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Friday, February 20, 2009

Jerry Coyne's essay: Are science and religion really compatible?

I have tried to live my life in the belief that it is possible to be a committed scientist and a committed Christian. I won't elaborate on that much, but I hope that this blog has reflected that belief for the past four years plus. (See here, here, and here for posts setting forth some of my beliefs on the interaction between science and Christianity.)

Jerry Coyne, of the University of Chicago, and a prominent evolutionary biologist, has written an important and thought-provoking review of two recent books that have tried to do what I have described, that is, to reconcile science and Christianity, namely Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, by Karl Giberson and Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, by Kenneth R. Miller.

Coyne has a lot of interesting and important things to say in this essay. He classifies Intelligent Design as both unscientific and as a form of creationism. He criticizes liberal theology, which he calls barely distinguishable from pantheism, and seems to have at least some understanding of, shall we say, more conservative religious belief. He recognizes Giberson's and Miller's sincerity and integrity. He favors their criticism of Young-Earth Creationism. But, he concludes,

"Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works." and:

"It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time."

Ouch. If I were as eloquent as Coyne, I would respond here, giving reasons why he is wrong, at considerable length, and with great eloquence. I'm not so eloquent. I will just say that the Bible teaches that one of the ways in which God reveals Himself to us humans, besides the "more religious" ways, is through nature, which gives us at least a partly religious motive for studying nature. It is also true that many of the greatest scientists who ever lived were Christians, or adherents of some sort of belief in things that can't be studied by science. Johannes Kepler is an example of a great scientist of the past who was a Christian. Francis Collins is an example of an important scientist of today who is. Although he was not a believer in a personal God, no less than Einstein was a deist, or close to it. So I believe Coyne is wrong. There are, and have been, scientists who were religious, and reconciliation between science and religion is possible.

See here and here for two more of my previous posts on this subject.

God willing, I will be posting again about this essay by Coyne, and presenting some criticisms of it, including reactions by Giberson and Miller. These criticisms will attempt to prove that Coyne is wrong.

Thanks for reading.

The second and third parts of this series have now been posted.


Weekend Fisher said...

His critique -- just going by your synopsis -- seems overblown. It may be you can't take Genesis 1-3 as history and evolution as history both seriously. But that's a far cry saying you can't be a Christian evolutionist. He's got too many things conflated there.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

His basic problem is his prior assumption that there is no God, and that, hence, nothing miraculous has ever, or will ever, happen.

Both Giberson and Miller seem to agree with your second sentence, as I understand it. (I haven't read their books yet.)


zuma said...

Using science for the support of long earth creation might not be feasible.
Scientists classify Samarium-147, Rubidium-87, Rhenium-187, Lutetium-176, Thorium-232, Uranium-238, Potassium-40 Uranium-235, Beryllium-10, Chlorine-36, Carbon-14, Uranium-234 and Thorium-230 to be the parent isotopes of Neodymium-143, Strontium-87, Osmium-187, Hafnium-176, Lead-208, Lead-206, Argon-40, Lead207, Boron-10, Argon-36, Nitrogen-14, Thorium-230 and Radium-226 respectively.
What if all these substances that seem to relate to each others would have existed during God's formation, it is irrational to relate one substance to be the parent isotope of another since they might have been created in the very beginning at the same time by God with its likeliness and feature. If that would be so, it would be erroneous to compute the decay rate of half year from one material to another.
Thus, it would not be rational to use it to support old age creation by means of science if all the materials would have been created by God ever since its beginning. This is due to it is irrational to presume that one material would be formed by another through decaying from years.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, zuma.

Three remarks:
1) As I understand it, the ages from the decay rates, of different isotopes, are consistent, and there doesn't seem to be any reason why that should be, unless they are all correct, as they are independent of each other.

2) Of course, God could have created everything 5 minutes ago, or 6,000 years ago, including fossils, on-line records, our memories, etc. This idea is known as the "appearance of age" idea, and I don't see any way to absolutely rule it out, but I don't know anyone who really believes it. One objection is that it would mean that God had deceived us.

3) I am neither an expert in radioactive dating or paleontology.