Yesterday, USA Today published an opinion column by University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne called “Science and religion aren’t friends.” Coyne, the author of Why Evolution Is True, opposes any attempt to reconcile, integrate, or otherwise bridge the gap between science and religion. To Coyne, religion is less than worthless:
…pretending that faith and science are equally valid ways of finding truth not only weakens our concept of truth, it also gives religion an undeserved authority that does the world no good. For it is faith’s certainty that it has a grasp on truth, combined with its inability to actually find it, that produces things such as the oppression of women and gays, opposition to stem cell research and euthanasia, attacks on science, denial of contraception for birth control and AIDS prevention, sexual repression, and of course all those wars, suicide bombings and religious persecutions. [Emphasis added.]
I’ve not read anything by Coyne except for this op-ed article, but it’s apparent that he greatly values truth – “true truth” as Francis Schaeffer would have called it. Throughout the op-ed, Coyne contrasts scientific and religious understandings of truth:
Science operates by using evidence and reason. Doubt is prized, authority rejected. No finding is deemed “true” â€” a notion that’s always provisional â€” unless it’s repeated and verified by others. We scientists are always asking ourselves, “How can I find out whether I’m wrong?” I can think of dozens of potential observations, for instance â€” one is a billion-year-old ape fossil â€” that would convince me that evolution didn’t happen.
[Several paragraphs later]
And this leads to the biggest problem with religious “truth”: There’s no way of knowing whether it’s true. I’ve never met a Christian, for instance, who has been able to tell me what observations about the universe would make him abandon his beliefs in God and Jesus. (I would have thought that the Holocaust could do it, but apparently not.) There is no horror, no amount of evil in the world, that a true believer can’t rationalize as consistent with a loving God. It’s the ultimate way of fooling yourself. But how can you be sure you’re right if you can’t tell whether you’re wrong? [Emphases added.]
I won’t address the question of whether Coyne’s description of how science works is accurate â€” except to suggest that it might not be. Instead, I want to address this common claim that, because religious claims are not falsifiable, they are therefore meaningless.
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