A CONCISE REFUTATION OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST DR. JERRY A. COYNE, in defense of Theologia and Faith, by Dr. Derrick E. Steilman, Th.D.
Dr. Coyne’s position in his book Faith vs. Fact is that science and religion are incompatible. Many of Dr. Coyne’s colleagues disagree, and I do as well.
First, let me clarify one point: I love science. I use scientific practices each and every day in Theology, such as specific methodological approaches to analysis, classification, and organization of the known historical and archaeological evidence concerning ancient Abrahamic Scriptures and the religious/cultural practices of that time. It is not my position to attack science, which I deeply value and appreciate. Both religion and science leave many unanswered questions. This must be admitted before we can move forward.
I also believe, as does Paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, that science and religion maintain a “non-overlapping magisteria” in which science speaks authoritatively about natural facts. In contrast, Theology speaks authoritatively about the realm of meaning, morals, and values. Yet while they each specialize in different areas, they can (and must) work together.
The purpose of this refutation then is to show, that while many in science and religion are purposively working together to discover the ultimate truth behind many of the world’s most perplexing mysteries in a meaningful way, others (like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Dr. Coyne) are driven to undermine these efforts at all costs. Their attempts have shown to be Godless, loveless, and directed at undermining the timeworn fabric of truth, culture, and tradition. Let there be no doubt that I view these men as distinguished in their perspective fields of expertise. Yet, I maintain that distinguished scholars who attack religion are in an exponentially significant minority. And while you will hear such men citing all kinds of statistics about scientists that favor their agenda, the fact mentioned above is conveniently never included.
Here is one such statistic and a pointed example of Coyne’s deliberate attempt to obfuscate the facts: on page 61 of Coyne’s book Faith vs. Fact, Coyne tells us that “a survey of Americans in 2010 found…that Christians were abysmally ignorant about the details and doctrines of Christianity: only 42 percent of Catholics could name Genesis as the first book of the Bible…” A statistic like that, standing alone, paints Christians as ignorant. It is easy to see the implication that as a result of this ignorance, they should also be ignored, or at the very least, not taken seriously.
But what if a similar survey, not of Christians, but of those who maintain abject faith in science, were conducted? How many average everyday American “believers of science” could list the parts of a single living cell? Or name 10 of the elements on the Periodic Table? These are the simplest of scientific questions, but I asked ten people with a high school or equivalent education, and not one of them could answer either question completely.
This is not to say that these people are ignorant. Instead, in both cases, the failings of both scientists and Theologians as teachers should be analyzed. I would also point out that more people should be expected to know the simple answers to the scientific questions because it is science and not faith (particularly the Christian faith) that is being taught in public schools.
Coyne admits in his book to concentrating on theistic faiths, in particular, the “Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity and Judaism” (ibid. p.xvi.) These “are the ones–particularly Christianity–most concerned with reconciling their beliefs with science” (ibid. p. xvi). He admits that it is mostly the various brands of Christianity that he attacks in his book. This is because Christianity, in one form or another, is responsible for the Creationist and Intelligent Design arguments which demonstrate the compatibility of science and religion.
Science has always given a certain amount of respect to Christianity, in large part because Christianity is where science has its origins. Many famous scientists were Christian, and their work was driven by their faith. Coyne lists some of these giants: “Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, all of whom, despite denominational and doctrinal differences among them, and opposition that some experienced from Church authorities, were deeply committed to Jesus Christ.” (ibid. p. 213).
Coyne also admits that Theologians have always said that God gave us reason to help us understand the world and that Monasteries were often the only repositories of scientific knowledge from early thinkers. He admits that it was the churches that helped create and support early European Universities, some of which strongly encouraged scientific pursuits. Fine and well.
But these are somewhat obscure and distant facts that Coyne uses to give the impression that he is weighing both sides of the argument with equal merit. If this were true, he would have provided source material for the would-be researcher and perhaps spoken of early American education and the founding of our great Universities. For example, Harvard was established to train ministers of the Gospel. This is evident in its two mottos: “For Christ and the Church” and “For the Glory of Christ.” (Benjamine Pierce, A History of Harvard University, p.5 Appendix).
Yale also began as a school to train ministers of the Gospel. Yale admonished its students: “Above all, have an eye to the great end of all your studies, which is to obtain the clearest conceptions of Divine things and to lead you to a saving knowledge of God in his Son Jesus Christ.” (The Catalogue of the Library of Yale College in New Haven, prefatory remarks.)
In pursuit of this goal, Yale stipulated: “All the scholars are required to live religious and blameless life according to the rules of God’s Word, diligently reading the Holy Scriptures…and constantly attending all the duties of religion.” (The Laws of Yale College in New Haven in Connecticut, pp.5-6 Chp. II, Article 1,4.)
The same goes for Princeton, which was founded on faith in Christ and ordered for the education of Godly men. (Samuel Davies Alexander, Princeton College During the Eighteenth Century.)
These schools produced many of the greatest leaders and scientific thinkers the world has ever seen, including many of the signers of our Declaration of Independence and many of the builders of our great nation. These thinkers and builders were, by and large, Christians. They were also scholars of the highest category and scientists without peer. Ironically, many of those who rail against Christianity today received their Ph. Ds from one of these schools, in a free country that was founded on the very Biblical morality that the atheist scientists now wish to eradicate.
Coyne did indeed leave out some critical information, but he goes further than a simple omission. While appearing to give the proper respect to Christianity on the one hand, he later lumps many religions together in a very unfavorable light, focusing on the very unreasonable peculiarities of a few. Example: “Black Muslims believe that whites are a race of devils, created less than seven thousand years ago from selective breeding by a mad black scientist named Yakub” (ibid. p. 84.) “And, of course, there is Xenu and his hydrogen bombs,” Coyne remarks offhandedly, referring to the Theology of Scientology, which says that Xenu the galactic dictator brought billions of humanlike beings to earth in a spaceship, dumped them around a volcano, then destroyed them by exploding hydrogen bombs within the craters.
Coyne points out many other absurd examples of farfetched faiths in his book simply to sharpen the spear that he has leveled at the Abrahamic faiths in particular. Anyone can see this for what it is: a low brow attempt to mislead his readers. But by using these tricks, all, he ultimately succeeds in doing is undermining his own credibility.
It is worth noting that the overwhelming majority of religious scientists (and high academia at large) place their trust in the Abrahamic faiths that are based on the Holy Scriptures, of these the most prominently adhered to is Christianity. This is because science itself, primarily using the disciplines of Archaeology, History, and Philology–have determined that the Abrahamic faiths are grounded in historical fact and supported by archaeological discoveries. There are things that we don’t understand about Scripture, such as miracles and supernatural phenomena–and these are the things that the atheists would have you focus on–but the unknown is insignificant in light of the known and provable.
“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavor in art and science…” –Albert Einstein.
Admittedly, there is much that is unknown–indeed unknowable–in both science and religion. Theologians at least have a working theory that has transcended the generations, preserves culture and tradition and has brought about charitable civilization.
ARE SCIENTISTS OVERWHELMINGLY ATHEIST?
Early on in his book, Coyne lists some exciting stats that focus on the difference between the religiosity of American scientists in contrast to the religiosity of the American public: “Surveying American scientists as a whole, Pew Research showed that 33 percent admitted belief in God” (i.e., a personal God), “while 41 percent were atheists (the rest didn’t answer, didn’t know, or believed in a ‘universal higher power’).” [Is that another 26% for God?] “In contrast, belief in God among the general public ran at 83 percent and atheism at only 4 percent. In other words, scientists are ten times more likely to be atheists than are other Americans” (ibid. p.12). What is he insinuating here?
Dr. Coyne doesn’t seem to think much of the American public, does he? In his world, it is only the opinion of scientists that should be taken seriously. He continues to lay the foundations for his SCIENCETOCRACY (government by science) with another statistic: “When one moves to scientists working at a group of ‘elite’ research universities, the difference is more dramatic, with just over 62 percent being either atheistic or agnostic, and only 23 percent believe in God–a degree of nonbelief more than fifteenfold higher than among the general public.”
And again: “Sitting at the top tier of American science are the members of the National Academy of Sciences, an honorary organization that elects only the most accomplished researchers in the United States…here nonbelief is the rule: 93 percent of the members are atheists or agnostics, with only 7 percent believing in a personal god. This is the exact opposite of the data for the ‘average’ Americans.” (ibid. p.12).
Dr. Coyne makes it seem as if boasting of the fallen nature of science and how far it is out of touch or elevated above, Coyne would have you believe, the “average” American citizen is the thing to do. Thankfully, this is not the prevailing attitude among most scientists, who simply wish to apply their expertise in service to the world rather than raise themselves above it.
I must thank Dr. Coyne for one thing, however. Out of his science-supremacy and anti-religious vitriol raises the question of why do so many scientists reject religion? Here Theology can provide the answer.
THE ROMANS PRINCIPLE
There are three main issues to consider: The first is that many nonbelievers are drawn to become scientists, which can justify their faithless position or even give them a platform to promote anti-religious sentiment (as it has Dr. Coyne). Second, scientists rely heavily on “peer review” to be recognized, respected, advanced. Many therefore conform to the status quo to avoid ridicule or be prevented from advancing. Scripture says that the world hates believers (John 15:19), and there is no greater example of worldliness than the religion-hating atheists that worship the natural sciences. The third and final reason why scientists (and all others, for that matter, regardless of profession) trend toward atheism is what I call the ROMANS PRINCIPLE.
This principle, written by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans, speaks of the desensitization that occurs in men as they continue to ignore or deliberately suppress the evidence and prompting of God.
Romans 1:18-25: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown them. 20. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things which have been made. So they are without excuse. 21. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23. and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25. because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
This principle was written over 2000 years ago, but it still holds true today. “For the Word of the Lord is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of the spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). I will spare you the prolonged Theological breakdown of the Romans Principle because I believe its power has already reached into the hearts and souls of my readers. A succinct explanation of this principle basically holds that all men know the truth about God in their hearts. This is evident in the awe and wonders one experiences when beholding a starry night sky or taking in the fresh scent of a spring morning filled with birds chirping and insects buzzing. But men suppress this truth as they unrighteously attribute God’s creation to impossible natural causes. If God is true, then they stand condemned, and so they search for meaning outside of God, which produces only vain and meaningless conclusions. At first, this is difficult, as when we were children and lying was difficult because the conviction of our unrighteousness was on our hearts. Yet over time, the lie became easier, the feeling of conviction lessened. When man rejects the truth, over and over again, the darkness of spiritual falsehood replaces it (John 3:19-20). Man thus becomes desensitized to the promptings of God. And God will eventually and necessarily abandon man to the free choices he makes “because claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…” (Rom. 1:22-23).
The Romans Principle describes the process of desensitization to God’s presence in their lives as they continue to reject Him. This Theological principle best explains the trend of increased atheism among scientists. Factor in the pressures of scientific peer review and the fact that non-believers are drawn to science, and it is certainly not surprising to see atheism flourishing in such a demographic. It is not, as Coyne would have you believe that scientists (by his implication, “the smart”) are atheists and the average (by his implication, “the dumb”) masses are religious.
SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE COMPATIBLE
Physicist Paul Davies makes a claim that “…both religion and science are founded on faith–namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence…But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, ITS CLAIM TO BE FREE OF FAITH IS MANIFESTLY BOGUS.” [my emphasis]
Sociologist Rodney Stark gives us a detailed argument for the fact that science is an outgrowth of Natural Theology, which is in itself an outgrowth of the Christian’s desire to understand God’s creation: “The rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. To love and honor God, it was necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accordance with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, it ought to be possible to discover these principles.”
And, in support of this argument, Paul Davies has said: “The very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the notion of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it rationally.”
Dr. Coyne speaks of the Templeton Foundation very negatively in his book because it distributes $70 million yearly in grants and fellowships that scientists line up to receive (ibid. p. 18). The Templeton Foundation is widely known for its famous award, The Templeton Prize (once known as the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion). Recipients of this award include Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, and Cosmologist Martin Rees. Coyne sees this as somehow insulting to the “dignity” of atheist-based science (ibid. pp. 18-20). He also labels the following academic courses and programs dealing with science and religion as part of the “problem” of accommodationism (ibid. p.6, chapter titled The Problem): The 1000 for-credit courses in science and faith offered by U.S. Higher education, think tanks and academic institutes devoted to science and religion, the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University, the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion at Oxford University, and the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences in Berkeley.
These are monuments to the compatibility between science and religion at the highest level of academia, but to Coyne, this is a problem.
Coyne rails at the Templeton Foundation’s Web site because, in his mind, “scientists are paraded like prize horses, evidence of serious purpose and of a fruitful dialogue between science and faith” (ibid. p. 20). Only an atheist, utterly desensitized to God and without an inkling of a moral compass remaining, could make such a counter-rational statement. These scientists are not animals to be paraded around like prize horses. These are accomplished men and women working together and sharing data to solve the world’s most challenging mysteries.
There is much more that I could reveal about Dr. Coyne’s seemingly blind hatred for cooperation among scholars that don’t share his hard-line atheistic view. There is more I could reveal concerning his blind hatred for religion in general and Christianity in particular. I could, for instance, expostulate upon two deliberate falsehoods that Coyne strategically planted in his book, assuming, I’m sure, that the “average” person reading his book would not question him, but simply take him at his word. These untruths are 1. Coyne’s claim that there is a “lack of accurate predictions in scripture” (ibid. p. 118), and 2. Coyne’s attempt to mislead people regarding documentary evidence concerning Jesus (of which there is much. See my blog drsteilman.com). He deliberately muddies things by implying that no evidence exists or that the evidence (should someone bother to look) is “not only secondhand but produced by unknown writers” (ibid. p. 121). The writers he alludes to (but doesn’t really want you to look up) are actually very well known. In fact, at least 4 of them are well-established Historians: Josephus, Thallus, Tacitus, and Seutonius. While I don’t have room here to expound upon these two issues, I would certainly encourage you to research it for yourselves.
Dr. Coyne’s claim that science and religion are “incompatible” is manifestly false because we know that:
1. Science is a by-product of the Christian faith
2. Science itself is based on faith
3. Men and women of science and religion have worked together (compatibly) towards common goals for generations
4. Many scientists are religious
5. Many men and women of faith are in fact scientists
This empirical data stands in direct contradiction to Dr. Coyne’s claim, which is, in fact, invalidated by such evidence.
“We, the undersigned, Students of the Natural Sciences, desire to express our sincere regret that researchers into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the truth and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict on another…physical science is not complete, but is only a condition of progress”. –SIGNED BY 800 SCIENTISTS OF GREAT BRITAIN, recorded in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Science, like religion, must admit to many unanswered questions about the world and about faith. If this were not the case, scientists like Coyne, with their bent on destroying faith (particularly the Christian faith, culture, and tradition), would have conclusively and irrefutably proven religion false by now.
It hasn’t because it can’t. Faithfully, Dr. Derrick Steilman, Th.D.
A CONCISE REFUTATION OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST DR. JERRY A. COYNE, in defense of Theologia and Faith, by Dr. Derrick E. Steilman, Th.D.