Links and Comments: Jerry Coyne; Max Planck; Creationism and Education; Human history and progress; and others

Finished reading Jerry Coyne’s new book Faith Vs. Fact, subtitled “Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible”, which I took extensive notes on that at some point I will summarize here on my blog. Meanwhile, Coyne did a Q&A with National Geographic, In Age of Science, Is Religion ‘Harmful Superstition’?, from which I will quote his key claim in his book:

In a nutshell, why are religion and science incompatible?

They’re incompatible first of all, because they both compete to find truths about the universe. There are some fundamental truths about the universe that believers have to accept in order to be religious. Many Muslims see the Koran as literally true. To question any of that is to bring a death sentence on yourself. The reason why people are so concerned with harmonizing science and religion, as opposed to, say, science and architecture, or science and baseball, is because science and religion are competitors in the field of esoteric truths about the cosmos.

But we use different methods to ascertain what’s true. Science has an exquisitely refined series of methods honed over 500 years to find out what’s real and what’s false. Richard Feynman  gave the best definition of science I ever heard, “It’s a way to keep you from fooling yourself, because you’re the easiest person to fool.” Religion doesn’t have a methodology to weed out what’s false. In fact, it’s a way of fooling yourself. They have authority, revelation, dogma, and indoctrination as their methods and no way of proving their tenets false.

There are thousands and thousands of religions and all of them make incompatible claims about the universe. The reason that that’s the case is because they don’t have any way of testing those claims.

The book is a distillation of the themes of Coyne’s website (he doesn’t like it being called a blog… though it is), and of several important themes of my Provisional Conclusions.


And now a linkdump of items of collected over the past two weeks but which I’ve not had time to post until now. (A scratchy, coughy, sneezy cold has interfered this past week.)

Slate: Louisiana is teaching Creationism: The Bible v. the Constitution

File this under Conservative Resistance

And for that matter this one, not to mention advice from Rick Santorum about not getting an education at a university.

Jehovah’s Witness Leader to Crowd: Only Visit JW-Approved Websites or You’ll Be At “Spiritual Risk”

Cut off the outside world, lest your beliefs would wither in the daylight of reality.


Nice piece about changing one’s mind, and how Max Planck was able to do this throughout his life.

Slate: Genius Move: Max Planck, the unlikely founder of quantum physics, knew how to change his mind.

We live in an age—perhaps the age—of confirmation bias. And given a turbulent sea of information, who can blame us for latching onto the familiar while looking away from anything jarring or mismatched? We yearn for the comforts of our main tribe, be that tribe political, religious, scientific, or economic. If that’s a failing, it is probably a hominid design flaw, far beyond evolutionary recall at this point.

Planck is the one who said “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” This also applies to social standards, too, of course.


A five minute video about how we live in the greatest time in human history (because Industrial Revolution and modern technology).

Vox: 5 minutes that prove we’re living through the greatest time in human history

On the other hand, here’s philosopher John Gray:

Vice: John Gray Says Human Progress Is a Myth

His point is all apparent ‘progress’ could easily be swept away. I agree; see my Provisional Conclusions.


New York Times op-ed by Molly Worthen: Wanted: A Theology of Atheism.

I’m not entirely on board with this; like many religious writers, this writer assumes that the accouterments of routine religious faith are somehow necessary for mental and social health, even if redirected to something non-supernatural. Typical lack of imagination, or myopia.


One more from NYT: Timothy Egan on The Arrogance of Jeb Bush

You simply cannot be a leader of the Republican Party without appearing to know less than a fifth grader about earth science. …

“And for the people to say the science is decided on, this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you,” said Bush. “It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it even.”

[The opinion writer asks:] Is it arrogant to say that smoking causes lung cancer? That you shouldn’t text and drive? That the American diet and lifestyle cause Type 2 diabetes, which is killing people? There is some wiggle room in each of those assertions. But you test them at your peril. Since when did prudence become a vice in a family whose presidential patriarch was guided by what “wouldn’t be prudent”?


Nice summary of plans to build huge new telescopes: Vox: These giant telescopes are going to change astronomy.

Unfortunately, the ones in Hawaii are being held up by locals who feel such telescopes would desecrate their holy grounds.


Two more interesting items from Vox.

Steven Pinker explains how capitalism is killing war

A gloss on Pinker’s 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, which argues that human violence has greatly reduced in recent centuries, that humanity is becoming more peaceful.

[ My own aside, not a thought in this article or anywhere else: so then, what is fueling the anger in the US about threats to the 2nd amendment to stock up arms, and the attendant paranoia that the Obama administration is about to take away all their guns? (Which conspicuously has not happened.) I suspect this is an issue apart from the trend of actual violence, which Pinker addresses. ]

One more, without comment: Game of Thrones is secretly all about climate change


Finally, a cartoon that is spot-on about how most people assume their religion from their environment, and if they think about it at all, somehow don’t realize how very lucky they were to grow up in an area where the one true religion was revealed.

The Outsider Test for the Right Faith

This entry was posted in Book Notes, Psychology, Religion, Science. Bookmark the permalink.