Dr. Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, is a deeply religious man. His religion is called Scientific Naturalism. The central dogma of this particular religion is that every phenomenon in human experience can be explained in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry. As we shall see, Dr. Coyne and his co-religionists are slavishly devoted to this dogma whether or not there is evidence to support its truth. In other words, they have taken a great leap of faith that science has an answer for everything. Coyne is so committed to this idea that I honestly do not believe he is aware of how his role as a scientist has become hopelessly intertwined and confused with his ideological stances.
In his recent article, “Science, Religion, and Society: The Problem of Evolution in America, Coyne tells us that, “there are several ways that I see religion and science as incompatible. The first involves methodology…beyond this incompatibility in methodology and outcomes is a philosophical incompatibility: the scientific [?!] view that supernatural beings aren’t just unnecessary to explain the universe, but can be taken as non-existent (Philosphical Naturalism).” He then goes on to self-servingly quote atheistic philosopher, Dr. Barbara Forrest, whom we discover – much to our shock and surprise – agrees with Coyne’s position. However we choose to define “Science,” one thing we can all agree on; that science deals with the physical, material universe. The notion that there is a “Scientific” view of a reality outside of the bounds of the physical – that is to say, the “supernatural,” – is absolutely nonsensical. A scientist may have personal views about the existence or non-existence of a reality outside of the laws of physics and chemistry, but Science, by definition, has nothing to say on the subject. The notion of a scientific view of the supernatural is clearly an oxymoron.
Coyne then doubles-down on this inherently incoherent position: “The idea that deities don’t affect the universe, then, is not an unjustified a priori assumption…but a conclusion born of experience; the experience that only a naturalistic – that is, a scientific one – has helped us understand nature and make verified predictions about it. “ Coyne does not seem to understand that Science – again, by definition – is all about, and only about, the study of the “natural” world. To say that “only the study of Science has helped us understand Nature,” is the same as saying that “only the study of Science has helped us understand Science!” I don’t know of any intelligent believer in a monotheistic religion that does not accept that there are natural physical laws that govern our universe and that there is great benefit and value to the scientific method. That is not the conflict between religion and scientists like Coyne at all. The conflict would be about the source of these laws (about which Science, of course, is clueless) and whether or not there is anything in human experience other than these laws. Coyne continues, “As our confidence that science helps us understand the universe grows, so wanes our notion that immaterial and supernatural forces exist.” What a puzzling, bizarre statement. I, as an Orthodox Rabbi, have tremendous confidence that scientific investigation helps us understand the universe! What does that have to do with the issue at hand? I simply assert that scientific investigation is grossly inadequate to explain the totality of human experience and existence.
Coyne’s entire position is based on an incredibly arrogant assumption; namely, that all of us must give special privilege and pleading to those who wear white lab coats to work. In Coyne’s world, the scientist has become the new shaman and medicine man. Everything he says must be accepted without, Darwin forbid, any type of critical analysis or questioning. A telling illustration of this point is found in an article by Lisa Grossman (1/11/12, New Scientist), entitled “Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event.”
The opening paragraph of her article describes how some of latest discoveries from the world of cosmology put a damper on a meeting convened in honor of the 70th birthday of world renowned physicist, Dr. Stephen Hawking. The “bad news” was that new research suggested there is no way to avoid the conclusion that the universe is not eternal, “resurrecting the thorny question of how to kick-start the cosmos without the hand of a supernatural creator.” Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University explained that, “all the evidence we have says the universe had a beginning.” This was terrible news because as Grossman explained, Dr. Hawking “shies away” from a cosmic beginning and has stated that, “a point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God.”
To any thinking human being, Grossman’s description above should evoke several powerful questions that reach out and grab one by the throat: Why should a rational scientist “shy away” from any particular conclusion at all? Why should the notion of a cosmic beginning “disturb” Dr. Hawking? Why should it cause dismay if there is a point where “science breaks down,” causing one to “appeal to religion and the hand of God?” If that is where the evidence leads us, if that is where the truth lies, for what possible reason should this be cause for alarm? There is only one possible answer to this question: Dr. Hawking – in this area – is not really interested in the truth at all. He is interested in promoting his atheistic/materialistic agenda and clothing it in the garb of Science. In the same vein, John Maddox, former editor of Nature magazine, once wrote that the Big-Bang theory was “philosophically unacceptable.” Maddox and Hawking, like Coyne, seem oblivious to the fact that their ideological prejudices interfere with their rational/scientific judgment.
Coyne also declares that “many of the truths revealed by Abrahamic faiths, have been disproven by science, these include special creation…and have rendered implausible other religious claims, like…a soul separate from the brain or body. I have written extensively on both of these topics a number of times, so let’s dispose of them quickly:
- Special Creation: The simplest living bacterium is functionally complex beyond anything that human technology is capable of producing. There is no scientist or Origin of Life researcher in the world who has the slightest idea (other than speculative musings) how such life could emerge from non-life through an unguided process. This topic is such a sore spot for Coyne that he backed out of an opportunity to debate me on the subject. (The invitation still stands for Jerry or anyone else for that matter) What scientific investigation has rendered “implausible” is a naturalistic origin of life. The obvious solution, an intelligent Creator, is not even considered because it is “philosophically unacceptable.”
- A soul that is separate from the brain: Scientists probably know less about the source of consciousness and self-awareness than they do about the origin of life. Coyne is in denial of the fact that neuroscientists are utterly bewildered when asked to explain how a physical brain could generate consciousness, self-awareness, and will. As atheistic philosopher Colin McGinn stated in a recent article (New Statesman, 2/20/12), “The more we look at the brain, the less it looks like a device for creating consciousness. Perhaps philosophers will never be able to solve the mystery.” The obvious alternative, a spiritual soul, is not even considered because it is “philosophically unacceptable.”
- Sir Fred Hoyle, renowned mathematician, astronomer, and physicist wrote that, “a common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” Hoyle also wrote that the laws of nature “look like a put-up job.” The simplest and most elegant response would be that the reason the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology suggest being “monkeyed with” by a “super-intellect,” is because they were monkeyed with by a super-intellect. The reason the fine tuning of our universe looks like a “put-up job” is because it is a put-up job. Coyne and his co-religionists, of course, would never even consider that possibility because it is “philosophically unacceptable.”
Are we starting to see a pattern here? Darwin Akbar, Dr. Coyne; I try to show respect to all men of faith.
Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi, a regular columnist for the Algemeiner Journal, and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. If you wish to be informed when new articles appear, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the email address and the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.
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