I’m rebloggin the following, you can find it on “Faith and Science News”
Wall Street Journal: Coyne’s Atheist Tract Is a “Splendid Specimen of Scientism”
I wouldn’t advise any book author to take a negative review too much to heart. However a really singeing one like science writer John Horgan’s takedown of Jerry Coyne’s atheist tract, Faith vs. Fact, must hurt.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal (“Preaching to the Converted“), Horgan agrees with evolutionary biologist Coyne about some things that might have made you expect a more positive response:
I share his enthusiasm for science — as a source of both truth and power over the world — and his concern about religion’s ill effects. I opened his book hoping to find arguments that I could borrow for my writing and teaching.
But no. In summary, “[Coyne’s] shrill, self-righteous diatribe is more likely to hurt his cause than help it.” This part struck me as germane to our concerns here:
Mr. Coyne’s loathing of creationism… leads him to exaggerate what science can tell us about our cosmic origins. Mr. Coyne asserts that “we are starting to see how the universe could arise from ‘nothing,’ and that our own universe might be only one of many universes that differ in their physical laws.” Actually, cosmologists are more baffled than ever at why there is something rather than nothing.
The popularity of multiverse theories — a hypothetical corollary of several highly speculative physics theories — merely shows how desperate scientists are for answers. Multiverse enthusiasts seem to think that the existence of an infinite number of universes will make ours appear less mysterious. The problem is, none of these other universes can be observed, which is why skeptics liken multiverse theories to untestable religious beliefs.
Mr. Coyne repeatedly reminds us that science, unlike religion, promotes self-criticism, but he is remarkably lacking in this virtue himself. He rejects complaints that some modern scientists are guilty of “scientism,” which I would define as excessive trust — faith! — in science. Calling scientism “a grab bag of disparate accusations that are mostly inaccurate or overblown,” Mr. Coyne insists that the term “be dropped.”
Actually, “Faith vs. Fact” serves as a splendid specimen of scientism. Mr. Coyne disparages not only religion but also other human ways of engaging with reality. The arts, he argues, “cannot ascertain truth or knowledge,” and the humanities do so only to the extent that they emulate the sciences. This sort of arrogance and certitude is the essence of scientism.
I was curious to see if Coyne, an active blogger if nothing else over at Why Evolution Is True, would comment on Horgan’s review. Nope. But he’s posted some really nice pictures of birds instead.
Image: “Hubble Peers into the Most Crowded Place in the Milky Way,” via NASA/ European Space Agency.