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Jerry Coyne on Our “Divinity Sense Organs”

In my own conversion from atheism to Christianity, I was helped immensely by some unlikely evangelists: atheists. 

I had been raised in a culture in which atheism seemed the “smart” way to think about metaphysics. Atheists were the scientists and the philosophers. Christians were the televangelists and the “science-deniers.”

When I actually engaged the arguments for and against God’s existence, I was taken aback. The arguments for God’s existence were strong, clear, and convincing. Thomas Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, and William Lane Craig made some very good points. 

The arguments against God’s existence were weak, vague, and dubious. Richard Dawkins and his coterie of Darwinists and materialists recycled sophomoric tropes (“Who made God?!,” “Why don’t we see God in our telescopes?”) and the like. Try as I might (and I really tried, and still try), I couldn’t find a credible argument against God’s existence, and I found many very strong arguments for His existence. 

David Attenborough’s Agnosticism

A shimmering example of atheist idiocy (there is no other word for it) is Jerry Coyne’s recent argument, at Why Evolution Is True, against God’s existence in his post on David Attenborough’s agnosticism. Attenborough, who is a Darwinist producer of nature films (quite good films I must say, despite the Darwinist taint), was interviewed about his views on God. 

To Coyne’s chagrin, Attenborough declares that he is agnostic about God’s existence. Attenborough raises common objections to theism (e.g., the problem of evil), but he invokes a rather nice metaphor about a termite mound. He points out that termites, blind and busily working away in a mound, are unaware of human observers. Their unawareness is not evidence that an observer doesn’t exist — they lack the sense organs to perceive the observer. Attenborough says that is why he is agnostic — he doesn’t sense that God exists, but perhaps that is because he lacks the capacity to know God. 


I do sometimes feel that maybe I’m lacking in some sense organ, and I don’t know whether there’s anybody else involved in all this sort of thing. And it’s a very confident thing, saying that you’re absolutely sure that there’s nothing in this world that I don’t have the sense organs to appreciate. That would be my position.

Coyne hops on this:

[O]f course, if a god wanted to make himself known to humans, he would have given them the sense organs to detect divinity.

A Breathtaking Ignorance

My goodness. In this one assertion, Coyne (culpably) and Attenborough (more innocently) betray a breathtaking ignorance. 

God is not a physical thing. It is only physical things that can be sensed by sense organs. If God could be sensed via an organ, He would not be God. What would be sensed would be a part of creation, not the Creator. God is not in nature. He is prior to nature. He is the Source of nature. 

And, contra Coyne and Attenborough, God did endow us with an organ by which we may know Him. He endowed us with reason. Alone among animals, human beings have the power of abstract thought — to contemplate ideas separated from concrete particular (sensible) objects. We have intellect, by which we can understand immaterial knowledge and will by which we act on our abstract knowledge. 

Reason and Will

Our capacity for reason is the “organ” God gave us to know Him, and our will is the “organ” God gave us to love Him. 

Reason is our divine “sense organ.” It is perfectly adapted to its task — it allows us to know and love our Creator. In this sense we are created in His image: we have the capacity to know immaterial reality and to act on our knowledge. 

Atheists ask where is our “divine sense organ?”, when the very capacity by which they ask the question — their capacity for reason — is the “sense organ” they seek.  This utter atheist idiocy helped lead me to God. What I found, when I looked at the arguments for and against His existence, is that the arguments against His existence were vapid nonsense. 

In this sense, I owe Coyne and Attenborough a debt of sorts. Through arguments of this kind — “Where is our divine sense organ?” — the irrationality of atheism, and the rationality of belief in God, is made even more clear. 

One hopes that others are not misled by this manifest atheist nonsense, and that even Coyne and Attenborough may come in time to understand (not “sense”) the existence of the Source of their capacity for reason.

Photo: A termite mound in Litchfield National Park, Australia, by Hansjoerg Morandell from Bolzano, Italy [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.



agnosticismatheismAustraliaC.S. LewisChristianityDarwinistsDavid AttenboroughJerry CoyneLitchfield National ParkreasonRichard Dawkinssense organSir David Attenboroughtermite moundThomas Aquinaswill