Thursday, April 07, 2011

And the Booby Prize goes to...

Jerry Coyne, of course.

He has uttered the single dumbest explanation for the alleged incompatibility of science and religion. Ever.

To set the stage, Jerry has the vapors that acclaimed cosmologist (and agnostic) Martin Rees has accepted this year's $1.6 million Templeton award. Maybe Jerry is apoplectic because a scientist with impeccable research credentials won the award as opposed to say, a science journalist. Or maybe his head would have exploded even more if someone like Chris Mooney won. Hard to say--rationality is not one of Jerry's strong suits.

So I came across this topical Science article by Sara Reardon. She quotes Jerry:
If there's no conflict between science and religion, why do I still deal with creationists?
As the saying goes: the stupid, it burns. I think I have quoted before the famously dense anti-evolution argument: If evolution is true, how do you explain PYGMIES + DWARFS? Well, Jerry's argument is no better: if religion is compatible with science, how do you explain CREATIONISTS + BIBLE BELIEVERS?

This argument is so bad that I assumed Jerry was misquoted. Nope--he has the same article linked on his site, with the same quote displayed.

Notice what Jerry is not saying. He is not arguing that dealing with creationists demonstrates that creationism and science are incompatible--he is making the much stronger claim that the fact that he, Jerry Coyne, has to deal with creationists implies that science is incompatible (which is what he means by "in conflict") with religion.

There is no logic the takes you from:

1) Jerry Coyne has to "deal" with creationists, to
2) Science and religion are incompatible

Thank goodness most (all?) theologians are far better at constructing sound arguments.


  1. Obviously Jerry believes that he is the incarnation of science.

    Creationists are in conflict with him, there Creationism must be in conflict with science. :)

  2. Actually nedbrek, I think Creationism is in conflict with science. What David means, I think, is that science need not conflict with religion per se. If Christianity somehow directly requires beliefs that counter what science tells us (IOW, it requires thinking the Earth is very young), then there surely is a conflict.

  3. It all depends by what you mean by science.

    If you mean repeatability and observability (which is what I mean by science), then there is no conflict.

    If you mean naturalism (which is what most atheists mean), then obviously supernaturalism will conflict.

  4. Well again, whether there's a conflict depends on whether something science can show (and I know, this is debatable) conflicts with what a religion teaches. It might, especially depending on whether a revelatory authority is deemed inerrant, and/or literal etc. I don't accept those sources for that so it's not a problem for me.

    You might have in mind, that evolution is not definitive as science since not repeatable in lab etc. You have a point, but I think science is more flexible than that. If we find lots of remains and various circumstances indicating at least roughly that they changed over time and got more complicated, that tells me that the weren't all recently put here in modern form. That's not just a metaphysical "naturalism", that is a reasonable inference from direct data.

    As for "naturalism" - if that means that only matter or our universe exists, or that the world has no "externality" such as being created by something else: then I don't agree with naturalism. I consider the universe "derivative" and dependent upon an ultimate mind-like reality we might as well call "God" even if only tenuously (IMHO) connected to "Yahweh" etc. Science, to the extent it even addresses such issues, is in conflict with that (or at least, is "non concurrent", which is not the same as directly denying (since much of the presumption is a working model not a metaphysical stricture.)

  5. Interesting Neil. If there is some mind behind the universe, is it good or evil?

  6. Nedbrek, since I don't take any messages as authoritative (albeit advisory as I see fitness thereof), I am groping and grappling as an independent thinker. I think that an ultimate reality contains all ideas, and therefore the fact of what justifies "good" etc. I don't think it is omnipotent in the specific sense. Somehow worlds are bubbled out of it, and the good expressed is there is potential for development. However we are left pretty much on our own.

    I had an insight, like a message from God. It was like a voice, saying "I am your eyes and ears, you are my hands and feet." I think it meant, God is behind our consciousness and our conscience, but we must do the work of good in the world. If we don't, it won't get done. Later I found similar wording and sentiments from mystics like St. Teresa of Ávila, Julian of Norwich, and St. John of the Cross.

  7. "I don't accept those sources for that so it's not a problem for me. "

    Wow you just made the mistake you acuse Jerry of.