[asa] Jerry Coyne's Confused Attack on Religion

From: Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com>
Date: Sat Jan 24 2009 - 21:21:34 EST

Jerry Coyne has written a lengthy, critical review of Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution by Karl W. Giberson and Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller. You can read it here:




Coyne appears to have joined the New Atheist Movement, as I noticed some time ago:




So let's have a look as his "Science leads to Atheism".position.


Coyne's tactic is one that is very common among the New Atheists - use the word science as much as possible without ever defining it. In this case, Coyne uses the word 'science' 71 times and 'scientific' 45 times, yet makes no effort to rigorously and precisely define what science is. This is crucial, as 'scence' can mean many different things to different people. As a result, Coyne's arguments about the ability of "science" to determine whether or not God exists are confused.


In section IV, Coyne mimics Dawkins and attacks Gould's NOMA:


"The NOMA solution falls apart for other reasons. Despite Gould's claims to the contrary, supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science. All scientists can think of certain observations that would convince them of the existence of God or supernatural forces."


But scientists making "certain observations" is NOT science. Science is a METHOD that involves hypothesis formation and testing through measurement. At most, an observation may count as PART of the scientific method, but if all Coyne has is the ability to imagine observations that would personally convince scientists God exists, he doesn't have an argument that shows us science can detect the existence of God. This is crucial, as Gould is talking about science and how it is done, not scientists and what they believe.


This confusion gets worse. Coyne writes:


"In a letter to the American biologist Asa Gray, Darwin noted:


'Your question what would convince me of Design is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, and I was convinced from others seeing him that I was not mad, I should believe in design. If I could be convinced thoroughly that life and mind was in an unknown way a function of other imponderable force, I should be convinced. If man was made of brass or iron and no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I should perhaps be convinced. But this is childish writing.'


Similarly, if a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus appeared to the residents of New York City, as he supposedly did to the evangelist Oral Roberts in Oklahoma, and this apparition were convincingly documented, most scientists would fall on their knees with hosannas."


But again, Dawin's answers and Coyne's example of Oral Roberts do NOT amount to science. Just because a scientist may actually see a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus does not mean science has detected the existence of a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus.


Ironically, I quoted the same excerpt from Darwin in my book and here I was I said about it:


"Note that Darwin's answers are useless from an investigative perspective. Investigative analyses do not gradually converge on things like angelic appearances or imponderable forces. These are things we stumble upon and are thus detected fortuitously. As for brass men, we already know from the start that humans are not made of brass or iron. No one is going to investigate for iron men."


Rather than imagine what type of observation might convince Coyne God exists (a fancy way of saying, "Show me a sign"), Coyne needs to spell out a hypothesis that can be put in a testable form so that measurements can be made to rule out or confirm God's existence. Running to and fro with video cameras trying to document a divine appearance is NOT science.


Coyne's first attack on NOMA fails, as it is entirely premised on the sloppy notion that making an observation is the same as science. It's not about convincing a person we label as a "scientist"; it's about the use of science.


I'll turn to his second attack in another posting.

-Mike Gene

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Received on Sat Jan 24 21:22:17 2009

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