A scientist assails superstition and irrationality.
After evolutionary biologist Coyne (Ecology and Evolution/Univ. of Chicago; Why Evolution Is True, 2009, etc.) published a widely read book presenting evidence for evolution, he was astonished to find that “the proportion of creationists in America didn’t budge,” hovering between 40 and 46 percent. Faith, he concluded, “led them to discount and reject the facts right before their noses.” In his latest book, the author takes on the problem of faith directly, arguing that “understanding reality…is best achieved using the tools of science, and is never achieved using the methods of faith.” Although he makes a clear and cogent argument, he may find that, once again, he is preaching to his own choir. Coyne defines science “as a collection of methods” yielding knowledge that can be rejected or confirmed through testing. Religion derives its authority from belief in “a god, gods, or similar superhuman power.” Coyne focuses on religions “that make empirical claims about the existence of a deity, the nature of that deity, and how it interacts with the world,” in particular Judaism, Islam, and especially Christianity. Discounting the efforts of accommodationists, who strive to find common ground between science and religion, Coyne asserts that the two are incompatible “because they have different methods of getting knowledge about reality, different ways of assessing the reliability of that knowledge, and, in the end, arrive at conflicting conclusions about the universe.” He notes that evolutionary biology is a special focus of incredulity or outright attack by the faithful, but he sees that other areas as well—e.g., stem cell research, vaccination, euthanasia, homosexuality, and global warming—have been undermined by religious claims. Coyne celebrates a world without faith, claiming that there would be no loss of compassion and morality, only of pseudoscientific thought that can “do real damage to our species and our planet.”
Deeply religious readers may not even pick it up, but this is an important book that deserves an open-minded readership.