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April 1, 2011 1:45 pm

An Open Letter to Dr. Jerry Coyne – Atheistic Biologist

avatar by Moshe Averick

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"A Venerable Orang-outang", a caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape published in The Hornet, a satirical magazine, 1871.

Dear Dr. Coyne,

I’ve been contemplating the three attacks you launched against Rabbi Adam Jacobs and myself within a period of several weeks. They appeared on your website “Why Evolution is True”, and were, to a large extent, in response to a column that Rabbi Jacobs had written for the HuffPost religion section (3/6/11) called “A reasonable argument for God’s existence.” Rabbi Jacobs had mentioned that some of the material was drawn from my book, Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. What I found most fascinating is that all these attacks were couched in terms of our Jewishness. Among the flowery gems that flowed from your highly enlightened, educated, and sophisticated pen:

“Evangelical Christians can be as moronic as they want, but when a rabbi says something dumb, well that sets my DNA on edge.”

“Frankly I’m weary of arguments like this one and deeply saddened that they come from Jews.”

And finally, “Jews can be just as willfully misguided about evolution as Christians like William Dembske and Michael Behe.”

Your first comment about setting “my DNA on edge” appears overtly racist. Do you actually believe there is such a thing as “Jewish DNA?” You say that you are “deeply saddened that they come from Jews.” Are Jews actually different than other human beings? Do you expect more from Jews? I guess you feel that we are superior to the gentiles. Has natural selection made us smarter than “moronic” Christians? What about non-Christian gentiles? Is there also such a thing as “Christian and non-Christian gentile DNA?” Gee, the next thing that might pop out of your Darwinian inspired view of reality is that there is also superior “Aryan DNA.” Hmmm, where have I heard that before? I’ll leave the analysis of your arguably racist views to some of the expert social scientists who inhabit your Hyde Park neighborhood. Let’s move on to the gist of the matter.

You stated that “Jews can be…willfully misguided about evolution.” What is so strange about this remark is that neither Rabbi Jacobs nor I ever discussed the theory of Darwinian evolution. The topic under discussion was the origin of life. When asked how life came from non-life, Rabbi Jacobs stated, “How? I have no idea. On the basis of all chemistry I know, it seems to me astonishingly improbable.” Oh, excuse me. That wasn’t Rabbi Jacobs, that was Dr. George Whitesides of Harvard University, who has the highest Hirsch-index rating of any living chemist.  What Rabbi Jacobs actually said was, “The origin of life is a total mystery.” Sorry, I keep getting mixed up; that was a “moronic” Christian physicist by the name of Freeman Dyson in an article entitled “How We Know” (3/10/11) that appeared in the New York Times Review of Books. I think Rabbi Jacobs said, “We don’t know how life began…we don’t know the mechanism that turned non-life into life…we have many theories, many conjectures but we don’t know what happened.” What is with me today?! That was Dr. Paul Davies, an Origin of Life expert who made those remarks at the recent Origins Conference at ASU to a panel of some of the world’s leading scientists, including J. Craig Venter, Richard Dawkins, Sydney Altman, etc. In any case, did I mention that the title of Rabbi Jacobs HuffPost article was “Pssst, Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began?” I did it again!! That wasn’t Rabbi Jacobs, that was a senior writer for Scientific American, John Horgan. It was the title of his Scientific American column (2/28/11) reporting on the aforementioned ASU Origins Conference.

What I think is really bothering you Dr. Coyne is that Rabbi Jacobs and I, and others like us, have pointed out that the emperor is embarrassingly naked. Scientists are completely baffled how life could come from non-life and it deeply disturbs you that we would have the chutzpah to even suggest the possibility that it was created. What a slap in the face to scientists everywhere! How dare we suggest that perhaps there are mysteries that are beyond the reach of science! After all, if scientists can build a hydrogen bomb, they must be able to do anything! At the end of your post on 3/7/11 you summed up your “slam dunk” response to misguided, medieval fundamentalists like us:

“Nope, we don’t yet understand how life originated on Earth, but we have good leads, [perhaps you should inform Dr’s Whitesides, Dyson, and Davies of the good news] and abiogenesis is a thriving field. And we may never understand how life originated on Earth, because the traces of early life have vanished. We know it happened at least once, but not how. I’m pretty confident that within, say, 50 years we’ll be able to create life in a laboratory under the conditions of primitive Earth, but that, too, won’t tell us exactly how it did happen – only that it could.”

How you “know” that life emerged through an unguided, purely naturalistic process when you admit that you have no evidence to support such an assertion, is a mystery that only atheistic scientists such as yourself, Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers understand. Imagine a District Attorney going before a judge with a petition to deny bail because he “knows” the defendant is guilty. When asked for some evidence to that effect, he replies, “Oh your honor, I’m confident that within 50 years we’ll have all the evidence we need!” The impotence of your argument, Dr. Coyne, and the weakness of your position speaks for itself.

I’m embarrassed when intelligent people present ridiculous and foolish arguments whether they are Jewish, Christian, or skeptics. Now you understand why I called my book Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist.

Sincerely, (Rabbi) Moshe Averick, Chicago, Ill.

Dr. Jerry Coyne is a distinguished biologist at the University of Chicago and a self labeled “cultural Jew.”

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  • Greg

    I just stumbled upon this thread while researching a topic for my blog and after reading the comments here what i find funny is that Dr. Coyle has no idea how life and the universe began yet he claims the Rabbi and Christian Evangelist beliefs are moronic. I thought athiests believed in tolerance or is that only for what they believe? As for the faithful, who believe in what they have not seen, athiests like Dr. Coyle have not observed the evolutionary process yet so vigorously defends likehas. Science relies as we know on the observation of a process. Has Dr. Coyle observed evolution talking place? I think not, so why would he like the faithful believe something he has never observed? I think the work, hipocite applies to the good Dr.

    As for Dr. Coyle making any comments concerning the Bible is above his education level, just as myself making comments on biology which is his area of expertise.

    For a person of his expertise and credentials Dr. Coyle conducts himself in a sophmoric manner as is evident by his recent post in USA Today. He makes claims about Jesus Christ that show he hasn’t the slightest idea what scriptures say. His hero Charles Darwin was a hardcore racist and made no “bones” about where he stood.that being said I think Dr.Coyle got Jesus and Darwin confused.

    Dr. Coyle hates the Bible or for that matter any doctrine of faith as evident by his
    comments in USA Today.

  • Aestival

    There are quite a few theories as to how life came from non-life. Your starting with a rather interesting claim here that there is some reason why life could not come from non-life. There has never been any compelling evidence that there is a problem with this concept. But you as such an acomplished scientist would obviously know that better than I. The unfortunate truth is that ID and whatever other brand of creationism you wish to ascribe to has nothing to say about the universe and everything to say about yourself.

  • Michael Meacham

    ” I think that it is coments like this from narrow minded, dogmatic atheists like Coyne that give scientists a bad name”. With respect Moshe, I think these comments also give atheism a bad name. We are not all generalistic and dogmatic and there are also many nuances to atheism just as there appear to be with Christianity (and possibly Judaism – something I know nothing about). Personally, I am a truth-seeker and am reluctant to jump aboard (call it ‘believe’ perhaps) an idea or conjecture or theory unless it is supported by mountains of evidence, or in the words of the late Steve J. Gould, “weight of evidence and logic of argument. I guess I am also looking for that ultimate ‘trump’ blog too. Haven’t seen it yet though I think. Regards.

  • saulsky

    If you are this sensitive about such things, how are you going to react to the two new Atheist Bibles that have just been published, and from two completely different sources.

    Is the fake outrage or do you really believe that Coyne is hammering you as much as you indicate. The first two quotes you mention above are positive comments and yet you have taken them as completely negative. It’s this sort of thing that gives religious people a bad name.

    • Dear Saulsky,

      I don’t quite understand your point. “Evangelical Christians can be as moronic as they want…etc.” You think that is a positive comment? I think that it is coments like this from narrow minded, dogmatic atheists like Coyne that give scientists a bad name.
      Sincerely, Moshe Averick

  • Dear John,

    I see your point, but your analogy is faulty. One thing that everyone agrees on is that the bombing of the 16th street church was the result of intelligent (though evil) intervention and design. It did not happen through a naturalistic process. You have misunderstood the argument just as I have found many skeptics have misunderstood. . In the same way that if the SETI scientists received a morse code message from the great spiral galaxy describing the universal genetic code, we would know that there is intelligence out there. We may not know what form of life it is , but we know that the signal was the result of a conscious intelligent act. We could then speculate about what life out there is like, etc. The argument is that the first bacterium and its genetic code are clearly the result of a conscious intelligent act of creation, however you choose to understand who or what that creator is. Once we contemplate the nature of this creator we realize that there is a philosophical dilemma, the problem of the infinite regression of creators. The only possible creator therefore must be outside of nature and not subject to the laws of cause and effect. At the end of the day we are left with only two possibilities, a. a supernatural creator, or b. a naturalistic emergence of life from non-life. There are no other options. Unless conclusive evidence to the contrary is provided, the obvious answer is that the bacterium and its genetic code are the result of intelligence, it so happens in this case that it is supernatural intelligence, but so what? Why should that bother you?
    Sincerely, Moshe Averick

    • Mike McCants

      “The argument is that the first bacterium and its genetic code are clearly the result of a conscious intelligent act of creation”

      That is not an “argument” – that is simply an “assertion”. A real argument would require “evidence”. You, like that non-Discovery non-Institute person that spent 500+ pages on this non-argument in his life’s work “Signature in the Cell” do not have any “evidence”. You have only your dichotomy – if nature did not do it, then god must have done it. But even you and that person admitted that “nature could have done it – it is just very improbable that nature did it”. So your “argument” becomes nonsense. If nature could have done it, you have no premise and no argument.

      I find your use of “clearly” very laughable. How can something be “clear” without any “evidence”?

      “it seems to me astonishingly improbable”

      So what? You cannot possibly claim “impossible”. So your non-argument is now simply a non-argument from ignorance.

      “Scientists are completely baffled how life could come from non-life”

      As others have noted, this reveals your ignorance. Why should anyone discuss this area of science with someone so ignorant?

      “How you “know” that life emerged through an unguided, purely naturalistic process”

      Every scientists “knows” this because they reject your miraculous “god did it” as contrary to the nature of reality.

      How to you “know” that “god did it”?

  • Imagine a District Attorney in 1976 going before a judge with a petition to declare the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing a supernatural event because no one had been convicted of the crime yet.

    You are in no position to be calling other peoples’ arguments weak, Rabbi.

  • “What I think is really bothering you Dr. Coyne is that Rabbi Jacobs and I, and others like us, have pointed out that the emperor is embarrassingly naked.”

    Okay, this *has* to be an April Fools’ joke, coming from a Rabbi.

    • The only April “fools” are those who pretend that science has any clue at all, how life could emerge from non-life.

      • Mike McCants

        “The only April “fools” are those who pretend that science has any clue at all, how life could emerge from non-life.”

        As Spock would say, how can one tell the difference between a “lie” and an “error”? Are you lying or just wrong?