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October 21, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

Criticism of “Fact vs. Fiction” by Jerry Coyne

Coyne’s basic strategy is to contrast two monolithic entities that he calls “religion” and “science.” But he constructs his two monoliths in diametrically opposite ways. The “religion” monolith consists of everything that has ever been said by any person belonging to any religion whatever, lumping together official dogma, theological speculation, and popular belief. Putting all of this under one umbrella makes it possible for him to discredit “religion” in general by citing some of the more outlandish beliefs and practices. Joseph Smith and Thomas Aquinas, Mary Baker Eddy and Mother Teresa were all “religious” figures; so in Coyne’s eyes they are all tarred with the same brush.

Coyne’s procedure for describing “science” is very different; his “science” monolith represents only the very best of science, only those theories that are strongly supported by evidence and have withstood the rigors of numerous attempts at empirical falsification. Although he speaks eloquently of the constant criticism and examination of hypotheses that is a prerequisite to progress in science, he neglects to mention that in practice this process can be quite messy. Even apart from cases of outright fabrication, the mainstream scientific literature is full of false inferences and of theories so untestable that they fully merit designation as “pseudoscience.”

I know by painful experience that a continual admixture of junk with solid science is characteristic of my own field (which, like Coyne’s, is evolutionary biology). I mention this not to give aid and comfort to the creationists, but to highlight a reality with which every practicing scientist is familiar; and I have no reason to believe that my field of scientific endeavor is different from any other in this regard. Separating the wheat from the chaff is a day-to-day struggle in all of science. It is never easy, and its outcome is by no means guaranteed. We all know of ridiculous theories (Social Darwinism, eugenics, Marxism, Freudianism, Lysenkoism, and so forth) that in the not-too-distant past claimed for themselves the mantle of science, and it would be naïve to assume that the same thing can never happen again. Much of so-called “evolutionary psychology” (hailed by Coyne as a promising new development) is every bit as pseudoscientific as its Social Darwinist precursors; indeed one would be hard pressed to find a reason for saying that much of it is any more “fact-based” than the ideas of Mary Baker Eddy.

Hugh’s critique is fairly extensive.  This is a laundry list of fallacies that seem to occur throughout new atheist writing, philosophy, and arguments.

Source: Faith, Fact, and False Dichotomies in the New Atlantis by Austin L. Hughes

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