Tag Archive: Jerry Coyne

Quote of the Day: Dr. Jerry Coyne Reviews Michael Behe Latest Book — Darwin Devolves

dr jerry coyne

Excerpt from Jerry Coyne’s Washington Post review of Michael Behe’s latest defense of creationism’s sexy sister, intelligent design.

The notion of “intelligent design” arose after opponents of evolution repeatedly failed on First Amendment grounds to get Bible-based creationism taught in the public schools. Their solution: Take God out of the mix and replace him with an unspecified “intelligent designer.” They added some irrelevant mathematics and fancy biochemical jargon, and lo: intelligent design, which scientists have dubbed “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.”

But the tuxedo is fraying, for intelligent design has been rejected not just by biologists but also by judges who recognize it as poorly disguised religion. Nevertheless, its advocates persist. Among the most vocal is Michael J. Behe, a biology professor at Lehigh University whose previous books, despite withering criticism from scientists, have sold well in a country where 76 percent of us think God had some role in human evolution.

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Like his creationist kin, Behe devotes his time not to giving evidence for intelligent design but to attacking evolutionary biology. As Herbert Spencer said, “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” But Behe’s theory, promulgated by the Discovery Institute, Seattle’s intelligent-design organization, does demand support. Who, exactly, is the designer, and what evidence is there that this designer makes nonrandom mutations? Is the designer an immaterial god, in which case we need to know how this god violates the laws of physics by causing mutations, or is the designer material, like a space alien, in which case we must understand the physical methods whereby aliens change our DNA?

And what is an example of a designed mutation? (Behe is silent here.) Since humans are placed in the same family as other great apes (Hominidae), Behe’s theory predicts that we arose without a designer’s intervention. But here he backpedals, asserting that there are “excellent reasons to suspect those differences [between humans and other apes] are well beyond Darwinian processes.” Sadly, he doesn’t give these reasons, but I’d guess they stem from the Christian belief that Homo sapiens is a special creation of God. Such ad hoc claims, derived from religion, explain why intelligent design has been deemed by the courts as “a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

In 1998, the Discovery Institute drafted the “Wedge Document,” a secret plan (leaked in 1999) to spread Christianity in America by teaching intelligent design and fighting materialism. One of the plan’s 20-year goals was “to see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.” Well, now it’s 20 years on, and despite the efforts of Behe and other neo-creationists, intelligent design has been discredited as science and outed as disguised religion. It’s no surprise, then, that “Darwin Devolves” was published by HarperOne, the religious, spiritual and self-help division of HarperCollins.

You can read the entire review here.

Books by Dr. Jerry Coyne

Why Evolution Is True

 Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

Books by Dr. Michael Behe

 Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution

Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution

Quote of the Day: Where Morality Comes From

dr jerry coyne

With few exceptions, most scientists and philosophers think that morality is at bottom based on human preferences. And though we may agree on many of those preferences (e.g., we should do what maximizes “well being”), you can’t show using data that one set of preferences is objectively better than another. (You can show, though, that the empirical consequences of one set of preferences differ from those of another set.) The examples I use involve abortion and animal rights. If you’re religious and see babies as having souls, how can you convince those folks that elective abortion is better than banning abortion? Likewise, how do you weigh human well being versus animal well being? I am a consequentialist who happens to agree with the well-being criterion, but I can’t demonstrate that it’s better than other criteria, like “always prohibit abortion because babies have souls.”

— Dr. Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, More science-dissing: WaPo’s misguided criticism of “scientism”, January 29, 2018

Recommended Books by Dr. Jerry Coyne

Why Evolution is True

Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

My friend Bob Felton recommends the book The Ethical Project by Philip Kitcher

Amazon’s listing says:

Principles of right and wrong guide the lives of almost all human beings, but we often see them as external to ourselves, outside our own control. In a revolutionary approach to the problems of moral philosophy, Philip Kitcher makes a provocative proposal: Instead of conceiving ethical commands as divine revelations or as the discoveries of brilliant thinkers, we should see our ethical practices as evolving over tens of thousands of years, as members of our species have worked out how to live together and prosper. Elaborating this radical new vision, Kitcher shows how the limited altruistic tendencies of our ancestors enabled a fragile social life, how our forebears learned to regulate their interactions with one another, and how human societies eventually grew into forms of previously unimaginable complexity. The most successful of the many millennia-old experiments in how to live, he contends, survive in our values today.

Drawing on natural science, social science, and philosophy to develop an approach he calls pragmatic naturalism, Kitcher reveals the power of an evolving ethics built around a few core principles—including justice and cooperation —but leaving room for a diversity of communities and modes of self-expression. Ethics emerges as a beautifully human phenomenon permanently unfinished, collectively refined and distorted generation by generation. Our human values, Kitcher shows, can be understood not as a final system but as a project the ethical project in which our species has engaged for most of its history, and which has been central to who we are.

Other Books by Dr. Philip Kitcher

Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism

 Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith

Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism

Ken Ham Say Dinosaurs are in the Bible Because They Have to Be

dinosaurs noahs ark

Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, and a staunch defender of young earth creationism, believes that dinosaurs are in the Bible.  His proof? I’ll let Ham speak for himself:

To understand dinosaurs, we need to look at what the Bible teaches us about Earth’s history. We also need to recognize that the word dinosaur wasn’t invented until 1841, as a word for a particular group of land animals. According to Genesis, God created everything in six, literal, 24-hour days. Land animals were created on Day Six of Creation Week .

Since dinosaurs are land animals (some people think that certain flying and marine reptiles were dinosaurs, but these actually aren’t classified as dinosaurs), they must have been created on Day Six as well. Originally all dinosaurs, like everything else, were created vegetarian . They didn’t begin to eat meat until after Adam and Eve rebelled against God.

The reason we have a number of dinosaurs buried in sedimentary layers is because of the global Flood described in Genesis 6–8. This catastrophic Flood would have ripped up miles of sediment, trapping and burying creatures that weren’t on the Ark as it was re-deposited. These creatures turned into fossils that we dig up today. After the Flood, dinosaurs died out for many of the same reason species die out today: changes in climate, habitat, lack of food, human predation, and so on.

Dinosaurs aren’t a mystery when you start with the history recorded in God’s Word. The Bible perfectly explains dinosaurs. They are just another example of the incredible variety of creatures that God created in the beginning…

Simply put, since God created everything, and the universe is only 6,019 years old, God not only created dinosaurs, they roamed the earth at the same time as Adam and Eve.

For Ham, it’s not about the science. In Ham’s world, the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible book. When it speaks to matters of science, it is absolutely, infallibly correct. No matter what science tell us, no matter what archeology tells us, no matter what geology tells us, no matter what biology tells us, the BIBLE trumps all of them.

Let this be a reminder of why it is a waste of time to talk to, debate, or argue with young earth creationists. Their minds are shut off to anything but their narrow, literalistic interpretation of the Bible. Arguing science with them never works. Until they come to see that the foundation of their system of belief, the Bible, is not what they claim it is, there is no hope for them. Before Jerry Coyne can do his job, Bart Ehrman must do his. Until the Bible is shown to be errant and fallible, their interpretations will remain inerrant and infallible.

Comic by Dan Piraro

Christian Fundamentalists are Right about Genesis 1-3

6 days of creation

“I think that if the data is overwhelming in favor, in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that’s not really interacting with the real world. . . . And to deny the reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world and would be to deny truth. So I think it would be our spiritual death if we stopped loving God with all of our minds and thinking about it, I think it’s our spiritual death. It’s also our spiritual death in witness to the world that we’re not credible, that we are bigoted, we have a blind faith and this is what we’re accused of. . . . And I think it is essential to us or we’ll end up like some small sect somewhere that retained a certain dress or a certain language. And they end up so . . . marginalized, totally marginalized, and I think that would be a great tragedy for the church, for us to become marginalized in that way.”

—Christian Hebrew scholar Bruce Waltke.

Cameron Buettel, a student at The Master’s Seminary, — a fundamentalist institution established by John MacArthur — recently wrote an article on the Grace to You website about the importance of believing in a literal six-day creation. Here’s what he had to say:

Most of us are familiar with politicians who obfuscate simple questions with complex political answers. Who can forget Bill Clinton’s “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”? Unfortunately, obfuscation exists in the realm of theology as well. God may not be “a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33), but there are scores of biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors who insert plenty of it into the first few chapters of Genesis.

Evangelicalism abounds with theologians who don’t know what the meaning of the word “day” is. The Hebrew word for day, yom, appears more than two thousand times in the Old Testament and would attract virtually no debate were it not for six specific appearances in Genesis 1. But those six days of creation are now at loggerheads with modern scientific dating methods. Rather than stand firm on the biblical account, church leaders acquiesce to unprovable theories and confuse the clear and consistent biblical teaching on origins…

Buettel is correct when he says the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is at odds with modern scientific dating methods. The gap between the two is so vast there is no possible way to reconcile the two viewpoints. Both could be wrong but both can’t be right. If you accept that universe is about 14 billion years old, then the idea that God created the universe in six literal 24-hour days is false.

Later in the article, Buttel addresses the implications of the 6 days of creation being anything other than literal 24-hour days:

…There are only two ways to deny a six-day creation: ignore the text or reject the text. Scholars ignore the actual text by blinding themselves to the genre, grammar, and layout in order to insert their own. Skeptics simply reject the text as erroneous. Either way, the result is the same—a clear text becomes a confused text.

Some people like to dismiss this debate as a secondary issue, not directly related to the gospel. But it is clearly an issue that goes to the authority of Scripture. And furthermore, as MacArthur rightly points out, it has massive repercussions for the gospel:

“If Adam was not the literal ancestor of the entire human race, then the Bible’s explanation of how sin entered the world makes no sense. Moreover, if we didn’t fall in Adam, we cannot be redeemed in Christ, because Christ’s position as the Head of the redeemed race exactly parallels Adam’s position as the head of the fallen race: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18–19). “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life–giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45; cf. 1 Timothy 2:13–14; Jude 14).

So in an important sense, everything Scripture says about our salvation through Jesus Christ hinges on the literal truth of what Genesis 1–3 teaches about Adam’s creation and fall. There is no more pivotal passage of Scripture.”

The opening chapters of Genesis are not up for debate, nor are they negotiable. The academic credibility of our faith is meaningless if we’re so quick to sacrifice the meaning of Scripture at the altar of public opinion. Better to be counted a fool for the sake of God’s Word than to be embraced for our willingness to compromise it.

I think Buettel and MacArthur are correct. There is no textual or theological warrant for making the six days of creation mean anything other than six 24-hour days. The natural reading of the text demands that the word “day” = 24 hours. Revisionists, desperately trying to reconcile evolution with Genesis 1-3, need to stop with the intellectual and theological gymnastics. The text says what it says. There are no gaps, no alternative explanations.

The only question that remains is whether to accept or reject what Genesis 1-3 says. If a Christian goes with science and the universe being 14 billion years old, they must explain what they plan to do with Adam and Eve and the fall. Earlier this year, biologist Jerry Coyne had this to say about Adam and Eve:

…The problem, as you’ll know if you’re a regular here, is that genetic data show clearly that the genes of modern humans do not descend from only two people (or eight, if you believe the Noah story) in the last few thousand years. Back-calculating from the genetic diversity seen in modern humans, and making conservative assumptions, evolutionary geneticists have shown that the human population could not have been smaller than about 12,250 individuals: 10,000 in Africa and 2,250 in the group of individuals that left Africa and whose descendants colonized the rest of the world.  There was a population “bottleneck,” but it was nowhere near two or eight people.

This shows that Adam and Eve were not the historical ancestors of all humanity. And of course that gives theology a problem: if the Primal Couple didn’t give rise to everyone, then whence our affliction with Adam and Eve’s Original Sin? That sin, which the pair incurred by disobeying God, is supposed to have been passed on to the descendants of Adam and Eve, i.e., all of us. And it’s that sin that Jesus supposedly came to Earth to expiate. But if Original Sin didn’t exist, and Adam and Eve were simply fictional metaphors, then Jesus died for a metaphor. That’s not good!

That doesn’t sit well with theologians, of course, who, if they accept the science (and most of the smarter ones have), must then explain the significance of Adam and Eve, and whether they really existed. I discuss this in the Albatross as well; suffice it to say here that there are several interpretations of Adam and Eve as both historical and metaphorical, many of them funny and none of them coming close to solving the problem of Original Sin and the coming of Jesus…

It’s the slippery slope. Abandoning a literal six-day creation results in abandoning a literal Adam and Eve. No Adam and Eve? No original sin. No original sin? No need for Jesus to die on the cross.

Fundamentalists are right on this one. So what’s a Christian to do? Simple — use the brain you say God gave you. Based on the available scientific evidence, is the universe 6,000 years old or 14 billion years old? Does evolution best explain the biological world or does a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 explain it? If you answer 14 billion years and evolution, then a greater intellectual task awaits you: reconciling what you believe about sin, Jesus, and redemption with what you know about the universe.

I don’t think it can be done, though I admire and appreciate those who try. I know many Christians want to embrace what science says about the universe and hang on to the Bible and what it says about sin, Jesus, and redemption, but I think this is a match made in hell, one that requires a good bit of cognitive dissonance.

It’s not up to me to tell people what to believe about God, but I do think Christians should be honest about the dilemma science poses for them. How is it possible to reconcile a 14 billion-year-old universe and evolution with what the Christian church has historically taught about creation, Adam and Eve, original sin, Jesus, and redemption?

six days of creation 2

Note

Of course, young earth creationist Ken Ham thinks Cameron Buettel’s article is a-w-e-s-o-m-e.

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Biologist Jerry Coyne Mentioned My Deconversion Story on his Blog

No, he didn’t write a post about my vast knowledge of science. That would have taken all of eight words: not much, but more than I knew yesterday. In the post, Why I Stopped Believing, I mentioned five of the books that played an instrumental part in my deconversion. Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True, was one of the books I mentioned. The book was quite helpful when I was trying to hang on to some sort of God who created. One chapter in particular, Remnants: Vestiges, Embryos, and Bad Design, had a profound effect on how I viewed the natural world.

In a post titled, In Which I Help Deconvert Someone, and on What Works, Coyne writes:

I’ve always said that the definition of “success” in mentoring graduate students is “producing a student who can replace you.” And though I’ve had very few students, I’ve replaced myself in that sense at least three times, so I’m quite happy.

And I consider the definition of “success” as an anti-theist to be “turning at least one person away from the delusions of faith and towards the virtues of reason.”  After all, if theists can boast about bringing people to Jesus, why can’t atheists take pride in helping people go in the reverse direction?

Now I can’t claim full credit for doing that to any one person, but I claim partial credit for helping quite a few—or so they tell me. And I’ll add those partial successes up to assert that N > 1.

The latest partial convert is Bruce Gerencser [sic], a former Christian minister, who explains on his website what led to his leaving the church. As is nearly always true for the deconversion of ministers (or anyone else, for that matter), it is a long, tortuous, and complex process involving many inputs…

…But read Gerenser’s [sic] whole piece (it’s short), because he traces the roots of his apostasy back to the very virtues instilled in him by his religious parents, including a love of reading and having the courage of one’s convictions.

The other point this makes is that it’s better, if you want to advance reason, to write and publish (if you have that privilege) rather than to give lectures and have debates. That is because in the quietude of authorship, you can polish and fully express your views, and people can read them at leisure and compare them with contrary views. In a public talk, I often find that the audience comprises people who are already on my side, and have come out of curiosity or to seek affirmation. Those are both fine reasons, and, after all, we all need affirmation (except perhaps Christopher Hitchens!), but in truth I’d prefer a higher titer of opponents when I speak. But again, I prefer to write, and that’s why I wrote The Albatross (soon to be available in fine bookstores everywhere)…

You can read the entire article here.

faith vs fact

Coyne has a new book coming out in May, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. You can pre order the book here. (I receive a few shekels if your order the book through this link)

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Why Accepting Evolution is Incompatible with Christianity

bible vs evolution

As much as some people might try, it is impossible to square evolution with Christianity. Even embracing theistic evolution requires a significant amount of intellectual gymnastics in order to reach the conclusion that the Christian God is behind evolution. In my opinion, theodicy — the problem of evil and suffering —  presents an insurmountable problem for theistic evolutionists. Why would a God, any God, choose such a violent, painful, deadly way to create?

Jerry Coyne, a biologist and a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, writes:

…It is in fact different from asking whether one believes (“accepts” is a better word because “believe” implies a religious-like faith) in theory of gravity or generality relativity, and the reason is obvious. The theories of gravity and relativity don’t impinge on anyone’s religious beliefs. Evolution carries implications that no other science does—save, perhaps some branches of cosmology. It implies that humans evolved by the same blind, materialistic, and naturalistic process involved in the evolution of every other species, and so we aren’t special in any numious sense. It implies that we’re not the special objects of God’s creation. It sinks the “design” argument for God—the most powerful argument in the canon of Natural Theology. It implies that we were not endowed by God with either a soul or moral instincts, so that our morality is a product of both evolution and rational consideration. It implies that much of our behavior reflects evolved, genetically-influenced propensities rather than dualistic “free will.” It implies that even if God did work through the process of evolution , He did so using a horrible and painful process of natural selection, a form of “natural evil” that doesn’t comport well with God’s supposed omnibenevolence…

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