Jerry Allen Coyne (born December 30, 1949) is an American professor of biology, known for his commentary on intelligent design. A prolific scientist and author, he has published dozens of papers elucidating the theory of evolution. He is currently a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution. His concentration is speciation and ecological and evolutionary genetics, particularly as they involve the fruit fly, Drosophila. He is the author of the text Speciation and the bestselling non-fiction book Why Evolution Is True. Coyne maintains a website also called Why Evolution Is True. He self-identifies as a determinist of the incompatibilistic variety.
Coyne graduated with a B.S. in biology from the College of William & Mary in 1971. His graduate work at Rockefeller University under Theodosius Dobzhansky was interrupted when he was drafted. He then earned a Ph.D. in biology at Harvard University in 1978, studying under Richard Lewontin, and went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Davis with Timothy Prout. He was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007, and received the "Emperor Has No Clothes" award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2011.
Coyne has served as President (2011) and Vice President (1996) of the Society for the Study of Evolution, and as Associate Editor of Evolution (1985–1988; 1994–2000) and of The American Naturalist (1990–1993). As of 2015 he teaches evolutionary biology, speciation, genetic analysis, social issues and scientific knowledge, scientific speaking and writing.
His work is widely published in scientific journals as well as in such mainstream venues as The New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, and The New Republic. His research interests include population and evolutionary genetics, speciation, ecological and quantitative genetics, chromosome evolution, and sperm competition.
Coyne is a critic of creationism, theistic evolution, and intelligent design, which he calls "the latest pseudoscientific incarnation of religious creationism, cleverly crafted by a new group of enthusiasts to circumvent recent legal restrictions".
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:
- Fossil record
- Molecular biology
- Presence of vestigial organs
- Sequence similarity between species that are also observed as a time-dependent change in junk DNA
- Tiktaalik (transition between fish and amphibians)
- Ichthyostega (transition between amphibians and reptiles)
- Mammal-like reptiles (not classified one or the other)
- Archaeopteryx (transition between reptiles and birds)
- 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.
Born to Jewish parents, Coyne considers himself a secular Jew, and an outspoken proponent of atheism, 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". 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 discusses atheism, the incompatibility of science and religion, science, and other topics. He has frequently participated in public forums and cross-fire debates with theists.
Coyne comments and responds to critics of science and evolution. In a recent 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."
Noteworthy scientific papers
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, Jerry A.; H. Allen Orr (2004-06-30). Speciation. Sinauer Associates Inc., Sunderland, Mass. ISBN 0-87893-089-2.
- Coyne, Jerry A. (2009-01-22). Why Evolution is True. Viking, New York (USA); Oxford University Press, Oxford (UK). ISBN 0-19-923084-6. OCLC .
- Coyne, Jerry A. (2015-05-19). Faith vs. Fact. Viking (USA); Penguin (UK). ISBN 978-0670026531.
The New Republic
- , The New Republic
- , The New Republic
- , The New Republic
- ", The New Republic (Review of Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution)
- OUP Blog (celebrating the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth)
- Coyne writes prolifically on his website at , 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 April 2016 more than 40,000 readers follow the website.
- On March 4, 2015, it was announced that Coyne was awarded the Richard Dawkins Award.
- On 30 September 2015 (coincidentally International Blasphemy Day), Coyne from teaching and academics. As a Professor Emeritus, he will continue the 'Why Evolution Is True'-website, write, lecture and travel.