My USA Today op-ed: Science and religion aren’t friends

I got tired of Uncle Karl and those of his ilk filling the pages of USA Today with accommodationist tripe, so I wrote my own op-ed: “Science and religion aren’t friends.” It’s up now though it’ll appear in the paper tomorrow (Monday).  It pulls no punches.

The fact that I can even write a 1200-word piece on this topic and have it published in such a widely-read venue is a testament to the success of Gnu Atheism.

UPDATE: The piece appears to be one of the 5 most popular on the site today (Brett Favre’s peccadilloes are in the lead).  That’s further testimony to the societal change produced by Gnu Atheists.  The piece, after all, was written on the shoulders of giants: Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, and Dawkins, who softened up society for body blows like this.  I’ve also had a look at the comments, which are surprisingly heartening,—further testimony to the presence of a large but normally silent group of American atheists.


  1. Posted October 11, 2010 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    Yes! Indian Journal of Science & Technology is a peer reviewed journal and the articles are available on (under popular articles column) free.

    • Posted October 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Not indexed by JCR; that’s an immediate “quack alert” for me (hell, plenty of things that are indexed there are borderline). So, no. Fail.

  2. ambulocetacean
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Jolly good show, Jerry. I think it’s important that the Gnus continue to make use of old media. That’s still the best way to reach people who have little/no/passing interest in science and atheisms and stuff.

  3. Håvard
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    That was a thing of beauty. Thank you.

  4. Andrew
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Jerry Coyne…I would totally be gay with you for a day.

  5. David Orenstein
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Excellent! I thought the Op-Ed was perfect. I hope you don’t mind but I’m putting it on my Facebook page.

  6. Donovan
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    As usual, nice article, Jerry. I hate the idea of religion claiming the moral “why” as their domain. They’ve had thousands of years to refine society’s morals and have reached, without the aid of enlightenment secular morals, the point where instead of killing your daughter when she’s raped, throwing acid in her face or convincing her to kill herself.

    Would the world be better if we gave our moral philosophy over to science and reason? I honestly don’t know, since I don’t know all the variables. Perhaps there are deeper differences between Denmark and Afghanistan that I don’t know of that could confound such a prediction. But what I do know is religion has been an utter failure and should be rejected. Religion doesn’t inspire good works, humanity does.

  7. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    Thanks for this Op Ed, your blog and your book. You’ve helped me come out of the closet as an atheist and move past the cognitive bias of my Christian superstition.

  8. Thomas Hsieh
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    The author states, “We now know that the universe did not require a creator…..Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible.”
    And how is this “Science”? The Author makes absolute facts that are not “Prove-able” according to definition of science. What could be possible does not make it so; nor mere conjecture of what is impossible make it true. One must factor in the reality that “Religion” nor “Science” (Man’s Understanding) are right 100% of the time; as such, each side can point out fringe explanations and accepted theories from either side to refute, but those arguments will never prove the other’s fundamental position is absolutely false….at least not until it’s too late for both – when earthly life ceases.

    • articulett
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Thomas Hseih

      “How is this science?”, you ask? It’s science in the same way that we can say that the appearance of the sun moving across the sky does not need gods as an explanation. It’s science in the same way that we can say, “we know that the universe did not require magic or fairies.” It’s science in the same way that we can say that demons are not necessary to explain bad things.

      And this comes from a Stephen Hawking quote– so he’s the scientist you want to aim your verbiage at.

    • Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      Since we have plausible natural explanations, supported by models and evidence, for the universe that do not require any “creator”, no creator is required.

      See — it’s easy! It need not be “Prove-able”, just supported by reason and evidence.

      Most religious doctrines that can be tested have failed those tests and are therefore “disproven”. Science strives to create such tests for itself, whereas religion generally tries to avoid them. That’s one of many reasons why science is superior to religion as a path toward knowledge.

  9. JBlilie
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Jerry: Bloody well done! I too am surprised they ran it. I think this may be the best summation of the basic science-religion conflict that I’ve read. I’m writin’ this down …

  10. Posted October 11, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Yee-ha! About the popularity and the comments. Tolja so, tolja so, tolja so (that’s for Mooney and Kurtz and Wright and all the other “but how is this helping?” types, not our host).

    Theists don’t need more people speaking up for the theist point of view – they already have A LOT of those. Atheists do. That’s how this is Helping.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Theists don’t need more people speaking up for the theist point of view – they already have A LOT of those. Atheists do. That’s how this is Helping.


      Should be our stock answer whenever that stupid question arises.

  11. Posted October 11, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Excellent, more then usually excellent.

    Thank you.

  12. Posted October 11, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Yikes, Jerry, your comments have gone nuts – mine just appeared above one that’s nine hours older.

  13. Greg
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,

    I read your Op-Ed and I have a 3rd option for you. I see no reason that science and religion are incompatible. The issue is “organized” religion.

    My search for the truth started with the premise that no organized religion has a monopoly on the truth. But that there is truth is all of them.

    After many years my conclusions are that a God exists, that we live forever or effectively so, and that we choose to come to earth and inhabit earthly bodies in a quest for enlightenment.

    This equates to doing “hard time” to speed up the process, but the fact of reincarnation is optional for us. That goes a long way towards explaining why wars, famines etc exist. Without trials, people do not grow emotionally or intellectually.

    I think there are yet undiscovered scientific explanations on how this is possible in terms of energy, and wavelengths but there is little doubt in my mind that this is the real truth or a close enough version of it.

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      After many years my conclusions are that a God exists, that we live forever or effectively so, and that we choose to come to earth and inhabit earthly bodies in a quest for enlightenment.

      That’s not a “conclusion.” That’s a “I wanna believe this real real bad because it comforts me” assertion.

      And it’s deeply silly. You should be embarrassed.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Do you have any evidence to support your conclusions?

    • steve oberski
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      That goes a long way towards explaining why wars, famines etc exist. Without trials, people do not grow emotionally or intellectually.

      Ah yes, billions of people have suffered so you can grow emotionally or intellectually.

      That is not only wrong, it’s morally repugnant.

      That puts you on the same ethical footing as Francis Collins, who claimed that God let his daughter be raped to make Francis Collins a better person.

    • Notagod
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Can, haz cheezburger?

  14. David Evans
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    “But how can you be sure you’re right if you can’t tell whether you’re wrong?”

    Best-ever one-liner on this topic. The rest of the piece is great too.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Yes. A gem of a sentence in a gem of a paragraph in a gem of an article. Becomes more of a tour de force with each re-reading.

  15. Daniel Hochberg
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Rabid rantings of people who are trying desperately to ignore God.

    As a Christian, I thought Mr. Coyne’s book on “Why Evolution is True” was quite convincing, and wonderfully free of the type of atheistic cant that his USA Today article contains.

    I feel there is some possibility evolution is true; God-guided or planned, if it is. But evolution does not disprove the existence of God, it merely disproves the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Even the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis felt that the Genesis creation account was “mythopoetic”, as I do.

    Yet the evidence for God is everywhere. Coyne is mistaken if he thinks we are believing something that cannot be proven. God shows himself in various ways. Certainly the strong sense of right and wrong most human beings possess is one. I know evolutionists think they are going to prove that sense is a product of evolution, and they will prove that, to themselves, because they don’t want to see the truth.

    Also, if you pay attention, God shows himself in the circumstances of your life. To many coincidences happen to be coincidence.

    This format does not allow for an exhaustive treatment of the reasons for belief in the existence of God. If those of you who are atheists are indeed open-minded, I would recommend the salutary exercise of reading opinions outside your belief system. Certainly read C.S. Lewis (“Mere Christianity”, “A Mind Awake”, others), Tim Keller (“The Reason for God”), and Lee Strobel’s “The Case for…” series.

    You may find something you are actually looking for. At the very least, you will find that the arguments advanced by most atheists against the existence of God are not terribly good ones.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, no kidding, if CS Lewis and Lee Strobel is the best you’ve got, then you’ve got nothing.

      Seriously, we’ve read all of that drivel, and more.

      Thin gruel.

    • Posted October 11, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      All you have done is wave your hand over a collection of familiar apologetic writings and provided us with your opinion (which many of us do not share) on how morality is walled off from scientific investigation while overlooking how remarkable coincidences occur often because there are so many things happening all the time. You could at least tell us what arguments against the existence of God are “not terribly good”, such as…?

    • sasqwatch
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      I’m afraid it’s YOU who haven’t been paying attention, Daniel. Witness the sea of cogency in this thread that surrounds your baseless twaddle.

    • Chuck O'Connor
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Look Daniel,

      Many of us here were once vested in our inculcated religions. I assume you are a Christian by your apologetic choices and wonder how you live with yourself in certainty that your version of God is true or, for that matter, your version of Christianity is true. I’ve read all you say and think all is a product of either skilled rhetoric (Lewis and Keller) or dishonest scholarship (Strobel). Strobel has been falsified very well in Robert Price’s new book “A Case Against the Case for Christ”. You sound like most people I’ve known within the Christian Church; confidence bordering on smugness relative to the mythic preference you’ve adopted to lend meaning to the unknown. If you are seriously interested in Philosophy of Religion or advanced theology I’d suggest you bring something more serious than the latest pop-theology or the tired “Moral Law” argument (Did the Christian Church KNOW right from wrong when they burned witches in Salem or did the theological over-ride compromise their in-dwelt moral mechanism)? At least give us the benefit of the doubt and cite Plantinga’s Free Will defense, Alston’s Epistemology of Religious Experince or Craig’s appropriation of the Kaalam Cosmological argument. Lewis, Keller and Strobel – thin gruel indeed. I doubt you’ve investigated or understood any atheist arguments and don’t have a moral philosophy outside of your church community’s insular agreements (I base this on your choice of Christian apologetics not, on the fact you are a believer).

  16. Kevin
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Bravo. Spot on.

    I especially like your using Ecklund’s data against her conclusions.

    • KP
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I caught that too. Most excellent.

  17. KP
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Great job.

  18. Smith Powell
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad someone else was a bit puzzled by the cartoon in USAToday. If somebody can explain the symbolism to me, I would appreciate it.

  19. Carol Haskins
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for such an inspiring article!

  20. Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Some of you may think that a peccadillo is a small sin or moral vice, or something of the kind. It is, of course, actually a cross between a peccary and an armadillo, and makes a fine pet. Maybe Jerry should buy some to go with his cats, and then he’d be as famous as that Brett Favre guy … or maybe USA Today could just publish an article about the cats.

    Just some small, helpful PR suggestions. ;)

  21. Terry Sandbek
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink


    I have a mailing list of several dozen people who are interested in skepticism and related topics. I recently sent the list a copy of your op-ed piece, “Science and religion aren’t friends.” One person on the list is the token accomodationist. He sent me a return comment that I am forwarding to you (below) hoping it might give you a chuckle. Please feel free to respond to it if it is worth your while. The writer signed his name.

    Terry Sandbek
    P.S. Sorry for the two earlier non-comments. I used RoboForm for filling in the blanks and it insisted on sending them prematurely without my comments.

    My, my, Professor Coyne sure doth protest too much!

    Same old arguments.

    There will be peace in the valley only when extremists at both ends truly understand and accept where those at other end are coming from. Using one’s own metric to measure the worth of someone else’s world view is folly.

    All this religion-bashing is counter-productive if the objective is to get the theists to see the light. However, if atheists are serious about ridding the world of religion, then I suggest a two-pronged attack:

    Prong One: Top-down. Atheists meet with the leader of the free world and convert Barack Hussein Obama from Christianity to atheism (or at least agnosticism). He publicly proclaims his conversion, then his disciples do likewise and spread the word.

    Prong Two: Bottom-up. Pairs of atheists go door-to-door throughout the nation proselytizing, handing out copies of The God Delusion, and leading neighborhood weekly group study meetings. The best converts are trained to be local leaders of the atheist movement. Atheism spreads house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood.

    If something akin to the above does not take place, and if the rise in secularism does not accelerate, then, according to my calculations, atheism will not be the dominant ism before we enter the next ice age!

    Richard Kowaleski

  22. Pascal Nelson
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink


    From a not so silent atheist in Texas (of all places!).

    Take cheer that there are more of us out here than one would think.

  23. Rick Rutel
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Your article titled “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends” in the October 11th issue of USA Today was positively brilliant. I can not think of any other published viewpoint so truthfully stated and remarkably easy to comprehend. I believe in science. I believe that the world’s continued existence will rely on the backs of scientific research and discovery. Thank you ever so much for speaking the truth about science and religion.
    Rick Rutel

  24. Ricardo
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Great article!!! I’ll buy your book; I’ve been interested in these topics for years now…

  25. ~Opus~
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    I gotta hand it to the non-believers. Their faith in science, and their determination to turn others from their personal beliefs is admirable. CONVERT THE BELEIVERS!

    While you condemn people of religious faith with such fervor, you sound just like them. The only difference is WHERE your faith is, not whether or not you have any.

    Of course more people have murdered and died because of religion, but at least they make a stand. Scientists, on the other hand, make it more efficient to kill, then stand back and observe the results, all the while snikering at the motives of the fools that use the technology that they provided.

    I will show you proof of God when you show me proof of a black hole, or a quark, or any other unproven scientific theory. Of course I mean undenible video evidence.

    Does the scientific explanation of a miracle make that miracle any less miraculous?

    I guess every belief has it’s radicals that make no room for other ideas or thoughts. Most of the postings on this board remind me of the Christian crusades and the imbeciles of the Spanish Inquisitions as well as the morons who flew planes into buildings.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted October 15, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      “I will show you proof of God when you show me proof of a black hole, or a quark, or any other unproven scientific theory. Of course I mean undenible video evidence.”

      I take it then that you have undeniable video evidence of a god, but are strangely electing to not reveal it until Jerry dances to your tune?
      Why not reveal this truly Earth-shattering video evidence at once?

  26. Ann Erli
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I am astonished that as an apparently educated scintist and ex-believer Mr. Coyne makes no distinction between God and the Church, no refernce to the historic multitude of ‘councils’ through which the early Church (Church officials and monarchs with some very ungodly agendas) imposed a human view on worship and doctrine. There are only 2 commandments – love God with all your heart etc and love your neighbour as yourself. This does not seem unduly difficult, but man’s urge to oraganise and his own agendas have taken us a long way from basics.
    How far science is based wholly on the belief that there IS an answer to X is a ‘conviction of things not seen’It seems there is no room for the idea that the language and logic of the spirit and indeed God, is so far removed from from everyday language and logic as to be inaccesible – to those who do not seek it with an open mind. Any difference in expression will inevitably give rise to a different array of questions. Think about it.
    Science can dissect a flower, explain how the seed germinates etc, but is all you are left with is bits of dead foliage, a disconnected heap that still does not edxplain ‘Why’. This Universe is like Russian dolls, there is always another layer and even when you have got to the last doll, you can ask, ‘Why all the other dolls?’ – without answering the core question. Science does not have all the answers and different scientific disciplnes/theories do not all agree with each other, though they may work in specified fields.
    Scientists do not kill each other over their hypotheses (though professional jealousy has led to some career assinations), but science (with no regard for consequences, or maybe because of them) has created bombs, poisons etc and unreasonably raised the expectations of the less educated about its promised gifts.
    One thing, I feel is that in the absence of God we have only ourselves and each other to impress – a sitaution that would suit many scientists, but one that would leave us poorer and much less adventurous than we are. A believer has one fixed point and can cope with every wobble the world throws at them, science is so insecure it has to have the manual for life. I know where I stand and so does He.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 12, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      SpellCheck is your friend.

  27. Chuck
    Posted October 15, 2010 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    Why do believers like this Opus guy continue to parade their irrational defensiveness as argument. Just because you can’t interpret the predictive evidence science provides for quarks and black holes doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Your demand that video evidence be offered is only a testament to the conspiracy ignorance and narcissism enjoy with religious superstition.

    Also, your illustration of rationalists standing back and laughing at holy warriors is a strawman. Provide some evidence please.

    Lastly, if you are going to argue by analogy amd state that rationalists are like the Spanish Inquisitors then complete the analogy beyond your sense of persecution. Yes, you feel persecuted but it is a fallacy to ascribe responsibility for that feeling to those of us who simply don’t endorse your superstition. To add actions to our disdain by analogy is silly. Unless of course we are organizing tribunals that lead to torture and murder for the illogical like yourself. Don’t worry, we aren’t.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Jerry Coyne: here is his op-ed on how science and religion are incompatible: [...]The religious approach to understanding inevitably results in different faiths holding incompatible “truths” about the world. Many Christians believe that if you don’t accept Jesus as savior, you’ll burn in hell for eternity. Muslims hold the exact opposite: Those who see Jesus as God’s son are the ones who will roast. Jews see Jesus as a prophet, but not the messiah. Which belief, if any, is right? Because there’s no way to decide, religions have duked it out for centuries, spawning humanity’s miserable history of religious warfare and persecution. [...]

  2. [...] The Gnu Atheists position seems to be popular. That’s a relief. Not every hit is friendly, but every hit counts. [...]

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