Jerry Coyne has questions; I have answers.

Too bad he’ll probably never read them.


  • The correct translation of the frequent claim that “The Bible is not a textbook of science” is this: “The Bible is not literally true, except for those places where I say it’s literally true.”
  • Why is Collins so sure that he knows what God intended when “writing” the Bible, especially since other Christian sects disagree?
  • How does Collins know exactly which parts of the Bible are “not science” (i.e., fiction) and which parts are?  If Genesis and Adam and Eve are “not science”, why is the Resurrection “science”?  There’s precisely the same amount of empirical evidence—i.e., zero—for each of these stories. “


1)  This is, in fact, not an accurate translation, since it isn’t what people mean.  I’m pretty sure it isn’t what Collins means, and it isn’t what I mean.  When I, at least, say that the Bible is not a science textbook I mean that it literally isn’t a science textbook.  The message God was trying to get across was not an in-depth and detailed scientific account, but was instead a message of who He was and how to act appropriately in the world.  That would mean putting things in terms people understand and focusing on things like morals, rituals, and histories of people that we — supposedly — should emulate.  That the Bible does focus on that cannot be disputed, so it seems that my claim of intent seems pretty fair.

2) The same way I’m sure what the Roman Stoic Seneca meant by “passion” even though there are clearly people who disagree with me about what passion means to the Stoics:  from reading it and putting it together into a package that makes the most sense, all things considered.  But what’s most interesting about this is that Collins is, I hope, willing to do what all people who interpret historical or philosophical texts do and be open to counter-arguments from things as varied as translation to historical significance in determining what the right interpretation is.  I know I am.  Again, I can argue for my view of emotion in Seneca, and so can the people who disagree with me.  That should be true of Biblical interpretation as well, and that there can be disagreement cannot mean that there is no right interpretation, or that we can’t have better ones.  All that we need is to be able to support our claims with reason and evidence, where the evidence is, well, the appropriate evidence for interpreting a work.

3)  Well, I don’t think Collins — or anyone, anyway — equates “not science” with “fiction”.  See the answer to the first point for that.  I don’t think anyone considers the Resurrection “science” except possibly in that really weird and broad definition of science that Coyne uses and no one else does.  I would consider the Resurrection “history”, an event that actually occurred.  So, not fiction, but not science either (unless history must be science, which is a rather odd claim and almost certainly not using the definition of science that Collins uses, which would make that sort of response a prime example of equivocation).  Remember, this starts from discussions of Genesis and how the world was created and how we came about and, essentially, creationism versus evolution.  Collins, it seems to me, is simply claiming that insisting that the world must be created as it was literally described in the Bible as opposed to treating it as a nice story that the people at the time could understand is not reasonable, since there’s no reason to think that anyone was ever supposed to take that message away from the Biblical story.  The Bible is not a science textbook.  But that doesn’t mean that the historical portions of it aren’t meant to be history, and the moral portions aren’t meant to be morals, and so on and so forth.

Really, the last question just isn’t a valid question as it has nothing to do with what anyone is actually saying.  In that case, Coyne should stop, reload and come back with a specific objection or claim as to how the Resurrection should have been considered science in the first place.

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