Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jerry Coyne On Why Science and Religion Cannot Be Friends

Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, has written a column for USA Today, in which he opines that science and religion cannot coexist. He begins:
Atheist books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith have, by exposing the dangers of faith and the lack of evidence for the God of Abraham, become best-sellers. Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations and replacing them with material ones.
Gee, Jerry. Don't hesitate to tell us what you think. He is, of course, focusing on the "God of the Gaps" model of the universe, assuming that this is a valid picture of Christianity. For some, it might be. It is not for most. He continues:
But faith will not go gentle. For each book by a "New Atheist," there are many others attacking the "movement" and demonizing atheists as arrogant, theologically ignorant, and strident.
Can't imagine why that would be. I remember having a conversation with my pastor after "the talk." He had gone out and picked up something by Richard Dawkins. While he did not have the background to understand the arguments on evolution, what came out clear as a bell was the "strident" (he used that word) and arrogant wording of Dawkins in all things religious. Unlike the NCSE, of whom Eugenie Scott at least held religious belief in respect, if not something she believed herself, Coyne is insulting and disdainful in his view of religion. A bit later, he tips his hand, though:
Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth. And while they may have a dialogue, it's not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science.

He is correct. They are different forms of inquiry. The thing is that while others regard religious inquiry as valid, he does not. That is not a failing of religious inquiry, it is a reductionistic view on his part. That he does not find this level of inquiry does not mean, nor should it mean that others do not.
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  1. James, I enjoy following your blog even though I am squarely in the Gnu Atheist camp. This post of yours confuses me, so I expect I am misunderstanding you. Let me assume for the sake of argument that both forms of inquiry are meaningful. Is it reasonable to create a classic Venn diagram with 1 overlapping area and 2 non overlapping areas? Do you think that all three areas are non-empty? If so, can you provide examples of what falls in the intersection?

  2. "The thing is that while others regard religious inquiry as valid, he does not. That is not a failing of religious inquiry, it is a reductionistic view on his part."

    Can you be more explicit regarding his logical error? Why do you think religious forms of inquiry are valid?

  3. rigadoon7:11 PM

    It is a dangerous waste of time to contrast science, which is hard enough to define, with "religion" or "faith", which are extremely amorphous terms. Besides, disbelief is a form of belief and anti-religion is a form of religion.

  4. Hi Jim and Jesse. Well, for example, for those of us that are evolutionary creationists, the area of non-overlap would be the scientific constructs. The Bible simply isn't a science book. The Bible is a testament of God's character and how we are to interact with Him. The areas of overlap would be the social and religious interactions. The way Dr. Coyne writes, he assumes that there cannot be a God because he cannot see or hear him. This flies in the face of the experiences of many, including Augustine, Peter Abelard, C.S. Lewis (who started out as an atheist) and many, many others, like myself, who have experienced the presence of God in our lives.

    C.S. Lewis wrote about the value of religious inquiry by addressing the longing in his life for something outside of himself and the life he had. By his own admission he was "dragged, kicking and screaming" into belief in God. Religious inquiry addresses an area of our existence that science has a hard time quantifying.

    We might look at a sunset and be able to describe why we see what we see. We then might be moved by the sheer beauty that we see. Why? What is the advantage of thinking that the sunset is beautiful? That is the part of our being that, in those of us who believe in Him, God speaks to. That is the part that convinced C.S. Lewis that there had to be more than just his existence.

    The above is not well exposited but I wanted to get something down.