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What's fair is fair in wondering about relationship between science, God

Monday, July 15, 2013 - 8:40 am

In my recent News-Sentinel guest column about the Ball State honors course “Boundaries of Science,” I said that critic Dr. Coyne asserts “science proves atheism.”

On his blog, “Why Evolution is True,” he replied, “I dare Coody to show where I have ever said that science proves atheism … What I have said — and on this site and in my writings, not in my class — is that science (and rationality) has given no evidence for the existence of gods, and so I choose not to believe in them.”

I’ll take that dare. So, where has Jerry Coyne ever said science proves atheism? On his blog, “Why Evolution is True,” he writes, “The nature of the God Hypothesis is that no observation could ever disprove it. That’s why it’s not scientific at all.”

Yet on a different occasion he writes, “Science can never prove anything. If you accept that, then we can never absolutely prove the absence of a ‘supernatural’ god — or the presence of one. We can only find evidence that supports or weakens a given hypothesis. There is not an iota of evidence for “The God Hypothesis,” but I claim that there could be.”

With some inconsistency, Dr. Coyne apparently wants to say, (1) the question of God’s existence is forever outside of science and yet, (2) the question of God’s existence is within the realm of science, and since there is zero evidence it seems almost certain that science has shown there is no God. If Dr. Coyne only held Position 1, then, of course, he would never say science proves atheism. A person can just easily choose to believe in the Judeo-Christian God like choosing to believe in ghosts and leprechauns. Each individual has a right to his or her private opinion (or delusion).

But in Position 2 he thinks the scientific advances of the last few centuries have steadily eroded religious beliefs. The core Judeo-Christian claim is the existence of God. He thinks that since Darwin gave us a natural explanation for the origin of life’s diversity and complexity, it knocks out the last argument for why there has to be a creator.

So with a natural explanation for living creatures like we have for gravity and lightning, why bother with a God? Therefore, Coyne holds that for all practical purposes, science proves atheism. In this case, the person who believes in God does so in the absence of, or in spite of, the scientific evidence. Professor Coyne can deny he would ever say verbatim “science proves atheism” since he believes “science can never prove anything;” but if he wants to maintain intellectual integrity he should rename his weblog and book, “Why the Hypothesis of Evolution Might be Plausible Though It Can Never be Proven Absolutely True.”

If it’s fair for Coyne to wonder about the relationship between science and ultimate questions, then why isn’t it equally fair for Dr. Hedin in an honors course called “The Boundaries of Science” to help students explore the makeup and meaning of things. Maybe Coyne would enjoy teaching such a class.

Good universities aren’t factories, they are intellectual incubators. Humans have an insatiable desire to ask, what’s out there, just beyond the horizon?

Ron Coody, who considers Waynedale his home, lives and works in Istanbul.