Just a couple of years ago William Cavanaugh wrote a book called “The Myth of Religious Violence.” In this work he outlined how the movement away from Christianity into skepticism led to a division between religion and state. As a result of this knowledge became separated from faith and science was separated from truth.
Today faith is defined as belief without evidence instead of trust and confidence based on God’s providence through history. This is a myth of the modern era, that one can separate things which are inseparable. While this may identified in a multitude of expressions in modern society today’s concern is Jerry Coyne’s recent publication “Faith vs. Fact, Why Science and Religion are Incompatible,” from Viking Press. This book fits that scenario to a “T.” He maintains the myth without apology apparently without awareness.
One typical characteristic of Coyne’s work is his propensity to speak loudly of evidence while arguing from his systematic. That is, he will point to a piece of evidence and spend some time on it. Then, he will argue that his assumptions are true – not his conclusions – based on the evidence presented. In this method are two important characteristics. (There are more but these two seem to me the most important.)
The first is his treatment of the whole of science from an empiricist perspective. He is, after all, a laboratory scientist. Genetics is his expertise. But genetics is not history. It may contain information about history but it is not a replication of history. History is to Dr. Coyne an untestable speculation (40).
At this point evangelicals will be happy enough to exclaim that history is not subject to the scientific method. That’s true. Historical models are not empirical and as such do not fall under the rubric of empicism and empirical test methods. As true as that is the story is much bigger than that point might indicate.
What Dr. Coyne did was expand the scientific method so that models, when their results conform with fact, are to be treated as empirical tests. No longer does the scientific method require a linguistic control. It used to be that we drew up a hypothesis about apples, designed a test around apples, tested about apples, measured about apples, and reported about apples. Today we can make predictions about apples and, even if that prediction is somewhat in error (like a weather forecast) because there is some fruit that fruit is to be taken as “truth” by this new method.
That’s one of the problems with model theories as opposed to empirical testing. In one’s laboratory one controls parameters and refines as best one might those conditions which lead to the tested conclusion. It is an inductive process. But predictive and historical models alike are abductive. The inferences differ because the structure of the testing is completely different. A weather forecast, for instance, collects historical data to predict something in the future based on historical performance.
One may not alter the data input into an historical model without justification. Unless we can determine that the collected data was in error and know what that error was and how it affected the data we otherwise leave it alone. Even then such alternations are fully documented as a part of the run. (We are not climate scientists.)
The conclusion is this: One may not have it both ways. The world is not empirical, at least not all of it. There are no empirical tests for morality, for consciousness, for historical development, for the need for education in genetics, or much else. By expanding his scope through the redefinition of terms Dr. Coyne has provided a new framework for the true believers in empiricism. That is a very small group of scientists.
The second concern that I have is his propensity to contradict himself. This happens frequently. For instance, evolution is an explanatory model, an historical model, which attempts to make an inference about our present state. Yet Dr. Coyne says that historical models are unreliable. He takes the position of a materialistic determinist and yet has the moral imperative to write this book. He denies the reliability of history yet appeals to history constantly, though frequently with great inaccurately (his understanding of eugenics  is certainly questionable). He steps outside of science and plays politics. Specifically he misrepresented the position on ESCR, making it merely SCR.
I’ve left out the concerns of his cheerleading and almost triumphalist tone, his serious philosophical errors, his uptopian optimism about the capacities of “scientism” to create a better world (199), and his love of circularity (207).
This work is not a sound argument from a new-atheist proponent. If anything he provides the theist with an understanding of the weaknesses of militant empiricism, evidenced by the lengths to which some will go to maintain its tenuous position.