National Geographic Asks ‘Is Religion Harmful Superstition?’

Guess what the answer is …

BREAKING: Atheist science professor doesn’t like religion!

In a recent piece for National Geographic, Book Talk curator Simon Worrall entitled his headline, “In Age of Science, Is Religion 'Harmful Superstition'?” For the answer, he gave platform to Jerry Coyne, author of Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. Coyne, an atheist and University of Chicago professor of Ecology and Evolution, answered, among other questions, why “are religion and science incompatible.”

In his beginning questions, Worrall asked Coyne how, as an evolutionary biologist, “does your day job inform your views on religion?”

“[T]here are a number of things about evolution and science that undermine religion,” Coyne responded, including “the fact that the Genesis story is wrong.” “There’s no evidence that there’s any qualitatively different feature about humans from other species, except maybe for language” – language that “could have evolved via culture.”

“We’re not special products of God’s creation,” he concluded.

For his proof, Coyne pointed to many “discrepancies” between religion and science from the Big Bang Theory to free will.

“[Y]ou can [get a universe from nothing], if you conceive of nothing as the quantum vacuum of outer space,” he said after a laugh. As far as the “dualistic free will maintained by religions when they say you can choose to accept Jesus as your savior, or being homosexual is a choice,” Coyne decided, “Science is starting to undercut this, by showing that there’s only one choice we can make.”

“We are creatures of physics, made of molecules,” he persisted. “Therefore, our thoughts and behaviors are also the results of molecular motions.” (Does that include his?)

At another point, Worrall prodded, “In a nutshell, why are religion and science incompatible?”

“[T]hey both compete to find truths about the universe,” Coyne responded. “Religion doesn’t have a methodology to weed out what’s false.” (And maybe that’s why it’s called faith.) “[I]t’s a way of fooling yourself,” he said, through “methods” of “authority, revelation, dogma, and indoctrination.”

Worrall next asked Coyne to “make your case” that religion is, as Coyne claims, “the most widespread and harmful form of superstition.”

“Since I see all religious belief as unfounded and irrational,” Coyne responded, “I consider religion to be superstition.” Comparing ISIS and Islam to Christianity’s past, he continued, “People get killed because they don’t share your beliefs.”

“The less a religion has to do with a tangible God, the less it hands out moral dictates and the better it is,” he pushed. “Once you believe in an absolute authority that tells you what to do, you’re heading down the road to perdition, I think.” (Perdition that… he doesn’t believe in?)

To his credit, Worrall asked whether a “purposeless, purely physical universe” was a “bleak vision.”

But Coyne found the opposite to be true: “For many Muslims fun is not allowed. Music is prohibited. I would find that kind of life far bleaker than a life without God.”

(On a more legitimate note, Coyne then addressed the devastating story of Ashley King, who died after her parents decided to treat her bone cancer with prayer instead of medical treatment.)

While he prefers the title “humanist,” Coyne admitted, “I am spiritual in the sense that I have this awe and wonder before nature.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with God,” he insisted. “It has to do with a commonality of feeling prompted by nature and the arts.”

National Geographic has produced God-related stories before, including ones that boast “intolerant attitudes” in the Bible.

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.