The ever-amusing Jerry Coyne

I am glad to have discovered Jerry Coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True. When I am in at a blogging low point, I can always visit Coyne’s site and enjoy a good laugh. Not with Coyne but at him. When it comes to philosophy and theology, he really doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows.  

Coyne is an evolutionary biologist with a Ph.D.  Within his scientific domain, I’m sure he is capable and competent, perhaps even respected. But Coyne is also a zealot with a mission—to persuade the world that all belief in God is superstitious and irrational.

One of Coyne’s favorite weapons is ad hominem snarkiness. Consider his latest attack on philosophy professor Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga was recently interviewed in the New York Times:  “Is Atheism Rational?” The interview is conducted at a fairly simple level (after all, its audience are the readers of the Times); but it touches on some of the themes for which Plantinga has become famous.

What I would like you to do is to first read the Plantinga interview. Then jump over to Jerry Coyne’s response to the interview.  The article drips with disdain. He judges Plantinga’s arguments as beneath reasoned refutation. It is sufficient to simply make sarcastic remarks. Now perhaps Coyne believes that he has elsewhere already demolished Plantinga’s arguments. Perhaps one day I will search his website and collate everything Coyne has written about Plantinga and assess his criticisms. But that really ought to be done by someone trained in philosophy who has a good grasp of Plantinga’s thought, and that ain’t me—and it sure ain’t Coyne.

Here’s another interview with Plantinga:

I am particularly interested in learning more about Plantinga’s claim that theism is a basic belief, akin to belief in other minds, that does not need further justification. That sounds right to me.  See my brief discussion of the Five Ways of Aquinas, where I suggest that Aquinas’s arguments may best be understood as invitations to contemplate existence in metaphysical depth.  When one does so, one may discover, as so many theists have discovered over the millennia, that reality poses profound existential and metaphysical questions that cannot be dismissed by waving a scientific wand.

Ideologues of all persuasions are incapable of experiencing reality at this deep level. This is as true for Christian ideologues as for atheist ideologues. Ideology is a spiritual illness. It breeds not humility and a genuine desire to find the truth but zeal and the pathological need to assert and defend one’s views at all costs.  One sees it all over the internet. Here’s a recent example from the atheist camp: John Loftus complains that Christian apologists are irrationally closed to reasoned discourse. He can only conclude that their brains are infected with the faith virus (what I will call ideological faith). Actually, I think he is probably right about many Christian apologists; but what Loftus does not see—and it’s obvious to anyone who reads his stuff—is that he is as much an ideologue as his opponents. He didn’t stop being an ideologue when he converted from Christianity to anti-Christianity. He simply changed uniforms.

What is the cure to ideology? The active pursuit of the virtue of humility would probably be a good place to begin—for all of us.

“No man, wise in his own opinion, because he has studied all the sciences and is learned in external wisdom, will ever penetrate God’s mysteries or see them unless he first humbles himself and becomes foolish in his heart, repudiating his self-opinion together with the acquirements of learning” (St Symeon the New Theologian).

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5 Responses to The ever-amusing Jerry Coyne

  1. brian says:

    Excellent commentary. What would be helpful is if both sides could recognize and concede the problem of ideological thinking. Those who are mired in it, however, are zealously blind.


  2. whitefrozen says:

    I hate to sound harsh, but Coyne is an ignorant hack. According to Ed Feser, he’s written over 5000 words on David Hart’s newest book without having read it. That’s pretty lame.


  3. Jerry Coyne’s a little bit like my older sister. (link to her now dead blog)
    What they both attack is a *sola scriptura* based belief system and/or a belief system based entirely on a theocratic doctrinal perspective. However, the most traditionalist forms of the Christian faith are neither of these and are dedicated on basing themselves on a solid historical foundation.

    Conclusion: We have more to worry about if someone in a qualified field (church history, historical theology, biblical studies, early christian studies/byzantine studies/ancient history, patrology, or early rabbinic judaism (both of which technically fall under historical theology)) make the claims that they’re making. However, both are philosophers and sometimes, when it comes to these areas, philosophers say the oddest things.


  4. Yaakov says:

    Well written and thoughtful.


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