He is the author of the text Speciation and the bestselling non-fiction book Why Evolution Is True. Coyne maintains a website and writes for his blog, also called Why Evolution Is True. He self-identifies as a determinist of the incompatibilistic variety.
Coyne gained attention outside of the scientific community when he publicly criticized religion and is often cited with atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. He is the author of the book Faith vs Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. Coyne officially retired in 2015.
He is concerned about a disconnect between what the public believes about evolution and what scientists believe about evolution. He states the value of studying evolution is in the true story of our origins and its value in restoring wonder in people.
In a 1996 critique of the theory of intelligent-design creationism, Coyne wrote his first large New Republic article on Of Pandas and People (a book review), which started a long history of writing on evolution and creationism.
Coyne lists the following evidence for evolution, as detailed in his book and elsewhere:
Ambulocetus (transition between land mammals and whales)
Early human fossils with ape-like skulls
Series of terrestrial fossils between land animals and whales
The evidence not only includes these transitional fossils but the fact that they occur in the fossil record at times between their putative ancestors and their more modern relatives.
The Ecuadoran frog Atelopus coynei is named after Coyne. He collected the holotype in a swamp on a frogging trip to western Ecuador as a student in the late 1970s.
Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne in discussion at Lisner Auditorium, George Washington University, Washington, DC on May 24, 2017
Born to Jewish parents, Coyne considers himself a secular Jew, and an outspoken anti-theist. He supports the theses of metaphysical naturalism and the conflict thesis. He claims that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible, that only rational evaluation of evidence is capable of reliably discovering the world and the way it works, and that scientists who hold religious views are only reflective of the idea, "that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time" (cognitive dissonance). He has argued that the incompatibility of science and faith is based on irreconcilable differences in methodology, philosophy, and outcomes when they try to discern truths about the universe.
As well as evolution-related topics, his blog Why Evolution Is True, which has over 50,000 subscribers as of January 14, 2018, discusses subjects spanning science, medical ethics, atheism, determinism, philosophy and free speech. He has frequently participated in public forums and cross-fire debates with theists.
Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins with Hemant Mehta (at podium), at "An Appetite for Wonder - An Evening with Richard Dawkins." 10/03/13. -Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA
Coyne comments and responds to critics of science and evolution. In a rebuttal, he clearly identifies his reasons for skeptical reasoning.
all scientific progress requires a climate of strong skepticism.
-- J.A. Coyne, The New Republic
He offers criticism of creationists who appear closed minded by adhering to a literal Biblical view. He questions the creationist concept of animals diverging only within kinds, which is in itself an admission of transitional intermediates between very different groups (i.e., whales and their terrestrial relatives) found throughout the fossil record.
we have many examples of transitional fossils between what anyone would consider different kinds: fish and amphibians (like Tiktaalik, which Nye mentioned), between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and mammals, between reptiles and birds, between land animals and whales, and of course, between early and modern humans, with early fossils showing intermediacy between the features of apelike ancestors and modern humans.
-- J.A. Coyne, The New Republic
Coyne believes that both sides of such debates between evolutionists and young earth creationists could benefit from a better understanding of the fossil record and for modern tools such as Isochron dating. He considers that the inability of creationists to address these subjects fully suggests that "religion can poison one's mind so deeply that it becomes immunized to the real truth about the cosmos."
Politics and Free Speech
Coyne considers himself to be a "traditional Liberal" and has a long history of activism. He was arrested, when he was in college, for "...delivering a letter to the South African embassy against Apartheid. He also protested regularly against the Vietnam war. Coyne does not like how some contemporary Liberals are trying to "...make people shut up." He believes in free speech for all and does not like seeing universities cancel speakers, such as Steve Bannon, because of protests. "I can't think of a single person I would urge the University to disinvite. Not a single person-not a white racist, not an anti-immigration person. Free speech has to defend the most odious people."
Coyne believes in social justice but feels that identity politics have turned into identity tactics. He believes in the 60's movements for black civil rights and women's rights, since they represent victimhood that "...was not something to be proud of, but something to be fought against. Now it's something to be proud of, I think, because it enables you to get attention and to be able to say others in the hierarchy can't speak, that they don't have opinions worth considering."
Coyne believed in the idea of determinism after reading a paper by Anthony Cashmore on Determinism and the criminal justice system. He states that believing we don't have free will makes us more empathetic and less judgmental. "A lot of politics--particularly Republican politics--is based on the supposition that people are responsible for their own lives. So, for example, people who are on welfare, or homeless people, are treated as if they could have done otherwise. They could have gotten a job, they could have gotten married and had a father for their kids. But they couldn't, because they're victims of circumstance."
Since retiring, according to the Chicago Maroon article on February 14, 2018, he still goes to his lab everyday and publishes more now than he did in his academic career. Within the lab are many inscriptions, that Coyne encouraged, on a cabinet signed by postdocs and researchers who came to work on a holiday or a special occasion.
Noteworthy scientific papers
Coyne's peer-reviewed scientific publications include numerous papers in Nature and Science as well as recent publications from other journals.
Coyne is a prolific author and commentator, with many hundreds of technical presentations, invited commentaries, and miscellaneous publications. Of particular focus are publications related to evolution, the origin of species, evolutionary genetics, and associated theories. This theme appears across Coyne's research and technical writing, especially in Evolution, the International Journal of Organic Evolution.
Coyne writes prolifically on his website at Why Evolution Is True, posting several times on most days. Topics range from debunking creationist theories, promotion of reason and scientific inquiry, commentary on interesting academic papers and scientific research, to fine food and his love of cats. As of June 2018[update] more than 55,000 readers follow the website.
Coyne, J. A.; Elwyn, S. (2006). "Does the desaturase-2 locus in Drosophila melanogaster cause adaptation and sexual isolation?". Evolution. 60: 279-291. doi:10.1554/05-008.1.
Coyne, J. A.; Elwyn, S. (2006). "Desaturase-2, environmental adaptation, and sexual isolation in Drosophila melanogaster". Evolution. 60: 626-627. doi:10.1111/j.0014-3820.2006.tb01143.x.
Watson, E.; Rodewald, E.; Coyne, J. A. (2007). "The courtship song of Drosophila santomea and a comparison to its sister species D. yakuba". Eur. J. Entomology. 104: 145-148. doi:10.14411/eje.2007.020.
Noor, M. A. F.; Coyne, J. A. (2007). "Speciation in the new millennium: What's left to know? Israel J. Ecol". Evolution. 52: 431-441. doi:10.1560/ijee_52_3-4_431.
Matute, D. R.; Butler, I. A.; Coyne, J. A. (2009). "Little or no effect of the tan locus on pigmentation levels in viable female hybrids between Drosophila santomea and D. melanogaster". Cell. 139: 1181-1188. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2009.10.033.
Matute, D. R.; Butler, I. A.; Turissini, D. A.; Coyne, J. A. (2010). "A test of the snowball theory for the rate of evolution of hybrid incompatibilities". Science. 329: 1518-1521. doi:10.1126/science.1193440. (Subject of News & Views in Nature doi:10.1038/news.2010.476)
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