Many of you probably know that biologist Jerry Coyne recently wrote a long article for The New Republic about the failed attempts on the part of theistic scientists to “harmonize” religion and science and that his two main targets, Ken Miller and Karl Giberson, wrote rebuttals, or at least responses, to Coyne’s claims.
I won’t review Coyne’s piece except to highlight something he says in his conclusion: that the reason these attempts–which, by the way, invariably stem from the theistic side, not surprising given that theists are the ones upholding a vital but scientifically untenable position–never cease is because they never work. As many have noted before Coyne, trying to pretend that faith-based thought and a scientific approach can coexist is a mindless and impossible chore that persists only because science and faith are both things that humanity deeply cherishes.
Anyway, a reader pointed out an article by Jim Manzi in The American Scene that also takes issue with Coyne’s piece. It ain’t good.
The article is brief, so I’ll summarize it in a paragraph. Manzi essentially tries to define “random” as being “not governed by physical laws” in order to refute a claim Coyne does not in fact even make (that humanoid consciousness could not have been inevitable); plays a relativist game with the purported inevitability of human intelligence posited by Miller and Giberson, claiming, in so many words, that just because we have no reason to think it was inevitable does mean we know it was not; plays word games with “truth,” “false,” and “falsifiability”; and in the end admits where he is coming from, openly stating that he doesn’t believe the scientific process is the only means by which people can reliably add to humanity’s knowledge (although what he actually writes–that Coyne implies all thought besides scientific thought is valueless and worthless–is a straw man anyway).
What Manzi writes concerning Coyne’s pointing out that the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe is no argument for God is both telling and ridiculous:
“Instead of simply pointing out this is an obviously unscientific assertion, Coyne’s feels the need to invoke alternative potential scientific explanations.”
I know, the nerve of scientists, always looking for scientific explanations for stuff!
Concerning Manzi’s conclusion, it highlights the glaring problem with the constant and obligatory retreat of would-be science-faith harmonizers into some hazy, “God-isn’t-this-but-that” mishmash wherein God is reduced in essence to what it is–nothing. A deity that does not listen, intercede, or care is not only unnecessary but unrecognizable to the 100 million or more Americans who pray to it. No one has produced a rresponse to this that does not invoke some degree of retreating into the baroque nonsense of historical figures in the church who were supposedly acting with science in mind.
Manzi’s attempt to portray the modern position of the Roman Catholic Church as being informed by a blend of materialsm and naturalism is a sad joke; what it is, is nothing more than what it will always remain–an effort to simultaneously march forward with the rest of human progress while keeping one foot firmly yoked to the epistemically useless rock of biblical exegesis.This column is exactly the kind of non-response and empty rhetoric Coyne places in the center of the pinata in his essay.