What Is Religion Good For?

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Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible by Jerry Coyne. Viking Press, 331 pages, $28.95.


I - Prelude in Heaven

         On the world's last day, according to the authoritative Baltimore Catechism[1], "the bodies of all men [sic] will rise from the earth and be united again to their souls, nevermore to be separated." This general resurrection will be followed immediately by a Last, or General, Judgment, "in order that the justice, wisdom, and mercy of God may be glorified in the presence of all." Everyone who has ever lived will be judged, and "every deliberate thought, word, deed, and omission of every person's entire life will be manifested at the general judgment."

This could take a long time, so I imagine that, during the intermissions of this lengthy plenary session, the Almighty will organize smaller panel discussions, both for variety's sake and for the edification of the saved and the damned. Topics might include: "The Popes: More Trouble Than They Were Worth?", featuring Garry Wills and John Paul II; "Women in Islam," with Ayan Hirsi Ali and Ayatollah Khomeini; and "Tolerance: Truth or Snare?," featuring Torquemada and Voltaire. All panel discussions will be moderated by God - simultaneously if necessary, since He is not subject to limitations of time or space.

Surely there will also be a panel on "Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design." On the side of the angels might be Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and David Berlinski. Arguing for Darwin would be Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Jerry Coyne. I foresee a full house.

Calling the proceedings to order, God will issue the usual divine injunctions against name-calling, question-begging, and selective quotation. He might also introduce a personal note, along these lines:

"Ladies and gentlemen, cherubim and seraphim, powers and principalities, welcome. Around the middle of the twentieth century, I was greeting some recent arrivals from Earth, including one rather cheeky person named Bertrand Russell. He had been a staunch and regrettably influential non-believer in My existence during his lifetime, and when I ventured to reproach him for this, he retorted indignantly: 'Not enough evidence, God!' It was a chastening experience. I rather liked this Russell and was loath to consign him to the outer darkness. Moreover, I could see his point; I had heard a similar objection from earlier unbelievers. It was at that moment that I made a momentous change in Heaven's admission policy. Henceforth, I resolved, everyone who argued in good faith would be welcome in Heaven, regardless of what conclusion she arrived at concerning My existence. Hell would be reserved for those who, as Jesus put it so eloquently in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 25, verses 31-46), hacked away at the social safety net and imposed draconian fiscal austerity while the people perished. So it is my pleasure to announce that all the participants in tonight's panel are saved, and they are hereby encouraged to continue their extremely interesting discussion in Heaven through all eternity."



God may forgive - that is, after all, as Heine observed, his job[2] -- but Jerry Coyne will be harder to appease. An evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and the author of a bestselling popular book, Why Evolution Is True,[3] Coyne was appalled by recent religiously based efforts, harking back to the famous 1925 Scopes trial, to modify or "balance" science teaching in American public schools. As other examples of faith-based public policy came to his attention, his indignation deepened. With Faith Versus Fact, he has launched a frontal assault on theistic religion, accompanied by a ringing vindication of the spirit and method of the natural sciences. Coyne is a little late to the fray, and he lacks Dawkins' gift for storytelling, Dennett's philosophical exuberance, Christopher Hitchens' panache, and Sam Harris's instinct for the jugular, so he will probably not be acclaimed as the Fifth Horseman of the New Atheism. But Faith Versus Fact is a solid, earnest, persuasive book.

The most important (though of course not the only) subject of contention between religion and science at present is Darwinism, the theory of evolution by natural selection. The main elements of Darwinism are simply stated. Life on earth began around 3.5 billion years ago with one species, which branched into various species as a result of mutations, small random alterations in the DNA code that transmits genetic information. Some of these mutations caused changes that were unfavorable to the altered organism's reproductive success; others caused changes that were favorable. The former mutations disappeared; the latter persisted.

According to the Book of Genesis, the earth and all plant and animal species were created simultaneously several thousand years ago by a supernatural being. Forty-two percent of Americans believe this "young earth" theory.[4] Others, mostly but not exclusively Christians, accept some aspects of evolutionary theory but not others: they accept, for example, the greater age of the earth, the genetic basis of inheritance, the occurrence of mutations and their differential survival, but do not accept common ancestry, the mutability of species, or the randomness of mutations. Something distinctive about human beings - consciousness, complexity, free will - can only be explained, they insist, by purposeful direction from an external source. The usual name for this hypothesis is "Intelligent Design."

Coyne has replied to most criticisms of Darwinian theory in Why Evolution Is True, but at least a few of the most frequent ones should be touched on here, if only to help account for his combativeness in the present book. One objection is purely logical: Darwinism is allegedly a tautology. According to Phillip Johnson, "natural selection" means nothing more than that "the organisms that leave the most offspring are the ones that leave the most offspring."[5] Johnson, a law professor, suggests that most biologists recognize this circularity and that only outsiders, or rare mavericks within the profession, are willing to acknowledge that Darwinism is, for this reason, not a scientific theory at all.

"Tautology," according to the American Heritage Dictionary,[6] has two meanings: 1) "needless repetition of the same sense in different words; redundancy"; and 2) "a statement composed of simpler statements in a fashion that makes it true whether the simpler statements are true or false; for example, 'Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.'" Tautologies therefore convey no information. Does the formulation Johnson ridicules convey any information? In virtually every context in which I can imagine a biologist making the statement, it will mean: "Does any type of inherited modification - of beauty, complexity, speed, strength, size - invariably enhance reproductive success? No, that always depends on the environment into which the new trait is introduced." Whether true or false, that seems highly informative. Perhaps Johnson was misled by the form of the statement. "Men are what they are" may in some contexts be a tautology, conveying no information. "Men are what they are," muttered by a woman to a distraught girlfriend, probably means (depending on the offense she's being consoled for): "They're all incorrigible liars/lechers/brutes/slobs." Again, highly informative in context.

Another criticism is evidential, concerning what is widely thought to be the most compelling confirmation of evolutionary theory: the fossil record. The philosopher David Berlinski, writing on Phillip Johnson's website, asserts that "every paleontologist writing since Darwin published his masterpiece in 1859 has known that the fossil record does not support evolution"[7] - a claim he and others have made elsewhere as well. But ten years before Berlinski's astonishing declaration, the American Geological Institute and the Paleontological Society issued a joint report, "Evolution and the Fossil Record" (2001). From its "Summary": "The theory of evolution is the foundation of modern paleontology and biology. ... Evolution is as well-supported by evidence as the theory of gravity or the heliocentric theory of our solar system. The data supporting evolution are vast."[8] It is conceivable, of course, that an international organization of paleontologists could have been mistaken about the significance of the fossil record. But it could hardly have been mistaken about the beliefs of "every paleontologist writing since Darwin."      

Arguably the chief pillar of Intelligent Design theory is the concept of "irreducible complexity." Popularized by biochemist Michael Behe (with a hat tip to Bishop William Paley), this argument asserts that some processes  (e.g., cellular metabolism) and organs (e.g., the eye) cannot have been produced by natural selection, since they could not have evolved gradually. Every component of an irreducibly complex process or organ must be in place before it can function at all; in order to be adaptive, all the required mutations (sometimes thousands of them) would have to occur simultaneously, which is impossible. Hence humans and other complex life forms cannot have come about by accident; they (we) must have been designed.

"There is no publication in the scientific literature," Behe writes, "that describes how molecular evolution of any real, complex biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred."[9] This is not quite so reckless a claim as Berlinski's about paleontology; but it was rash even in 1996, when Behe's Darwin's Black Box was published. In response, the cell biologist Kenneth Miller devoted a chapter of Finding Darwin's God (1999) to reviewing recent publications in the scientific literature describing how complex biochemical and other biological systems "either did occur or might have occurred" through natural selection.[10] Dramatic proclamations of impossibility like Behe's do compel one's attention, but since they are disproved by a single counter-example, they are generally imprudent.

According to Coyne, "the most effective weapon in the arsenal" of Intelligent Design proponents is the argument - accepted in one form or another by 69 percent of Americans - from "fine tuning."[11] The numerical values of several physical constants - e.g., the strength of the strong and weak electromagnetic forces and of gravity, the masses of the fundamental particles - cannot have varied by more than an infinitesimal amount or life could never have developed. Either those values came about by chance, against apparently colossal odds, or they were selected by a Designer (or Engineer).

As Coyne points out, there is a bit of hand-waving implicit in "apparently colossal odds." In fact, "we don't know how improbable the values of the constants really are"[12]; nor are we sure in all cases that the range of values compatible with life is so extremely narrow. It may even be that the "infinitely many universes" hypothesis proposed by some cosmologists will pan out, in which case the extremely improbable will turn out to be wholly inevitable. (Perhaps the infinitely many universes are not simultaneous but successive - an infinite sequence of big bangs and big crunches - which would dispose of the argument from First Cause as well as from fine tuning.) At any rate, Coyle remarks exasperatedly, it would be helpful if there were any positive evidence of cosmic fine tuning, rather than merely an a priori deduction of its necessity.

The most intriguing and, to my mind, most plausible argument (more a sketch of an argument, actually) for how a Designer might have gone about producing complex, conscious life is based on quantum indeterminacy. Quantum theory has a long history of playing hob with philosophically minded scientists. (Allegedly Sir Arthur Eddington, when the theory was explained to him, announced: "Science hereby withdraws its objection to free will.") Quantum indeterminacy is the source of the "many universes" theory, which proposes that at every quantum-level decision point, a new universe branches off into existence. It has other implications for the evolution debate as well: some of the events that cause mutations - X-rays and cosmic radiation, for example - may be indeterminate. This means, if I understand the argument correctly, that a Designer could have guided those quantum-level events and so produced the desired mutations without violating any physical laws. The present reviewer has no idea whether this conjecture is true, but it should certainly earn theistic evolutionists many points for ingenuity and persistence.   



As this brief overview suggests, to a nonprofessional reader - this one, at any rate - the arguments against evolution do not seem very substantial. This verdict would hardly satisfy Jerry Coyne, however. It is not merely the substance but the style, the logic, and above all the influence of religion-based anti-evolutionism that alarm and annoy him throughout Faith Versus Fact.

Near the beginning of his immortal essay "The Will to Believe," William James quotes a younger colleague: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." That is also the gist of Coyne's lengthy and impassioned sermon. Faith Versus Fact is an inventory of the fallacies that theistic religions propagate and the harms they inflict in the contemporary world, as well as a warning to scientists that a conciliatory attitude toward believers in the public sphere will only encourage further assaults on intellectual freedom.

Our devil's advocate doesn't mince words. "Religious claims are empirical hypotheses" (Coyne's emphasis); and they are, without exception, unproven.[13] He doesn't mean historical claims - that Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed actually existed, for example; or moral judgments - for example, that a camel will sooner pass through the eye of a needle than a member of the richest 0.1 percent will enter heaven; or advocacy of secular "spiritual" practices, like mindfulness-based meditation. He means supernatural claims: that a personal God, omniscient and omnipotent, created the world from nothing, infused immaterial and immortal souls into human beings, performs miracles, answers prayers, is pleased or offended by human actions, and will confer eternal rewards or punishments on every human being. These are "existence claims"; evidence for them could, in principle, be adduced and should be demanded. And of course, only testable evidence, confirmed by observation and experiment, is admissible. Appeals to tradition, scripture, church authority, personal intuition, and mystical experience may suffice in private life or within denominations, but they carry no legitimacy in the public sphere.

Above all, religious beliefs should have no influence on what is said in publicly funded science classrooms. Nor should they allow parents to escape responsibility on religious grounds for denying their children medical care - as is the case in thirty-eight states within the US, resulting in the preventable deaths of more than a hundred children over a twenty-year period, a few of them described at length in Faith Versus Fact. Nor should they impose limits on the rights of terminally ill people to end their lives when and as they see fit - a right denied in all but a handful of states. The list of religiously-based interventions in public policy goes on: laws restricting the use of stem cells from extra embryos created during in vitro fertilization has hobbled promising medical research; sex education is often forbidden in school districts where boards of education are dominated by believers; the US withholds funds from United Nations AIDS-prevention programs that distribute condoms to women in developing nations. Coyne is right to be incensed about these things.

The baneful effects of religious dogmas on public policy are one reason for Coyne's rejection of calls for peaceful coexistence between science and religion, which he labels "accommodationism." The most influential recent advocate of this "live-and-let-live" attitude was the paleontologist and popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould. In Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (1999), Gould proposed that since religion and science deal with "widely different aspects" of life, they should leave each other alone, or at least refrain from overt aggression. Science "tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories" that explain these facts; while religion is "wholly wrapped up in the contemplation of moral and aesthetic values," of "purposes and meanings."[14] Why can't they just scrape along, limiting their hostility to amused contempt, like academic colleagues in different departments?

They can't, Coyne retorts, because religion won't hold to the bargain. Instead of pronouncing only on the good and the beautiful, it claims also to possess truths - privileged truths, which science may not challenge. But unfortunately, science has a tropism for truth, which can't be suppressed.

The fundamental strategy of religious apologists, Coyne complains, is an appeal to ignorance. When no secular explanation is available for some phenomenon momentous enough to require one - from lightning to leprosy, from mortality to mind - God is liable to be invoked. This was no doubt a rational strategy as long as relatively few secular explanations were available. Better any number of inadequate explanations, after all, than a panicked sense that the most important things in life are wholly inexplicable. But science has changed all that - if not entirely, then mostly. We have no explanation yet for mind - or meaning or morals - but we do for lightning, leprosy, mortality, and a great deal else.

And so, says Coyne, vogue la galère! Let us fare forth and see how much we can explain. Not so fast, reply believers; it's not that simple. Precisely because sacred truths are so momentous, they are also mysterious. The quotidian methods of science cannot reach them. An act of will, a leap of faith, is required; or a special faculty, a sensus divinitatis. You scientists are notoriously brash and irreverent, but that won't do; you can't cross-examine God. You must be docile - which, after all, only means "teachable" - and wait humbly for the gift of faith.

Coyne is hardly alone in being infuriated by this special pleading. Even the irenic William James scoffed at it:


The talk of believing by our volition seems, then, from one point of view, simply silly. From another point of view it is worse than silly, it is vile. When one turns to the magnificent edifice of the physical sciences, and sees how it was reared; what thousands of disinterested moral lives of men lie buried in its mere foundations; what patience and postponement, what choking down of preference, what submissions to the icy laws of outer fact are wrought into its very stones and mortar; how absolutely impersonal it stands in its vast augustness, -- then how besotted and contemptible seems every little sentimentalist who comes blowing his voluntary smoke-wreaths, and pretending to decide things from out of his private dream! Can we wonder if those bred in the rugged and manly school of science should feel like spewing such subjectivism out of their mouths?[15]


The most profound incompatibility between science and religion, Coyne suggests, stems from their opposed attitudes toward intellectual freedom. Science "prizes doubt and iconoclasm, rejects absolute authority ... and depends largely on falsification. Nearly every scientific [hypothesis] comes with an implicit rider: 'Evidence X would show this to be wrong.'"[16] Religion depends on faith in a divine revelation, as interpreted by religious authorities, to whom intellectual submission is due. The methods are antithetical: on one side, the cultivation of doubt; on the other, the suspension of doubt.

But doubt, like desire, cannot be indefinitely suppressed without psychic cost. Sensitive natures will break down; coarser natures will lash out, i.e., persecute. Historically, opposition to free thought and untrammeled debate virtually defines organized religion, Coyne and his fellow New Atheists claim. If religious authorities can censor, they will; if they can't, they will proclaim their undying commitment to freedom. By and large, I would say, with all exceptions duly noted and praised, the historical record bears them out.

For all the vigor with which Coyne pursues his bill of indictment against organized religion, he leaves out one important charge. As he says, the conflict between religion and science is "only one battle in a wider war - a war between rationality and superstition."[17] There are other kinds of superstition - he mentions astrology, paranormal phenomena, homeopathy, and spiritual healing - but religion "is the most widespread and harmful form." I'm not so sure. Political forms of superstition, like patriotism, tribalism, and the belief that "human nature" is unalterably prone to selfishness and violence, seem to me even more destructive. Questioning authority was humankind's original sin. It is also the first duty of a democratic citizen. It is something of an understatement to say that organized religions do not, on the whole, encourage the questioning of authority. Hence, it is probably not be a coincidence that, among developed societies today, the most humane and pacific are the least religious. As Sam Harris laments: "Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution; 72 percent believe in angels. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the heart and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world."[18]

At this point, believers will object strenuously: "Don't blame us! Look at the history of the twentieth century - the worst crimes were committed by unbelievers." David Berlinski (a skeptic about both religion and evolution) has put this point with great force and verve:

In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe ... Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing villagers to dig their own graves, murder the victims with machine guns. On one such occasion ... an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.

Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner: "God is watching what you are doing," he said.

And then he was shot dead.

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.[19]



This is masterly rhetoric but faulty reasoning. Nazism, Stalinism, and Maoism were rank superstitions, no more tolerant of doubt or committed to intellectual freedom than Counter-Reformation Catholicism or contemporary Salafism. They were secular religions. Sam Harris has addressed the tu quoque argument, not so eloquently as Berlinski but far more cogently:


While some of the most despicable political movements in human history have been explicitly irreligious, they were not especially rational. The public pronouncements of these regimes have been mere litanies of delusion - about race, economics, national identity, the march of history, or the moral dangers of intellectualism. Auschwitz, the Gulag, and the killing fields are not examples of what happens when people become too critical of unjustified beliefs; on the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of not thinking critically enough about specific secular ideologies. Needless to say, my argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem ... is dogma itself - of which every religion [supernatural or secular - GS] has more than its fair share. I know of no society in human history that has ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.[20]





No institution endures for thousands of years unless it serves an essential need. Ignorance, inertia, and indoctrination cannot be the whole story - religion must be good for something. As an evolutionary theorist, Coyne understands this. Religion, he speculates, is probably an "exaptation": an outgrowth of some behavior originally favored by natural selection. For children, believing what one is told by elders and caretakers has obvious survival value. Explaining altruism and cooperation naturalistically, without reference to religion, is a flourishing sub-field of evolutionary biology these days.

But will gene-level explanations, even combined with political ones (religion as "the opium of the people"), be enough? Perhaps, in addition to their faulty worldviews and dubious practices, religions also transmit some useful, even indispensable, memes. Perhaps, for example, they model goodness.

In a passage quoted by Coyne, Alfred North Whitehead referred to "the beauty of holiness" as one of religion's special concerns.[21] It would be absurd to suggest that only religious values can motivate moral heroism, or that most religious people are heroically moral (or moral at all). But it is perhaps not absurd to wonder if there mightn't be some connection. When the greatest English-language novelist, the unbeliever George Eliot, sought to portray the aspirations of Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist of Middlemarch, the example she chose was Saint Theresa of Avila.


Theresa's passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were the many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel; and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self.[22]



The rigid and fanatical Saint Theresa is not my idea of a moral exemplar; I would probably choose Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Dorothy Day. But they all thrilled to the same exhortations to selflessness and devotion - "Give all you have to the poor and come follow me"; "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be" - however differently they applied them. They were all in love with the beauty of holiness.

Religions may also enable solidarity - not only the destructive kind on display in the Crusades, the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, or the Sunni-Shia wars, but also the kind necessary to rescue our species from the current neoliberal war of all against all. Kin-selection is sometimes said to provide a "rational" explanation for solidarity and altruism. This usage reflects the subtle corruption of that term by economists' conceptions of "rational self-interest" and "rational choice" - as though there were something rational, in the ordinary sense, about free riding, tax evasion, asset stripping, regulatory capture, influence peddling, and all the other perfectly legal and economically "rational" means by which cunning and unscrupulous people exploit the rest of us. In this perverse sense, it would be irrational for energy companies to leave the remaining deposits of fossil fuel in the ground, even if their executives and major shareholders have grandchildren who may suffer in the social and environmental chaos that climate change is bound to produce. Will it ever be possible to persuade the energy industry and its political hirelings that imperiling civilization is wrong, even if economically rational? Only, I expect, through extra-rational appeals - to unselfishness, compassion, and a sense of earth's and humankind's sacredness.  

Finally, religions may enact gratitude. Coyne refers to Spinoza's and Einstein's "naturalistic pantheism," quoting the latter:


The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavor in art and science. ... To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness.[23]



Few of us can match Einstein's or Spinoza's sense of hidden beauty and sublimity. But we all do occasionally glimpse the haunting interconnectedness and intelligibility of things, or have the equally mysterious experience of powers and delights that come to us unearned - nature, love, the upwelling contentment that Spinoza calls acquiescentia in seipso. The desire to give thanks, individually or communally, for such gifts, even if to no one in particular, seems fitting. Here is a strange and striking example of such collective homage from an unpublished fragment by D.H. Lawrence, a fantasy about a man who wakes up after a thousand-year sleep in a kind of pagan utopia. He observes a rite.


When the [sun] touched the tree-tops, there was a queer squeal of bagpipes, and the square suddenly started into life. The men were stamping softly, like bulls, the women were softly swaying, and softly clapping their hands, with a strange noise, like leaves. And under the vaulted porticoes, at opposite ends of the egg-shaped oval, came the soft booming and trilling of women and men singing against one another in the strangest pattern of sound.


It was all kept very soft, soft-breathing. Yet the dance swept into swifter and swifter rhythm, with the most extraordinary incalculable unison. I do not believe there was any outside control of the dance. The thing happened by instinct, like the wheeling and flashing of a shoal of fish or of a flock of birds dipping and spreading in the sky. Suddenly, in one amazing wing-movement, the arms of all the men would flash up into the air, naked and glowing, and with the soft rushing sound of pigeons alighting the men ebbed in a spiral, grey and sparkled with scarlet, bright arms slowly leaning, upon the women, who rustled all crocus-blue, rustled like an aspen, then in one movement scattered like sparks, in every direction from under the enclosing, sinking arms of the men, and suddenly formed slender rays of lilac branching out from the red and grey knot of the men.


All the time the sun was slowly sinking, shadow was falling, and the dance was moving slower, the women wheeling blue around the obliterated sun. They were dancing the sun down, and dancing as birds wheel and dance, and fishes in shoals, controlled by some strange unanimous instinct. It was at once terrifying and magnificent, I wanted to die, so as not to see it, and I wanted to rush down, to be one of them. To be a drop in that wave of life.[24]



Lawrence always called himself a "fearfully religious man." This is as close as he ever came to describing his religion. It is indeed terrifying, as collective emotions can be. But a culture without any such instinctually-based communal rituals would probably be imaginatively and emotionally impoverished.



In saying these few words on behalf of (mostly natural) religion, I don't mean to gainsay any of Jerry Coyne's criticisms of supernatural religion. The dogmas Coyne derides in Faith Versus Fact are indeed, as James said of their 19th-century versions, "fifth wheels to the coach."[25] Even more valuable is Coyne's resolute championing of critical thought and intellectual honesty. But his and others' efforts do, I hope and believe, have dogmatic religion on the run, however long it may take to complete the rout. Meanwhile, it is important to identify and preserve whatever in religion's vast and varied heritage may be of use to our emancipated descendants.




George Scialabba (www.georgescialabba.net) is a contributing editor of The Baffler. He is the author of four essay collections: What Are Intellectuals Good For?, The Modern Predicament, For the Republic, and Low Dishonest Decades, all published by Pressed Wafer.










[1] 3rd edition, 1949.


[2] On his deathbed, the poet Heinrich Heine was urged to repent his unbelief. He allegedly replied: "Dieu me pardonnera; c'est son métier."


[3]Viking Press, 2009.


[4]Faith Versus Fact, p. 9.


[5] Darwin on Trial, IVP Books, 2010, p. 42.


[6] 2nd College Edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1985.


[9] Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Free Press, 1996, p. 185.


[10] Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, Harper Collins, pp. 130-164.


[11] Faith Versus Fact, pp. 160, 161.


[12] Ibid., p. 162


[13] Ibid., p.21.


[14] Quoted in Faith Versus Fact, pp. 106, 107.


[15] James, The Will to Believe.


[16] Ibid., p. 65.


[17] Ibid., p. xii.


[18] Sam Harris, The End of Faith, Norton, 2004, p. 230.


[19] David Berlinski, The Devil's Delusion, Crown, 2008, pp. 76-77.


[20] The End of Faith, p. 231.


[21] Faith Versus Fact, p. 106.


[22] Middlemarch, Prelude.


[23] Faith Versus Fact, p. 101.


[24] "Autobiographical Fragment" in Lawrence, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers, vol. 1, Viking, 1972, p. 832.


[25] James, "The Will to Believe."

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