Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (2015)

Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (2015)
by Jerry A. Coyne

The New Atheist leaders such as Richard Dawkins argues that “it’s hard to see how any reasonable person can resist the conclusions of [Coyne’s] superbly argued book”; and Sam Harris praises Coyne by saying that he “has showing that the honest doubts of science are better – and more noble – than the false certainties of religion.” Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist, author of his first own book Why Evolution is True, argues that “religion and science compete in many ways to describe reality – they both make ‘existence claims’ about what is real – but use different tools to meet this goal… the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion – including faith, dogma and revelation – is unreliable and leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions. Indeed, by relying on faith rather than evidence, religion renders itself incapable of finding truth.”

In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumour on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that was “larger than a basketball” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died. Had Ashley received medical care, Coyne writes, she would likely have recovered. The Kings, tried in an Arizona court for negligent homicide, expressed no remorse, pleaded no contest, and were convicted on a lesser charge. They effectively escaped punishment, because their actions were faith-motivated. “Had the Kings been atheists,” Coyne writes, “there was a good chance [Ashley] would have lived.

One day after Coyne giving a talk on evolution, one of the attendees approached him, shook his hand and said, “Dr. Coyne, I found your evidence for evolution very convincing – but I still don’t believe it.” Coyne was amazed. “How could it be that someone found evidence convincing but was still not convinced?” he writes, “The answer, of course, was that his religion had immunized him against my evidence.” He also highlighted one survey stating that 64% of Americans would retain a religious belief even if science disapproved it (which only 23% would consider changing their belief): “If science contradicts the Bible, I will believe the Bible, not science,” one interviewer responded. Some people, he writes, claiming that science and religion are not in conflict but complimenting one another. But in chapter 3, he shows that accommodationist fails.

Jerry Coyle simply argues – from historical, psychological, philosophical, sociological, historical and mainly from scientific views – that any attempt to make religion compatible with science is doomed to fail. “It is time for us to stop seeing faith as a virtue, and to stop using the term ‘person of faith’ as a compliment.” Either you agree or not with his thesis, if you read this book, your faith will be challenge and your mind will be stimulated… I mean, in a good way. What good if you read a book that doesn’t do these things?

[To help me understand this book, I’ve watched two of his interviews on YouTube entitled “Freedom from Religion” and “Faith vs. Fact”]


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