Jerry Coyne

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The battle for evolution seems never-ending. And the battle is part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition.

Jerry Coyne (born 1949) is an American professor of biology.


  • The fact that both Jews and Christians ignore some of God’s or Jesus’s commands, but scrupulously obey others, is absolute proof that people pick and choose their morality not on the basis of its divine source, but because it comports with some innate morality that they derived from other sources.
  • It takes a profound hypocrisy to try to reconcile for others things that you can’t reconcile for yourself.
  • No reputable theologian, or rational believer for that matter, adheres strictly to Biblical morality. As everyone knows, believers pick and choose their morality from a smorgasbord of divine commands, both good and bad, in scripture. And doing that shows that you have a sense of right and wrong that doesn’t come from the Bible or God. Ergo, it comes from evolution and culture.
  • Religion may be a quest for the truth, but it has no way of finding the truth, or verifying what it claims to find. Our knowledge of what God is like has not advanced one iota over the ideas of the 1500s.
    And insofar as theological interpretation has changed, it’s done so not as a result of faith’s quest for truth, but of pressure from science and secular morality. Really, can any theologian, philosopher, or scientist tell me anything about God now that we didn’t know 500 years ago? Then ask a scientist what we know now about science that we didn’t know in 1500.
  • Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.
  • But this (a listing of illustrations of how the genome can change other than by mutations) doesn’t constitute a crisis—it’s a very interesting finding that shows that variation in a genome can arise by processes other than mutation of an organism’s own DNA. The disposition of that variation still must occur via either natural selection (it can be good or bad) or genetic drift (no effect on fitness). This hasn’t really changed the theory of evolution one iota, though it’s changed our view of where organisms can acquire new genes.
  • I am SO tired of this trope. It may indeed be the case that we can’t justify a priori via philosophical lucubrations that we arrive at the truth about nature only by using the methods of science. My answer to that is increasingly becoming, “So bloody what?” The use of science is justified because it works, not because we can justify it philosophically. If we are interested in finding out what causes malaria, no amount of appeal to a deity, philosophical rumination, listening to music, reading novels, or waiting for a revelation will answer that question. We have to use scientific methods, which, of course, is how causes of disease are found.
  • Theodicy is the Achilles Heel of faith. There is no reasonable answer to the problem of gratuitous evil (i.e., the slaughter of children or mass killings by natural phenomena like tsunamis), and the will to continue believing in the face of such things truly shows the folly of faith. For those evils prove absolutely either that God is not benevolent and omnipotent, or that there is no god. (Special pleading like “we don’t know God’s mind” doesn’t wash, for the same people who say such things also claim to know that God is benevolent and omnipotent). Both nonbelief or belief in a malicious or uncaring God are unacceptable to the goddy. Ergo, any rational person who contemplates gratuitous evil must become an agnostic, an atheist, or someone who rejects the Abrahamic God. It is a touchstone of rationality.
  • No, we don’t have faith in reason and science in the same way as “Cru” members have faith in God. I see “faith” according to Walter Kaufmann’s definition: strong belief in propositions for which there is insufficient evidence to command the assent of every reasonable person. We have confidence in science because it has led us to provisional truths—it works. Cru doesn’t even know if there’s any God, or, if there is a divine presence, that it’s the Abrahamic god rather than the Hindu god, Yahweh, or Wotan. And we use reason in the same way: it leads us to truth. Revelation, dogma, and authority do not, for if they did there would be only one religion rather than thousands with their disparate and often conflicting doctrines.
  • Can a geology teacher blithely tell his students that the earth is flat, or a European history professor that the Holocaust didn’t happen? That’s not academic freedom, but dereliction of duty.
  • Some believers are fundamentalists about everything, but every believer is a fundamentalist about something.
  • Science has only two things to contribute to religion: an analysis of the evolutionary, cultural, and psychological basis for believing things that aren’t true, and a scientific disproof of some of faith’s claims (e.g., Adam and Eve, the Great Flood). Religion has nothing to contribute to science, and science is best off staying as far away from faith as possible. The “constructive dialogue” between science and faith is, in reality, a destructive monlogue, with science making all the good points, tearing down religion in the process.
    That’s the question you should always ask believers when they make an unsupported assertions, ranging from “God is loving” to “Our souls live on after death.” The answer will always be one of two things: “The Bible says so,” or “I just know it to be true.” Neither of those are rational answers, but they satisfy the religious.
    It is in fact the “how-do-you-know-that” query that really distinguishes New Atheism from Old. While atheists have always decried the lack of evidence for theism, it is the infusion of scientists and science-friendly people into atheism, starting with Carl Sagan and continuing on to Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Pinker, and Dennett, that has made us realize that religious dogmas are in fact hypotheses, and you need reasons and evidence for accepting them. If you have none, then you have no reason to believe in God.
    Nevertheless, religious dogma does change, but not because theology has found better reasons. It’s because a.) science has shown the dogma to be false (Genesis, Adam and Eve, creation, the Exodus, etc.) or b.) secular morality has shown that the tenets of religious belief are no longer supportable (hell as a place of fire, limbo, discrimination against gays, the Mormons’ refusal to let blacks be priests, etc.)
  • He is a dissimulator, a back-pedaler, a coward, and a self-serving ignoramus. In other words, he’s a politician.
  • Yes, secularism does propose a physical and purposeless universe, and many (but not all) of us accept the notion that our sense of self is a neuronal illusion. But although the universe is purposeless, our lives aren’t. This conflation of a purposeless universe (i.e., one not created for a specific reason) with purposeless human lives is a trick that the faithful use to make atheism seem nihilistic and dark. But we make our own purposes, and they’re real. Right now my purpose is to write this piece, and then I’ll work on a book, and later I’ll have dinner with a friend. Soon I’ll go to Poland to visit more friends. Maybe later I’ll read a nice book and learn something. Those are real purposes, not illusory purposes to which Douthat wants us to devote our only life.
  • Since neither Robbins, nor Hart, nor any other Sophisticated Theologian™ or Hipster Poet has produced any evidence for God that would convince someone who wasn’t already a believer or an incipient believer, we needn’t take their claims seriously. The reason people like Robbins sneer at the New Atheists’ call for evidence is because believers don’t have any.
  • Anybody who claims that people don’t cherry-pick their morality from the Bible, choosing that which comports with their extra-Biblical notions of what’s good and bad, is simply blind.
  • The justification for naturalism is that it works: we have never understood anything about the universe by assuming the supernatural, while assuming naturalism as a working hypothesis has moved our understanding ever forward.
  • Religion claims to help us understand things about the universe, but, unlike science has no way to test or verify its claims. Both science and religion compete to understand reality, but only science has the method to verify its findings, while religion merely buttresses emotional and epistemic commitments made in advance, commitments impervious to evidence.
  • Even more than religious belief, acceptance or denial of evolution is a test of character. For if you deny evolution is true, you are either pandering to the public even though you know better (showing that you’re ambitious but lack character), are truly ignorant of the facts (which means you can’t be trusted to be informed about crucial issues), or are a flat-out creationist (showing that you’re batshit crazy).

Why Evolution is True (2009)[edit]

Why Evolution is True. New York: Viking. 2009. LCC QH366.2.C74. ISBN 9780670020539. 
  • The battle for evolution seems never-ending. And the battle is part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition.
    • p. xiii
  • This book lays out the main lines of evidence for evolution. For those who oppose Darwinism purely as a matter of faith, no amount of evidence will do—theirs is a belief not based on reason.
    • p. xiv
  • It’s clear that this resistance stems largely from religion. You can find religions without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion.
    • p. xvii
  • We humans have many vestigial features proving that we evolved. The most famous is the appendix.
    • p. 60
  • Tiny, nonfunctional wings, a dangerous appendix, eyes that can’t see, and silly ear muscles simply don’t make sense if you think that species were specially created.
    • p. 64
  • The biogeographic evidence for evolution is now so powerful that I have never seen a creationist book, article, or lecture that has tried to refute it. Creationists simply pretend that the evidence doesn’t exist.
    • p. 88
  • We now have many of the answers that once eluded Darwin, thanks to two developments that he could not have imagined: continental drift and molecular taxonomy.
    • p. 90
  • If you can’t think of an observation that could disprove a theory, that theory simply isn’t scientific.
    • p. 138
  • If the history of science teaches us anything, it is that what conquers our ignorance is research, not giving up and attributing our ignorance to the miraculous work of a creator.
    • p. 140
  • Because of the hegemony of fundamentalist religion in the United States, this country has been among the most resistant to the fact of human evolution.
    • p. 192
  • Now, science cannot completely exclude the possibility of supernatural explanation. It is possible—though very unlikely—that our whole world is controlled by elves. But supernatural explanations like these are simply never needed; we manage to understand the natural world just fine using reason and materialism.
    • pp. 224-225
  • Evolution tells us where we came from, not where we can go.
    • p. 231
  • A well-understood and testable hypothesis like sexual selection surely trumps an untestable appeal to the inscrutable caprices of a creator.
    • p. 240

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