Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Coyne’


More Hot Air

In Christianity & Atheism,Science & Religion on July 7, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged:

As so often happens, Jerry Coyne is full of hot air this morning.  In a post entitled What evidence would convince you that a god exists?, Coyne wonders what evidence might convince various non-believers that God exists.  That’s a reasonable and interesting question, and even more so since some in the comments essentially admit that since any such evidence could potentially be faked (by, say, sufficiently advanced technology), they can’t be so convinced.

But I was particularly struck by the specious claims Coyne makes along the way.  Let’s take a look.

“In contrast, the faithful do not (and cannot) specify what observations would disprove their beliefs—or the whole basis of their religion.”

Nonsense.  Good evidence that Jesus never existed would cause me to abandon my Christianity.  More generally, convincing evidence that we don’t have some measure of volitional freedom (as I think naturalism demands) would cause me to abandon my theism.  It’s amazing how cavalierly Coyne makes such obviously false claims.

“Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong. And without that, you don’t know if  you’re right.  This is why science makes progress in understanding the world while religion is still mired in medieval theology.”

More nonsense.  Most fundamentally, Coyne is stuck using the wrong measuring stick.  Matters of value are incapable of conclusive demonstration.  The claim — whether religiously based or not — that “torturing innocents is wrong” can’t be proven.  It must be argued for.  But unless Coyne is trying to jettison ethics, morals, and philosophy along with religion (is he?), his claim here is incoherent.  And if he is trying to jettison everything except science as a means of figuring out how to live, he’s just plain wrong.  I can’t prove with any degree of certainty that torturing innocents is wrong — I can’t establish that I’m right.  That fact doesn’t invalidate the effort or the attempt and doesn’t necessarily invalidate any conclusions I might draw.

In looking for comments, Coyne seems to seek out believers:

“If you’re one of the faithful reading this, feel free to post those observations that would convince you that God doesn‘t exist.”

I would have loved to have commented there, but Coyne hasn’t allowed me to post.  I have been advised of a number of people who are banned from Coyne’s site also.  Apparently, he doesn’t really want people to challenge his orthodoxy.


Excessive Certainty

In Christianity & Atheism on June 29, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , ,

Daniel Dennett

Jerry Coyne quotes Daniel Dennett in response to Ron Rosenbaum‘s pitch for agnosticism:

Have you noticed how self-proclaimed (and self-satisfied) agnostics often sneer at us arrogant, over-confident atheists without expressing any parallel contempt for the Pope, Rick Warren, the imams, and so on for their similar if opposite avowals of certainty? In the future I plan to insist on agnostics being equal-opportunity sneerers.

You should note that I have repeatedly said that excessive certainty is a hallmark of both fundamentalism and fundamatheism alike.  As Einstein said, ” [t]hen there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source.”

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.


Laughably Typical

In Science & Religion on June 25, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , , , , , , ,

In laughably typical fashion today, Jerry Coyne attacks the Templeton Foundation for — gasppaying contributors to write for a new publication it will be sponsoring, Big Questions Online.  P.Z. Myers immediately chimed in.  Ophelia Benson had her say too.  The alleged crime is paying for a given conclusion:  “The John Templeton Foundation… has announced that, if you’re willing to toe the party line, Templeton has big simoleons for writers….”

Meanwhile, The Nation reports that “[Richard] Dawkins and [Harry] Kroto, with eight other advisory board members of Project Reason [which includes Coyne], founded by New Atheist author Sam Harris in 2007 to promote secularism, are at work on another offensive. Project Reason hired British science journalist Sunny Bains to investigate Templeton [the Templeton Foundation] and build a case against it.”  Not surprisingly, Bains “uncovered” exactly what her handlers paid for.

Her unpublished findings include evidence of pervasive cronyism: more than half of the past dozen Templeton Prize winners were connected to the foundation before their win, and board members do well obtaining grant money and speaking gigs. Bains also argues that the true atheistic tendencies of leading scientists were misrepresented in the foundation’s Big Questions advertisements. Templeton’s mission, Bains concludes, is to promote religion, and its overtures to science are an insidious trick with the purpose of sneaking in God.

Could Coyne and his cronies possibly be more predictable or more hypocritical?  Well, tomorrow is another day so we’ll have to wait and see….


“We’re Superior to You,” he whined…

In Christianity & Atheism,Science & Religion on June 22, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , , , ,

Take a look at the comment by Eric MacDonald in this thread (#22) to get a good look at fundamatheism at work.  There’s too much nonsense in the comment to deal with it all concisely, but even a quick review of the “highlights” provides ample evidence of how hard it can be to deal with fundamatheists.

1.  “One of the things that bothers me more than anything in the absurd assumption that is being made when people talk about the compatibility of religion and science is the sheer diversity, and, so often, perversity, of religious belief.”

There isn’t more diversity among religious beliefs than among — say — political beliefs, I don’t think.  It’s the nature of the beast when dealing with issues incapable of anything like conclusive demonstration.  Are politics and science incompatible?

2.  “Religions come in so many different shapes and sizes, that the claim that religion is consistent with science is almost certainly false for most religions and for most religious beliefs.”

This is yet another unevidenced claim masquerading as profundity.  Some religious beliefs, such as a 6,000 year-old earth, are inconsistent with science.  But most?  I highly doubt it.  I surely won’t be taking Big Mac’s word for it.

3.  “Nor is there room for dialogue with this sort of thing.”

We’re so dangerous and stupid that we’re unworthy even of dialogue?  And they’re surprised that they are being left off panels seeking dialogue on the issues of science and religion?

4.  “Until people start to recognise that when they speak about religion they are not speaking only about the nice people in the church across the street, who seem so culturally warm and fuzzy, and probably pretty fuzzy minded too about what their beliefs imply, they are also speaking of pretty distressing forms of belief and the injustices and inhumanities that flow from then.”

People of faith only seem nice.  They’re really evil and committed to propping up an evil hegemony.  Sheesh.

5. “For, religion, despite all the warm and fuzzy notions that it seems to connote for so many people, is not warm and fuzzy. It misleads and misdirects. It abuses children, not only by deforming their lives with physical and emotional and sexual abuse, but by much of the religion that is taught, which is of an incredibly destructive sort, very often indelibly so. It ruins lives and imaginations, it binds them to forms of thinking that are the product of ancient cultures, when people banded together on the side of their god against others on the side of theirs, and while it may have given them protection, it also required their submission and all the hatreds that are born of it.”

Ol’ MacDonald has a severe hyperbole problem.  In his deranged hatred, we’re all misleading child abusers set upon sexual abuse and destruction.  We’re not just wrong — we’re evil and inferior.

6. “There is no other way to teach religion. It is a form of authoritarianism, and even those who attempt to convey a more humane, even secular form of religious thought, will be constantly undermined by people who, in faithfulness to tradition, return people to the faith once delivered to the saints, or whatever group happened to be first and therefore the model of faithfulness.”

Oh, and we’re all authoritarian demagogues too.  Don’t forget that.

7.  “And it is really tiresome that someone like Chris Mooney, who obviously knows nothing whatsoever about religion and its claims, continues to blight the world with his assinine [sic] slurs….”

Pot.  Kettle.  Introductions.

8.  “I say we adopt the [New Atheist] name, because it’s a good way of making a distinction between people who think that religious believers have something to contribute to the future of the world other than theocracy and injustice….”

Now we don’t even have anything to contribute to society.

And they wonder why the folks promoting various panels and dialogue opportunities dealing with science and religion don’t treat them seriously and respectfully….

Update (6am PT, 6/22/10):  Jerry Coyne posts praising MacDonald’s bile here.  Russell Blackford joins the sycophantic choir here.  Typically, Coyne is bitter about not being invited in by the evil hoards so that he can tell them off directly.  He also complains that “the claim that ‘we can hardly expect believers to discard their faith based on philosophical considerations, no matter how persuasive these may seem to many secularists or scientists,’ is ridiculous, of course.”  Jerry is attacking a straw man, of course.  The issue is not whether some religious people give up their faith, but rather that faith works at least in some sense for millions of people.  Unless and until the practical value of faith is undercut, it will be hard for Jerry’s message to get heard.  That’s why (or so it seems to me) a mere default position atheism, devoid of any substantive content, doesn’t get more popular traction.  A viewpoint defined by what it doesn’t contain is necessarily weak.  It’s rather pitiful, actually.

Jerry then goes on to complain about parents passing religion on to their children:  “I would guess that if religious brainwashing of children were prohibited, atheism would increase drastically within a generation.”  He doesn’t quite advocate a legal prohibition on religious communication from parents to children — perhaps there is something that is too draconian for Coyne in the fight against religion after all — but it’s clear he thinks it’s a good idea.  Might it be a good idea to preclude parents teaching children “bad” political ideas?  “Bad” social constructs?  It should come as no surprise that parents want to communicate the values that are most important to them to their children because, in the vast majority of cases, they want the best for them. 

I bet even Jerry does it.

Update (6:30am PT, 6/23/10):  Larry Moran weighs in here; I reply here.


Delusional Conspiracy Theorists

In Christianity & Atheism,Freedom of Expression on June 18, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , ,

In a post entitled “The New Martyrs,” YRN makes the point that the so-called “New Atheists” are “becoming the new conspiracists, atheism’s analogue for climate deniers.”  My recent banning from both Jerry Coyne’s blog, Why Evolution Is True, and Ophelia Benson’s Butterflies & Wheels provides support for that view in spades.  You can read about this mess in detail here.  In short, I was banned by Coyne for asking where the case for the philosophical incompatibility of science and faith has been made and by Benson for denying her claim that I have some sort of vendetta against her. 

Ridiculous.  Outrageous.  Stupid.  But typical and fully to be expected.  So much for the freedom of expression.  Benson’s touching call for freedom of expression here is surely tarnished by her raging hypocrisy in my case.

What a joke they are, because all I can do is laugh.



In Christianity & Atheism,Freedom of Expression on June 16, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

Update (1:15pm PT, 6/18/10):  Now I have been banned at B&W.  I made the following post a few minutes ago.  It went up and was immediately pulled down.  What a shock.

 43: “’Signal’ has a bug up its ass about me, one that predates the debut of its blog last Saturday and its debut here on Monday. ‘Signal’ is not ‘Signal’ but someone else, someone with an agenda.”

 This is a lie.   It also suggests that you have a martyr complex, a messiah complex, or both. 

 43:  “I don’t particularly want to host extended conversations between two people that are not particularly on-topic.”

Then I won’t continue it.

To be clear, I have “an agenda” in that I have a point of view.  But the idea that I am somehow out to get Ms. Benson is, to put it kindly, delusional at best.

Update ( 11:40am PT, 6/18/10):  My “You might learn something” reply at B&W has shown up, a day late.  But at least it appeared.

Update (9:40am PT, 6/18/10):  My “Knock Three Times” post at B&W is still missing and a follow-up post from yesterday in the “You might learn something” thread has not gone up.  It may be a case of technical difficulties and/or moderation purgatory, but it’s hard not to be suspicious that censorship is at work.

Update (10:15am PT, 6/17/10): On the other hand, it appears that I have been banned from Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True blog for having the temerity to ask, in this thread, where the case for the philosophical incompatibility of science and faith has been made. I haven’t seen it. Clearly, at a minimum, Coyne is a hypocrite when it comes to his alleged support of free expression.

Update (7am PT, 6/17/10): My post in the “Knock Three Times” thread remains missing.

Update (4:25pm PT, 6/16/10):  Per the comments, Ms. Benson has advised that one of the posts has been released from moderation.  Apparently I haven’t been banned but remain on double secret probation.  Moreover, another post remains missing; I hope it will appear shortly.


I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

I have apparently been banned at Butterflies & Wheels in that my posts there are no longer being accepted.  The banning took place without notice or reasons given to me or to those participating with me there (see here and here).  Based upon the threads alone, one would conclude that I had abandoned the argument.  Anyone may read the threads  and decide if I deserved it.  In my experience, those who screech the loudest and longest about free expression (see here, for example) are often the quickest to try to squelch those with whom they disagree.  It’s a shame, too, because I thought the discussion was fruitful and getting somewhere.  Apologies to those who were engaging me thoughtfully.  I didn’t desert the discussion.


A Lame Claim

In Christianity & Atheism on June 12, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , , , ,

"Science will win because it works."

When asked by Diane Sawyer of ABC News about the biggest mystery he’d like solved, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking replied, “I want to know why the universe exists, why there is something greater than nothing.” The video is available here. The interview also includes this exchange:

Sawyer: “So, to the people who say science and religion are irreconcilable, you say. . .?”

Hawking: “One could define God as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of as God. They mean a human-like being with whom one could have a personal relationship.”

Sawyer then asked him if there was a way to reconcile science and faith.

Hawking:  “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

Not surprisingly, the blogosphere reacted.

From Jerry Coyne:

The last, terse sentence sums up in six words the entire history of science and faith….

It’s time to admit that those who still claim that religion and science are compatible–ignoring their fundamental and blatantly obvious differences in philosophy, methodology, and success at understanding the universe–are intellectually dishonest.

This is par for the course, of course, for Professor Coyne.  But is he right?

I think not (and obviously not).

First, religion is often based upon authority but isn’t necessarily.  Moreover, authority is a concept often honored in the breach.  That Christianity is exceedingly different today than it was, say, a thousand years ago is a testament to its adaptability. God, assuming He exists as traditionally posited, has authority.  But transmitting that authority through and to fallible human beings has proved…problematic.  Obviously, that’s one explanation why there are so many religions and so much disparity  in what they uphold.  In that sense, and in the sense of trying to explain how the physical world is, religion hasn’t fared very well.  However, if religion didn’t work in some crucial sense(s), it would have no adherents.  Religion surely works, too, albeit in a different manner.

On the other hand, science (both as a method and as a body of knowledge) is a wonderful thing with innumerable impressive achievements.  Yet Coyne promises even more on its behalf.  Coyne claims that science’s philosophy (scientism?) beats any and all alternative conceptions.  Indeed, he claims that to think otherwise is intellectually dishonest.  But he doesn’t provide any idea of what this philosophy is or what it entails. Indeed, he offers no philosophical justification for his claim that science and religion are incompatible and offers no scientific justification for it either.  Perhaps he can suggest some experiments?  Science surely establishes that a number of religiously motivated claims (e.g., a 6,000 year-old earth) are incompatible with it.   But that is not the same thing as demonstrating philosophical incompatibility.  That failure is largely predicated upon the fact that science is not a philosophy and demands no particular philosophy.

Put another way, science surely works is the sense that its methodology is able tell us what is and, using this method to accumulate a body of knowledge, it is highly useful for us as we navigate our world.  But to what end does it work?

Science is an extremely powerful phenomenon. It has provided the basis for many of the modern world’s great advances.  But it also provides the raw material for much of its great evil. Indeed, the current technological state of scientific knowledge will inevitably provide the physical basis for events that will make the evil we’ve seen thus far seem to be banal anecdotes, in the same way that the horrible casualties of the WWI were dwarfed by those of WWII. So at the very least, science poses ethical questions which cannot be avoided by any conscientious person involved with it, from near or far, and in this sense, the idea of science without ideology is not just untenable, it is downright silly.  As (even?) Daniel Dennett has noted, (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, p.21), “there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”  Since Coyne doesn’t offer a glimpse of what this scientific philosophy is, what philosophy does he seek to slip on board without examination?

Despite some recent silly attempts to claim otherwise (for example, here), and despite Coyne’s claim that science’s philosophy works (somehow), is cannot establish ought.  Yet philosophy focuses heavily upon oughts.  That explains why Einstein famously noted that science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.  You might recall Tom Lehrer’s famous ditty from the ’60s about Wernher von Braun and his rockets. Von Braun (pictured above) was likely the greatest rocket scientist of the 20th Century.  He was also a Nazi who built rockets for the Third Reich and, after the war, switched sides and built rockets for the United States.  Von Braun’s job, sings Lehrer, is simply to get the rockets into the air — “Who cares where zey come down?”

This is not to say that this ideological blame should lie entirely at the feet of science itself. However, the impossibility of the existence of science without some ideological bias is impossible because science is practiced by human beings who are morally responsible for what they do. In this context, the ultimate irony and perversity of the current cult of rationalism and science is the picture of scientists — real human beings — pretending either that they are not required to elaborate upon and question their own moral positions or that science alone can define and describe their morality.   The problem is not a confusion of pure science with ideology; the problem is the delusion of real people believing that human existence can partake of scientific and rational purity, through the taking of vows forever to eschew irrationality in all of its forms.

Rationality cannot mandate ethical choice, yet we have vowed to evacuate all that is irrational? No problem, says Coyne. Yet we clearly cannot flourish without conscious moral inquiry. Thousands of years ago, the Mesopotamian adepts (male) of the goddess Ishtar, personally and publicly castrated themselves in order to achieve moral blamelessness through obedience. The modern rationalist who avoids the key questions of human responsibility by claiming that only science can provide any “genuine” answers is practicing a self-emasculation more disabling yet.