Re: [asa] Jerry Coyne's latest blog post (long)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Thu Apr 23 2009 - 17:16:57 EDT

Hi Charles,

As you point out, given the public exposure that Dawkins, Harris, Dennett etc have enjoyed over the last few years, a claim that they are being "ignored" is a bit rich!

What really raises a chuckle, however, is Coyne's primary argument: that the NCSE should refrain from making comment on religious matters. Here Coyne REALLY needs to inform himself of the reason for the NCSE's existence - I mean, the NCSE arose out of attempts to oppose the promotion of religiously motivated scientific creationism, for goodness sake! So Coyne is arguing that the NCSE should make no religious comment when its very raison d'Ítre is to oppose certain types of religiously motivated attacks on science! Surely disarming the religious objection ought to be a central priority of the NCSE? I suspect the only reason Coyne doesn't acknowledge this is because of he is blinded by an anti-religious bias. He, along with Dawkins et al, is so biased against religion that he simply can't countenance that there might be such a thing as "good theology" by which one might combat the dubious theology of the scientific creationists. Rather he thinks all religion is pathological, a
nd that "more science" is the one true cure.

At rock botton, I think, it is this anti-religious bias - and the lack of discernment which comes with it - that constitutes Coyne's basic problem. He is, as far as I can see, so rabidly anti-religious that he fails to see that recent advocacy of the incompatibalist position has involved little more more than empty rhetoric - and decidedly nasty rhetoric at that. He thinks compatibalism is so obviously wrong that he thinks that it has merited only derision. But having had a few years "in the sun" - sprouting their pat one-liners and being very self-congratulatory about their own cleverness - the new atheists simply can't see that they are increasingly being "ignored" not because of other people's pro-religious agendas, but because THEY haven't offered compelling arguments for their position.

So, when one finds INFORMED people of the very sort Coyne cites in his blog post (Miller, Fr. George Coyne, Collins) standing up saying "I am a Christian AND a scientist" then evidence AGAINST their position is pretty hard to gain-say. The evidence really does suggest that incompatibilism is at the very least improbable, if not flat wrong. Is there little wonder that the incompatibalist position is increasingly being seen as untenable?

Here I find telling the list of incompatibalists Coyne offers: apart from himself, there's Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, P. Z. Myers, Dan Dennett, A. C. Grayling, and Peter Atkins - NONE of whom are Christian theologians nor, from what I've read on them, know ANYTHING about Christian theology. Certainly they are not what we might call "sympathetic" critics (more the equivalent of the legal system's "hostile witness").

Contrast this with, say, Michael Ruse, who set out to examine "honestly" (there's that word again!) whether Christianity and evolution are compatible and was, by his own admission, surprised to find out that they indeed are. But to reach this conclusion he actually had to listen to, and learn a thing or two from, Christian philosophers, theologians, and scientists. Until Coyne et al put in this sort of academic leg-work, their views don't merit a hearing - honest or otherwise.

Even in the blog post in question one gets an idea of the depth of Coyne's exploration of the subject. Criticising the NCSE's practice of marketing "staff publications" he makes reference to Hess' "Catholicism and Science" with these words; "The book is so new that I havenít seen it, but hereís the description on Amazon..." I mean forgive me for not being impressed, but Coyne is criticizing the NSCE on the basis of an Amazon description of a book he has never read? And he wants his scholarship in this area to be taken seriously? Words fail me...

In my opinion Coyne's situation amounts to this;

Lacking any understanding of the Christian notion of God - and therefore lacking any basis for asserting whether evolution is, or is not, compatible with Christian theology - yet nevertheless wanting to privilege his own metaphysical (atheistic) position under the guise of "science" Coyne has to resort to what amounts to the equivalent of a creationist demand for "equal treatment".

His argument for atheism, in other words, doesn't stand on its merits so he has to resort to bleating about being "ignored" as thought any and all views have a "right to be heard".

More than that, on the basis of "neutrality" he wants the NCSE to refrain from citing the views of compatibalists.

Sorry to be cynical, but it seems to me that Coyne wants, in effect, his opponents views to be ignored in order that he can maintain the pretense that science and religion are indeed incompatible. Absent well-informed comment by Christian scientists, philosophers, and theologians Coyne's case is that much easier to make. In that respect, I can understand why Coyne is troubled by the NCSE citing Christian scientists in defense of a compatibilist line - but I think that rather than whining about their doing so, Coyne should reappraise his own views in order that they might more closely align with reality.

I all of this, I think we can see that the recent strategy that Coyne, Dawkins, Meyers, et al has run aground. If one looks at their writings, it is pretty clear that they are very short on substance. They basically ASSERT the incompatibility of science and religion and then soundly abuse anyone who demures. I would argue that this is the reason Coyne et all are being "ignored" - because they really have nothing of substance to say.

Further to this, Coyne, Dawkins, Meyers et have sought primarily to influence popular opinion rather than to develop arguments which might hold water at the academic level. Indeed, several of them have delighted in the attempt to incite a kind of scientific jihad against religion. But now they are seeing this strategy backfire as INFORMED thinkers look elsewhere for nuanced discussion between scientists and theologians. To put it in a nutshell; they played the public popularity game and lost. Coyne can bleat all he likes about those interested in INFORMED discussion overlooking his stale old claims of conflict between science and religion, but when your sole strategy is to yell louder rather than improve your argument people do eventually stop listening.

At the end of the day, I have to say that the less airtime the theologically and philosophically vacuous claims of atheists of the Coyne/Dawkins/Meyers sort get, the better. "Honesty" demands that we acknowledge that such views exist - just as "honesty" demands we acknowledge the existence of creationists and flat earthers. But acknowledging their existence is a different thing from ascribing credibility to their misinformed rantings. They may WISH that science and Christianity are in irreconcilable conflict, but wishing doesn't make it so, and I prefer to trust firstly my own perceptions on the matter (and on that basis I am pretty certain that some sort of compatibalism IS the correct position to hold), and, secondly, those thinkers - Gingerich, Polkinghorne, Collins, Lamoreux, McGrath, Conway Morris etc, etc, etc, who actually understand Christian theology AND the sciences and are therefore positioned to actually make a reasoned comment as to the compatibility of science
 and Christian belief.

One might, incidentally, congratulate organizations such as ASA and individuals such as Francis Collins for helping groups such as NCSE to see that Christian belief and evolution are, indeed, compatible and that the views of Coyne et al are marginal, uninformed, and motivated by a metaphysical (atheistic) agenda - well worthy of being "ignored" by any "honest" person.


Austerberry, Charles wrote:
> See:
> Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down
> <>
> Though I disagree with his theology, Jerry Coyne is right that honesty
> requires acknowledgement of the entire spectrum of views regarding the
> compatibility of theism and evolution. It wasn't long ago that the many
> (perhaps majority) who see theism and evolution as compatible were too
> often ignored. Now that the views of Collins, Conway Morris, the two
> Millers, Haught, and others are better known, the incompatibilists are
> worried that /their/ view is being ignored. But as far as I can tell,
> the incompatibilist view is still very widely seen and heard, both from
> the New Atheists like Coyne and from the anti-evolutionists (whether
> YEC, OEC, or ID). So, I don't blame the NCSE for emphasizing the
> compatibilist view. But, Coyne may have a point that the
> incompatibilists should be acknowledged a bit more (even if they are
> wrong :).
> Chuck
> Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry

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Received on Thu Apr 23 17:17:38 2009

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