Atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is a fountain of nonsensical arguments against the existence of God. If a scholar wanted to write a review paper on the most ridiculous arguments against God’s existence so far in the 21st century, he would need look no further than Coyne’s blog.
Coyne’s latest post denying God’s existence takes issue with an essay by Samuel Benson in the Deseret News in which Benson makes the case that invoking both a miracle and a scientific achievement in the development of the COVID vaccine is not necessarily contradictory. Benson points out that the natural world, properly understood, can only be explained using both science and theology. In support of his view, he quotes the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:
President Nelson’s words appear prophetic: “I have great admiration for medical professionals, scientists and all who are working around the clock to curb the spread of COVID-19,” he said a year ago. “I am also a man of faith, and I know that during these challenging times, we can be strengthened and lifted as we call upon God and his Son, Jesus Christ — the Master Healer.” I give thanks to modern medicine and science — and all of its brilliant disciples — for creating a cure. And in the same breath, I give thanks to God. The two need not be mutually exclusive.Samuel Benson, “A miracle, or a scientific feat? Vaccines can be both” at Deseret News (April 1, 2021)
Coyne is dyspeptic:
Yes, of course science and god are “congruent” if you’re willing, as is Benson, to admit that we can’t prove that there’s no god. (Well, as a superannuated scientist I’d say that there is not only no evidence for gods, but also that, given that theistic gods are supposed to interact with the world, we have evidence against Abrahamic gods).Jerry Coyne, “The Covid vaccines: science or miracles?” at Why Evolution Is True (April 5, 2021)
Coyne misunderstands both the nature of scientific evidence and the nature of the evidence for God’s existence.
There are two methods of proof that we might try to apply to God’s existence: The first is deductive proof — we proceed from abstract premises to a conclusion using rules of logic. For example: Tom lives in Manhattan. Manhattan is in New York State. Therefore Tom lives in New York State.
But, as Thomas Aquinas. pointed out in the 13th century, nothing can be proven to exist using deductive proof because deductive proofs only work with logical forms, which are essences. Essence and existence are separate concepts. For example, to prove that wolves, dinosaurs, or unicorns exist, we would need evidence. We can’t prove (or disprove) that they exist by deduction alone.
All of science depends on inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning begins with evidence and then proceeds by a logical chain to the most reasonable conclusion. Newton used inductive reasoning when he began by studying the motion of objects in gravitational fields and applying logical and mathematical rules to arrive at his law of gravitation. Darwin used inductive reasoning by studying the diversity and distribution of species and animal breeding. Then, by using logical rules, he drew analogies to speciation in nature. All scientific theories, whatever their merit, depend on inductive reasoning.
Proofs for God’s existence depend on inductive reasoning in the same way. They follow exactly the same structure as theories in natural science; in fact theories about God’s existence are theories in natural science.
All theories about God’s existence begin with observations of the world — observations about change and causation in nature, life and death, the degrees of various qualities, and the existence of apparent design (i.e. Aquinas’ First through Fifth Ways). They proceed by logical inference to the conclusion that the structure and nature of the world point to a supernatural Creator. That structure, as for newton and Darwin, is: evidence ➤ logic ➤ conclusion.
An objection commonly raised is that “scientific theories can only involve the natural world and cannot demonstrate the existence of supernatural entities.” But that’s incorrect. The Big Bang, to take an example, was not an event in the natural world. It was a singularity, which means that it is undefined and undefinable both mathematically and in conventional physics. Similarly, a cosmological singularity — for example, a black hole — is also a supernatural entity. That just means it is outside of nature. We never observe black holes just as we never can observe the Big Bang. We can only infer — by inductive reasoning — the existence of supernatural entities such as black holes by their effects in the natural world.
This inductive reasoning is precisely what proofs of God’s existence do. We cannot observe God in this life because he is not part of this world. He is supernatural. But we can observe his effects in the natural world just as we inferred the existence of the Big Bang and black holes by observing their effects. It is the same sort of reasoning.
There is one difference though: the evidence and the logic pointing to God’s existence is overwhelmingly stronger than the evidence and logic supporting any other scientific theory in nature. Aquinas’s First Way proof of God’s existence, for example, has exactly the same structure as any other scientific theory. The empirical evidence is the presence of change in nature. Because infinite regress is logically impossible in an essentially ordered chain of changes, there must be a Prime Mover to begin the process and that is what we call God.
The evidence and the logic of Aquinas’s First Way is immeasurably stronger than the evidence for any other scientific theory — for Newtonian gravitation, quantum mechanics, relativity, the Big Bang, etc., because every instance of change in nature is evidence in Aquinas’s First Way. Every galaxy that emits light, every wave on the ocean, every leaf that turns brown in the fall, every electron that moves in an atom is evidence for God’s existence.
But new atheists like Coyne know none of this. They don’t understand natural theology, which is the science of demonstrating’s God’s existence using the evidence of nature. In fact they don’t even understand their own scientific theories in any deep way.
The real scandal is not that these New Atheists don’t believe in God — regrettably, disbelief in God is fairly common in our willfully ignorant and distracted society. The real scandal is that intellectuals like Coyne merely pretend to understand evidence for and against God’s existence. They use their scientific credibility to buttress arguments that are embarrassingly ignorant. They mislead many people who have neither the time nor the inclination to look into these questions deeply and objectively.
Their forays into issues like faith and science in fighting COVID-19 do incalculable damage to so many souls by denying the scientific fact that God exists. God’s existence is far more thoroughly proven using the scientific method than any other theory.
That is not to say that a proper relationship with God necessarily emerges from an understanding of the scientific evidence for His existence. God is, after all, a Person, and getting to know Him in a relationship is very different from merely knowing that He exists. But it’s a good place to start.
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Jerry Coyne just can’t give up denying free will. Coyne’s denial of free will, based on determinism, is science denial and junk metaphysics. (Michael Egnor)