Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jerry Coyne: "If you accept science but rejects it where it conflicts with your faith, I don’t think you are behaving fully scientifically"

Jerry Coyne is an evolutionary biologist, Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. He had written a book about the evidence for evolution titled Why Evolution is True. He has a blog with that name, where he posts about science in a daily basis.  This is the second part of the interview I did with Jerry Coyne.

Links: first part | video on Youtube | versão em português

How does religion create a barrier to understand evolution? How can we solve this problem? 
In your country [Brazil] it’s a lot less of problem than in mine. You country is catholic and the official position of the Catholic Church is that evolution is ok. But they have some positions which are explicit anti-evolutionary. One of them is that Adam and Eve is real people; we all descended from Adam and Eve. We know now the human population ancestor of modern humans could not have been small that 2000. That causes a problem among Christian in the US, because that not only undermines Catholicism, undermines any form of Christianity whose beliefs depends on Jesus coming back to save us from the sin committed by Adan and Eve. If Adan and Eve didn’t exist, then there is no original sin, so what’s the point of Jesus? Catholics also think, and Pope said this, that humans are different from other creatures because God gave us a soul. Where is this soul? When did it come on human lineage? What’s the evidence that it exists, if there is any? Catholics accepts evolution, except for two things: God had a hand in human evolution and human evolution involves Adam and Eve. If you accept science but rejects it in those areas where it conflicts with your faith, I don’t think you are behaving fully scientific. So, the Catholic’s position on evolution is better than American Baptist, but still opposes to science, because it gives up on science, when science comes into conflict with the catholic dogma and that’s not a good way to behave, because prioritizes faith over evidence, over rationality.  In the US is much worse, because 46% of America rejects evolution. That because our country is religious, probably more than yours [Brazil], but religious in a different way because they are not Catholics, they are protestants and a lot of protestants simply don’t believe in evolution. And 23% of American Catholics don’t accept evolution neither; they are young-earth creationists. They violate the tenets of their own church.

What about the incompatibility of science and religion? You have written about it, so what’s your opinion on that? 
I’m actually writing a book about that. What I mean by incompatible is not that scientists can't be religious, this is true, a lot of scientists are religious, like Francis Collins. Or that most religious people don’t accept science because they do. What I mean by incompatibility is the methodology the science uses to find out things that are true about the world is an exact opposition to the methodology that religion uses. That claim rests on my contention that religion does make factual claims about the world and I can document that. Some of the factual statements Catholics believe are that Jesus was their savior, he was the son of God, he died and was resurrected, and he is going to come back and we’re all going to have an after-life, except for the bad ones that will burn in hell. Those are real statements about what is true about the cosmos that is being overseen by some bodyless mind that has a personal relationship with us and who hears our prayers. The scientific attitude towards that is “I am not going to believe until you show me the evidence”. I mean, prove to me there is a heaven, and you can’t. So, scientists say since there is no evidence for heaven, I am not just going to accept it. That is not saying I know there is no heaven. When you’re an atheist like I am, you don’t say I know there is no God. That’s not a scientific attitude. What you should say is I don’t see any evidence for God, so I am not going to accept that. Just the same way people say I don’t see any evidence for fairy or leprechauns, so I am not going to accept it, and everybody is like that, but when it comes to God and there is the same lack of evidence, instead of saying I’m not going to accept it, they say “well, it could be true, we just don’t know”. The scientific attitude towards claims about what is true about the cosmos demands evidence, demands consistent evidence, that everybody agrees on that, it demands testability, either observational or historical, and doubt and replication. That’s all true of science, but none of that is true of religion. The ultimately proof that religion doesn’t really tell us the truth about the cosmos is that we have over 10.000 different religions that makes different claims about the universe that are conflicting. Islam thinks if you see Jesus as your savior, you´re going to hell, and a Baptist is going to say that if you´re a Muslim and don’t accept Jesus as the prophet, you’re going to hell. If faith, dogma and authority were the correct way to find truth about religious matters, all religion would have the same tenets. The fact is that faith, dogma and authority – which are the tools religion uses to find truth – can’t find truth. That means truth finding of religions people are incompatible with scientists.

You have been critic of accommodationism and said it does not work. Why? 
One example is how the Catholics are accommodationists.  Catholics is one the most science friendly and they accept evolution. But there are certain things they have to accommodate, one of them is Adam and Eve. The bible says Adam and Eve existed, they were the cause of the original sin, and Jesus will come back. How the Catholic Church accommodates that? It doesn’t, it says that their dogma is that Adam and Eve is real people and gave rise to ancestry. That is in direct conflict with what the scientific data tell us. So, Catholics rejects science. In fact, 64% of America said in a poll taken about seven years ago that if there is a fact in conflict their religion, they would reject the fact, rather than reject their belief.  Accommodationism doesn’t not work. There is Stephen Gould approach of NOMA [non-overlapping magisteria] that religion does not make any claims about the world and science should let religion handle the issues of morality, meaning and values. That fails on both counts, because religion does make claims about the world, which are testable in some cases, and meaning, morals and values can be handle by a secular perspective; the ancient Greeks have done this, many philosophers do today.

I think Science can tell us a lot about our morals.
It can say a lot more about morals that people can think it can. One of the people that is actually engaged in this is [primatologist] Frans de Waal. He had written a book about the evolutionary origins of morality. Our instinct moral feelings are designed to care for our children. de Waal had showed that social primates and other animals have behavior that are remarkably. Also [psychologist] Paul Bloom that showed that children before they can speak show sort of innate moral stimuli, empathy, caring for those you're familiar with and sense of fairness. There is a remarkable video that to me shows the chimps have sort of innate sense of fairness, which young infants have as well before they socialize. I think that sense of fairness is in our genes. This kind of scientific anthropological and developmental exploration tells us something about our morality. They can’t tell us what is right, I still believe that, in oppose to Sam Harris. I don’t think science can tells us how to behave. I think we should be helping people at Africa, which we're not really related at all.   

I'd like to thank to professor Coyne for his time and kindness. 

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