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.

What KJV-Onlyists and Atheists Have in Common

When I first became a Christian, the first Bible I received was the King James Version. The verse that had me get on my knees to ask Jesus to save me was in the King James English of Isaiah 1:18.

The reason I’m prefacing with this little glimpse in my life is to illustrate that I love the King James Version. However, some over-zealous fans of the KJV have come to an incorrect conclusion. This conclusion is that the KJV is the only Bible for the English speaking people.

I can resonate with this belief. In fact, I was a KJV-Onlyist from 2011-2013. I spent that time in a KJV-Only  Free Will Baptist church, where I was even given a temporary license to preach from the KJV! I’m thankful for my experiences, however, I came to reject ordination when it came to the issue of Calvinism. You can read more about that here.

I want to make it clear that I’m not attacking the KJV, rather, I am attacking the argument that the KJV is the only Bible for the English speaking world. Such clarification shouldn’t be needed, but this seems to be a go-to rhetorical point KJV-Onlyists like to pull. “He’s attacking the word of God!” No, I’m attacking a claim made about the word of God.  That claim is the limiting of inspiration to single 17th century English translation.

A phenomena I have noticed is that both the KJV-Onlyist and the Atheist generally thinks that the Bible has to be 100 percent word-for-word, no translational differences accurate to be the word of God. Such facile thinking isn’t a popular position in textual scholar circles.

Isn’t that interesting?

 

No, I Don’t Believe in Talking Snakes

A popular story from the Bible has become the excuse of lazy thinkers for hundreds of years. This story is the account given in Genesis, where supposedly, a snake talks to a human being in presumably the human’s language and deceives them.

The a priori assumption of the scoffer is that obviously, snakes do not talk. Now, if the Bible said parrot maybe they would concede. The problem with this atheistic objection is that it simply begs the question and doesn’t follow.

“The Bible speaks of talking snakes, therefore Christianity is false.”

This doesn’t follow, an error in a document does not nullify the entire document. Even in the worst-case scenario that the Bible was literally claiming a snake was talking and this was somehow verified to be a false account, the Bible could still be true. But enough about hypothetical conjectures, let’s talk about what’s really going on in the Genesis account.

Some Christians are divided on this issue, of course nuance is never good for the lazy thinker who seeks only to make fun of the person to feel better about themselves.

I will go through two plausible interpretations regarding the Genesis account of the “talking snake” for your reading pleasure.

First Interpretation: This isn’t an ordinary snake

A common way of understanding this passage is to say that the snake is not acting of its own accord, but rather is possessed by Satan.  In a worldview where Satan exists and can possess creatures, including humans, it is not illogical to assume that Satan could speak through a creature. Of course, this worldview is debated between theists and atheists, but I will try to explain further.

If you believe in an all-powerful God, the idea of snake talking is not far-fetched. To the Christian, your objection is pointless, because you’re assuming naturalism, something that you most likely do not agree upon.

It would be more fruitful to discuss the existence of God, because if God exists, talking snakes possessed by a demonic entity would be logical in that context. This was Luther and Calvin’s view.[i] Though, this doesn’t mean it necessarily occurred even if God exists. This brings us to our second interpretation.

Second Interpretation: Genesis Uses Metaphorical Language

Even in English today, we use words when we do not mean them literally. For example, if you call someone a rat, you might be referring to their nature as a coward who spills information. In the same way, it would make sense to refer to someone evil as a snake.  Now, I do not see a huge difference between this view and the first one, it’s just a bit more nuanced.

So, it is possible that the snake is simply a term used to describe the nature of the deceiver in the garden. He’s smooth, slick, with a forked-tongue flickering, telling lies. This would not be uncommon in that time. For example, in ancient Egypt, the snake was seen as an evil power. It seems plausible that “snake” could just be a reference to an evil power and if you know just a little bit of what Christianity is about, you know Satan is an evil entity.

There seems to be some biblical support for this idea. The Bible refers to Satan as “That ancient serpent” in Revelation 20:2.

Conclusion

These aren’t the only views, these are just the two that I think could make sense of the objection. Dr. Michael Heiser has an interesting hypothesis(Though he is quick to not call his own) regarding the nepesh, what he calls the triple entendre view.[ii]. I hope you can see that the talking snake objection is low-energy and are encouraged to present actual objections instead of ignorant mockery. I don’t believe in talking snakes.

[i] http://www.rbcnc.com/Genesis%203.1a%20Satan-A%20Biography.pdf

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5iZmrocHDo

Why Are Christians So Stupid?

It doesn’t take too long for anyone to notice that religion in general is mocked and remarked as a belief for the unintelligent. Atheists are thought as the Rick and Morty TV show level higher intellect while the Christian is the normie causal.

However, contrary to the atheistic rhetoric regarding Christianity and the Bible’s teachings, the Bible actually does not support blind faith or questioning. The Bible has a prescriptive command in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 and I wish it were the motto of everyone today. It is actually fairly similar to the motto of many atheists, who use “question everything” as a sort of slogan for their free-thinking campaigns. The Bible tells Christians to “Test Everything”, you can probably see the similarities by now.

The Bible also encourages people to gain knowledge (Proverbs 18:15). You see, the only way to characterize Christianity as inherently illogical is to admit your a priori assumption is that all faith is illogical. However, In my opinion and in my experience, many atheists don’t even try to attempt to validate this assumption. Once an atheist does in fact provide some reasoning for why faith is inherently irrational, without separating faith and confidence (Con Fide = With Faith and is a synonym of faith) I’ll be happy to consider this argument instead of brushing it off as rhetoric.

When you drink water, you have confidence/faith that it’s not poisoned, you make that assumption based on the surrounding facts, but you do not check those facts every single time you drink a glass. We assume a lot of things in our life, we all have properly basic beliefs.

So, if you’re going to come out with “Christians are dumb lolz” rhetoric, at least do me a favor and validate your epistemology with argumentation.

Thoughts and Prayers: Helpful or Hateful?

After any serious incident that befalls mankind, many turn to social media to show their support, whether they say “thoughts and prayers” or change their profile picture to the flag of the country in need. Both of these methods have rightly been criticized, but in one instance, I think they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Is “Thoughts and Prayers” really that bad of a thing to say? Sure, someone could merely be virtue-signaling, wanting everyone to see that they somehow care about this bad event that happened to people they don’t know, but it’s highly improbable that’s the case for everyone who says it.

When someone says they were thinking about you, you interpret that within the context of your relationship to that person. Because of this, I can understand why someone would be confused by some stranger thinking about them during a hard time. The problem is that this assumes that the mere thought implies inaction. The conclusion in this assumption simply doesn’t follow.

Many on social media will scoff and mock at the idea that someone is offering thoughts and prayers to victims, but if we were to use their logic, their complaining about thoughts and prayers are just as inefficient. You can scream “help people instead of praying” as much as you want, but if you aren’t helping them yourself, what does your whining do?

Before you object, yes, I agree that thoughts and prayers from people who obviously don’t  mean it or are not religious and are just using it to virtue signal are wrong for doing so. Christian Apologist Richard Bushey makes this excellent point regarding prayers vs. legislation

If you are completely motivated by a political agenda, it might surprise you to learn that people actually appreciate being told that they are prayed for and thought of. This is true even when nothing is going on. It is a reminder that somebody is there and cares for you, even if you do not know that person well. When somebody literally loses their entire family, all of the sudden, in an act of violence, it will lead to anger, despair and loneliness. If I approach them and say, “Don’t worry; my political agenda will prevent this from happening again,” guess what? They are hardly going to be consoled. But if I tell them that I am praying for them, then they know that I am there for them.

There is also this strange idea that if prayer worked, evil acts wouldn’t happen. No discussion of theodicy needed, just a tweet with some rhetoric and assumptions about a whole system of belief. Do they think we believe in a God who is just as surprised when evil acts occur as we are? Do you really want God to be like us? As Douglas Wilson so aptly puts

The more guilt-ridden we are, the more we experience a different kind of compulsive lust—the lust to not be seen for what we actually are. This is why our leading role models and heroes now are no longer admirals, explorers, poets, and astronauts, but rather celebrities and actors. They tell lies for a living, and they represent us well.

If person X and person Y both help person Z, but person X also adds “I’m praying for you” does that make his work null? When a football player wins a Superbowl and says “All Glory belongs to God” does that mean the player didn’t work hard to win the game? Prayer has never been a way to give up personal responsibility.

They’re also some benefits to prayer that have been examined by psychology. For example, Jesse Bering, a psychologist for Queens University stated

Whether it’s a dead ancestor or God, whatever supernatural agent it is, if you think they’re watching you, your behavior is going to be affected.

PsychologyToday counts 5 reasons why prayer could be beneficial to someone. The five reasons being It can teach self-control, It could make you nicer, It could make you more forgiving, could increase trust, and can offset negative effects from stress.

So, whether you’re an edge-lord or someone who simply doesn’t get while we pray, at least see that saying prayer is “meaningless” is incoherent.

8 Things Creationists Should Stop Doing.

1. Questioning The Faith of Christians Over This Issue Whether it’s the age of the earth, if the seven days were 24-hour periods or climate change, none of these issues are salvation issues, they aren’t even necessarily theological issues, but scientific issues with theological implications.  The exception being the seven days, that should be understood in the context of the ancient near-east an the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. I’m happy to let the reader take their position as they may, the important thing is to not pretend someone is going to hell because their seven days don’t follow the Gregorian calendar.

2. Buzzwords and “Gotcha!” questions. 

We are here to win souls, not just arguments. Regurgitated, rehearsed lines and responses are not the best way to engage someone.

3. Pretending you’re a Scientist or an expert in a certain field because you read a few articles on the topic.

This should be self-explantory, don’t pretend to be an expert in a field where you’re not.

4. Citing Shoddy Sites 

We don’t need a convincing case of dinosaurs living with humans from dinosandhumanstotallyarebffs.com or iamgullibleandbelieveanythingagainstthemainstreamscientificopinion.com, cite proper academic sources to back up your claims.

5. Using Bad Arguments

“If humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” “How do explain the sunrise?” “Tide goes in Tide goes out, you can’t explain that” and other low-energy questions should be avoided at all costs. You aren’t going to convince the average Joe when you show a blatant misunderstanding the most basic features of their beliefs.

6. Accusing Christians who disagree with you for selling out to the world.

Disagreeing with someone on the conclusion regarding empirical data doesn’t necessarily mean someone is a sell-out or are on some bandwagon. Perhaps they’ve seriously considered this issue and their implications and find the conclusions thereof to be coherent. Get to know not just what someone believes but also why they believe what they do.

7. Using History to Disprove Science 

History is not meant to address scientific claims, so appealing to the historicity of a belief is irrelevant to a self-correcting system.

8. Bully Christians Into Believing Your Interpretation

Rhetoric like “You don’t submit to scripture if you don’t believe the Earth is X years old” is harmful to our brothers and sisters and when you treat the age of the earth as an essential doctrine in which the Christian faith once delivered to the saints stands or falls. You’re standing on the quicksand of dogmatism that the rock of our salvation isn’t on.

Conclusion

I know it’s a joke in Reformed circles to look to a fortune cookie for wisdom but while eating at an asian buffet, there was a fortune that perhaps you’d like to hear. Regardless of the source, it has a point that you should take into consideration. It said “Speaking the Truth is a loving act.” This is my intention.

Did Darwin Repent?

Charles Darwin, the Atheist’s hero and the Neo-Ussherian’s nightmare. Darwin lived a pretty full life, dying at the age of 73 in 1882. If you think Evolution is a controversy now, it was even more so then. Nowadays, Scientists have way more evidence and technology to come to their conclusions that simply remained speculative in Darwin’s day.

Since Evolution was seen as an enemy of the Church at the time, it makes sense that some would like to think that Darwin renounced Evolution in favor of Christianity. These rumors aired about one month after his death. [1]

One of the most well-known rumors surrounding this issue, was a recollection by Lady Hope [2]. In Lady Hope’s sequence of events, Darwin was visibly uneasy regarding the Genesis creation account while he was reading the book of Hebrews. This was published and got a wide circulation.

However, there are several problems with Lady Hope’s recollection. First, there was inconsistencies in her story. Lady Hope claimed to be present when Darwin was on his deathbed, yet his daughter Henrietta wrote on page 12 of the London evangelical weekly, The Christian, for 23 February 1922,

‘I was present at his deathbed. Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case, she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier…The whole story has no foundation whatever’ [3]

It should also be noted that Darwin’s wife Emma, who was burdened by his agnosticism, would have seized upon any semblance of repentance or a confession, yet she never corroborated on this story.

Since there is no evidence Darwin had a death-bed repentance, his family denies it, and the most credible account is filled with inconsistencies that are denied by the people who were there, it is safe to say it is highly unlikely that Darwin repented.

But even if it were true, that Darwin recanted Evolution and became a Christian (I don’t think these two things are mutually contradictory) it wouldn’t prove anything. Evolution no longer relies on Darwin’s influence and writings to continue, if anything the fossil record and the Human Genome Project led by Dr. Francis Collins provides a stronger argument for Evolution than Darwin. The irony of the situation is that Dr. Collins is a Christian. So, for the few people who want to repeat this highly improbable death-bed scenario with Darwin, I hope you see that the argument is of no value even if it were true.

[1] James Moore, The Darwin Legend, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994, pp. 113–14
[2] ibid. p.176
[3] Watchman Examiner, Boston, 19 August 1915, p. 1071. Source: Ref. 1 , pp. 92–93 and 190