) colleagues understand all of genetics … I’ll confidently hazard he’s got that just as badly wrong.

  23. Dhay says:

    In a response above I quote Jerry Coyne’s irritated responses to some recent The Conversation article’s readers who questioned his credentials and competence; he’s defended his alleged abilities before, too:

    I spent over two years reading theology, beginning with scripture and progressing through “folk theology”, as exemplified by C. S. Lewis, to the “sophisticated” lucubrations of people like Alvin Plantinga and David Bentley Hart. And the deeper you dig, the more bullshit you find. It’s excreta all the way down. Sophisticated theology provides no more evidence for God than does C. S. Lewis or children’s books on Christianity. There is no “there” there. And yes, I’ve read the entire Bible and Qur’an, and some Hindu theology, as well as part of the Book of Mormon (I couldn’t finish it).

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/priest-at-huffpo-dawkins-has-damaged-the-culture/

    Let’s examine Coyne on the basics shall we?:

    And it is, which is one of the problems of DeSteno’s thesis. Are these techniques derived from studying religion and its supposed successes, or do they come from elsewhere? I’m willing to admit that meditation comes from Zen Buddhism, though many people don’t see that as a religion.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/02/03/new-york-times-op-ed-what-science-can-learn-from-religion/

    Hmmm, “meditation comes from Zen Buddhism”, eh. That’s cringe-worthy. There was me thinking Buddhist meditation originated with The Buddha, long before the Zen sect, and that he was using a practice already in use by Hindu Yogins :

    One day, seated beneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening) Siddhartha became deeply absorbed in meditation…

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/history/history.shtml

    Coyne is a person who proclaims himself knowledgeable on religion, yet he knows less than a British child learns in Religious Education classes in Primary Education. That he’s cluelessly ignorant seems no impediment to him confidently shooting off his mouth.

    If I use an image from modern US politics, Coyne claims he’s got the bestest ever knowledge of religion.

  24. Dhay says:

    In a 21 August 2019 blog post Jerry Coyne tells us:

    I can’t resist saying that religion has never revealed an empirical fact that science alone couldn’t find, despite God having many opportunities to do so. …

    So what sort of empirical fact could the Bible have revealed that science alone couldn’t find? Fortunately, Coyne immediately gives an example:

    … For example, Scripture could have said (assuming it was the word of God): “Thou shalt wash thy hands after a poo lest tiny animals you cannot see will make you sick.”

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2019/08/21/jesus-n-mo-n-accommodationism/

    Really? Coyne really believes that — I’ll paraphrase, hopefully accurately enough to keep the meaning — that science alone couldn’t find that ‘washing hands after a poo prevents germs making you sick’? You could have fooled me, I thought it had. And even if it actually hadn’t, science alone certainly could have. But Coyne believes that, does he?!

    Indeed, the more I look at that first part of the quote, the more I realise that there is no possible way Coyne could ever give an example of an empirical fact that science alone couldn’t find — the clue is in the term Coyne chooses to use, empirical fact.

  25. Isaac says:

    Funny thing about that Jerry Coyne quote; one of the reasons the nomadic Jews were so successful among so many hostile neighbors was their cleanliness and avoidance of germs, as proscribed by the Law of Moses. They thoroughly cooked their food, separated and burned dead bodies and animal carcasses, and quarantined the contagious. They didn’t need to be told about the tiny animals (which they would have had no way of verifying and which wouldn’t have made sense to them anyway.)

    Chris Rock gets it exactly wrong in his famous comedy routine in which he tries to be deep and blurts out “the Bible was written by MEN” because it forbade eating pigs, assuming that no one ate pork back then because of the unsanitary way pigs were raised. Actually, everyone around the Israelites ate plenty of pork; it wasn’t known at the time that pork was a less sanitary food. The Israelites had insider knowledge about good diet. (Frankly a kosher diet, though not required, is still healthier, even today.)

    Chris Rock has the excuse of being a professional clown. Not sure what Coyne’s excuse is. He doesn’t make anyone laugh.

  26. Kesther says:

    Okay. I understand Jerry Coyne’s frustration, why he gets angry when it comes to ‘woo’, religions, and wants to promote ‘critical thinking/skepticism’, but I think he needs to calm down a bit. Or maybe take a month-long break from blogging and Twitter.
    He’s getting himself worked up over post-materialists that question materialism for reasons that seem pretty rational.
    He even gets worked up over people who aren’t even scientists but only talk about OBE/NDEs just for the sake of it, that really don’t deserve a beating.
    I mean, that’s what I do when I’m angry about some things on the internet: Take a break and get off the internet.

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