October 13, 2021

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Why Science and Religion are Incompatible
by Jerry A. Coyne.
Penguin Group USA, 2015
(i-xxii, 311 pages)

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    Quote = "My main thesis is narrower and, I think, more defensible: understanding reality, in the sense of being able to use what we know to predict what we do not, is best achieved using the tools of science, and is never achieved using the methods of faith." (By author, Jerry Coyne)

    Quote = "I will have achieved my aim if, by the end of this book, you demand that people produce good reasons for what they believe — not only in religion, but in any area in which evidence can be brought to bear. I will have achieved my aim when people devote as much effort to choosing a system of belief as they do to choosing their doctor. I will have achieved my aim if the public stops awarding special authority about the universe and the human condition to preachers, imams, and clerics simply because they are religious figures. And above all, I will have achieved my aim if, when you hear someone described as a "person of faith," you see it as criticism rather than praise." (By author, Jerry Coyne)
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note = Numbers in parentheses refer to pages


1) THE PROBLEM (1-25)

    [1] What is science? (27-41)

    [2] What is religion? (41-63)

    [2] The incompatibility (63-65)

    [4] Conflicts of method (65-89)

    [5] Conflicts of outcome (90-91)

    [6] Conflicts of philosophy (91-96)
    [1] The varieties of accommodationism (99-112)

    [2] Science versus the supernatural (112-120)

    [3] What about miracles? (120-124)

    [4] Three test cases (124-140)

    [5] Was the evolution of humans inevitable? (140-147)

    [6] Theological problems with theistic evolution (147-150)
    [1] The new natural theology (152-185)

    [2] Is science the only "way of knowing"? (185-196)

    [3] The scientism canard (196-224)
5) WHY DOES IT MATTER? (225-263)
    [1] Child abuse — Faith as substitute for medicine (229-239)

    [2] Suppression of research and vaccination (239-239)

    [3] Opposition to assisted dying (243-245)

    [4] Gobal-warming denialism (245-250)

    [5] Does faith have any value? (250-256)

    [6] Can there be dialogue between science and faith? (256-263)

NOTES (267-279)

REFERENCES (281-296)

INDEX (297-311)

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AUTHOR NOTES = Biology professor Jerry Allen Coyne was born in 1949 and teaches in the University of Chicago's Department of Ecology and Evolution. Coyne was the 1971 class valedictorian at the College of William & Mary. He received his Ph.D. in Biology from Harvard University and an NIH postdoc in genetics at UC Davis. Coyne has been the Vice President of the Society for the Study of Evolution and an associate editor of Evolution and The American Naturalist. Coyne's work has been published in scientific journals as well as The New York Times and The New Republic. He is known for his opposition to the creationist theory of intelligent design. Coyne wrote the bestselling book Why Evolution is True and co-authored Speciation with H. Allen Orr. – Bowker Author Biography.

SUMMARY = The book presents an argument for the fundamental incompatibility of the methods of science and those of religion. It maintains that empirical and rational science is testable and reliable, while the faith and dogma of religion are not. In this elegant, provocative, and direct argument, leading evolutionary biologist and bestselling author Jerry Coyne describes in clear, patient, dispassionate details why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, while that of religion — including faith, dogma and revelation — is unreliable and leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions.

BOOK DESCRIPTION = Religion and science compete in many ways to describe reality --- they both make "existence claims" about what is real. but they use different tools to meet this goal. This book explains how by relying on faith, religion renders itself incapable of finding truth. The sheer fact that over half of Americans do not believe in evolution (to say nothing of the number of Congressmen who don't believe in climate change) and the resurgence of religious prejudices and strictures as factors in politics, education, medicine, and social policy make the need for this book urgent. We are living today in a genuinely frightening scenario — religion and science are engaged in a kind of war — a war for understanding, a war about whether we should have good reasons for what we accept as true.

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PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY REVIEW = Coyne {Why Evolution Is True) an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, defines his position perfectly clearly: "Religion is but a single brand of superstition..., but it is the most widespread and harmful form of superstition." From this starting point, he describes the nature of scientific investigation, focusing on its reliance on evidence and the tentativeness of its conclusions, and contrasts it with religion's reliance on faith. Religions, Coyne argues, "make explicit claims about reality," which "must, like all claims about reality, be defended with a combination of evidence and reason." He builds a strong case that no such evidence exists for the claims he describes, discussing ways in which religious doctrines have negatively affected public policy and scientific advances in areas such as vaccinations and stem cell research.

Though interesting, Coyne's overarching conclusion --- that science and religion must be incompatible --- is not persuasively articulated on a number of grounds. Also he suffers from the same kinds of poor sociological thinking as his "New Atheist" peers, mistaking problems of politics for those of religious belief. By equating virtually all religious believers with fundamentalists, Coyne draws far too narrow a picture of religion, demonstrating science's incompatibility with one part of the religious spectrum but not across all of it.

BOOKLIST REVIEW = *Starred Review* To advocates of dialogue between science and religion, evolutionary geneticist Coyne, author of the definitive Why Evolution Is True (2009), counter-proposes a monologue. It is one in which science does all the talking and religion the listening. Religion has nothing to contribute to science, for its modus operandi, faith, is useless for the ascertainment of facts. Indeed, at least since Galileo, religion has often obstructed science and denied material reality; witness today's campaigns against evolution, vaccination, and stem-cell research.

Religion's claims to be another way of amassing knowledge are specious, for it seeks metaphysical certainties, not the testable, possibly falsifiable, physical proofs of science. Coyne is especially concerned to show how accommodation with religion, such as the late Stephen Jay Gould proposed, is impossible. Also Coyne alleges that his professed-believer colleagues are self-contradictory, at best. Rejections of religion as a way to discover truth seem legion these days, what with New Atheists, the likes of Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens, regularly lording it over the nonfiction best-seller lists. But none of them makes the case for the final divorce of religion and science, with permanent restraining orders against harassment and stalking of science by religion, better than Coyne. -- Ray Olson.

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Quote = “The good thing about science is that it is true whether or not you believe in it.” (By the world famous astrophysicist and Director, Neil deGrasse Tyson, of the Hayden Planetarium of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, page xi)

In February 2013, I debated a young Lutheran theologian on a hot-button topic: "Are science and religion compatible?" The site was the historic Circular Congregational Church in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the oldest churches in the American South. After both of us gave our twenty-minute spiels (she argued "yes," while I said "no"), we were asked to sum up our views in a single sentence. I cannot remember my own prιcis, but I clearly recall the theologian's words: "We must always remember that faith is a gift."

This was one of those l'esprit d'escalier, or "wit of the staircase," moments, when you come up with the perfect response — but only well after the opportunity has passed. For shortly after the debate was over, I not only remembered that Gift is the German word for "poison," but saw clearly that the theologian's parting words undercut her very thesis that science and religion are compatible. Whatever I actually said, what I should have said was this: "Faith may be a gift in religion, but in science it's poison, for faith is no way to find truth." This book gives me a chance to say that now. It is about the different ways that science and religion regard faith, ways that make them incompatible for discovering what's true about our universe.

My thesis is that religion and science compete in many ways to describe reality — they both make "existence claims" about what is real — but use different tools to meet this goal. And 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. I maintain, then — and here I diverge from the many "accommodationists" who see religion and science, if not harmonious or complementary, at least as not in conflict — that religion and science are engaged in a kind of war: a war for understanding, a war about whether we should have good reasons for what we accept as true.

Although this book deals with the conflict between religion and science, I see this as only one battle in a wider war — a war between rationality and superstition. Religion is but a single brand of superstition (others include beliefs in astrology, paranormal phenomena, homeopathy, and spiritual healing), but it is the most widespread and harmful form of superstition. And science is but one form of rationality (philosophy and mathematics are others), but it is a highly developed form, and the only one capable of describing and understanding reality. All superstitions that purport to give truths are actually forms of pseudoscience, and all use similar tactics to immunize themselves against disproof. As we will see, advocates of pseudosciences like homeopathy or ESP often support their beliefs using the same arguments employed by theologians to defend their faith.

While the science-versus-religion debate is one battle in the war between rationality and irrationality, I concentrate on it for several reasons. First, the controversy has become more widespread and visible, most likely because of a new element in the criticism of religion. The most novel aspect of "New Atheism" — the form of disbelief that distinguishes the views of writers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins from the "old" atheism of people like Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell — is the observation that most religions are grounded in claims that can be regarded as scientific.

That is, God, and the tenets of many religions, are hypotheses that can, at least in principle, be examined by science and reason. If religious claims cannot be substantiated with reliable evidence, the argument goes, they should, like dubious scientific claims, be rejected until more data arrive. This argument is buttressed by new developments in science, in areas like cosmology, neurobiology, and evolutionary biology. Discoveries in those fields have undermined religious claims that phenomena like the origin of the universe and the existence of human morality and consciousness defy scientific explanation and are therefore evidence for God.

Seeing their bailiwick shrinking, the faithful have become more insistent that religion is actually a way of understanding nature that complements science. But the most important reason to concentrate on religion rather than other forms of irrationality is not to document a historical conflict, but because, among all forms of superstition, religion has by far the most potential for public harm. Few are damaged by belief in astrology; but, as we will see in the final, many have been harmed by belief in a particular god or by the idea that faith is a virtue.

I have both a personal and a professional interest in this argument, for I have spent my adult life teaching and studying evolutionary biology, the brand of science most vilified and rejected by religion. And a bit more biography is in order: I was raised as a secular Jew, an upbringing that, as most people know, is but a hairsbreadth from atheism. But my vague beliefs in a God were abandoned almost instantly when, at seventeen, I was listening to the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album and suddenly realized that there was simply no evidence for the religious claims I had been taught — or for anybody else's, either.

From the beginning, then, my unbelief rested on an absence of evidence for anything divine.

Compared with that of many believers, my rejection of God was brief and painless. But after that I did not think much about religion until I became a professional scientist. There is no surer route to immersion in the conflict between science and religion than becoming an evolutionary biologist. Nearly half of Americans reject evolution completely, espousing a biblical literalism in which every living species, or at least our own, was suddenly created from nothing less than ten thousand years ago by a divine being. And most of the rest believe that God guided evolution one way or another — a position that flatly rejects the naturalistic view accepted by evolutionary biologists: that evolution, like all phenomena in the universe, is a consequence of the laws of physics, without supernatural involvement.

In fact, only about one in five Americans accepts evolution in the purely naturalistic way scientists see it. When I taught my first course in evolution at the University of Maryland, I could hear the opposition directly, for in the plaza right below my classroom a preacher would often hold forth loudly about how evolution was a tool of Satan. And many of my own students, while dutifully learning about evolution, made it clear that they did not believe a word of it. Curious about how such opposition could exist despite the copious evidence for evolution, I began reading about creationism. It was immediately evident that virtually all opposition to evolution comes from religion. In fact, among the dozens of prominent creationists I have encountered, I have known of only one — the philosopher David Berlinski — whose view isn't motivated by religion.

Finally, after twenty-five years of teaching, facing pushback all the way, I decided to address the problem of creationism in the only way I knew: by writing a popular book laying out the evidence for evolution. And there were mountains of evidence, drawn from the fossil record, embryology, molecular biology, the geography of plants and animals, the development and construction of animal bodies, and so on. Curiously, nobody had written such a book. Practical people, I figured — or even skeptical ones — would surely come around to accepting the scientific view of evolution once they'd seen the evidence laid out in black and white. I was wrong.

Although my book, Why Evolution Is True, did well (even nosing briefly onto the New York Times bestseller list), and although I received quite a few letters from religious readers telling me I'd "converted" them to evolution, the proportion of creationists in America didn't budge: for thirty-two years it has hovered between 40 and 46 percent. It didn't take long to realize the futility of using evidence to sell evolution to Americans, for faith led them to discount and reject the facts right before their noses. In my earlier book I recounted the "aha" moment when I realized this.

A group of businessmen in a ritzy suburb of Chicago, wanting to learn some science as a respite from shoptalk, invited me to talk to them about evolution at their weekly luncheon. I gave them a lavishly illustrated lecture about the evidence for evolution, complete with photos of transitional fossils, vestigial organs, and developmental anomalies like the vanishing leg buds of embryonic dolphins. They seemed to appreciate my efforts. But after the talk, one of the attendees approached me, shook my hand, and said, "Dr. Coyne, I found your evidence for evolution very convincing — but I still do not believe it."

I was flabbergasted. How could it be that someone found evidence convincing but was still not convinced? The answer, of course, was that his religion had immunized him against my evidence. As a scientist brought up without much religious indoctrination, I couldn't understand how anything could blinker people against hard data and strong evidence. Why could people not be religious and still accept evolution? That question led me to the extensive literature on the relationship between science and religion, and the discovery that much of it is indeed what I call "accommodationist": seeing the two areas as compatible, mutually supportive, or at least not in conflict. But as I dug deeper, and began to read theology as well, I realized that there were intractable incompatibilities between science and religion, ones glossed over or avoided in the accommodationist literature.

Further, I began to see that theology itself, or at least the “truth claims” religion makes about the universe, turns it into a kind of science, but a science using weak evidence to make strong statements about what is true. As a scientist, I saw deep parallels between theology's empirical and reason-based justifications for belief and the kind of tactics used by pseudoscientists to defend their turf. One of these is an a priori commitment to defend and justify one's preferred claims, something that stands in strong contrast to science's practice of constantly testing whether its claims might be wrong. Yet religious people were staking their very lives and futures on evidence that would not come close to, say, the kind of data the U.S. government requires before approving a new drug for depression.

In the end I saw that the claims for the compatibility of science and religion were weak, resting on assertions about the nature of religion that few believers really accept, and that 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 will try to convince you that religion, as practiced by most believers, is severely at odds with science, and that this conflict is damaging to science itself, to how the public conceives of science, and to what the public thinks science can and cannot not tell us. I'll also argue that the claim that religion and science are complementary "ways of knowing" gives unwarranted credibility to faith, a credibility that, at its extremes, is responsible for many human deaths and might ultimately contribute to the demise of our own species and much other life on Earth. 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. Let me hasten, though, to add a few caveats. First, some "religions," like Jainism and the more meditation-oriented versions of Buddhism, make few or no claims about what exists in the universe. (I will shortly give a definition of "religion" so that my thesis becomes clear.) Adherents to other faiths, like Quakers and Unitarian Universalists, are heterogeneous, with some "believers" being indistinguishable from agnostics or atheists who practice a nebulous but godless spirituality. As the beliefs of such people are often not "theistic" (that is, they do not involve a deity that interacts with the world), there is less chance that they will conflict with science.

This book deals largely with theistic faiths.

Theistic faiths are not the totality of religions, but they constitute by far the largest number of religions — and believers — on Earth. For several reasons I concentrate on the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Those are the religions I know most about, and, more important, are the ones — particularly Christianity — most concerned with reconciling their beliefs with science. While I discuss other faiths in passing, it is mostly the various brands of Christianity that occupy this book.

Likewise, I will talk mostly about science and religion in the United States, for here is where their conflict is most visible. The problem is less pressing in Europe because the proportion of theists, particularly in northern Europe, is much lower than in America. In the Middle East, on the other hand, where Islam is truly and deeply in conflict with science, such discussions are often seen as heretical.

Finally, there are some versions of even the Abrahamic religions whose tenets are so vague that it is simply unclear whether they conflict with science. Apophatic, or "negative," theology, for instance, is reluctant to make claims about the nature or even the existence of a god. Some liberal Christians speak of God as a "ground of being" rather than as an entity with humanlike feelings and properties that behaves in specified ways. While some theologians claim that these are the "strongest" notions of God, they have that status only because they make the fewest claims and are thus the least susceptible to refutation — or even discussion.

For anyone having the least familiarity with religion, it goes without saying that such watered-down versions of faith are not held by most people, who accept instead a personal god who intervenes in the world. This brings us to the common claim that critics of religion accept a "straw man" fallacy, seeing all believers as fundamentalists or scriptural literalists, and that we neglect the "strong and sophisticated" versions of faith held by liberal theologians. A true discussion of faith/science compatibility, this argument runs, demands that we deal only with these sophisticated forms of belief. For if we construe "religion" as simply "the beliefs of the average believer," then arguing that those beliefs are incompatible with science is just as nonsensical as construing "science" as the rudimentary and often incorrect understanding of science held by the average citizen.

But this parallel is wrong in several ways. First, while many laypeople hold erroneous views of science, they neither practice science nor are considered part of the scientific community. In contrast, the average believer not only practices religion but may also belong to a religious community that may try to spread its beliefs to the wider society. Further, while theologians may know more about the history of religion — or the work of other theologians — than do regular believers, they have no special expertise in discerning the nature of God, what he wants, or how he interacts with the world. In understanding the claims of their faith, "regular" religious believers are far closer to theologians than are science-friendly laypeople to the physicists and biologists they admire.

Throughout this book I will consider the claims both of garden-variety believers and of theologians, for while the problem of faith versus science is most serious for the regular believer, it is the theologians who use academic arguments to convince believers that their faith is compatible with science. I emphasize that my claim that science and religion are incompatible does not mean that most religious people reject science. Even evolution, the science most scorned by believers, is accepted by many Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and liberal Muslims. And, of course, most believers have no problem with the idea of supernovas, photosynthesis, or gravity.

The conflict plays out in only a few specific areas of science, but also in the validation of faith in general. My argument for incompatibility deals not with people's perceptions, but with the contradictory ways that science and religion support their claims about reality. I begin by showing evidence that the conflict between religion and science is substantial and widespread. This evidence includes the incessant production of books and official statements by both scientists and theologians assuring us that there really is compatibility, but using different and sometimes contradictory arguments. The sheer number and diversity of these assurances suggest that there is a problem that has not been resolved.

Further evidence for conflict includes the high proportion of scientists in both the United States and the United Kingdom who are atheists, a proportion of nonbelievers roughly ten times higher than that in the general public. Also, in America and other countries, there are laws that privilege faith by giving it precedence over science, as in the medical treatment of one's children. Finally, the existence of pervasive creationism, as well as widespread belief in religious and spiritual healing, shows an obvious conflict between science and religion — or between science and faith.

The second lays out the terms of engagement: the ways I construe science and religion, and what I mean by "incompatibility." I will argue that the incompatibility operates at three levels: methodology, outcomes, and philosophy — what "truths" are uncovered by science versus faith.[3] takes on accommodationism, analyzing a sample of the arguments used by both religious people and scientific organizations to argue for a harmony between science and faith. The two most common arguments are the existence of religious scientists, and Stephen Jay Gould's prominent idea of "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA), in which science encompasses the domain of facts about the universe while religion occupies the orthogonal realm of meaning, morals, and values.

In the end, all accommodationist strategies fail because they do not resolve the huge disparity between discerning "truths" using reason versus faith. I will describe three examples of the problems that arise when scientific advances flatly contradict religious dogma: theistic (God-guided) evolution, claims about the existence of Adam and Eve, and Mormon beliefs about the origin of Native Americans. The fourth, "Faith Strikes Back," tackles not only the ways that religion is said to contribute to science, but also the way the faithful denigrate science as a way of defending their own turf. The arguments are diverse, and include claims that science actually supports the idea of God by supplying answers to questions supposedly beyond the ken of science.

I call these endeavors the "new natural theology" — a modern version of 18th-century and 19th-century arguments that purported to show the hand of God in nature. The updated arguments deal with the purported "fine-tuning" of the universe — the claimed improbability that the laws of physics would permit the appearance of life — as well as with the claimed inevitability of human evolution, and the details of human morality that, it's argued, resist scientific but not religious explanations. I also take up the notion of "other ways of knowing": the contention that science is not the only way of ferreting out nature's truths. I will argue that in fact science is the only way to find such truths — if you construe "science" broadly.

Finally, I deal with believers' tu quoque accusations that science is either derived from religion or afflicted with the same problems as religion. These accusations are also diverse: science is actually a product of Christianity; science involves untestable assumptions, and is therefore based on faith; science is fallible; science promotes "scientism," the view that nonscientific questions are uninteresting; and — the ultimate redoubt of believers — the assertion that while religion has sometimes been harmful, so has science, which has given us things like eugenics and nuclear weapons. Why should we care whether science and religion are compatible? The last answers this question, showing why reliance on faith, when reason and evidence are available, has created immense harms, including many deaths. The clearest examples involve religiously based healing, which, protected by American law, has killed many, including children who have no choice in their treatment.

Likewise, opposition to stem cell research and vaccination, as well as denial of global warming, is sometimes based on religious grounds. I argue that in a world where people must support their opinions with evidence and reason rather than faith, we would experience less conflict over issues like assisted suicide, gay rights, birth control, and sexual morality.

Finally, I discuss whether it is ever useful to have faith. Are there times when it's all right to hold strong beliefs that are supported by little or no evidence? Even if we can't prove the claims of faith, is not religion useful as a form of social glue and a wellspring of public morality? Is it possible for science and religion to have a constructive dialogue about these things? I am aware that criticizing religion is a touchy endeavor (a classic dinner-table no-no), invoking strong reactions even from those who are not believers but see faith as a societal good.

Beyond summarizing what this book is, then, I should also explain what it is not. Although I deal largely with religion, my purpose is not to show that religion has, on balance, been a malign influence on society. While I do believe this, and in the last emphasize some of the problems of faith, it would be foolish to deny that religion has motivated many acts of goodness and charity. It has also been a solace for the inevitable sorrows of human life, and an impetus for helping others. In the end, it's impossible to perform the "good versus bad" calculus of religion by integrating over history.

My main thesis is narrower and, I think, more defensible: understanding reality, in the sense of being able to use what we know to predict what we do not, is best achieved using the tools of science, and is never achieved using the methods of faith. That is attested by the acknowledged success of science in telling us about everything from the smallest bits of matter to the origin of the universe itself — compared with the abject failure of religion to tell us anything about gods, including whether they exist.

While scientific investigations converge on solutions, religious investigations diverge, producing innumerable sects with conflicting and irresolvable claims. Using the predictions of science, we can now land space probes not only on distant planets, but also on distant comets. We can produce "designer drugs" to target a specific individual's cancer, decide which flu vaccines are most likely to be effective in the coming season, and figure out how to finally wipe scourges like smallpox and polio from our planet.

Religion, in contrast, cannot even tell us if there is an afterlife, much less anything about its nature. The true harm of accommodationism is the weakening of our organs of reason by promoting useless methods of finding truth, especially that of faith. As Sam Harris notes: The point is not that we atheists can prove religion to be the cause of more harm than good (though I think this can be argued, and the balance seems to me to be swinging further toward harm each day).

The point is that religion remains the only mode of discourse that encourages grown men and women to pretend to know things they manifestly do not (and cannot) know. If ever there were an attitude at odds with science, this is it. And the faithful are encouraged to keep shouldering this unwieldy burden of falsehood and self-deception by everyone they meet — by their co-religionists, of course, and by people of differing faith, and now, with startling frequency, by scientists who claim to have no faith.

In arguing that science is the only way we can really learn things about our universe, I am not calling for a society completely dominated by science, which most people see as a robotic world lacking emotion, empty of art and literature, and devoid of the human need to feel part of something larger than oneself — a need that draws many to religion. Such a world would indeed be sterile and joyless. Rather, I would claim that adopting a more broadly scientific viewpoint not only helps us make better decisions, both for ourselves and for society as a whole, but also brings alive the many wonders of science barred to those who see it as something distant and forbidding (it is not).

What could be more entrancing than understanding at last where we (and all other species) came from, a subject that I have studied all my life? Most important, there would be no devaluating of the emotional needs of humans. I live my life according to the principles I recommend in this book, but if you met me at a party you would never guess I was a scientist. I am at least as emotional, and enamored of the arts, as the next person, am easily brought to tears by a good movie or book, and do my best to help the less fortunate.

All I lack is faith. One can meet all the emotional requisites of a human — except for the assurance that you will find a life after death — without the superstitions of religion. Nevertheless, I will not discuss how to replace religion when — as I believe will inevitably happen — it largely disappears from our world. Solutions inevitably depend on the emotional needs of individual personalities, and those interested in such solutions should consult Philip Kitcher's excellent book Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism.

Finally, I do not discuss the historical, evolutionary, and psychological origins of religion. There are dozens of hypotheses for how religious belief got started and why it persists. Some invoke direct evolutionary adaptations, others invoke by-products of evolved features like our tendency to attribute events to conscious agents, and still others cite the usefulness of faith as a societal glue or a way to control others.

Definitive answers are not obvious, and in fact may never be forthcoming. To explore the many secular theories of religion, one should begin with Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained and Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell.

I will have achieved my aim if, by the end of this book, you demand that people produce good reasons for what they believe — not only in religion, but in any area in which evidence can be brought to bear. I will have achieved my aim when people devote as much effort to choosing a system of belief as they do to choosing their doctor. I will have achieved my aim if the public stops awarding special authority about the universe and the human condition to preachers, imams, and clerics simply because they are religious figures. And above all, I will have achieved my aim if, when you hear someone described as a "person of faith," you see it as criticism rather than praise.

Excerpted from book, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, by Jerry A. Coyne.

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