Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jerry Coyne "Reasons" About Spiritual Truth

University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne concludes there are no such things as “spiritual truths” because, he seems to say, such truths are wholly subjective and relative. But Coyne uses some very poor reasoning to argue this.

Coyne asks: “But what is "spiritual truth"? It is simply what someone believes to be true, without any need for evidence. One man's spiritual truth is another man's spiritual lie. Jesus may be the son of God to Christians, but not to Muslims. The Inuit creation story begins with a pair of giants who chopped off their daughter's fingers, which became seals, whales, walrus, and salmon. There have been thousands of religions, and thousands of religious "spiritual truths," but many of them conflict with each other, and some of them conflict with science.”

[Surely this is fallacious reasoning. Look at this:

1 - Belief A is true.

2 - But some other person believes Belief A is a lie.

3 - Therefore, Belief A is a lie.


1. Religious Belief A is true.

2. There are thousands of Religious beliefs in conflict with Belief A.

3. Therefore Belief A is false.

Now try this:

1. Coyne's beliefs about science are true.

2. There is another scientist who believes Coyne's beliefs are not true.

3. Therefore Coyne's beliefs are not true.

On this kind of reasoning, one man’s view of “science” is another man’s “lie” as well. Not every scientist believes as Jerry Coyne does. Richard Dawkins did not agree with Stephen Jay Gould in all things evolutionary. Surely Coyne believes his view of “science” is “true.” Scientists who do not agree with Coyne would then be “wrong.” My point is: to say that “one man’s spiritual truth is another man’s lie” is, I am sure, correct. But so what? The same can be said for Coyne vs. __________. This point is a mere sociological datum. Beyond that it is a leap of logic to conclude something like: there is no spiritual truth, at least using Coyne's kind of "logic." If that were so, one could just as well conclude that there is no such thing as "scientific truth." Coyne has not demonstrated his point.]

Coyne, criticizing Senator Sam Brownback, asks: “Who is "we", and where did "our" conviction and certainty come from? Would Brownback believe these "spiritual truths" if he hadn't been taught them as a child, or brought up in the United States instead of China?”

[But this is the good old genetic fallacy. Such reasoning is logically fallacious. For example, Coyne would never have learned his particular version of biology had he not been raised in an environment that taught it. So? The issue is not how did a belief get taught to you, the question is is that belief true or false? And the truth or falsity of a belief, at least in logic, has nothing to do with the origin and transmission of such belief. It simply isn't true that the origins of an idea have any inherent bearing on its validity. Or: Difficult as it may be, it is vitally important to separate argument sources and styles from argument content. In argument the medium is not the message.]

Coyne writes: “Science simply doesn't deal with hypotheses about a guiding intelligence, or supernatural phenomena like miracles, because science is the search for rational explanations of natural phenomena. We don't reject the supernatural merely because we have an overweening philosophical commitment to materialism; we reject it because entertaining the supernatural has never helped us understand the natural world. Alchemy, faith healing, astrology, creationism—none of these perspectives has advanced our understanding of nature by one iota.”

[The first sentence in this statement is a classic example of methodological naturalism and, as such, reflects a metaphysical point of view.

Secondly, a common position among scientists who are theists has always been this: the supernatural hypothesis may or may not tell us about the natural world, but the natural world tells us about God. Such is, e.g., the point of biologist Francis Collins’s The Language of God (DNA = “the fingerprint of God”). And this, for some such as Collins, “gives evidence” for the existence of God.]