'Fact vs. Faith' - New book by Jerry Coyne

In his provocative new book, evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne lays out in clear, dispassionate detail why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion — including faith, dogma, and revelation — leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions.

Listen to this podcast interview with Jerry Coyne

Coyne is responding to a national climate in which over half of Americans don't believe in evolution (and congressmen deny global warming), and warns that religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise.
Extending the bestselling works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, he demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable "truth" by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science.
Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm — to individuals and to our planet — in mistaking faith for fact in making the most important decisions about the world we live in.

Reviews

Sam Harris

Many people are confused about science — about what it is, how it is practiced, and why it is the most powerful method for understanding ourselves and the universe that our species has ever devised. In Faith vs. Fact, Coyne has written a wonderful primer on what it means to think scientifically, showing that the honest doubts of science are better — and more noble — than the false certainties of religion. This is a profound and lovely book. It should be required reading at every college on earth.
— Sam Harris, founder of the Reason Project and author of the New York Times best sellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

Steven Pinker

The truth is not always halfway between two extremes: some propositions are flat wrong. In this timely and important book, Jerry Coyne expertly exposes the incoherence of the increasingly popular belief that you can have it both ways: that God (or something God-ish, God-like, or God-oid) sort-of exists; that miracles kind-of happen; and that the truthiness of dogma is somewhat-a-little-bit-more-or-less-who's-to-say-it-isn't like the truths of science and reason.
 
— Steven Pinker, Harvard University, and author of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

Richard Dawkins

The distinguished geneticist Jerry Coyne trains his formidable intellectual firepower on religious faith, and it's hard to see how any reasonable person can resist the conclusions of his superbly argued book. Though religion will live on in the minds of the unlettered, in educated circles faith is entering its death throes. Symptomatic of its terminal desperation are the 'apophatic' pretensions of 'sophisticated theologians,' for whose empty obscurantism Coyne reserves his most devastating sallies. Read this book and recommend it to two friends.
— Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion

Credo Quai Absurdum
I have just finished reading Faith v Fact by Jerry Coyne – the Kindle edition. 
Jerry Coyne is a scientist nearing the end of his career as professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, who is a staunch opponent of creationism. His first (and excellent) pop science book was called “Why Evolution is True” and it lays out the overwhelming evidence from many branches of science supporting the theory of evolution.
In his new book he takes things a stage further by pitting science against religion as “ways of knowing”.

The book consists of just 5 chapters, and the text ends at 72% on my kindle – with the rest being footnotes and an extensive bibliography. Coyne writes with a clarity and succinctness which is a delight compared to much of the obfuscation that characterises writing (and speaking) about the science and religion interface.

He is a firm believer that science is the only way to discover what is true. He sees faith as “belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person”. Or more succinctly belief without evidence – a definition which religious people apparently hate, but is actually quite close to Hebrews 11 “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV) – believing in things which you can’t see but hope are true – the very epitome of wishful thinking.

He starts by stating “The Problem” – that science and religion compete in many ways to describe reality but use different tools to meet this goal - and argues that "the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion is unreliable and leads to incorrect, untestable or conflicting conclusions". They are therefore fundamentally incompatible.

His quotable maxim is “Faith may be a gift in religion, but in science it’s poison, for faith is no way to find truth.”

In the third chapter he takes on what he calls “accommodationism” – defined as those who want to accept the findings of modern science, and even practice modern science, but at the same time want to cling on to traditional Christian beliefs. Theistic evolution comes in for criticism – and not scientifically but also theologically. Coyne’s argument is surprising similar to Stephen Palmer’s position as recently discussed on this blog: Evolution cannot be reconciled with the plain teaching of scripture. The logical reason is that scripture comes from a time when humankind had scant knowledge of the natural world and is largely mythical – therefore scripture should be rejected in favour of science. 

Those who try the ultimately futile task of trying to re-interpret scripture in the light of modern knowledge are merely clinging on the redundant ideas, for reasons that are not based on evidence but on wishful thinking. The more we learn about the universe and evolution the more superfluous the idea of god becomes.

He covers the arguments that religionists make to push back against the progress of science and ends with a chapter on why it all matters, and the potential harm done to individuals and to humanity by those who cling on to outdated beliefs. 

He deals with health matters – Christian groups who reject medical treatment in favour of prayer come in for his entirely justifiable ire, as he recounts cases where children have died because of the “faith” of their parents. Opposition to assisted dying is often religiously motivated – and this too comes in for criticism – where terminally ill people have their suffering prolonged rather than being brought to a humane end.

Global warming denialism is also shown to have support from religious doctrines – that God is in control of the earth, and that Jesus will shortly sort it all out. This is particularly dangerous as the continued lack of real action to address the problems of climate change will have serious effects on all life on earth.

He concludes with the argument that “Religion is to science as superstition is to reason; indeed, that is the very reason they are incompatible”

It is quite a short book but it is well argued, easy to read and should be required reading for all who engage in the science v religion debate.


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