Father George Coyne Interview (2/7) – Richard Dawkins

This is the full uncut interview with Father George Coyne which was omitted from Richard Dawkins’ television program “The Genius of Charles Darwin” for Channel 4 in the UK. See more videos like this at http://richarddawkins.net – We will be releasing many more uncut interviews from “The Genius of Charles Darwin” on DVD soon through http://store.richarddawkins.net/

6 COMMENTS

  1. Jon, I thought Fr George Coyne, rather than tying himself in intellectual knots, actually distinguished very clearly between the kind of god many science-resisting Christians believe in (a god of explanation) and the kind of god he himself believes in (a god of faith).

    What I enjoyed about this conversation between Fr Coyne and Prof. Dawkins is how the latter participant gently led the former to define his religious beliefs as the result of intense cultural conditioning that he accepts as intrinsic to his personal identity. This point surfaces a few times during the conversation (mostly in comparing different religious traditions) but is most clearly stated in part 6/7. Significantly, Fr Coyne does not believe in the god of the gaps but in a god who “gave himself to him” — what he also calls, in contrast to the god of explanation, the god of love; all of which he clearly states to be outside science. Thus Fr Coyne refers, like the good Catholic that he is, to his faith as a “gift from God”, saying that he cannot explain why he received this gift but his friend Carl Sagan did not (although he as by this stage already admitted that he is a Catholic because of the accidents of his birth and upbringing).

    What I also find intriguing in this conversation is Fr Coyne’s defence of faith against what he calls the Intelligent Design movement, which he regards as a perversion of Christian faith in its attempt use science to prove one or other biblical creation story, only to misuse science and prove instead the religious character and disingenuousness of the Intelligent Design movement. But throughout the conversation Fr Coyne makes it very clear that, whereas his scientific knowledge and understanding are what they are because of the empirical and theoretical work he has engaged in over some decades, his religious faith is something he accepts as being too deeply part of himself to question, something quite subjective, an emotionally binding mindset that can be traced to social, cultural, educational and personal factors.

  2. Cairsley,

    Well put, as usual.

    I saw this a couple of years ago, and thought Coyne spoke well. But ultimately he disgusted me, and it did not take long for me to forget this interview.

    Truth is Subjectivity, however, is the best essay on faith that I know of. If you want to read something memorable and deep, read that. (Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript)

    I am not a Christian and will (in all probability) never be one; but Kierkegaard is worth reading, was truly remarkable.— If you like great, beautiful writing, and want to gain a deeper understanding of faith read that essay, and go from there. He is the only Christian theologian that I admire. (He was more than a theologian; he was a humorist, an ironist, a great artist.)

    Watching the news now (as I write). These republicans are tearing me apart. Someone’s talking about “religious freedom” again. They never stop. And someone just said that the VA will be privatized in all likelihood.

    Love of money is one of the roots of all evil. (Or is evil the root of love of money?)

    Best,

    D

  3. Hello, Daniel.

    I vaguely remember reading Søren Kierkegaard’s (Johannes Climacus’s) Concluding Unscientific Postscript long ago in a galaxy far, far away. I do recall enough of it to agree that it is one of the finest expositions of religious faith as rooted in the individual’s actual, personal (subjective) existence.

    Of late I have read two books by Richard Carrier, Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus, which, besides answering objections I had against Jesus mythicism, have helped me to think more clearly about the nature of religion itself and of Christianity in particular, namely as a subjective, existential response to a world that makes all too little sense (especially in prescientific times), in order to meet the need to make sense of it and live purposefully in it. What Fr Coyne expresses of his faith is quite remarkably recognizable as that mythic way of thinking that flourished in the mystery cults of antiquity, one of the Jewish versions of which seems now most probably to have given rise to Christianity. Fr Coyne, because of his clarity of mind and personal integrity, presents a very interesting case of an intelligent, rational thinker, indeed scientist, who also harbors alongside his rationality a mythic belief-system that has flourished since before Jesus is supposed to have lived; a belief-system that he quite frankly admits has nothing to do with empirical reality but, because of its deep integration in his psyche, affords him hope (or delusion) of surviving death and living for ever in bliss hereafter.

  4. Cairsley #4
    Dec 30, 2016 at 5:29 am

    Fr Coyne, because of his clarity of mind and personal integrity, presents a very interesting case of an intelligent, rational thinker, indeed scientist, who also harbors alongside his rationality a mythic belief-system that has flourished since before Jesus is supposed to have lived; a belief-system that he quite frankly admits has nothing to do with empirical reality but, because of its deep integration in his psyche, affords him hope (or delusion) of surviving death and living for ever in bliss hereafter.

    Which is of course the classical cognitive dissonance of the compartmentalised mind!

  5. Alan4discussion #5
    Which is of course the classical cognitive dissonance of the compartmentalised mind!

    Indeed, Alan. Yet what distinguishes Fr Coyne’s case is that he is openly aware of the cognitive dissonance and frankly admits it. Usually, a compartmentalized mind operates with much less awareness of the conflict between the different sets of ideas it uses in the different contexts or compartments of its life, relying on notions such as irrelevance, mystery, authority, limits of human reason, etc. to manage tensions that might arise at least subconsciously from such conflicts between inconsistent beliefs. Fr Coyne’s case is of interest precisely because of his status as a scientist and his frankness about the unscientific character of his religious beliefs, which he accepts simply as part of who he is. Although he is fully and happily aware of these two compartments in his life, he makes no attempt to reconcile them, seeing them rather as unrelated to each other. That seems to me to be how he has dealt with the usual cognitive dissonance experienced by educated people of faith — by withdrawing his faith-claims to the most basic and, as it happens, most primitive, mythic beliefs in the faith-tradition to which he belongs.

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