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DEPARTMENT: Surveillance

Jerry Coyne

"Grand Inquisitor of Modern Atheism"

by Terrell Clemmons

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 26


Jerry Coyne earned his BS in biology in 1971 and a PhD in evolutionary biology in 1978. He has served as president and vice president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and is an associate editor of Evolution and The American Naturalist. Since 1996, he has been on the faculty of the University of Chicago as a professor of ecology and evolution. To Coyne, evolutionary theory is "the supreme achievement of human intellect." His life's work is epitomized by the title of his website and book, Why Evolution Is True.

Reasons for Surveillance

An outspoken New Atheist, Coyne is a pure materialist. In a USA Today opinion piece called "Why you don't really have free will," he wrote that people are "biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics . . . in the end all of us . . . are victims of . . . the genes we're bequeathed and the environments we encounter." Nevertheless, Dr. Coyne does have a bone to pick with most of humanity, particularly Americans. "I see Americans awash in popular science—evolution in particular. . . . Yet our record of accepting evolution is still abysmal. Why? The answer seems pretty clear: religion. . . . virtually all opposition to evolution in America, and other countries as well, has religious roots."

Like any faithful New Atheist, Coyne has a problem with religious views contrary to his own. An atheist's atheist, he objects to any accommodationist view allowing for even the possibility of peaceful coexistence between science and religion.

But that is all fine and well. Extremity of viewpoint is tolerated in America in general and academia in particular.

Or is it? Actually, diversity of viewpoint is precisely what Dr. Coyne cannot tolerate. Only the purest of pure atheism will do for the religion of Materialist-Only Science.

Most Recent Offense

Even though people don't have free will, Coyne suggests using "punishment to deter bad behavior" and "rehabilitate" criminals. Clearly, this includes criminals in the ideological sense, prompting Rabbi Moshe Averick, author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist, to dub Coyne the "Grand Inquisitor of Modern Atheism," the self-appointed informer against those who hold "the latest heresies against Atheistic/Darwinian orthodoxy. Some of the heretics he has 'outed,'" Averick notes, "are academics of the highest caliber (all of whom are non-believers by the way): Jerry Fodor–Rutgers, James Shapiro–University of Chicago, George Church–The Wyss Institute of Harvard University, Thomas Nagel–NYU, and of course, Discovery Institute Fellow, Dr. David Berlinski."

Coyne's latest target for excoriation is Dr. Eric Hedin, professor of physics and astronomy at the relatively sleepy Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where Coyne takes extreme umbrage with Hedin's course on "The Boundaries of Science." But instead of engaging Hedin in an intellectual discussion over, well, the boundaries of science, Coyne has strutted and fumed on his blog and tattled—first by notifying Dr. Hedin's department head, and then, when that proved unsatisfying, a cadre of attorneys.

It is fine for Dr. Coyne to espouse materialism as a philosophical worldview. It is fine as well to take issue, intellectually, with contrarian believers of any persuasion. But if the professor of evolution wants to be taken seriously as an intellectual, he will have to go about settling his disputes by intellectual means. The explanation for Why Evolution Is True cannot be Because I Say It Is. This business of tattling and punishment is downright Darwinian. And wholly unbefitting of science, academia, or humanity. 

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