Senior Scholar Jeff Schloss Reviews “Faith vs. Fact” by Jerry Coyne in The Washington Post | The BioLogos Forum

Jeff Schloss, BioLogos Senior Scholar, was recently asked by The Washington Post to write a review of Jerry Coyne’s recent book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. That review appeared online a couple of days ago.

Coyne is an engaging science writer, but strays fairly far from that in this book—along the lines of Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion. Schloss knows the science but also has a sophisticated understanding of philosophy—the primary subject matter of Coyne’s book. Coyne claims that he’s going to “avoid the murky waters of epistemology” and then bases his overall argument on getting the distinction right between faith and knowledge. That’s a topic as straightforwardly epistemological as you can get! Coyne appeals to dictionary definitions to settle things; Schloss counters with a nuanced and philosophically informed discussion of the nature of faith as it relates to religious commitments and scientific beliefs, showing that Coyne’s rhetoric reduces away significant parts of our experience, like morality, art, and love.

Of course Schloss is not engaged in the sort of natural theology that aims to prove the existence of God from the data of science. He agrees with Coyne on the futility of this. Coyne’s claim, though, is much stronger, namely that science and religious belief are not even basically compatible. Schloss shows that Coyne reaches this conclusion only by missing the implications of some of the science and by confusing the underlying philosophical principles. Schloss concludes instead:

“The one universe we can observe displays laws and conditions that appear fine-tuned for life, along with the progressive elaboration of living complexity and the emergence (however probable or improbable) of creatures capable of moral awareness and altruistic love. These properties do not require God as an explanation. But they are hardly incompatible with belief in God. Indeed, they are suggestive but not demonstrative, and acknowledging this ambiguity has been persistent across many traditions of Christian and other faiths.”

Have a look at the review for yourselves. Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The focus on God is wrong, the focus should be on common subjectivity. Jerry Coyne is undermining common subjectivity. That is much more damaging than undermining belief in God. Like with the nazi’s, many still believed in God, arguably, but the human spirit, well that was just a matter of genetics, a matter of scientific fact.

Jerry Coyne argues like this; saying “the painting is beautiful”, is a statement of fact about a love for the way the painting looks existing in the electrochemical processes of the brain. Which means saying “the painting is beautiful” is then a statement of fact. Opinion = fact.

He leaves no room for opinion, because he regards what is good and evil as fact. There is no way that he will every acknowledge love is real, but that the existence of it is not a fact.

@jstump Jim, it’s a common (and I think legit) charge that many of the New Atheist types either reject the value of philosophy or are extremely naïve about philosophy. But I recall once William Lane Craig commending Sam Harris because Harris goes against the trend and seems to understand philosophy quite well (and perhaps has a degree in it). My question to you: has a Christian philosopher done a detailed academic analysis of the atheism popularizers and their stance on the discipline of philosophy? That would be an interesting read.

Interesting. Thanks. I think I’d say it slightly differently. I think there are different kinds of facts. You mention aesthetics. I believe it to be defensible to say that it is a factual claim to say a painting is beautiful, but that doesn’t reduce to the electrochemical processes in the brain. It is an aesthetic fact. And there are moral facts. “Slavery is wrong” is not just an opinion. It is a moral fact. Coyne’s view doesn’t allow for these other kinds of facts that are not detectable by the scientific method. This is close to what you’re saying, I think.

@KJTurner I’m not sure. This book (The Making of an Atheist) by Taylor U. philosopher Jim Spiegel is the closest thing I know of.

Sure you can defend to say it is fact, but then that would be a totally different meaning of the word fact than as it used in science.

I’m not against words having several definitions, except if it results in one definition distorting another definition. And clearly Jerry Coyne has a distorted definition of opinion. So in such an environment of distortion, I would rather not use the word fact for what are in essence opinions. The word opinion is perfectly right for beauty and that slavery is wrong. Nothing wrong with opinions, they are perfectly valid.

Dawkins, Hawking, and Coyne are three prominent critics of theology, but each views philosophy in different ways.

Richard Dawkins dismisses philosophy outright and is very open and honest why he does so, which is the one reason why I respect him. He says that he is a physical monist, which means that the mind does not exist as a separate entity. He says that humans are governed by their DNA through memes and not by their minds, which are not physical, and as such do not exist. His friend Daniel Dennett has more explicitly made this claim.

Stephen Hawking makes the claim that philosophy is dead. He says that science has killed it and science can bring it back to life shaped in its own image, which he has endeavored to do.

Jerry Coyne on the other hand defends philosophy as a way of knowing even against the criticism of Richard Feynman, and uses his version of philosophy in his case against religion, as Jeff Schloss attests.

If science is based on objective materialistic knowledge as Monod and Dawkins claim, then Coyne cannot use philosophy to support his understanding of science, because it appears that science and scientists reject philosophy as a scientific way of knowing.

On the other hand if Coyne and anyone else is going to use philosophy as a way of knowing, they must explain how this can be, because knowing is not a physical process, but a mental or rational process.

In the past traditional atheists have criticized Christianity as irrational. Today with the emphasis in science on the randomness of evolution and quantum theory New Atheism criticizes Christianity for being rational. Clearly they cannot have it both ways. While traditional atheism is more acceptable, new atheism is more intellectually consistent.

Science can and does see the universe as a rational cosmos despite the ideology of Monod. Science cannot explain us how and why the universe is a rational cosmos. Science can speculate on the concept of a multiverse, but from all indication, this cannot be proven. Science is based upon evidential proof, not speculation, so the multiverse is not science.

When we set up science and faith as a dualism, we are asking from trouble. We need philosophy to act as a buffer or a mediator or a bridge between theology and science. Today that does not exist which is why we have this fruitless debate.

Science is based on the knowledge of physical facts. Philosophical knowledge is based on how we know and understand the Life. Theology is based on how we relate to others, and the Purpose of Reality. They are interdependent. They are different ways of knowing that are important to everyone.

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So it appears that I disagree with you more than I originally thought–unless you would also say that opinions are the sorts of things that can be true or false. In accepted parlance opinions are consigned to things that I might prefer, but other people could disagree with and not be wrong. For example, it is my opinion that Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream is the best ice cream. I wouldn’t say that is a fact, since other people could disagree and not be wrong. The statement is more about me than it is about reality; it really means, “Of all the ice creams, I like this one the most.” But I would strongly disagree that “slavery is wrong” is just an opinion that says more about me than about reality (that is the emotivist theory of ethics). For someone who is a moral realist (I’m one), ethical claims are claims about facts–it is just a different kind of fact that what science investigates.

Now perhaps you mean “opinion” like epistemologists use the term “belief”. Then we’re on the same page. Some beliefs are true; some are false–whether they are about the natural world, art, or ethics. What makes them true or false is the way the world really is, independently of what I think about it.

Again, you can say that slavery is wrong is “fact” but, you are simply using a totally different meaning than fact in the scientific sense. A fact in science is a copy, a model. Evidence forces to produce a model of what is evidenced, 1 to 1.

You are pretending that it is all the same meaning of fact…

The way you use fact in regards to slavery, you copied that it is wrong from somewhere? What is it a model of? Maybe you use fact to express that you are very confident that it is wrong? Or that you believe God judges it wrong? That everybody who is a good judge, judges it to be wrong?

I disagree that opinions cannot describe reality. There are 2 domains, spiritual and material, opinion expresses the reality of what is in the spiritual domain, fact describes what is in the material domain. And what is in the spiritual domain, chooses which way the material domain turns out. See how straightforward that is?
the existence is a matter of opinion
spiritual domain

is chosen
the existence is a matter of fact
material domain

where fact is a 1 to 1 model, as explained, and opinion is the result of choosing about what it is that chooses (think about that).

For example the soul, well obviously it belongs in category 1. So it means the existence of it is a matter of opinion. Which means the conclusion it does not exist, is equally logically valid to the conclusion it does exist.

And a tree, well obviously it belongs in the creation category. That means it is chosen, it means the tree could also have been chosen not to exist, but the decision turned out to create the tree. It means one can make a 1 to 1 model of the tree. With mathematics, a perfectly exhaustive 1 to 1 model.

That is common basic understanding. And you can built more sophisticated understanding on that basis.

Not to give you a hard time, Jim, but your example of slavery might not be the best one for a moral fact. Good slavery or poor slavery? Permanent slavery or temporary slavery? Abusive slavery or caring slavery? Baseball players who sign a ten year contract… slaves or mere servants? You probably remember in scripture where it talks about a man voluntarily becoming a permanent slave because his master is generous and fair, and because the wife his master gave him is a wife he wants to remain with, which he cannot do if he becomes free.

And you might remember also becoming a slave to Christ…

So while I and most people would agree with you that slavery is wrong, yet context may provide some exceptions.

I don’t find Jeff Schloss’ arguments convincing at all. He says:

“The one universe we can observe displays laws and conditions that appear fine-tuned for life, along with the progressive elaboration of living complexity and the emergence (however probable or improbable) of creatures capable of moral awareness and altruistic love. These properties do not require God as an explanation. But they are hardly incompatible with belief in God."

What is not compatible with belief in God, Mr. Schloss? Imagine the constants were not suitable for life. You might then say, look the constants don’t favor life but life is thriving on earth, therefore it must be a miracle perpetrated by a Creator! Imagine there were no moral beings on earth. Will that be incompatible with belief in God for you? Of course not. In fact there were no moral beings on earth for the vast majority of its history until humans appeared at the “very last moment”. So will you concede that life on earth was incompatible with a God until very recently?

Believers can force fit any scenario to suit their beliefs because their God is a totally unknown and undefined entity. There is nothing that will ever disprove God for them. This is how theistic evolutionists reconcile science and faith. They simply accept everything science establishes, then claim that was God’s way of doing it!

After reading Coyne’s book I find a very serious flaw in his thinking.

He sets up a false dichotomy, science vs. Christianity. This is obviously false because there are many Christian scientists and many others like myself who find so serious contradicti9on between science and Christianity.

However if Christianity is the enemy of science and humanity as he sees it, then atheism should be the champion of science and humanity. Historically that is not true.

The clearest example of atheistic society is the Marxist-Leninism states of the USSR during the last century, and the People’s Republic of China and North Korea. They profess “scientific” socialism and atheism. They also were responsible for unprecedented crimes against humanity.

Thus it is untrue that science and Christianity are incompatible and science is the alternative to Christianity.

Coyne’s final chapter reveals the weakness of his position. He tries to say that religion is the alternative to modern medicine. This view again ignores the reality of history. Many if not most hospitals were founded by churches and almost all of them if not all were founded by people of faith as an expression of faith.

Science at its best is the foe of ideology. People like Coyne do a great disservice to science when they try to make it into a tool of ideology.

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To some extent some believers do accept science on this basis. However it is false that God is totally unknown for Christians. God is love and God is Jesus Christ Who is known.

That is why many Christians, like myself do not accept survival of the fittest as defined by Darwinism. God certainly has a better way, which is found in ecology.

The evidence indicates that a rational God created a rational universe as a habitat for rational human beings. We might question how God did this, but this is what the evidence indicates.

Faith is a living thing, and it can die. Specifically it can die, or be crippled in an environment where every issue is regarded as a factual issue. By demanding evidence for God you are ignoring the emotional basis of faith. It does not feel good when somebody goes out of their way to deny and ignore my emotions. You fail to understand that my emotions cannot be evidenced either, just like God cannot be measured. And if you say you can measure emotions, then that is another attack on the real emotions, which cannot be measured. A crisis of faith is fairly common among believers, especially if you consider an entire lifetime, and all what happens in it. Religious people are not demented that they need reminding of the fact that God exists every week in church or mosque. The get together is to enliven, and embolden faith in God, it is a matter of opinion, not fact.

“God is love and God is Jesus Christ Who is known.”

Well, I could also say that God is gravity and God is proton/electron. Viewing completely natural phenomena as God does not constitute evidence for God.

You can hold whatever faith you prefer. That’s not the question here. We’re asking whether faith and science are compatible. Definitely not. Because faith, as you just said, is a subjective experience with an emotional quotient, and not based on objective truths like science. Faith does not require testing or falsification, evidence or logic whereas science does. They’re incompatible. To make them compatible, accommodationists have to place faith and God beyond the reach of science. This they can do with ease since “The God Concept” is a very ambiguous and vague idea that one can fit into any scenario one wants.

Layman’s question: How does one effectively do science without presupposing a transcendent reality to inform it?
I figure - if otherwise, we’re atoms interpreting atoms. Faith informs science and science informs faith. It’s symbiotic. I may be mistaken. But then to be mistaken would imply something to be right about which then implies an absolute. In circles I go…

I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts. Interesting breakdown of the opinion vs fact. I feel as if I reside in the tension between the two as a Bible believing Christian (which is a loaded statement in and of itself…because it could mean an array of things…which I think ends up proving your point?). I’m going to spend my life with these questions - and I think, that’s a good place to be…so as long as I’m humbly pursuing truth with my questions instead of arrogantly harassing it…


For Christians God is not pantheistic or panentheistic, which means that God is separate from the Creation. On the other hand the Bible at the beginning of the Gospel of John says that God the Father created the universe through God the Logos, Jesus Christ. Christianity agrees with philosophy that the universe has a rational structure, the Logos, which enables science to exist as a human activity.

Furthermore God rules by well defined moral law. We see the serious consequences in our world today when some people believe they can flout God’s Law even as they say they think that this is justified. Another danger is that people will use Darwinian ethics of survival of the fittest to justify Social Darwinism, racism, and imperialism as has been done.

The basic objections to Darwinism was against his view of natural selection. The issues of the Bible came much later and were not scientific. The fundamentalists completely distorted the discussion and poisoned the atmosphere.

Religious beliefs are arbitrary and unfalsifiable. Most religions claim special revelation to the exclusion and perdition of those who believe differently. The diversity of theology among religions (within Christianity alone!) is perhaps the strongest argument against faith as way to find “knowledge” or “truth.” Even granting that the observable universe and evolutionary biology are not inconsistent with the existence of a god, Coyne’s fundamental argument against faith is its utter failure and inability to produce consensus on theological truth.