Jerry Coyne’s Claim: Science And Religion Are Not Compatible

The religious emperor has no clothes? Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is being a bit of a bomb thrower here with his claim that science and religion are flat out incompatible. See if you agree with his arguments. Is he clearing fog or generating a bit of it himself?


To my mind, one of Coyne’s strongest arguments comes around the 13 minute mark when he notes that most Americans blatantly admit that they would ignore a scientific conclusion if it contradicted their faith. What could be more incompatible with the scientific attitude than that?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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15 Responses to Jerry Coyne’s Claim: Science And Religion Are Not Compatible

  1. Lou Saboter says:

    I enjoy Francis Collins take, he of the Human Genome Project:

    “Will we turn our backs on science because it is perceived as a threat to God, abandoning all the promise of advancing our understanding of nature and applying that to the alleviation of suffering and the betterment of humankind? Alternatively, will we turn our backs on faith, concluding that science has rendered the spiritual life no longer necessary, and that traditional religious symbols can now be replaced by engravings of the double helix on our alters?

    Both of these choices are profoundly dangerous. Both deny truth. Both will diminish the nobility of humankind. Both will be devastating to our future. And both are unnecessary. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate and beautiful – and it cannot be at war with itself. Only we imperfect humans can start such battles. And only we can end them.”

    But I don’t exactly agree with him on several levels. However, I’m pleased that he doesn’t necessarily allow his faith to exclude the findings of science. Perhaps this will spread to some science-deniers, with any luck.

  2. Coyne is correct in his conclusion whether or not we all understand exactly the steps along the way. The only way that accomodationists can begin to make them compatible is by assuming god guided evolution. In this presupposition we have two assumptions or complications that do not have support which are aimed only at making science and religion compatible. First that there is a god, and second that this god used evolution. The first is patently without evidence and the second invalidates logic required to believe in said god.

    All the monotheist branches seem to want to do this, notably because they understand that science is right, yet cannot agree with facts which invalidates their belief in an omnipotent god who issued his instructions and forgot to mention anything that science has provided for us.

    One can argue that science only discovers what a god created but Hawking et al basically put that ailing animal to sleep for the last time. Religion will be compatible with science when it finally says that there is no evidence for gods or the supernatural… or unless and until it can show that evidence to the satisfaction of science.

    • Silentio says:

      “The first is patently without evidence and the second invalidates logic required to believe in said god”

      Two questions. One, what would such evidence look like? Two, how does believing that “God used evolution” invalidate the logic required to believe in said god?

      • Evidence for the existence of a god? If you are talking about the god that monotheists believe is present in our daily lives and is in fact omnipresent, then we should have all the evidence of that god that we have for milk, trees, coffee cups and so on. To argue that god doesn’t work that way is futile because imaginary gods never do. If the evidence for a god is not one bit different than the evidence for an imaginary god that the speaker does not believe in then it is not not credible evidence. You understand the evidence we have to know that The Rolling Stones are real. Well, I would like that kind of evidence for any god.

        The logic relayed to us in the pentateuch is terribly flawed to begin with. Genesis tells us that the creator god individually created all the animals and plants and Adam from mud, then Eve from his rib. The stories of creation in the pentateuch are scientifically incorrect. Evolution shows us that we all come from a single organism, that life on this planet began from a single source. To ensure that hairless apes would learn to write and read and think about gods requires that the creator god, if he used evolution, would have to guide that evolution. This is not the act of an omnipotent being, capable of doing as he wishes – such as creating a heaven and hell. Nor is it consistent with the story we are given as his word. It’s not even like magic of any kind, and looks exactly like it would look if there were no god guiding evolution and hairless apes developed on their own and made up the story of gods. God guided evolution is the thought that a creator god would use evolution and make the evidence look exactly like that very god did not exist at all. It is the thought that humas ARE hairless apes and not created, and to believe in god guided evolution requires the believer to dismiss the creation story as allegory – which invalidates the idea of a creator god. This kind of thinking goes hand in hand with god of the gaps thinking used by theists when they say ‘well, god caused the big bang’ …. it reduces the creator god to nothing more than an explanation for what natural laws did on their own.

        Once you believe that the natural laws explain the universe and the diversity of life on Earth there is no reason to believe in a creator god as his story is completely orthogonal to the knowledge we have about the universe.

      • Silentio says:

        You didn’t answer the first question. What evidence is lacking? You’re arguing you want evidence similar to the evidence you have for milk. That’s a weird response for reasons both linguistic and ontological. But ignoring that… what does that evidence look like? How does God become really real like milk

        You wrote “God guided evolution is the thought that a creator god would use evolution and make the evidence look exactly like that very god did not exist at all”. How do you know this? To know this, you’d have to start with the knowledge that there’s no God and then compare it to the God hypothesis. But that’s precisely what you don’t know. Maybe this world is simply what the world created by god looks like.

        Also out of curiosity, how do you know evolution isn’t the “act of an omnipotent being, capable of doing as he wishes”? I ask only because if you seriously know I’d like to employ your skills for stuff like picking lottery numbers and locating car keys.

  3. Staffan says:

    If there is a God then all bets are off. Someone who created our ability to use scientific thinking to understand the world may well have reserved most of the world to be understood in other ways, or …. well who can tell? My point is that anyone who thinks science can somehow refute God is simply not taking into account that God may be above and beyond logic. So using logic to refute God becomes illogical.

    This can only mean that religion and science are two different realms both of which must be understood on their own terms. You can never decide whether to be religious or not using logic. It’s a matter of faith. I think Einstein once put is something like, you can choose to live your life thinking nothing is a miracle or to believe that everything is a miracle.

  4. Thanks for posting this! I find it really worth watching. My favourite bit is when Coyne says: “The fact that there are people who do science during the week and go to church on Sunday does not mean that science and religion are compatible. It’s a sign of cognitive dissonance.”

    • Staffan says:

      That’s just sloppy thinking. The behavior of doing both scientific work and practice religion is what may or may not lead to cognitive dissonance. But it can’t logically be a sign of it.

  5. Alan says:

    The irony of Jerry’s vision is that it ignores Darwin. Whether religion embraces or rejects Darwin rhetorically, it is the religious who practice Darwinism while the atheists reject it by their lifestyle. (

  6. Staffan says:

    “Simply living in civil society (with our Darwinian, competitive for survival, minds) leads to cognitive dissonance. Our prohibition against hitting really annoying people, for instance.”

    That’s unrelated to religion. People have urges, impulses. Nothing in the Bible contradicts that as far as I know.

    And it’s not me you should be frustrated with. It’s Coyne who made an assumption with nothing to back it up with. (And that’s a generous interpretation of the quote above.)

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