My talk in Delhi

Well here’s a bit of self-aggrandizement, but it’s cool. The front gate of the Indian National Science Academy sports a big fancy poster advertising my talk—in English and Hindi! Professor L. S. Shashidhara from IISER Pune, who sponsored and arranged my whole visit here, took this vanity picture. Not shown are the two pi-puppies who were snuffling around my feet.

The translation is almost line for line, so “Prof. Jerry Coyne” is the ninth line down on the left side. Now I know what my name looks like in Hindi!

I’m told that many of the attendees will be science teachers and students, with the teachers wanting to learn how to teach evolution. Though I’m no expert in pedagogy, I’ve tweaked the talk to make it more of a “critical thinking” exercise and have cut out some of the religion-dissing.

I’m writing this 1.5 hours before the talk starts, and will briefly report how it went when it’s done, which will be in the middle of the night U.S. time.


. . . My job here is done; I had a 10-minute introduction (always embarassingly laudatory in India), a one-hour talk, and 45 minutes of very good questions. My cold has abated and so I thought it went well (it’ll be videotaped, but there’s not much you folks haven’t seen before). Many of the attendees were local students, and I was heartened, as I have been this whole trip, by the high proportion of women among them, and by the fact that the women students were forthright and not afraid to argue with me. I hope India makes use of this pool of talent, as women tell me they still face bars to professional advancement at the post-Ph.D. level.

Even though religion was a very small part of the talk, at least half of the questions were about it, including from a Buddhist who told me that Buddhist scriptures were not only 100% consonant with science, but in fact anticipated all modern scientific advances. We hear this from Islam, too, with some scholars, as I show in Faith versus Fact, maintaining that the Qur’an already contains all modern scientific knowledge. That’s when “properly interpreted”, of course! I also mentioned that reincarnation and karma were faith-based concepts with no evidence from science.

Afterwards, some of the Institute dignitaries had lunch with me, which was fun, and besides sabzi, paneer curry, yogurt, rice and chappatis, there was vanilla ice cream and warm gulab jamun—a great combination.

I leave the guest house at 10 p.m. for the one-hour drive to the airport, and then three hours till my 2 pm flight. Wish me luck!


  1. Posted January 4, 2018 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Jerry, in Hindi your last name is spelt (phonetically speaking) as ‘Coney’

    • Posted January 4, 2018 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Oy! A “coney” is either a rabbit or a chili covered hot dog ( Did they make a mistake?

      • David Coxill
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Am i right in thinking that you will ask them if you can have the poster to take home with you ?HAHA ,just joking.

      • Karan
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        My Hindi is slightly rusty so I wouldn’t have said anything if joshiamitabh6 hadn’t already said something. Your first name is spelled correctly but I think the last name should be spelled like so: कौयन

    • Peter N
      Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      I don’t know anything about Hindi, but I would guess that the diphthong in “Coyne” doesn’t have an equivalent spelling — in which case “Coney” isn’t too far off…

      Or, if you didn’t already know how to pronounce “Coyne” you might guess that it has two syllables.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        I often mentally pronounce Jerry’s name Koine as in the dialect of Greek that was a lingua franca in ancient times.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          Ha ha. I thought that too with the diphthong remark though Koine is the easiest Ancient Greek and the one used in the bible. It’s grammar is simpler than Classical Greek.

          • darrelle
            Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

            It’s all Greek to me.


      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        But a coney can also be a pika or a hyrax, which led me to some interesting etymological confusion in Hebrew: “Shafan: Don’t turn yourself into a hyrax” And more onomastic confusion: the name Coyne — is that a variant of Cohen? Because the name Jerry Coyne could well be an Irish name, as Irish as Milo McMoyle (hope the circumcision puns come through here); in fact, an IA friend of mine thought JC (not Jesus Christ) was Irish.

        • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          I imagine there are some Irish Jews, so why not both? 😉

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Happy landings. As you already know, your flight coming back will be roughly an hour longer than the flight over. Maybe a three or four movie flight.

    • rickflick
      Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Makes one long for the return of the SST.

      • David Coxill
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Or for someone to invent time travel.

      • Richard Bond
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Well, the SST never flew, and Concorde, its nearest equivalent was killed by American jealousy.

        • David Coxill
          Posted January 4, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          I suppose you mean killed in the sense that they would not allow it to fly over mainland America ?

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted January 4, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

            I think it could fly over the U.S. It just could not fly over land supersonic.

            • David Coxill
              Posted January 5, 2018 at 5:10 am | Permalink

              Sorry ,that is what i meant.

        • Posted January 4, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          The Concorde was never economically viable. The estimates for the market for SS travel and for the cost of jet fuel were wildly off base. (The development effort was begun in the 1950s.)

          And, as a structural design engineer (who has designed fuel tanks and other airplane structures for tire burst), the fact that a tire burst caused a hull-loss accident was an abomination. Never should have been certifiable. They knew about this deficiency in the design.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 4, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            NASA is now doing research on a new SST focusing on a softer boom. Of course they can probably make it somewhat more fuel efficient than the Concord, but many of the logistical constraints will be hard to shake. For example, the passengers per trip may have to be small so how can it compete against an Airbus? The high flying Concord was a risk to the Ozone layer too. It’s fun to dream of LA to NY in an hour, but maybe that’s just impractical.

            • Posted January 4, 2018 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

              Well, at low volumes and very high prices, even space tourism will be viable to some degree. But only for the very wealthy.

              And the environmental impacts (which everyone bears) are another subsidy for the very wealthy.

              There’s probably more to be gained from streamlining the airports/systems than from speeding up the planes.

              Once you go above the speed of sound, things get really expensive in terms of fuel. You have to drag around this enormous shock wave.

              I like the TGV in France!

              • rickflick
                Posted January 4, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                I like the TGV too. They have very reasonable prices and they are electric. If only the US could get some of that action. From a larger perspective, the move in the 20th century from trains to trucks for cargo was one of the biggest transportation mistakes ever made.

              • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                I wish there was a TGV in the Quebec City-Windsor (with spur to Ottawa) corridor here in Canada. Lots of places in the US could use one too – Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington connections; the entire California coast practically; likely other places in Texas or something.

                I often visit my parents in Montreal or my sister in Kingston and getting to either takes ~2 hours by train or bus and I figure with modern trains it should be 30-45 minutes, no?

          • Posted January 5, 2018 at 7:52 am | Permalink

            Concorde lost money in its early years of commercial service with British Airways, and the chairman of the airline was ready to scrap it in the early 1980s, but market research revealed that fares could be increased substantially without losing customers. This was largely because the kind of people who flew Concorde between London and New York didn’t buy their own tickets, and when asked what they thought they were paying, gave a figure far higher than the actual ticket price. British Airways raised ticket prices accordingly, and Concorde went on to become BA’s major profit centre.

            So, it’s not entirely true to assert that Concorde was never economically viable. Admittedly, the cost of the R&D effort was enormous, and it was met by the British and French governments, not the airline. However, Concorde isn’t seen as a failure in Britain. Quite the opposite, it remains a symbol of national pride, and there was great sadness when it ceased flying.

  3. DrBrydon
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Safe travels!

  4. Blue
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Locally 2:00 am, not ? in re
    “and then three hours till my 2 pm flight ?”

    Sleep upright in economy ? I so canNOT.
    Those long hauls are g r u e l i n g.

    Likely within the fusilage there are more
    widened spaces in which to exercise … …


  5. rickflick
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    The video of the talk should be interesting even if the material is not new. I look forward to the audience reaction and the handling of delicate questions.

  6. Tenzin
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Its so satisfying reading your books and listening to your lectures on youtube. But what a treat 2018! that i got to listen to you in real. Thank you Professor for your visit to Delhi.

    p.s. Its me (a Buddhist) who got an opportunity to that question to you. Sir, i do not subscribe to the belief that Buddhist scriptures are 100% consonant with science and it anticipated all modern scientific advances. Rather i meant that there are some concepts in Buddhist philosophy such as codependent origination, impermanence and selfless which are very much compatible to the idea of science particularly in the field of ecology and evolution. By virtue of some of these compatibility, i asked whether it is simply the claim made or a methodology on which the incompatibility was based upon. I personally claim myself as a Darwinist yet i find many things common between Buddhism and modern science. I therefore posed myself a question sometimes whether it is fair to say that religion and science contradicts completely. I absolutely agree with you that Buddhism also have faith based concepts such as Karma and reincarnation. Therefore i recently associated myself with some Buddhist monastic university in India by teaching evolution to the Tibetan monks and Buddhist scholars to enhance their understanding of modern science. I am proud to some extent to let you know that Dalai Lama had long ago introduced modern science in the curriculum of Tibetan monastic education. since then we are always engaged in dialogue between the two side.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Can you expand on this with examples? :-

      …there are some concepts in Buddhist philosophy such as codependent origination, impermanence and selfless which are very much compatible to the idea of science particularly in the field of ecology and evolution

      • mikeyc
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        May I second Mr Fisher’s request? I’d be interested to hear it too.

      • Tenzin
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Although these concepts are something i often hear from monastic monks but for better understanding with modern scientific input, you can read a book by an evolutionary biologist David P. Barash entitled “Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science”.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted January 4, 2018 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

          Well that was a waste of my time.

  7. BJ
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    The INSA logo looks like it could be for an AHL hockey team. Maybe a new one for the Calgary Flames?

    Anyway, Jerry, you briefly mentioned in a previous post that the reaction to one of your previous talks was interesting, particularly in the different responses of younger and older generations (though both were very respectful and interested). On the whole, how has the response been when you take into account all of your talks so far? Have there been any pockets of significant resistance? I imagine such resistance is much more unlikely due to the types of crowds you’re addressing, but I’m curious whether there is still a lot of refusal to accept certain things even among the intellectual class in a highly religious and somewhat less developed country like India. Have you addressed anything, only to find that some people there treat a given subject as taboo?

    Glad you’re enjoying your trip. You’re missing out on some awful weather back home!

  8. Julian C
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Bon voyage.
    I’m interested in reading your reflections on the reception of your presentations & how this was different and/or similar to US experiences.
    Pictures of places & noms will also be welcome!

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Well, I like Buddhism a lot, but….
    Buddhism did nothing to anticipate gravity, genetics, the round earth, the old age of the earth, etc.

    Buddhism kinda sorta anticipated some elements of quantum physics, but this was better done by Vedanta philosophy.

    A very good book was published about 5 years ago on elements of modern Buddhism that are NOT in synch with modern science: “The Scientific Buddha” by Donald Lopez. It goes very much against the grain of much modern publishing.

    I still think Buddhism is pretty cool (I am a glad member of a local Sangha) but these artificial attempts to prop it up are not a good idea.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      It seems to me that religion got lucky when it hit on things that happened to be scientifically true and it often took them a lot longer to do so. An example is the pre-socratic philosophers and their concept of atoms.

      • mikeyc
        Posted January 4, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Well, I’m inclined to think it wasn’t always mere luck. The ancients weren’t stupid people. They had to try to fit their concepts and ideas with the knowledge base they had to work with, which is why so many things they thought true aren’t. But they were just as intelligent as we are. So it isn’t surprising (to me anyway) that they glimpsed some truths it took science to confirm, even if they got details wrong.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 4, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t say the Ancients were stupid. They were great mathematicians and architects and critical thinkers but I’m not addressing those accomplishments. I’m talking about scientific discoveries and the understanding of the natural world. The Ancients didn’t have the scientific method. They didn’t have a way to determine what is true about the natural world as we do today so it is no surprise that they didn’t even have an understanding of germs and basically survived because engineering happened to save them. They had some concepts of physics because they were good with the math but they didn’t have much of clue about medicine (Galen was all about the humors which I think was mostly speculation and dogma).

          • mikeyc
            Posted January 4, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

            My apologies. I didn’t mean to suggest you called them stupid.

            • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

              Rather often I come across (apparent?) misunderstandings, where I think nice apologies like this one would be welcome.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 5, 2018 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

                mikeyc is a good apple 🍎. His apology wasn’t necessary but he did it anyway. 🙂

          • Posted January 4, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            “Galen was all about the humors which I think was mostly speculation and dogma”

            And, to me, it’s truly remarkable that these views remained current, right up into the 20th century in some parts of the western world.

            The scientific view of disease was still very much being questioned at the time of the 1918 (“great”) influenza.

            To me, the first scientist was Galileo. He said (I paraphrase): forget authority or what is written. What did you observe?

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted January 4, 2018 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

            It has been argued that Archimedes had a bit of sense of modern scientific method, though Aristotle certainly did not.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 5, 2018 at 7:59 am | Permalink

              The Greeks were well on their way – they built all those impressive machines of war, after all. And the Romans had fabulous engineering as well but they hadn’t gotten to a final systemic method they all agreed on to use to answer the questions about nature. Engineering and math but not quite there for nature.

              • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

                I think this isn’t *quite* right. Even Aristotle “got his hands dirty” but it takes the notion of *experiment* to do this right. So there is a “check against nature” component – Aristotle may have even done dissections – but no manipulate-and-test.

                As far as I can tell, this was almost completely invented by Galileo. (There are echoes elsewhere – it is, as usual, not that simple.)

                Some people think he got the idea from his father, but his father’s (music theory!!) book is about demonstrations, not experiments.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 5, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                What I’m really trying to argue is ancient philosophy and superstition (religion) May have stumbled on scientific truths but they certainly were no good at actually working out what was true (it was usually by accident). Although they didn’t have the scientific method, they were in their way when they ventured out of superstition and did engineering and math.

          • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            It is interesting to reflect on when atomism becomes actually supported by evidence and what exactly changed at each stage to have it become increasingly plausible. Even the best “histories of atomism” (and I read a few many years ago for my undergraduate honours theses) do not do this very well.

            IMO, one could be a convinced anti-atomist up until sometime in the 19th century. Ironically one of the last ones was Mendeleev, who provided the means to look for what the (chemical!!) atoms actually might be.

  10. Blue
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    This is unsurprising: ” … … as women
    tell me they still face bars to professional
    advancement at the post – PhD level.”

    I know squat about ‘modern’ Buddhism. And do not care to learn a(ny) thing of it.

    What ‘d been known in re it in its past is
    thus of whoever or whatever its ‘Buddha’ –
    leader was: ‘The body of a woman is filthy,
    and not a vessel for the law.’ There are all
    sorta references to this phrasing on the web
    with a bewildering array of restrictions
    including its ‘law’ that a woman could not
    attain enlightenment until she was reborn as
    a man.

    All of this ? today ? India’s women facing
    “bars” and the massive amounts of
    psychological and physical violences visited
    upon them ? Does not surprise.


  11. Mark R.
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Good luck and safe journeys. Thanks again for all your wonderful posts documenting your peregrinations.

  12. Harrison
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s always bugged me whenever anyone talks about scriptures or dogmas “anticipating” scientific discoveries.

    You’d think with millions of believers poring over such texts so finely they might beat science to the punch at least once. But of course there’s nothing so solid that would allow them to make any sort of firm, accurate prediction that science could then verify. Rather they wait for science to solve a problem then proclaim “oh yeah, I coulda done that if I’d felt like it!”

    • Posted January 4, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Even worse: They want to claim credit for the hits while ignoring the vast numbers of misses!

    • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      A lot of them are qualitative, too. For example, I’ve seen “anticipations of Newton”. Well, no, because Newton’s findings aren’t just “forces make things accelerate” and “amount of stuff retards the acceleration for a given force”. He tells you how much, and so on. (Note, however, the full modern version of the law statements called “Newton’s laws” is not due to Newton, either.)

      An example of this is a paper someone wrote to put Aristotle in modern terms and point out which limiting cases and such he wasn’t aware of. This is a very useful analysis, but nobody should (and the author doesn’t claim of course) take it that Aristotle “anticipated air resistance” or the like.

  13. MP
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Your name in Hindi is spelled out as “Coney”

  14. Redlivingblue
    Posted January 4, 2018 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Safe Travels!

  15. murali
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    ‘Buddhist scriptures were not only 100% consonant with science, but in fact anticipated all modern scientific advances’

    I too was told something like this by a friend who studies the abhidhamma. I asked for some examples, but got nothing, nothing at all.

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