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.
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.
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?