Is Jerry Coyne Right? Is There Simply No Evidence for God’s Existence?

Is it true that, as atheist biologist Jerry Coyne recently put it at his blog, “[T]here is no evidence for any divine being . . .”

I don’t think so.

God belief, like atheist belief, is an inference that people make when they look at the universe whole. In other words, the universe, taken as a whole, is the evidence from which an induction is made. Both the theist and the atheist have a reaction to existence and surmise to themselves: “There must be a God!” or “There must not be a God!” And if you are an agnostic like me, you look at the universe as a whole and say: “I genuinely can’t decide. I see serious problems with both the theist leap and the atheist leap. I don’t know if mind precedes matter or matter precedes mind.”

Below is a quote that I believe provides an example of what I mean. In 1984, at the age of 78, and thirteen years prior to his death (he died at the age of 91), Nobel Prize winning Harvard biologist, George Wald, made this confession before a meeting of the Quantum Biology Symposium:

“It has occurred to me lately—I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities—that both questions [the origin of mind and the origin of life from nonliving matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality—the stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology-making animals. In them the universe begins to know itself.”

Dr. Wald was a lifelong skeptic who, late in life, came to infer the existence of mind prior to matter. Science, for Dr. Wald, was not in the service of atheism, nor of theism. Science just returned answers to questions he asked of nature, and he thought about those answers and drew inferences.

Until God, like a UFO, lands on the White House lawn and says “I’m here!”, or science returns non-question begging material solutions to the riddles of the universe’s and life’s origins (as well as the origins of information, mind, free will, and the laws of physics) there’s plenty of room for atheistic and theistic inferences. At least there is for an agnostic like me. I simply don’t see any smoking guns presented by either side, and I see a lot of holes in both theist and atheist attempts to account for all that we actually observe in the universe.

I wonder, for example, what it is that makes Jerry Coyne a confident atheist. What is that “smoking gun piece of evidence” for Coyne that makes him say, “Atheism is true”?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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12 Responses to Is Jerry Coyne Right? Is There Simply No Evidence for God’s Existence?

  1. T.H. Huxley was of the opinion that our only direct knowledge is knowledge about states of consciousness, and, moreover, that states of consciousness make up the entirety what can be called our “lives”. And, on top of that, “matter”, “force” and all other concepts of physics, are “as far as we can know, mere names for certain forms of consciousness.”

    This is all to be found in an essay he wrote on Descartes:
    http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE1/DesDis.html

    Apuleius

  2. Michael K Gray says:

    Jerry Coyne is correct.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Michael:

    And the argument in support of your claim?

    —Santi

  4. Kalibhakta says:

    @ Apuleius: hmmm… Huxley’s remarks are what we used to call “skepticism.” nowadays someone saying that stuff would be veering close to “accommodationism.”

  5. santitafarella says:

    apuleius:

    Wow. What a great essay you linked to. I’m going to need some time to digest it, and will say more later.

    —Santi

  6. Huxley was All That. Unlike Jerry Coyne, Huxley was a genuine philosopher, not a bombastic blowhard.

    • Kalibhakta says:

      @ Apuleius: I guess I’ve arrived at a higher reckoning of Coyne than you have, but it does seem that most of that crew (except Harris) are their own worst enemies when it comes to being mistaken for deep thinkers.

      I would jump on the good old lapsarian “education ain’t what it used to be” bandwagon and lament that our schools/ universities no longer teach people how to think…

      except that it’s a new atheist trope to explicitly refuse the task of understanding the problem at hand. Dawkins equates theology with fairyology… which is fine, but you can’t refuse to do the homework and then expect to be taken seriously for your ideas.

      But I guess the goals are different; Huxley did a lot thinking about the “big questions,” and was not first and foremost an entertainer.

  7. There is a great irony in the yawning intellectual/cultural abyss separating people like Huxley from the “new” atheists. One of Huxley’s lasting contributions to western culture was a shift away from broader, humanistic education and toward a more “practical”, technically and scientifically oriented education. He campaigned all his adult life for that shift, and the results of his success are quite telling.

  8. santitafarella says:

    Kali:

    Speaking of “entertainer,” Dawkins new book has the telling Freudian title: “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

    I can’t help but think of Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist.” There’s a need to do something ever more provocative at each new display (else the crowd will simply pass your cage with a yawn).

    —Santi

  9. santitafarella says:

    apuleius:

    One of things that has surprised me in talking on New Atheist threads with “New Atheists” is how little they generally care for literature or poetry. Hmm.

    —Santi

  10. santitafarella says:

    I like this quote of Richard Feynman (it’s so unlike the confidence atheists and theists out there):

    “You should not fool the laymen why you’re talking as a scientist. . . . I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is more than not lying, but bending over backwards to show how maybe you’re wrong.”

    —Santi

  11. On the book’s cover Dawkins describes himself modestly and tastefully as “the most formidable intellect in public discourse.”

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