Steve Pinker reviews Faith versus Fact

August 3, 2015 • 12:30 pm

In the latest issue of Current Biology, Steve Pinker has written a longish review (2 pages) of Faith versus Fact, and it’s free online (pdf at the link).  His review is called “The untenability of faitheism,” a title I like a lot. You can read it for yourself, but I’ll give two brief excerpts. The first shows Steve’s frequent use of tropes from popular culture.

The term faitheism was coined by Jerry Coyne, a Drosophila biologist who made major contributions to our understanding of speciation before becoming a prolific essayist, blogger and a vociferous public defender of the modern synthesis in evolutionary biology. (How vociferous? His blog is called ‘whyevolutionistrue’.) His latest book, Faith Versus Fact, is intended not to pile on the arguments for atheism but to advance the debate into its next round. It is a brief against the faitheists — scientists and religionists alike — who advocate a make-nice accommodation between science and religion. As with Michael Corleone’s offer to Nevada Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather Part II, Coyne’s offer to religion on the part of science is this: Nothing.

Now I didn’t coyne the term “faitheism”, as I recall: it was the winner in a contest I devised to invent a word that referred to atheists who are soft on religion; and I can’t remember who won. But I’m glad it’s become a part of the science/religion discourse.

Steve has one minor plaint, but that’s okay, as is the use of the term “bl*g” to refer to this site (it’s used twice in the paragraph above and once below!). I forgive him these trespasses because he disarms the “preaching-to-the-choir” accusation, and because his review is favorable:

In his book, Coyne has examined every talking point in the New Atheism debate but one: the allegedly shrill, militant, extremist, fundamentalist tone of the anti-God squad. Here he leads by example. Faith Versus Fact is unquestionably partisan, but its tone is matter-of-fact, and the offense that its targets will surely take will come from the force of his arguments rather than any ridicule or cheap shots. Indeed, my only real criticism of the book is that it has been stripped of the sass and wit that enliven his blog whyevolutionistrue. Nonetheless, Faith Versus Fact is clear and gripping, and should be read by anyone interested in the tension between science and religion. By meeting the claims of the faitheists and accommodationists head-on, Coyne shows that in this debate the two sides aren’t preaching to their choirs or talking past each other, and that the truth does not always fall halfway between two extremes.

106 thoughts on “Steve Pinker reviews Faith versus Fact

    1. PCC may not have coined the term “faithism” (that should be a question addressable by research), but that pun is one that he can certainly claim to have inspired. It’ll probably persist at least as long as his formal publications.

    1. So true. Also, no similarity to the standards used by the Bloggies.

      On a related note, this is an essay, not a “p*st” or a “c*mment.”


    2. Well, you can understand the confusion when it says, “Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and …” at the top left of this page and “Blog at WordPress” at the bottom!

          1. The phrase “turn on a dime” was something some Canadian friends had to abandon when they lived in NZ because people don’t really know what a dime is.

              1. It’s only absurd because it’s hyperbolic and it’s hyperbolic so you get just how tight a turning radius the subject has.

              2. I do agree, it’s obvious wild exaggeration. Somehow this particular figure of speech grates on me where others don’t. I dunno why.


        1. You’d be pissed off with all the dimes you had because they’d weigh down your pockets and pull your pants down.

              1. @ Dave–

                Don’t remind me!


                Well, you can count on me to start really intellectual threads.

              1. Because they can! If I could pee more readily, I’d probably pee on more things too but alas, I have to just pee in a boring toilet.

              2. “Why do guys always have to pee ON something??”

                Better chance of aiming any splash-back downward. Also could be atavistic tendency to scent mark their territories. 😉

              3. But you can’t bring a tree inside during the winter. And besides they tend to be gender specific.

              4. You can bring small ones in! And it doesn’t matter if they are male or female. Both, if potted, can winter inside!

              5. “Because gravity!”
                That’s not the only reason. It was discovered that a decal of a fly near the center of a urinal improved aim considerably, reducing cleaning bills for the walls and floor.

              6. Yeah I’ve seen those things before and they just look like a way to pee all over yourself.

              7. Merilee: “But out in the woods???”
                The flies in the woods tend to move about and so are more challenging targets, but as with Maru’s Syndrome men cannot help but try.

              8. “Why do guys always have to pee ON something??”

                Seriously? I think there’s a natural tendency to look for a target. Give a guy a ball to throw and he will try to throw it AT something. Force of habit.


              9. “throw it AT something”
                I’ve heard the idea that most sports make use of this primitive urge. We shoot baskets for hours, kick the ball through the goal, etc. Basically, its just a sublimated sex drive, they say. So, do women have it to a lesser degree, then? Do women make great goalies? Where’s my Templeton funding when I need it?

    3. I’ve always assumed the quirky “this is not a blog” stance was a mockery of the whole “ISIS is not Islamic” rhetoric.

  1. “Now I didn’t coyne the term “faitheism”, as I recall:”

    Nice. But you have coyned the term “coyne the term”.


  2. I’d forgive Steven Pinker calling this site a blog because of his hair. I think Pinker’s hair gets him out of more scrapes than he knows. 😉

    1. But Matt Dillahunty, who has no hair (on top of his head), also called this web site a blog. And Jerry gave him a pass. No standards!

  3. Great review!

    I chuckled when I came to this: “(Not for the first time, a two state solution is rejected by both sides.)”

    1. I liked this part best because it is something my stupid relatives would claim:

      My late aunt Hilda could beam a message from the great beyond telling us under which floorboard she hid her jewelry.

  4. One hero reviewing another.. its like when he did the interview with Sam Harris.. Its almost to bright..

  5. Reblogged this on dyke writer and commented:
    there is no nice way to tell something their belief system is stupid.

    that is a pointless observation to make about a book

    the godsquad wants to genocide life on earth, we do not have time for manners anymore

      1. thanks. we need to stop this idea of equivalency of views. Religion is why we don’t have nice things, like comprehensive global human rights. Or a global severe disaster event warning system, boxing day 2004 showed us how much we need one.

        1. Considering the numbers who accept some kind of deity(s) or forces not connected to Nature.

          Altruism and less militarism would be good, but our govt regardless of party, keep pushing the imperial claws. Lately in the Middle East more often than not. This while we as a species go down the tubes for general stupidity and hubris over keeping our ecosystem operating at optimum. Instead when it fails on a larger scale than it is it will be too late. Empires need enemies and our country has been making them for decades on a small ocean of blood and misery.

          One of the hurdles an intelligent species finds itself in and if we don’t past we fail for the Earth itself. No take backs or moving to other places. This is it.

          Not getting our act together as a species means of whoever survives they will have a harder way than 10,000 years ago. More like the bottleneck of 70,000 years ago that almost exterminated the human species and several others including tigers. As a species we are self destructive sociopaths. Not a good thing.

          1. given the uncontrolled reactor at Japan, it might be a while before the things that can live in radiation eat it up and convert it into something that can thrive. I live on the west coast and every day I am checking for super powers. so far, none, but at least I am finding other people who are understanding reality in the same way. People are scared to say “religion is the problem” this is the information age and ignorance is a choice.

  6. To my mind, the greatest contribution of Faith versus Fact is to put the lie to the claim, accepted by many scientists, that religious belief can be distinguished from supernaturalism. Professor Coyne quotes theologian after theologian insisting that the supernatural is essential.

  7. Gotta disagree with Pinker on his one complaint. I like the sass and wit of your webpage. I liked your book. I’m glad you didn’t put the former into the latter. It is IMO much better for being written in a ‘just the facts’ style.

    Whenever someone responds to a critic with [cogent argument] + [banter], the opponent can always respond to the banter and ignore the argument. We should not give creationists or others that hook, that excuse for not engaging. IMO the best way to engage with someone who you suspect may not debate ‘honestly’ is to leave your arguments free of any insults, any editorialisms, any unnecessary metaphor or unnecessary example, any extra parentheticals. To quote The 300, give them nothing. Not a single extraneous word on which to hang a grievance or sidebar. No possible way to take offense or send the discussion on a digression. Sure, they still might invent offense and may go off on some wild tangent, but if your argument is solid and without any insult, then fence-sitting bystanders will more easily see that your opponents have no cogent point to make.

    So, good job. Had you done as Pinker suggested, then faithiest reviewers would no doubt have said “the book is full of sass” and they would’ve had a point. They can’t say that now. You did not give them that out. They have to address the arguments or come off looking like they didn’t read your book at all. Most seem to choose the latter.

    1. That was my response to that remark of Pinker’s too, but you said it much better than I could have.

    2. On the face of it I would agree and don’t get me wrong, however, the professor has just told the faithful in 311 pages, in short, your plan A is untenable as a fact better find a plan B
      that you can support.
      Science provides hard evidence and discoveries about the world, your faith is a pipe dream supported by nothing, zip, other than your faith and flowery twats! please explain.
      He has said all this comprehensively with an incredible amount of decorum which to me, is the ‘wit’ But it is, as we all agree, a nice job, well done.

  8. This is amazing

    “how people with any
    appreciation of the value of science
    ought to fix their beliefs. They should
    treat all claims with skepticism, and
    provisionally accept only those that are
    warranted by arguments and evidence
    that anyone can recognize. They should
    not accept claims on the grounds of
    revelation, doctrine, authority, tribal
    solidarity, subjective appeal, or no
    reason at all — that is, on faith.”

  9. How far do you need to go to be a faitheist?

    Urban dictionary says a faitheist is “tolerant of even the worst intellectual and moral excesses of religion” including “Muslim oppression of women”

    Wiktionary is a bit vaguer defines a faitheist as one who thinks faith should not be criticized (at all?? ever??)

    Collins dictionary is less clear and defines it more broadly as “An atheist who is nevertheless understanding and tolerant of religions and religious people” (all of the time?? Some of the time??) says a “faitheist” is “a person who does not believe in a higher power, but CAN talk supportively with religious people”. That’s a bit clearer and quite different from Urban Dictionary but also says they can “even participate in SOME religious events.” (Does Unitarianism count? Rosh Hashana at a Humanistic Judaism chapter?? Buddha’s birthday at a chapter of the Secular Buddhist Association?? Are you a faitheist if you belong at all to the Society for Humanistic Judaism or the Secular Buddhist Association??)

    I regard faith (as Protestant’s define it) as a vice, am certainly NOT a faitheist by Urban Dic’s definition (please criticize Muslim oppression of women shrilly and militantly!!), probably not by Wiktionary’s or Collins definition, but I probably AM one by YourDictionary’s definition.

    1. I’d suggest that a “faitheist” is someone who, despite not being religious, thinks that religious faith is a good thing.

      1. That definition sounds right. That one I shall use.

        That must be for agnostics who are so wishy-washy.

  10. The last time I noticed the NYT nonfiction bestseller list, some piece of rot (I presume)was at no. 1: how the Japanese art of ‘tidying up’would change one’s life if one bought the book and followed directions. Well, Professor Coyne has done a superb job of ‘tidying up’ the messy thinking that asserts the compatibility of religion and science. It was a very messy and rank stables before he went to work; now, because of FvF, at least in honest intellectual terms, there are two quite separate quonset huts on the two sides of the manichean moon of knowledge: one always in the light, the other forever dark. One ever expanding, the other a closed museum.

  11. I don’t read book reviews after I’ve read the book concerned. But anyway, I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook version of ‘Faith versus Fact’ (it’s a good way of rereading books without having to sit down and reread the Kindle version) and it was very good. Strongly recommended.

    I’m now ‘rereading’ the audiobook version of ‘Why Evolution is True’. Again, very good.

        1. I really like that new word you just invented. It is fun to say and has a very useful meaning(s).


  12. Great review, but I agree that the “sass and wit” that work on the website would have been inappropriate for the book. I think the tone hit the sweet spot pretty well. Pinker was certainly right about how effectively the book deflated the “sophisticated Christians.”

  13. I wouldn’t be so hard on Steve. That lone ‘criticism’ clearly was designed to serve as the obligatory praising-with-faint-damnation at the conclusion of a glowing review by a man who has just snapped the cover closed on a good read he thoroughly enjoyed. Why, if he didn’t find something to juxtapose against all the wonderful contents he just described, he might be accused of being strident in his praise!

  14. I suppose the frequent use of words like ‘militant’ or ‘strident’ to describe those whose views seriously challenge long-held beliefs are chosen in the hope of shutting down any debate. But I don’t see many overweight atheists running around in camo waving assault rifles. In my neck of the woods, there’s no shortage of ‘Christian militia’ that fit the description, though. Now who’s being militant, again?

  15. I started reading a few days ago, and the matter-of-fact tone is quite glaring. It’s good that it’s not condescending though.

  16. I think there’s an evolutionary explanation at play. Not pissing on something entails pissing into the wind. No guy is going to do that purely for hygienic reasons…

    1. This comment is so much better for its (presumably accidental) misplacement outside of its parent thread.

  17. For me faitheism is not atheists soft on religions but atheists who created a religion.

    The same way people, a few centuries ago, believed for example the Catholic Church, by blind faith, brainwashing and force, people today believe a new religion: Blind faith doesn’t always revolve around a god… Today blind faith revolve around liberal leftist dogmas: diversity is strength, islam is a religion of peace, Dalai Lama is a saint, races or genders don’t exist/are a social construct, skin color is the only difference between races, we are all the same, all cultures are equals, multiculturalism is our salvation, homosexuality is innate, affirmative action is not racism, “no child behind” is good for all, wealth redistribution like through affirmative action or the tax to reverse the human global warming (oops climate change), a man with XY chromosome should be accepted as a woman etc

    Yesterday dissidents were called heretics, today they are called racists, homophobes, islamphobes, sexists etc Nothing has changed… The art of noticing nowadays is taboo and silencing those who disagree with the narrative is yet again, the way of the faitheads, just this time many are atheists.

    1. What I mean is that those dogmas don’t stand the scientific method. They are based on emotions and blind faith and not on reason, logic, science.
      Liberalism has become the religion of the liberals…

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