Today I ran across a compilation of arguments and comebacks by Jerry Coyne, the author of “Why Evolution Is True” and “Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.” I found myself shaking my head at so many of his comments, that I decided to write a full rebuttal, as I often do. This does not cover every point, but it covers most of them. I will also most likely update this page a few times, as I have more discussions on this topic.
Constants in Science
Is any idea, in science, immune from change? The thing is, you have science, and then you have data collection. Empirical evidence itself is not science. Science really should relate to the body of theory itself. And before you say that, because this person is a scientist, he has expertise in the scientific process, let me point out that most scientists have very little, if any, formal knowledge on the topic of the philosophy and history of science (in fact, some outright reject the need for it). But philosophy of science is the realm where you learn what science is, what it isn’t, what it can do, and what it cannot do.
Throwing Things Out
Next up, there’s a major problem with “throwing something out” if there is no evidence to support it. Lack of evidence that something is true is in no way a justification for asserting that it is false. It can be “dismissed”, but not “thrown out.” I think this comes from a conflation between absence of evidence and evidence of absence. The former means nothing. The latter exists, only after a reasonable expectation is formulated, and yet isn’t met, after experimentation.
“There’s no god propelling this…”: Now this is a big one. That’s a substantial claim, and goes back to my previous point. Can we dismiss the claim that there is a god? Sure. Can we construct a theory which assumes that there’s no god, or any other global factor, driving evolution in a certain direction? Sure. Can we just say that either of these are true? No.
Fossil Evidence and Circular Reasoning
Regarding fossil evidence, his argument in some ways requires the assumption that evolution occurs, because he’s taking the changes in the fossil record as being examples of evolution. That’s one reason why the deductive falsification methodology of science can be somewhat preferable. You have less risk of circular reasoning. In this case, he excludes any other potential explanation for the fossil record, and claims that it’s evolution. This can only be done if you assume evolution.
Science is a methodology for finding out what’s true about the universe? That’s absolutely incorrect. We have no idea whether or not any theory we have is true. We don’t know how likely it is to be true. All we know is that a working theory has not been falsified. That’s generally all we have. Why? Because we’re using a process of elimination, where the set of eliminated values essentially has measure 0. In other words, the space of potential answers is so much bigger than the list of excluded answers, that we’re not really gaining all that much information about the space, as a whole.
“We’re All Atheists??”
“… that’s of course why we’re all atheists.” Well there’s an inaccurate statement. There are plenty of scientists who are theists. Freeman Dyson is a good example. Even if we just limit the discussion to Christian Scientists, we have a good size list, and that doesn’t count any other theists who are scientists.
Now, I may have only provided a list of Christian scientists, but that’s fine, because we know that the total set of theist scientists is, more or less, at least as large as the set of Christian scientists. I didn’t make any assumptions that are unreasonable to make. But restricting his definition of religion to Abrahamic religions is incredibly naive. Yes; it’s easier to make an argument by restricting the domain of the discussion, but if you do so, and you cannot show that you can generalize your argument, as needed, then you have not actually argued your point.
Compatibility of Science and Religion
Religion is certainly not incompatible with science. Science is about investigating the realm of the empirical, and specifically, the empirically falsifiable. Religion is about the realm of the non-empirically, and specifically that, which has no known (by the person or group in question) method of empirical investigation.
Prayer studies are interesting. The studies make a lot of assumptions, and that’s fine. But the studies do not falsify the efficacy of prayer. They falsify the efficacy of prayer, under the assumption that the prayer being a part of a study does not influence the efficacy of the prayer. Also, there’s an assumption that if there’s an effect, it must be identifiable through scientific investigation. That’s fine to make that assumption, as part of the theory, but it’s important to realize that you are not falsifying a component of the theory, but the theory as a whole. We know nothing about any of the individual components.
Quite frankly, it sounds like Coynes starts with the belief that there are no gods. He then filters the rest of his work through that core religious belief. For instance “there is no god, and so evolution is not directed.” Of course there are other possible global selective pressures on evolution, besides an intelligent agent, but evolutionary scientists tend to reject all global selective pressure.