I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jerry Coyne's essay: Are Science and Religion really compatible? 3, responses by others

I have been posting about an essay by Jerry Coyne, wherein he argues that a person who believes in a God who can work miracles cannot be a good scientist, or that religion and science are basically incompatible. The first post is here, and the second is here.

In this post, I present summaries of three reactions to Coyne's essay. The first two are by Christian authors who have attempted to show that science and Christianity are, indeed compatible. Coyne's essay was a review of their books. Edge gave several authors, including these two, the opportunity to react to Coyne. Most of them agree with him.

Karl Giberson differs, as might be expected. Giberson makes two excellent points. First, he says, science has historical baggage that would be embarrassing, if it was brought up constantly. He doesn't mention them, but I will give a couple of examples -- phlogiston and epicycles. We don't talk about science as if it still used these theories. Why not, then, allow theology the same privilege? Why hold Christianity to a outdated belief in a "tyrannical anthromorphic deity," when such belief has been superseded by almost all Christians?

Second, Giberson says: I wonder what would happen if, in the name of pluralism and diplomacy, we could all agree that it was OK for people to believe that evolution was a part of God's plan.

Kenneth R. Miller's response to Coyne is longer, and, I think, deeper.

Miller begins by disagreeing with Coyne's classification of Miller as a creationist. (See my previous post on how Coyne defines such.) Miller points out that he argued against the Intelligent Design side in the Kitzmiller trial. Miller says that he exhibits only one of the four characteristics by which Coyne identified creationists.

Miller then argues that Coyne has invoked "convergence" when he wants to, but only when he wants to. He also says that, although some alleged miracles -- a world-wide flood being one -- are subject to empirical verification or rejection (He says that one has been rejected) others, such as the incarnation and the resurrection, are not, but that Coyne rejects them anyway, because his position really is that there can't have been, or be, any miracles. As Miller says, that's a faith statement on Coyne's part. So he attacks Coyne's logic, and the soundness of his thinking.

Miller says that science, as practiced, requires methodological naturalism, but that Coyne confuses that with philosophical naturalism, a belief that the physical or natural world is all that exists, which is not a requirement for the practice of science, and which science can neither prove or disprove. (This Wikipedia article contrasts the two, but calls philosophical naturalism ontological, or metaphysical, naturalism.) Methodological naturalism assumes that the supernatural is not going to somehow assert itself when we perform experiments, so as to alter the results.

Miller points out that there are real and important questions, such as why science works, and why there is anything at all, that science cannot answer, and that Coyne shows no interest in, because he believes that scientific knowledge is the only legitimate form of knowledge.

He closes his response by saying that, considering the state of belief in evolution in North American today, Coyne is driving away allies that he needs in the important task of changing the perception of so many that what science has to say about the age of the earth, and the relatedness of organisms, is invalid.

Miller's response is masterful, a splendid antidote to Coyne.

He Lives, a good Christian blogger who is also a scientist, has also reacted. I cannot repeat his arguments here fully without committing plagiarism, but will summarize by saying that the author first considers the definitions of incompatibility, and says, convincingly, in my view, that science and Christianity cannot be shown to be incompatible. In fact, they must not be, since there are some good and important scientists who are Christians, and there always have been.

Then, He Lives considers seven common arguments which claim that science and Christianity are incompatible, and shows that each of them fails.

He has written a short, logical, and insightful response, which, although not exactly considering Coyne's essay (He Lives was aware of it) demolishes its central theme.

Compatibility between science and Christianity is possible. Like any marriage of strong-willed, independent, and unlike entities, making this marriage work has been, and will be, difficult. But, since the Bible and the findings of science are both part of God's revelation to us, we need to work at it. It is unfortunate that Coyne and others are actively trying to stop such activity, and are unwilling to acknowledge that their arguments that it can't be done don't hold up.

Thanks for reading. Read Miller and He Lives.

On a much different note (if you'll excuse the word) Happy Birthday, Handel!


bobxxxx said...

He closes his response by saying that, considering the state of belief in evolution in North American today, Coyne is driving away allies that he needs in the important task of changing the perception of so many that what science has to say about the age of the earth, and the relatedness of organisms, is invalid.

Does Ken Miller want Coyne to shut up? It sure sounds like that's what he wants.

The most important reason for the disgraceful scientific illiteracy of Americans is the Christian religion, but Ken Miller wants atheists to suck up to that death cult.

I suggest creationism is just a symptom of a disease, and in America the disease is called Christianity. Trying to cure the symptom of a disease, while ignoring the disease, doesn't work.

If Christians are offended by Coyne, Dawkins, PZ Myers, and other scientists who have nothing but disdain for religious insanity, and if that's why they reject modern science, I say to heck with them. They were not likely to accept scientific discoveries anyway.

He also says that, although some alleged miracles -- a world-wide flood being one -- are subject to empirical verification or rejection (He says that one has been rejected) others, such as the incarnation and the resurrection, are not, but that Coyne rejects them anyway, because his position really is that there can't have been, or be, any miracles.

That's also the position of 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, and I strongly doubt very many of the remaining 7% believe in the disgusting Resurrection nonsense.

A strong knowledge of science isn't required to figure out there's no magic in the universe. A small child could figure that out, as long as he or she wasn't brainwashed by an insane preacher man.

People who are scientifically literate are even less likely to believe in magic (also known as Mr. God). Scientists like Ken Miller and Francis Collins are extremely rare in the 21st century, and I bet there will be virtually zero religious scientists in the 22nd century. Scientific progress continues to grow rapidly, while religious ideas remain forever stuck in the Dark Ages.

David said...


We are not offended by Coyne, Dawkins, PZ Myers, etc. We are amused by them. Big difference.


Thanks for your post!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks to both of you.

bobxxxx, Giberson and Miller don't reject modern science, nor do I, nor David, the other commenter. We reject assertions that science has disproved (or proved) the occurrence of miracles. Some things, such as why science works, and the occurrence of miracles, are outside the realm of science, and claiming that they are not is bad science.

zuma said...

The following might not be relevant to this topic but just that I would like to bring out that science might not contradict the nature of things:
Stephen Hawking had mentioned that this world was created from something out of nothing through gravitational force and God was not necessary through the process.
Some even support that this universe was created by Big Bang Theory through explosion or whatever.
Even though both Stephen Hawking Theory and Big Bang Theory are science, yet it could not explain the orderliness of this universe. Do you think that the earth would be located in the right position in front of the sun instead of many miles far away from it if that would be done through Stephen Hawking Theory and Big Bang Theory? If the earth would be formed by nature, it would be formed many miles far away from earth till the inhabitants would face 24 hours night there without seeing sunlight and all the plants could not survive if that is so. If the earth would be formed by nture, it would be formed too near the sun and many inhabitants would get hurt. If this universe would be formed by nature, there would not be that a galaxy would revolve itself each time when a new galaxy is formed. This has proved that science itself might be bad and illogical.
The only reason to explain the orderliness of this universe is there must be something that controls this universe to ensure its orderliness. We call it, God, the creator, in which the science insists to reject.
Stephen Hawking's theory and Big Bang's have been used by scientists to explain the creation of universe. They fail! This is due to how the orderliness of the universe could be established unless God created it.

zuma said...

The phrase, science might not contradict the nature of things, in previous comment should be replaced as, science might contradict the nature of things.

zuma said...

Let's give you another example that science might not be realistic:
Do you know the hubble telescope that scientists have used to conclude that the world would be expanding? They have gathered the data from observing galaxies that all are in red shift (moving far away from earth) and not even one blue shift (moving nearer to the earth). From then they jump into the conclusion that Big Bang Theory is right.
What if the universe would have been created in infinity in the past, the red shift would not give any information that this universe would be expanding since the universe would have been developed up to infinity at the first place currently. The red shift only could reflect all the galaxies would be moving further away of the earth and it might not conclude this universe would be expanding to support Big Bang Theory.
They compute the size of the universe by means of the size of the universe= basic 184mi/sec speed of light x estimated 15 billion years age of the universe.
The above could be located in the website at ttp://
The formula presumes that the universe is expanding. Not only that, the expansion of universe follows by the speed of light.
The above formula suffers a few shortfalls:
What if the expansion of the universe does not follow the speed of light, the formula would present the wrong size of the universe.
What if the universe would have already been developed into a stage of infinity without end, the formula is entirely wrong.
How the discovery from hubble's telescope that this universe would be expanding? No, it could not.
So, what is science then?

Martin LaBar said...

zuma, science is an attempt to understand the universe, using the best evidence that we can get. Are its conclusions always right? No. But most of them are. The evidence for the expansion of the universe is about as good as it could be, considering the nature of the subject.

I see no reason why God couldn't have created the universe, as we know it, using the Big Bang, and the various physical laws and constants that the universe shows. Science has no explanation as to why most of the laws are as they are, and why most of the physical constants are at their measured value. We do know that if the laws or constants were much different, we wouldn't be here to discuss them. To me, that is evidence of an infinitely wise Creator. Not everyone agrees, of course.

I have no idea where you get the conclusion that if the earth had been formed by nature it would be in a different place.

Some, not many, galaxies show a blueshift. See the Wikipedia article on "Blueshift."

You must have had a major typo in your figure for the speed of light.

The universe isn't supposed to be expanding at the speed of light. The velocity of expansion, relative to us, varies with the distance away, more or less.

It is always possible to suppose that science is totally wrong in some area, of course, but, at best, unless there is some way to prove it wrong (or right) such thinking is not very helpful.

Thanks for your interest.

zuma said...

Each time when a new galaxy is formed, each would orbit its mass. For instance, if galaxy would be formed by itself, this order would not be followed and we would not guarantee each galaxy would orbit its own mass. Instead, there would be a possibility that it would fly all around the universe in random or messy order.
Assuming that if galaxies would form through Big Bang Theory. By its formation or some mention as explossion, the planets would fly all around the universe in a messy way. The sun might be stagnant at one place and yet the earth might fly all over the place. There would not be any possibility for galaxies to be formed in group in an orderly manner in which each planet in each galaxy would orbit its own mass.
With Big Bang Theory, it can never happen.
Unless something should have created the universe to ensure its orderliness, or else the galaxies in this world would be moving its own mess. We call the One that creates the universe to be God, the Creator.

zuma said...

If there are some blue shifts as well as many red shifts, it is hard to jump into conclusion that this universe would be expanding since there are some that might have made a full turn in return. How could these blue shifts give the information that support Big Bang Theory?
If this universe would have been extended into infinity, the galaxies in blue or red shifts would not give any information whether this universe would be expanding.

zuma said...

1 Corinthians 14:33, "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." As the phrase, not a God of confusion, is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:33, it implies that our God would not create everything in confusion or disorderly manner. As our God is not a God of confusion, everything in this world has been created by Him in orderly manner instead of a stage of confusion or in the mess.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your interest, zuma.

I don't think you understand how scientists believe that the universe, and galaxies, and planets, were formed, in relation to the Big Bang. (They may be wrong, of course)

Also, blue shifts are not because a galaxy has come back from expansion, but for other reasons.

Yes, God is a God of order. But that doesn't mean that we see that order. We are finite, and don't see as God does. We may see chaos in, for example, the history of Israel in Judges, but God, presumably, had the situation well in hand then, and still does. The same sort of thing might have happened in the early stages of the universe's existence. Besides, Paul was referring to behavior in church, not the creation of the universe, in 1 Corinthians 14:33. We need to be careful to make such broad applications of scripture. Sometimes it's warranted, but sometimes not so.

zuma said...

In Old Testament, most of the time God execute judgment as a result of the sins of Israel. You might treat it as chaos. This is the same as if you would work in a company, you should obey the authority or else you would be fired. Should the punishment from the company be considered as choas? No, right! The same as when God executed his judgment on Israel as a result of their persistance of sins, they received what they had done. This is not choas.

zuma said...

You have made the assumption that blue shifts are not because a galaxy would come back from expansion. What if these were galaxies that turn back not as a result of expansion, science is just the work of guessing work or assumption of how the galaxies would work instead of what they should be.

Martin LaBar said...

I'm not an astronomer, but my understanding is that there are good and reasonable explanations as to why some galaxies, or some arms of galaxies, show a blue shift. Have you read the Wikipedia article on Blueshift, as I suggested?

The chaos is not that God has authority. He does. It's that God didn't stop the Israelites for centuries, not breaking this cycle, and, for that matter, why God used the First Covenant in the first place. I don't understand all that time "wasted" before Christ came, but I don't need to. God had a plan, and I'm not smart enough to understand it. But I'm not God.

I think this discussion, which has gone way past the original purpose of this post, has gone far enough. Thanks for your input, but I suggest that you use your energies in some other way.

Zuma said...

If you would observe the behaviour of all the people, you would discover that those people that like to do work in systematical order, they would not present things in messy way. Those people tht like to present things in messy way, they will not present things in orderly manner.
Despite this subject might not be appropriate to use the phrase, God is not the God of confusion. However, considering our God that is not God of confusion when the Scripture was mentioning about various gifts, He would manage things in orderly manner since this is His unique behaviour. As God is not a God of confusion in one thing, He would present things in systematic order too. That is why it is appropriate to use it in His creation since this is His character.
If God is a God of messy, certainly He would not care how we manage especially in special gifts.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your comment, zuma.

Anonymous said...

Have you read Kenneth Miller's stuff? He seems more that he wants many people to shut up including theists.

Martin LaBar said...

I've read some of it. Thanks, @bobxxxx.