Jerry A. Coyne Quotes
“Which do you think is more valuable to humanity?
a. Finding ways to tell humans that they have free will despite the incontrovertible fact that their actions are completely dictated by the laws of physics as instantiated in our bodies, brains and environments? That is, engaging in the honored philosophical practice of showing that our notion of "free will" can be compatible with determinism?
b. Telling people, based on our scientific knowledge of physics, neurology, and behavior, that our actions are predetermined rather than dictated by some ghost in our brains, and then sussing out the consequences of that conclusion and applying them to society?
Of course my answer is b).”
“Every day, hundreds of observations and experiments pour into the hopper of the scientific literature. Many of them don't have much to do with evolution - they're observations about the details of physiology, biochemistry, development, and so on - but many of them do. And every fact that has something to do with evolution confirms its truth. Every fossil that we find, every DNA molecule that we sequence, every organ system that we dissect, supports the idea that species evolved from common ancestors. Despite innumerable possible observations that could prove evolution untrue, we don't have a single one. We don't find mammals in Precambrian rocks, humans in the same layers as dinosaurs, or any other fossils out of evolutionary order. DNA sequencing supports the evolutionary relationships of species originally deduced from the fossil record. And, as natural selection predicts, we find no species with adaptations that only benefit a different species. We do find dead genes and vestigial organs, incomprehensible under the idea of special creation. Despite a million chances to be wrong, evolution always comes up right. That is as close as we can get to a scientific truth.”
“Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive life form – perhaps a self-replicating molecule – that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection.”
“IDers argue that such traits, involving many parts that must cooperate for that trait to function at all, defy Darwinian explanation. Therefore, by default, they must have been designed by a supernatural agent. This is commonly called the "God of the gaps" argument, and it is an argument from ignorance. What it really says is that if we don't understand everything about how natural selection built a train, that lack of understanding itself is evidence for super-natural creation.”
“Many people require more than just evidence before they’ll accept evolution. To these folks,
evolution raises such profound questions of purpose, morality, and meaning that they just can’t accept it no matter how much evidence they see. It’s not that we evolved from apes that bothers them so much; it’s [[the emotional consequences of facing that fact.]] And unless we address those concerns, we won’t progress in making evolution a universally acknowledged truth.”
“religion could never be made compatible with science without diluting it so seriously that it was no longer religion but a humanist philosophy. And so I learned what other opponents of creationism could have told me: that persuading Americans to accept the truth of evolution involved not just an education in facts, but a de-education in faith—the form of belief that replaces the need for evidence with simple emotional commitment.”
“I argue that 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.”
“Science and religion, then, are competitors in the business of finding out what is true about our universe. In this goal religion has failed miserably, for its tools for discerning “truth” are useless. These areas are incompatible in precisely the same way, and in the same sense, that rationality is incompatible with irrationality.”
“This is a woman who didn’t want her viewpoints challenged, nor to see the views of the half of the world that comprises men. Her assumption is that all male authors are sexist and that their books distort the views of women....that’s bigoted and despicable: the form of feminism that sees men as the enemy from the outset, and seeks to reinforce that prejudice by reading only books that keep her in her safe space.....The future, in both life and books, is men and women together, with a mutual understanding that can come only from learning about each other’s thoughts. [About Caitlin Moran's sexist statement that girls shouldn't read any books written by men.]”
“[...] if truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say. Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably. But hasn’t evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding? Not very much. Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of ‘like begets like’. Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties. Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all.
[review of The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life, Nature 442, 983-984 (31 August 2006)]”
“In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.”
“To many, evolution gnaws at their sense of self. If evolution offers a lesson, it seems to be that we’re not only related to other creatures but, like them, are also the product of blind and impersonal evolutionary forces. If humans are just one of many outcomes of natural selection, maybe we aren’t so special after all. You can understand why this doesn’t sit well with many people who think that we came into being differently from other species, as the special goal of a divine intention.”
“For good people to do evil doesn't require only religion, or even any religion, but simply one of it's key elements: belief without evidence-in other words, faith.
And that kind of faith is seen not just in religion, but any authoritarian ideology that puts dogma above truth and frowns on dissent.
This was precisely the case in the totalitarian regimes of Maoist China and Stalinist Russia, whose excesses are often (and wrongly) blamed on atheism.
Faith vs. Fact. p. 220”