A symposium in which I debate a theologian

On October 10-12, the Gaines Center for the Humanities at the University of Kentucky is presenting a symposium, “On religion in the 21st century,” which features two speakers per night “debating” on a faith-related topic.  (“Debate” is not really accurate; we each give a half-hour presentation followed by audience questions.)  This year I’ll be sharing the podium with John Haught, a theologian at Georgetown University whom I’ve discussed here several times (e.g. here, here, here, and here).  The topic is, of course, “Science and religion: are they compatible?”

Note that Bart Ehrman (author of some nice books debunking Jesus and the Bible) and David Hunter are debating “Are faith and history compatible?” on October 10.

Here’s the very nice poster for this symposium (click to enlarge):

The topics of some previous symposia are here; the 2009 edition was on evolution.

I’ll also be signing books after the talk.  If you’re in the area, do drop by.  You might want to combine this with a visit to the Creation Museum, which isn’t far away . . . .


  1. Posted September 12, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    It IS a wonderful poster. Looks like 1930s Russian propaganda art.

    • Posted September 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      It seems to acknowledge two of the Abrahamic relgions once each, another three times, and no others – rather like those religions’ view of themselves.

  2. KP
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Wow. Wouldn’t mind hearing Bart Ehrman speak as well. Nowhere near Kentucky, though. :-/

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted September 12, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but there are quite a few videos of Ehrman in action on Youtube.

  3. Kevin
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    The ultimate battle of wits against an unarmed man.

  4. HP
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    This actually isn’t too far from home for me. Anyone other readers from the Cincinnati area thinking of going?

  5. GaryU
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    @HP: Yes, I’m thinking about it and I’m in the Cincy area.

  6. Strider
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Even better than the creation museum, and closer to UK, is Mammoth Cave National Park which you should definitely see!

  7. Posted September 12, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink


    Catholic theologians attempt to characterize a god that by their own catechism is “incomprehensible and ineffable.”. Link above.

    • Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Oh, eff the ineffable!

      Jerry, I look forward to seeing your debate on YouTube sometime later…


      • Doc Bill
        Posted September 12, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        Ineffable, really?

        I’ve heard a lot of people say “eff god.”

        I guess I need to get my hearing checked.

  8. bric
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Pity it’s not the other (Sir) Jonathan Miller speaking on Tuesday.

  9. Igakusei
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Is there any chance at all that there will be recordings of this?

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The question of whether religion and history are compatible is one that I don’t see asked often, but should be. Given a god capable of doing literally anything, how can one rely on evidence and simple causation? How would one know if god had intervened in history at some point? Leaving aside the obvious providential occurences, like the storm the wrecked the Spanish Armada in 1588, who is to say that any distinct, historical event isn’t smudged with god’s fingerprints? That the documents we rely on, like the bones in the earth, aren’t part of some hoax? Was there a Martin Luther? Like Holocaust denial, if you doubt all the evidence for an event, you must doubt all the evidence for all events.

    At the end of the day, I think religious people deal with the issue by choosing to see god where they want.

    • Posted September 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      The rationalizations are legion. Martin luther was provided to test the church, and the Church survived. This serves as further evidence of the correctness of the roman catholic magisterium… In catholics’ eyes.

  11. Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Just a stab in the dark here, but I think Dr Coyne’s answer is going to be “No.”

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking about this earlier. Do you remember the movie “Reds” where Warren Beatty plays John Reed? Early in the movie, he’s at a dinner and is being cajoled into going up to a microphone to talk about why World War I is happening. In the end, he goes up on the stage, and the audience sits back to hear a well crafted argument. Beatty leans into the microphone, says “profits” and then sits down again. In a similar way, your note produced an image in my mind of Jerry standing up, saying “no”, then sitting down.

  12. Microraptor
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    No offense, Professor Coyne, but if I could go I think I’d rather see the faith and history talk than your talk. I already know what kind of doublespeak rationalizations are going to be used for religion/science compatibility.

    • mordacious1
      Posted September 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      The poster states that the talks are “free and open to the public”, so why be choosey? I almost said that I wish I lived in Kentucky, but I don’t really.

      • Microraptor
        Posted September 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        Because if I had to pick one, that would be the one I’d be more interested in simply because hearing a couple new attempts to try and justify how it’s okay to believe in something even though you know it’s fake. I’m not going to be attending either way, I’m in school then.

  13. Pete Moulton
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Wear your special butt-kickin’ boots, Jerry.

  14. Sili
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t remember if Ehrman was one of the good guys, but it’s easy to discover by checking the affiliation of his opponent.

    • Marella
      Posted September 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Ehrman is a semi-good guy. He is an atheist but he still likes to pretend that we have good evidence for the existence of Jesus, but when asked what it is reverts to arguments from authority, “all reputable historians agree that Jesus lived” and that old canard that “we have as much evidence for Jesus as we do for Julius Cesar” which is just complete crap! He has almost but not quite thrown off the shackles of his fundamentalist upbringing.

  15. Posted September 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    “You might want to combine this with a visit to the Creation Museum”, or you might want to look up this Kentucky artist:

    • Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Ha! “My savior can beat up your savior!” Or a bumper sticker I saw once, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, ’cause I’m the meanest sonofabitch in the valley.”

  16. Grania
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Best of luck with the talk – not that you need it.

    After all, you know loads about Theology and I suspect that your opponent knows exceedingly little about Science. 🙂

  17. dunstar
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Too bad the talks occur on weekdays.

  18. MadScientist
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Why is it always posed as “Science and Religion”? A more apt title would be: “Reality and Religion: are they compatible?”, or “Fact and Religion: are they compatible?” We can see from other efforts that even history and religion are not compatible.

    • Marella
      Posted September 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink


  19. Posted September 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    That topic is so riddled with loaded words that one could answer either way – depending on how they define the words ‘science’, ‘religion’ and ‘compatible’.

    • Scryptic
      Posted September 13, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

      I agree. If you work at it, you can jam a square peg into a round hole and then declare “compatible!”.

      But folks like Dr. Coyne have a great way of reminding people of the nature of both the peg and the hole. It should be a fun time. Alas, I don’t live anywhere near Kentucky.

  20. Posted September 12, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I realize this comment won’t be popular, but there are moments when I agree with stephen jay gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria argument. Humans are programmed to believe weird shit we can’t prove. We all do it. Granted, the sheer volume of theology BS in the catholic church is astounding, but it is a universal tendency of all human bureaucracies from supply side economics, keynesian stimulus…and some cubs fans still believe wrigley will sponsor a world series some day.

    “debating” haught sounds like fun, but like golf, it’ll just be a few hours of pointless recreation.

    • Posted September 12, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure why you selected Keynesian economics to make your point. For while there is little-to-no evidence to support the conservative supply-side tax cut scam***, there is a healthy dose of evidence to show that Keynesian economics helped grow the economy following the Great Depression, in conjunction with higher taxes on the wealthy. As more Americans began working the economy grew, and debt became a smaller fraction of GDP– and the deficit more manageable. The same result is not occurring today because Obama can only manage to accomplish half the equation. So I fail to see how Keynes qualifies as “weird shit we can’t prove.”

      *** A reference to the infamous “Laffer curve” conceived on a bar napkin. “When scholars peer into the supply-side archive, all they’re going to find is napkins.” — David Stockman, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, pg. 62.

  21. Posted September 13, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    WEIT,please ask haughty Haught how can he support directed evolution when as the teleonomic argument notes, no intent appears behind natural causes, and thus he supports the new Omphalos argument that He deceives us with teleonomy when He directs matters in the Cosmos! No1 Teleonomy wins out!
    Directed evolution not only violates the Ockham with convoluted, ad hoc assumptions but also contradicts science instead of complementing it! Directed evolution is no more than an oxymoronic obfuscation! No plea that He lies in another dimension or category can overcome that fact!
    Per Reichenbach’s argument from Existence, as it is all, no transcendental Deity can exist!
    And per the argument from physical mind, a disembodied mind is just an argument from ignorance!
    So,please ask him how could any rational person put her credence in such a being?
    He supports reduced animism, putting all the spirits as one grand one behind the Cosmos is just as superstitious as regular animism!Furthermore, please ask him what are those other venues of knowledge of which he begs the question when he inveighs against us naturalists about epistemology?
    So, ask him how can he prattle that advanced theology is no more advanced as reality reveals than fundamentalist theology?
    I harp about divine intent,because it illustrates nothing more than Lamberth’s Malebranche Reductio in that Nicholas Malebranche maintains that He is the actor instead of natural causes when things happen: that is the reductio ad absurdum of the cosmological and teleological arguments1 That is God did it is no more rational metaphysically than He did it scientifically! Natural cause and explanations themselves are the primary cause instead of being secondary causes and they are the sufficient reason. Aquinas and Leibniz just fare badly in argumentation!
    Jerry, why not a book expanding on “Seeing and Believing” giving the heave ho to directed-theistic – evolution that intellectual scam? Ti’s noting more than intelligent design! See Amiel Rossow’s essay on the yin and yang of Kenneth Miller about that.
    Haught has the temerity to inveigh.because : faith doth that to people!

  22. Posted September 13, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    That advanced theology is more advanced than fundamentalist theology?

  23. Justin
    Posted September 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I live right down the street from there! I’m anxious to see your talk!

%d bloggers like this: