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Jerry Coyne

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Jerry Coyne in 2006 with the laboratory cat, Dusty.
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Not to be confused with George Coyne.

Jerry Coyne is a Professor Emeritus of biology at the University of Chicago who specialised in speciation (how species separate) and ecological and evolutionary genetics before retirement in 2015.[1] He is also increasingly prominent as a public skeptic, writer and atheist.

Coyne claims the invention of the neologism "sophisticated theology".[2]

Summary of beliefs[edit]

Jerry Coyne is a New Atheist who claims religion and science are incompatible, in the same way astronomy and astrology, or medicine and homeopathy are incompatible. He thinks NOMA is unreasonable, and believes trying to reconcile religion (Christian, Islamic or other) with science is futile.[3] It is a recurring topic on his blog site, and he since has co-authored a paper in philosophy no less[4], and written a book on the subject, "Faith Vs. Fact" (2015)[5]. Coyne fears the Templeton Foundation money has a corrupting influence on science.[6] He argues that religion fails the test of scientific scrutiny and that religious dogma harms science.[7] In his writings on religion, Coyne has challenged theology, questioning its place as an academic field.[8][9] Coyne believes that evolution is completely unguided.[10]

Coyne is an Incompatibilist, who believes that free will is illusory and that the notion is incompatible with Determinism.

Coyne is a liberal but is strongly critical of what he calls the regressive left or extreme liberalism.

Any working class person who voted for Trump probably wasn’t thinking, for Trump is also rich, favors the rich (as does his party), and his pandering to the working class was largely an appeal to prejudice and nativism. But it was still an alternative to the status quo. We, the Left, need to offer something tangible to the poor, both black and white, and not just demonize Republicans or sneer at working-class whites, people who are generally seen by RLs as racist and sexist—and therefore unworthy of consideration.
—Jerry Coyne[11]


Coyne is the author of standard text Speciation[12] (with H. Allen Orr, 2004) and science popularisation Why Evolution Is True (2009). The latter has spawned a regularly-updated website (he dislikes the term "blog") of the same name, which contains much top-quality skepticism and atheism (and tangling with other bloggers, theist and atheist) to go with the stuff on evolution. In 2015 Coyne published Faith VS. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible in which he argues that any attempt to reconcile religion and science is doomed.

Coyne writes daily on his WordPress blog Why Evolution Is True, named after his first book for a general audience. He covers a wide range of recurring topics, and cats. Greg Mayer, Matthew Cobb and Grania Spingies support him regularly.

Debates & Disputes[edit]

Coyne vs. Haught (On science and religion)[edit]

Coyne took on theologian John Haught in an October 12, 2011 public debate[13] at the Gaines Center, University of Kentucky over whether science and religion were compatible. After Coyne decisively won the debate, Haught tried to suppress the video of the event.

I am deeply angry about this stand, and can see only one reason for what Haught has done: cowardice. He lost the debate; his ideas were exposed for the mindless theological fluff that they were; and I used his words against him, showing that even “sophisticated” theology, when examined under the microscope of reason, is just a bunch of made-up stuff, tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

After approximately the entire skepticsphere flooded UKY (and the Gaines Center's funders) with complaints, Haught begrudgingly agreed[15] to the release of the video[16] and ensuing Q&A (having already destroyed his reputation[17]). It's worth the hour's viewing. Never debate a theist without a signed release in advance.

Coyne vs. Thornhill and Palmer (On evolutionary psychology and rape)[edit]

See Rape and evolutionary psychology

Coyne became part of a larger debate surrounding Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, the biologist-anthropologist duo who authored A Natural History of Rape. Coyne gave the book a scathing review in the journal Nature and argued against them on a radio debate hosted by NPR. Although Coyne supports the idea of evolutionary analyses of psychology and behavior, he is a critic of much current evolutionary psychology.[18] PZ Myers has criticized Coyne for what evo-psychology he does support.[19]

Coyne vs. Pigliucci (On new atheism, the nature of science, and free will)[edit]

Coyne and Massimo Pigliucci have disagreements on a number of issues that have led to some blogospheric debating (and navel-gazing), such as the legacy of Christopher Hitchens and "new atheism."[20][21] However, their most recent dust-up has been over the issue of free will. Coyne has argued on the basis of scientific findings (the laws of physics, genetics, and neuro-imaging) that free will is an illusion.[22] Pigliucci responded that Coyne's arguments were flawed in two ways: (a) presupposing certain debatable positions such as causal closure, denial of emergent phenomena, and physical determinism, and (b) misinterpreting Benjamin Libet's neuroscience experiments.[23] Coyne replied by re-iterating his original position.[24] Pigliucci added that his issue with Coyne's claims is that they are philosophical or metaphysical rather than scientific, as he claims. Pigliucci contended that Coyne was advancing an eliminativist argument that he had failed to justify.[25] Considering that these criticisms are being leveled by someone who thinks that free will is an incoherent concept,[26] Coyne might benefit from brushing up a bit on the arguments for and against free will.

Coyne vs. Pigliucci (On the extended evolutionary synthesis)[edit]

Coyne has been very critical towards the idea of an extended evolutionary synthesis proposed by Massimo Pigliucci and others.[27] Pigliucci has responded.[28]

Coyne vs. haters[edit]

Coyne feels labeling people as "haters" is a way that sloppy thinkers avoid addressing the reasons people criticise something. Antitheists are written off as people who hate religion. Opponents of Islam are called haters, as are critics of Roman Catholicism - and the same goes for others who criticise anything. Terrorists are described as haters without analysing the reasons for terrorism.[29]

Coyne vs. Templeton[edit]

Coyne dislikes the Templeton Foundation. He thinks there is too much money and not enough Science. [30] [31] Basically Coyne feels vast sums of Templeton money are used to bribe journalists and scientists to think in warm fuzzy ways about religion and spirituality and also to write warm fuzzy material about religion. [32]

Coyne vs. Myers (on the correct animal to post pictures of)[edit]

Coyne and his cats hold firm against the cephalopodic forces of PZ Myers.

Coyne vs. psychiatry[edit]

Coyne became convinced, after reading a book review in the New York Times, that the medical field of psychiatry is a scam.[33] His prime target is antidepressants, which he believes are ineffective. He also argues that psychiatrists frequently portray them as effective, and pretends to know their mechanism of action. He does not address other drugs with similar low efficacy (statins), other drugs which mechanism of action is unknown (acetaminophen), or other psychiatric drugs with demonstrably high efficacy (antipsychotics). He also conflates gene-association studies (GWAS) with heritability studies (twin and adoption studies). Coyne attributes this scam partly to "the desire of pharmaceutical companies to milk the public out of as many dollars as possible" (see Big Pharma). However, he doesn't explain why other countries, many of which lack pharmaceutical industries and for-profit medicine, also practices psychiatry in roughly the same way.

External links[edit]


  1. I retire today, Sep 30, 2015
  3. Jerry Coyne. U of C doc touts NOMA. Why Evolution Is True. 2010 December 28.
  4. I’m a philosopher! I haz a paper with Maarten Boudry on religious belief, Coyne, 2015
  5. Faith Vs. Fact site
  6. Jerry Coyne. Martin Rees and the Templeton travesty. The Guardian. 2011 April 6.
  7. PZ Myers. Coyne on the compatibility of science and religion. Pharyngula. ScienceBlogs. 2009 January 23.
  8. Jerry Coyne. Scientists debate philosophers and theologians at CERN—but why? Why Evolution Is True. 2012 October 15.
  9. Jerry Coyne. Why am I reading theology? Why Evolution Is True. 2011 July 4.
  10. Alex Tsakiris. Outspoken Atheist Dr. Jerry Coyne Sees No Connection Between Consciousness Research and Evolutionary Biology. Skeptico. 2012 February 14.
  11. Nick Cohen pins some blame on liberals for Trump’s election on the Regressive Left
  12. Speciation (publisher page)
  13. My debate with John Haught in Kentucky Why Evolution Is True, 2011-10-13)
  14. Theologian John Haught refuses to release video of our debate (Why Evolution Is True, 2011-11-01)
  15. Under pressure from blogosphere, Haught explains and relents (Why Evolution Is True, 2011-11-02)
  16. Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? October 12, 2011 with Jerry Coyne and John Haught Debate, Q&A
  18. Evolutionary Psychology for the Masses, Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True
  19. Jerry Coyne is trying to defend evolutionary psychology again
  20. In Defense of Hitch, Why Evolution Is True
  21. Jerry Coyne Loses His Cool, Dawkins His Style, Massimo Pigliucci, Rationally Speaking
  22. Why You Don't Really Have Free Will, Jerry Coyne, USA Today
  23. Jerry Coyne on Free Will, Massimo Pigliucci
  24. Am I Unsophisticated About Free Will?, Jerry Coyne
  25. On Free Will: Response to Readers, Massimo Pigliucci
  26. The Incoherence of Free Will, Massimo Pigliucci
  27. Are we ready for an “extended evolutionary synthesis”?, Coyne (2009)
  28. Jerry Coyne and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, reply by Pigliucci (2009)
  29. A new catchphrase for the Regressive Left—and other simple thinkers The reactionary right are also of course problematic.
  30. Templeton wastes $11 million in attempt to change evolutionary biology
  31. More ill-gotten gains: Templeton gives $1 million to BioLogos
  32. The Templeton Bribe