What are our concluding thoughts on Coyne’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
It’s time to wrap up our look at Coyne’s book with asking why this matters. Now I do agree on this point. This does matter. As you can imagine, I disagree greatly with the conclusion of Coyne.
Coyne does list a number of evils that have been done by religious people. This cannot be denied. What can be denied is that Christians themselves aren’t doing anything about this. When I lived in Charlotte, I worked at the Christian Research Institute. Hank Hanegraaff who ran it is quite well-known for dealing with the prosperity Gospel movement, including such ideas as that healing is guaranteed in the atonement. The overwhelming majority of Christians would look at the events that Coyne talks about and say that they condemn them as well. Now some could say that this is based on promises of Scripture, but such promises are read through modern lenses instead of understanding the social and linguistic context of the first century. For instance, ask anything in my name is not a blank check. It means that you will receive anything you ask for that is in line with the will of the Master, and sometimes healing frankly isn’t in line with that.
If Coyne wants to say the kind of thinking done by these people should be stopped, I wholeheartedly agree. The reason it got this way is sadly, anti-intellectualism did sneak into the church. Such a view is really the exception to what has gone on in church history. I also contend that it has made its way into atheism, especially in the age of the internet where we live in a soundbite culture where someone thinks if you just put up a meme, the meme itself is an argument. Memes can be hilarious illustrations of arguments, but they should never be used as arguments themselves.
On page 229, Coyne warns about missionizing, which is an attempt to force your unsubstantiated beliefs on others.
The irony is so rich….
For one thing, I would really like to know how anyone can force a belief or even attempt to. We can only attempt to persuade. Some people will do a terrible job because frankly, they haven’t done their homework and don’t know about the historical evidence for their claims. (People like Jerry Coyne for instance and people like fundamentalist Christians) These people want to argue for what they believe but they don’t read the best scholarly works out there that disagree with them. (Again, people like Jerry Coyne and fundamentalist Christians.) When they meet people who know what they’re talking about, it’s quite apparent that the person wanting to make the argument just isn’t prepared.
So if I wanted to point to a clear example of missionizing, I’d point to Coyne’s book. Remember everyone, this is someone speaking on philosophical terminology who says
Another problem is that scientists like me are intimidated by philosophical jargon, and hence didn’t interrupt the monologues to ask for clarification for fear of looking stupid. I therefore spent a fair amount of time Googling stuff like “epistemology” and “ontology” (I can never get those terms straight since I rarely use them).
And as for theological arguments he says
This is an area about which I’m completely ignorant, and happy to remain so, because it sounds like a godawful cesspool of theological lucubration. It of course begins with three completely unsupported premises: that there is a God, that that God has a mind that has “beliefs,” and that how we act now somehow influences God’s beliefs about our actions long before we performed them. It sounds as if what we do now, then, can go back in time and change God’s beliefs. (That, at least, is how I interpret the gobbledygook above.)
Given those three bogus assumptions, the candidate will then spend many dollars ruminating about how God’s prior beliefs relate to the philosophy of time and metaphysics of dependence, whatever that means.
In other words, all the money is going to work out the consequences of a fairy tale. So much money for so much “sophisticated” philosophy!
So here we have someone who has to google basic terms in philosophy and who confesses to being ignorant in theology and happy to remain so, but yet wants to teach us on both of these.
Coyne also says that Natural Law on page 245 refers to innate morality supposedly vouchsafed to Catholics by God and understood by reason.
This from the one who complains about missionizing.
Natural Law is a rich tradition that goes back to the Greeks prior to Christianity. It is the simple idea that there is good and evil and we can all know them by virtue of being human beings and learning. We don’t need any divine revelation for that. It’s also not just a Catholic thing. Muslims and Jews could argue the same. So could Protestants. Perhaps it would have helped Coyne had he, you know, actually read something on Natural Law.
I’d also like to share how on page 250 ending a section on global warming, he talks about how the Vatican has an observatory, which is surprising to most people, and how Father Guy Consolmagno of it says it serves “to make people realize that the church not only supports science, literally….but we support and embrace and promote the use of both our hearts and our brains to come to know how the universe works.” Coyne takes this as a clear expression that people believe what they like to be true rather than what science tells us. How is that so?
It’s hardly necessary to add that the heart is not an organ for thinking, and that we can never understand ‘how the universe works’ by using our emotions, via faith, instead of reason. Father Consolmagno’s heart, for example, has convinced him that if extraterrestrial beings exist, that they have souls like ours.”
It’s hardly necessary to point out to most people on planet Earth, which sadly do not include Coyne, that it’s quite clear that Consolmagno is using metaphorical language here. He is not at all saying that he thinks with the heart any more than someone is denying science when they tell their wife “I love you with all of my heart.” We can easily picture Coyne saying “The heart is not an organ for loving!”
For anyone out there who thinks like Coyne, the claim is simply that with our very beings we can work to know the universe. While it could include emotions, the quote does not refer to them. (It would be a mistake also to say love is an emotion. It can result in powerful emotions we call love, but love itself is not an emotion.) I am sure if Coyne was to debate Consolmagno, he’d find Consolmagno actually has reasons for what he believes, including about aliens.
So where does this all end? Coyne’s big mistake here is the same one that many people make on the Christian side. By making the debate to be science vs. the Bible, most people in America will actually choose the Bible. God does more for them in their minds than science does. God gives them more wonder and purpose in their lives than science does. This is also tragic because Coyne would have to be able to admit that many Christians do have wonderful minds (Who wants to say people like Francis Collins are idiots?) and yet if he makes it an either/or proposition, then he is keeping some of those minds out of science.
Unfortunately, the way many Christians have handled issues like evolution has perpetuated this. Perhaps evolution will fall as bad science some day like some other theories have. I cannot say, but let us be open to the possibility. If it does, let it fall because it is bad science. There is no place for making it be the Bible vs. Science. If you believe the Bible, then you should believe that it won’t contradict science. If that is the case, then the way to show something is wrong in the world of science is to do so scientifically. Using the Bible to do this just perpetuates the stereotype.
Coyne then in wanting to end the problem is in fact making it worse by his works. This is especially so when he writes about topics that he does not know about. It’s really ironic that someone who wants to talk about evidence-based belief takes such a light approach to evidence in what he critiques. The objections that Coyne thinks are stumpers could be seen as parallel to what evolutionists think when they’re told “Well if we came from apes, why are there still apes?” Now could I answer that question? No, because I’m not a scientist and I won’t even try. That’s why I don’t speak on it. I do trust that regardless of my stance on evolution, it would be a bad argument anyway.
This gets us to the tragedy that in one sense, Coyne is right. Faith is opposed to fact. How? Because if science is really that evidence-based belief including history, had Coyne actually read the evidence, he would see a strong case that Christianity is true and Jesus rose from the dead. Since he does not treat evidence seriously but only cherry-picks what is in line with what he already believes without interacting with the best scholarship on the other side, then Coyne is acting on faith. In that case, had Coyne done a proper scientific inquiry, he would have seen that Christianity is true, but as a priest of his religion of scientism, Coyne cannot allow evidence that goes against his faith. The religion of Coyne and the science that demonstrates that Christianity is true are certainly incompatible. It looks like Coyne has decided to be a person of faith instead of a person of science in this case.
Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2 can be found here.
Part 3 can be found here.
Part 4 can be found here.