Book Review: Faith vs. Fact by Jerry Coyne

Faith Vs. Fact, a provocative title to catch the attention of the reader. Like clickbait, I found that this book was all style and no substance. Now, to avoid the impression that this college freshman is critiquing someone well-studied in their field as if he knows better, I’m not purporting to know more than Dr. Coyne as he is a Harvard graduate and a great biologist, his book Why Evolution is True is great! However, this book doesn’t live up to the hype that Richard Dawkins and online atheists seem to indicate.

While reading the introduction, you get the false dichotomy that it is Science vs Religion, and while Dr. Coyne mentions other religions, he intentionally focuses on Christianity to narrow the focus of his thesis but also because in America, Young-Earth Creationism is prevalent, making Christianity an easy target to a learned biologist.

He mentions in the introduction that any vague idea of God that he may have had was taken away by listening to the Beatles Sergeant Pepper album. I decided to play the album as I’m writing this review of his book. The problem with this quick anecdote is that it’s subjective and I could make the same argument that listening to “God only knows” by the Beach Boys convinced me out of any vague idea that I had about God not existing.  This is equivalent to someone who changes their entire soteriology in a day.

On Page 1, Dr. Coyne reveals his power level by stating “Science is the only field that has the ability to disprove the truth claims of religion” This is patently false. You’d think since Jesus mythicism is so popular, you’d consider history.  Unless you’re using a very broad definition of science, you’ve revealed that you ironically have an excessive faith in science’s capabilities, which would make sense in light of your later statements that reek of the scientism of a past generation.

On page 54 Dr. Coyne reveals a shockingly simple view of hermeneutics. He argues that when scientists disprove a religious claim taken as literal, the religious will run away from the literal meaning and go to allegory. This is painting with a brush way too broad, for there are at least three types of thinkers when it comes to this. There are those who believe something is literal and won’t back down on the issue, there is some that can be convinced out of literalism and do go for the metaphor or allegory and there are those who already adopted the metaphor or allegorical approach on their own evaluation of the ancient near-eastern studies and study of the original languages.  Painting all religious people merely as maintaining an unfalsifiable hypothesis is only partly true and only tells half the story, this story needs an ending that Dr. Coyne hasn’t given us yet.

On Page 160, he addresses the Fine-Tuning argument but instead of interacting with a sophisticated form of it, he goes for the apologetic hack version he probably saw on the internet. The “If the numbers were changed just a little bit” type isn’t exactly accurate. I covered this here.

On page 177-178 he addresses Plantinga’s argument that certain truths are properly basic beliefs and that God existing is one of them, Dr. Coyne goes on a strange rant about how sensus divinitatis could prove any god, not just the Christian God, as if that answered Plantinga. (Hint: It doesn’t.) He goes on to point out the inaccuracy of human perceptions of the world and self-deception to nullify Platinga’s epistemology not even interacting with Plantinga’s objections to that idea.

On Page 186, Dr. Coyne confirms his scientism when he states that other methods can be used to arrive at truth, such as philosophy and mathematics but they can only do so when they’re “science broadly construed”. He then conflates logical positivism with the scientific method.

Throughout the book, Dr. Coyne attacks the weakest targets (i.e. Neo-Ussherians, Climate Change Deniers, Anti-Vaxers) while barely covering scholarly material such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig. This is the equivalent of me citing an undergrad biology student and equating his answers and beliefs with those who have a doctorate in biology like Dr. Coyne.

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