Faith vs. Fact? No, Jerry Coyne’s Theology vs. Whatever
Book Review by Tom Gilson
With all its sloppiness, error, and bias, it’s hard to know where to start in on evaluating Dr. Jerry Coyne’s latest book, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. Throughout the book I highlighted sentences and paragraphs where his facts were dubious or his reasoning questionable. My impression (I didn’t count) is that I averaged one of these “highlights” per page.
Maybe I’m off by a factor of two, and there was just one every other page. That’s still way too many. I couldn’t begin to cover all the territory that offers for criticism.
One quick example: in his review of the moral argument for God, he spent pages defending evolution’s ability to explain moral behavior. That’s fine, except apparently he didn’t know that the moral argument has nothing to do with moral behavior. It’s about moral facts, the human awareness that some things are actually right and some are actually wrong.
This is not about behavior but about knowledge, knowledge that’s hard to explain except by reference to some transcendent source of morality: God. “Moral behavior” sounds a lot like “moral facts,” though, which might be why Coyne thinks he’s being successful in attacking this argument for God.
It’s like a bomber pilot going off on a mission to bomb Atlanta (God forbid, but I had to choose a city that fits the analogy), dropping his ordnance a thousand miles offshore in the Atlantic, then flying home oblivious to the fact that what he’d accomplished was utterly irrelevant. The two destinations sound alike, after all.
That’s a mere detail, however, next to the fundamental error underlying the entire book. Coyne’s case rests on his contention that science is better than religion because it has ways to verify its knowledge. Somehow it escaped his attention that he wasn’t writing a science book.
The effects of that oversight are devastating, leading him in some cases to delve all the way into a theology of his own.
For example (p. 84),
Clearly, religions aren’t incompatible only with science: they’re incompatible with one another. And this incompatibility wasn’t inevitable: if the particulars of belief and dogma were somehow bestowed on humans by a god, there’s no obvious reason why there should be more than one brand of faith.
Of course followers of various religions know our beliefs are incompatible with each other’s. This is not news to us…
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