Jerry Coyne had this to say recently regarding necessary beings:
No theologian in the world is going to convince me that it’s impossible for God to fail to exist because he’s a “necessary being.” Science has shown that he’s not “necessary” for anything we know about the universe.Now, he's being raked over the coals for this one, at least outside of cultist circles. Even atheists cringed a little, since it's a stellar example of Coyne shooting his mouth off and clearly not knowing what he's talking about. The short version of the reply to Coyne, given here by Bill Valicella, focuses on the man not seeming to understand what a 'necessary being' even is, and therefore why turning to science to answer the question is wrongheaded.
As usual, I think Coyne is getting off light. Primarily because this is a prime case of Coyne displaying not only an utter lack of comprehension of theology, philosophy and religion (which doesn't keep him from spouting off on the things as a wannabe authority on a regular basis), but of abusing science. Back to the problem with the scientism charge, which Valicella lobs at Coyne: there's this oft-repeated claim that guys like Coyne just love science and hold it in too high esteem, but their signature move is to says "science shows" things that science doesn't, and in some cases in principle cannot, show. The fact that guys like this won't shut up about how much they love science does not make them lovers of science, anymore than their penchant for screaming about reason doesn't make them either reasonable, or lovers of reason. If it did, you could accuse many Young Earth Creationists of scientism on the grounds that a number of them insist science is on their side, coupled with a praise for (in their views, accurate) science.
But I think the most insulting thing about Coyne's outbursts as of late is the gall. I can appreciate that the man is employed as a scientist as his day job. I'll even go ahead and assume that his particular specialty has some actual useful applications. But the fact is, his knowledge is exceedingly narrow. So sayeth the wikipedia: His concentration is speciation and ecological and evolutionary genetics, particularly as they involve the fruit fly, Drosophila.
Look, I'm a theistic evolutionist myself. I can appreciate the knowledge and the research and blah blah blah. But the fact is, whatever has come of it, Coyne's specialty is in getting fruit flies to have sex and then sussing out what the results mean. Say what you will about the importance of this data, appreciate the knowledge of speciation and banal evolutionary processes that can be gained from it as much as you like. The fact of the matter is, it's a pretty narrow specialty. Does anyone really think Coyne has gleaned particular insight on God's existence or non-existence as a result of keeping data on whether fruit flies will screw each other if they have slightly different colored eyes? Is he in a position to say "science has shown God is/is not necessary" with any more authority than a grand-prize winner on The Price is Right?
This unwarranted respect for opinions of scientists - in either direction, mind you - when it comes to questions far outside of their specialty is something people really have to get over. In fact, instead of asking to give his opinion on controversial philosophical topics, the next question USA Today should let Coyne answer is "What do you do, how much are you paid, is your salary funded by the government, and can your research justify your salary in terms of utility or potential utility? Will it lead to more effective medical treatments or better technology in general?"
To be fair, I'm not sure his answer to that question will be any better than his thoughts on necessary beings.