Re: [asa] Jerry Coyne's Confused Attack on Religion

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Thu Jan 29 2009 - 13:09:29 EST

I have to confess I find something of a delicious irony in the fact that
Giberson and Ken Miller are being attacked by Coyne as being "virtually
indistinguishable" from creationists. As everyone here knows, I'm no fan of
the "Expelled / Uncommond Dissent" approach (having been "expelled" from UD
myself), but they appear to be right about this: no theistic perspective *of
any kind* will satisfy folks such as Coyne for whom naturalism and
empiricism are a religion.

And I think Mike is right: this article is a slapdash piece of nonsense.
It displays zero capacity for nuance on questions of epistemology, divine
action, and causation, and utterly fails to comprehend the notion of
revelation as serious Christians have thought about it for millennia.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

On Thu, Jan 29, 2009 at 8:05 AM, Schwarzwald <> wrote:

> Heya Randy,
> Let's not put words in Coyne's mouth. I don't believe he implies that
>> standard. He does say that if a creator intended a particular outcome of
>> evolution, then such an outcome would need to be "inevitable" or at least an
>> example of convergence. But nowhere does he imply that if there is
>> convergence then there is intent.
> Let's not put the kid gloves on for Coyne either. If he's asserting that
> the argument for Conway-Morris' / Miller's vision of evolutionary intent of
> humans is weak because humans are fantastically singular, then the multitude
> of other examples of convergence - by that standard - gains strength. While
> everyone loves to focus on the specific introduction of humanity in the
> universe, it's not as if the rest of creation is considered a kind of
> afterthought. I doubt he'd cede that it's evidence for intent, and I didn't
> say it proves intent. It just demonstrates that Coyne likely didn't think
> that jab through, and that the evidence to work with is more than he owed up
> to.
>> The net is that one can deal with singular, highly non-probable events
>> in a probabilistic system in very different ways. Is it a purely random
>> occurrence or is it a likely occurrence based on either the characteristics
>> of the system or some higher level intent. I doubt that science can tell us
>> anything more than "there is no indication of a material intent" but a
>> divine intent with an unknown means cannot be ruled out. Scientism would
>> then say that, yes, it is ruled out since such divine intent cannot be
>> detected scientifically. Hence the standoff.
> We can't ascertain what's 'highly non-probable' and stay within the realm
> of science on this question. For example, the claim that 'if you rewound the
> tape of evolution and replayed it, humans and the human-like would never
> show up' (made by Gould, and I hear oft repeated) is packed with assumptions
> (determinacy v indeterminacy, lack of input from outside the system,
> tremendous assumptions about the workings of a system we're still learning
> about, artificial time limit, etc) that kicks it out of the realm of science
> to begin with.
> Yes, there's a standoff - and there doesn't need to be. Coyne's attempt to
> breathe additional life into the winding-down New Atheist conflict is
> unhelpful, and poorly considered.
>> Randy
>> That convergence is real - nature has a habit of finding the same
>> solutions to various problems, even in distinct lineages - seems to be
>> non-controversial here. Coyne's response seems to be that humans should not
>> be viewed as an intended outcome of evolution, on the grounds that the
>> appearance of humans seems tremendously singular. As you said, 'a lot of
>> characteristics that distinguish us from others and serves to define what it
>> means to be human', and those characteristics are only showing up in one
>> lineage.
>> What strikes me as interesting is that, by Coyne's own implied standard,
>> it would be justified to view quite a lot of developments in evolution as
>> intended. After all, humans are just one of the outcomes of evolution -
>> maybe the most singularly important one according to the standards of most
>> religions, but just one of many nevertheless. That places him in the odd
>> position where, if he's arguing we should place less weight on the idea that
>> humans or the human-like were an intended outcome of evolution due to their
>> being singular insofar as convergence goes, quite a lot of other
>> developments in evolutionary history should have claims of 'intentional
>> outcome' strengthened. So already, to fend off what Miller and Conway-Morris
>> implies, he seems to give up a lot of ground.

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Received on Thu Jan 29 13:10:06 2009

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