Science and Religion Aren’t Friends?

One of my habits every morning is to read through USA Today among some of the other newspapers that I peruse, and this morning I read the Forum in USA Today, and quite frankly did so before I had breakfast. I think that if I was eating breakfast at the time I would have had indigestion. I read the forum portion which was authored this time by Jerry Coyne, a professor of evolution at the University of Chicago, and I might be dealing with this article all week, there’s a lot to chew on here. The title is “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends.”[i] He says one relies on truth whereas the other relies on hope and obfuscation. Trying to equate the two or giving religion undue authority, does the world no good. I think the article would be better rendered “Naturalism and Religion Aren’t Friends.”

I want to read just the opening of this article, and make a couple of comments. Coyne says,

Religion in America is on the defensive.

Atheist books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith have, by exposing the dangers of faith and the lack of evidence for the God of Abraham, become best-sellers. Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations and replacing them with material ones. Evolution took a huge bite a while back, and recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head. We now know that the universe did not require a creator. Science is even studying the origin of morality. So religious claims retreat into the ever-shrinking gaps not yet filled by science. And, although to be an atheist in America is still to be an outcast, America’s fastest-growing brand of belief is non-belief.

But faith will not go gentle. For each book by a “New Atheist,” there are many others attacking the “movement” and demonizing atheists as arrogant, theologically ignorant, and strident. The biggest area of religious push-back involves science. Rather than being enemies, or even competitors, the argument goes, science and religion are completely compatible friends, each devoted to finding its own species of truth while yearning for a mutually improving dialogue.

As a scientist and a former believer, I see this as bunk…[ii]

Now the article goes on, but I can’t get into the rest of it right now, I’ll leave that for tomorrow, and perhaps the next day, I want to point out that here again you have a supposed scientist making a dogmatic assertion rather than a defensible argument over and over and over again throughout the article, failing to recognize that science was invented in Christian universities, and it came out of the notion that reason devoid of revelation always ends up in the blind ditch of ignorance.

So Coyne says, “Recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head.”[iii] Kind of reminds me of nineteenth century science, in which a fertilized human egg was though of a microscopic blob of gelatin. We now know it’s among the most ordered complex structures in the entire known universe. But as so often happens in science reporting, the interpretation of the empirical facts is confused by Jerry Coyne with the facts themselves. Although he says recent research on the brain and human cognition proves that there is no material or I should say immaterial soul or spirit, he confuses his interpretation of the facts with the facts themselves. In truth, the recent work in brain research is quite compatible with anthropological dualism or body/soul dualism—it’s the idea that we have a soul or a mind distinct from the brain.

I’m not sure that Jerry Coyne has really thought out the implications of his paradigm from the perspective of logic or legal ramifications or even libertarian freedom. Because, from the perspective of logic we can demonstrate that the mind is not identical to the brain. We can do that by proving that the mind and brain have different properties. The subjective texture of our conscious mental experiences, like the awareness of color, is different from anything that is simply physical. If the world were only made up of matter the subjective aspects of consciousness simply would not exists. I think if Jerry Coyne would reflect for just a moment he would be convinced that the experience of color involves more than a mere wavelength of light.

From a legal perspective, if human beings were merely material they couldn’t be held accountable this year for a crime committed last year, simply because physical identity changes over time. So from a purely material perspective the self who did the crime in the past is literally not the same self who in the present is going to be punished. Legally and intuitively, of course, we recognize a sameness of soul that establishes personal identity over time.

If we were merely material beings, as Jerry Coyne supposes, then libertarian freedom or freedom of the will simply does not exists. Instead, we would be fatalistically relegated into a world in which everything is determined by mechanistic material processes. If I’m merely material, my choices are merely a function of genetic makeup or brain chemistry.

The implications of this worldview chronicled in the Forum in USA Today are profound. In a worldview that embraces fatalistic determinism, I can’t be held morally accountable for my actions. Why? Because reward and punishment make sense only if we have freedom of the will, and in a solely material world, reason itself is reduced to the status, well of conditioned reflexes. Even the very concept of love would be rendered meaningless.

I’ll tell you, I’ve said this many times right here on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, ideas have consequences. When Coyne says that “science is even studying the origin of morality,” he ought to think twice about what he’s talking about. There are all kinds of people buying into his worldview. Everything is a function of blind mechanistic material processes. What then grounds a moral position? There are people, like Ted Bundy, who confess to over thirty murders, who had a conversation with his victim, a girl that he was about ready to murder and rape, and he wants to take this idea, that idea that comes out of nothing producing everything—which is absurd notion—to its logical conclusion. Here’s what Bundy said—again he’s taking about a victim, in fact he’s specifically addressing a victim, think about your daughter, about to be raped and murdered—this is what Ted Bundy said, “I learned that all moral judgments…” in other words he was brought up the school of evolution. He learned that,

All moral judgments are value judgments, that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either right or wrong…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable value judgment that I was bound to respect the rights of others…

Now as I’m recapitulating the words of Ted Bundy, recognize how eloquent they are, how precise they are, how erudite they are. He’s taking something that he’s learned, he’s no dummy, and he’s drawing it to its logical conclusion. He goes on to say,


Do you like what you’re reading? Take a look at this.


I asked myself, who were these others? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you—

He says to this girl that he’s about ready to rape,

—than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as moral or good and others as immoral or bad? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me, after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.

So on what moral grounds can someone like Jerry Coyne provide a response to Ted Bundy? In a materialistic world, how can you say that it was ok to speak out against slavery in Great Britain in the seventeenth century, after all it was completely culturally acceptable? My point here is simply to say ideas have consequences and the horrendous consequences of what people are buying into glibly when they read USA Today like this morning’s “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends,” are dramatic for how we view our world, but more than that what we do in our world. Jerry Coyne the evolutionist is simply wrong; in fact dead wrong; devastatingly wrong.


[i] Jerry Coyne, “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-10-11-column11_ST_N.htm

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

More Questions and Answers with Hank

Evidence of God, and Q&A

The Biblical God, and Q&A

Q&A: World Religions, Roman Catholicism, and Family Relationships

Cain and Abel, and Q&A

Q&A: The Apocrypha, the Millennium, and Sanctification