Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eric MacDonald: Jerry Coyne Lidless Eye Award Winner

Writing about the New York Times article The Evangelical Rejection of Reason by Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens has garnered Eric MacDonald the coveted Jerry Coyne Lidless Eye Award which, as you may know, was created to celebrate and recognize exceptional stupidity in writing about the intersection of religion and science. 

The premise of Giberson and Stephens article is sound: that the bible and science not only must be reconcilable but that we should attempt, at all costs, a rational reconciliation.

This is obvious. God is not a god of confusion.

There are two groups who join together in opposition  to this level-headed approach. Fundamentalists who say that we should never let the bible be dictated by science. And atheists, especially the so-called New Atheists. 

The opposition from the first group, the fundies, is obvious. 

The second group's opposition?--not so obvious. Shouldn't they welcome Christians who say that science is good? Shouldn't they embrace Christians who say that we may have to modify beliefs in light of science? Should they be pleased with evangelical Christians who say that evolution and not ID or creationism should be taught in schools?

You would think so, if they were rational, but often they are not. Instead they attack this group (pro-science, pro-reason evangelicals) with pit-bull ferocity. In their world, one in which no accommodation is acceptable, the most dangerous Christian is one who appears to be accommodating. Can't have that! So it is not uncommon to read someone like Coyne arguing that we pro-science evangelicals do not know our bible, and the  fundamentalist caricature is the true expression of our faith.

But reconciling the bible with science is a good thing. Demonstrating that the bible did not in fact, as was long believed, teach geocentricism--which was spurred on by the overwhelming scientific evidence for heliocentricism--was a good development, not an abandonment. It is not scripture that we modify, but fallible interpretations.

Back to award. MacDonald was vying for it from the start, but he landed it with this whopper:
There is no more scientific basis for the belief in life after death than there is for the outlandish suggestion that humans and dinosaurs once roamed the earth together. 

 The statement is trivially true. It is the implied equivalence that is monumentally stupid. This can be seen two ways. The first is by substituting other conjectures for which there is no scientific basis (if by basis we mean actual evidence.)

  • There is no more scientific basis for the belief in multiple universes than there is for the outlandish suggestion that humans and dinosaurs once roamed the earth together. 
  • There is no more scientific basis for the belief that the fundamental constituents in nature are cosmic strings (String Theory) than there is for the outlandish suggestion that humans and dinosaurs once roamed the earth together. 

The lack of equivalence can also be seen by flipping the sense of the argument:

  • There are millions of pieces of evidence (the fossil record) that men and dinosaurs did not walk the earth together.
  • There is no piece of evidence that a soul does not survive death.

So clear space on the mantle! Congratulations!


  1. I'm a new atheist, although I may not be a "New Atheist", I'm not really sure what you're defining that as. I would say that I'm all about Christians reevaluating their faith in light of new scientific understanding.

    I do have a question about some of how that would work, though. What do you do when evidence and reason counter Bible stories in dramatic fashion (ie Noah's ark)? How do you adjust the fundamental narrative of Christianity (Adam's fall, Jesus' sacrifice) in light of evolution so as to not lose the coherence?

    Also, if you only modify interpretations, and not scriptures, is there any reason to think that a new interpretation is correct? Or would it just merely not contradict science? If the former, should we reasonably expect a new interpretation to supply predictive power (such as a decent scientific theory would)? If the latter, could we at some point come to the conclusion that the premise (scriptures) are hopelessly flawed?

    Thanks in advance!

    PS. Not a fan of Coyne, but I did like his book on evolution. It was a good collection of the evidence that suggests the theory is correct.

  2. Unknown,

    I assume you mean, for example, counter a specific interpretation of, say Noah's ark. Science does not contradict a local flood interpretation, nor does a local flood interpretation contradict scripture.

    As for Adam's fall or Jesus' sacrifice, I have no had to modify my view of wither of those to accommodate evolution. Some people (like Coyne) insist that I do have to, but I on't take Coyne's exegesis very seriously. It is, after all, both uninformed and self-serving.

    I have no reason to expect that my interpretation is correct. I am satisfied if I can find an interpretation that I can defend in a satisfactory (in my view) manner that has no bible-science tension. I have done that. New developments in science, up until now, have only strengthened my faith.

    On this matter Coyne is wrong and a liar. He says repeatedly that no serious evangelical Christian ever says what scientific discovery could make him question his faith. He receives many examples to the contrary. For example, even though I can't post on his blog someone accurately reported that I have stated that either detection of a parallel universe of an encounter with intelligent extraterrestrials would be deeply troubling if not faith shattering.

  3. "There is no piece of evidence that a soul does not survive death."

    To suggest this means anything is a whopper in itself. I doubt you believe all assertions for which there is no evidence to the contrary. So how do we choose which whopper, if any, to accept today? What standard of evidence do we use use when there is no evidence or standard?