Jerry Coyne Joins the Creationists

H/T: Sensuous Curmudgeon

Has Jerry Coyne really allied with creationists?

If you follow the creation/evolution wars, you’re likely familiar with the work of Coyne, a biologist and a leading voice in the long-running creation/evolution controversy.  Coyne famously argues that religion and science are incompatible.  In his book Why Evolution Is True, Coyne elegantly and concisely made the case for evolution and demolished the claims of creationists.

So how could this arch-atheist anti-creationist have joined with creationists?

In a recent interview with Haaretz, Coyne suggested that evolution went hand-in-hand with atheism, a strong central government and an expansive tax-funded social safety net.  In doing so, Coyne has added his voice to a long creationist intellectual tradition.

Science and religion, Coyne stated in this interview, “are polar opposites, both methodologically and philosophically. . . . Such contradictions [between differing religious truths], of course, render the term ‘religious truth’ ridiculous.”

In order to approach truth, Coyne believes, we must move away from religion and toward science.  To help the process along, Coyne told Haaretz, society must embrace a bigger government and a more egalitarian economy.

“The Scandinavian countries . . .” Coyne argued,

Have the most highly developed social-welfare systems in the world, and they are also the least religious countries ‏(for example, only 23 percent of Norwegians and 34 percent of Swedes describe themselves as religious‏). They are also the most receptive to evolution.

When citizens feel as if they have a government-provided safety net, Coyne told interviewer Smadar Reisfeld, they are less likely to cling to the false comfort of religion.

If scientists hoped to convince Americans of evolution’s obvious truth value, they must overthrow the false idol of religion.  Instead, Coyne said, “the government should intervene to a certain degree in order to give people a sense of security. . . . A more just, caring, egalitarian society must be created.”

So how does this sensible and pragmatic progressivism put Coyne in the creationist camp?

For generations, creationists have argued that evolution will and must lead to both atheism and socialism.  My hunch is that Coyne would not accept the “socialist” label, but Coyne’s vision of a government-led, Scandinavian-style social contract is precisely the sort of structure many creationists would call “socialist.”

At the dawn of the long creation/evolution struggle, for instance, William Jennings Bryan warned that evolution could only lead to atheism.  “Atheists, Agnostics, and Higher Critics begin with Evolution,” Bryan insisted in 1921, “They build on that.”  [Bryan, The Bible and Its Enemies: An Address Delivered at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1921), 19.]

As historian Edward Larson has pointed out, lawyers in 1926 Tennessee defended the anti-evolution Butler Law as a way to protect young students from creeping communism, not just a way to save them from the ideas of evolution itself.    [Larson, Summer for the Gods (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 215.]

Throughout the twentieth century, anti-evolutionists have insisted that evolution must lead to—or come from—both atheism and socialism.

By the end of the twentieth century, for example, leading creation-science pundit Henry Morris equated evolution with every ideological terror of the century.  “Marxism, socialism, and communism, no less than Nazism, are squarely based on evolutionism.” [Morris, The Long War Against God (Master Books, 2000), 83).]

Perhaps Professor Coyne might not relish the company.  But by insisting that thinking people must choose between science and religion, Coyne encourages creationist dogma.  By tying evolution to large government and restricted capitalism, Coyne agrees with generations of the most fervent creationists.