Jerry Coyne

Jerry Allen Coyne (born December 30, 1949) is an American biologist known for his work on speciation and his commentary on intelligent design. A prolific scientist and author, he has published numerous 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.[5]

Jerry Coyne
Coyne at the University of Chicago, August 2006, with the "lab cat"[1] Dusty.
Born (1949-12-30) December 30, 1949
Alma materCollege of William & Mary, Harvard University (Ph.D)
Known forSpeciation and evolutionary genetics, particularly as they involve the fruit fly, Drosophila, and the books:
  • Speciation[2]
  • Why Evolution Is True[3]
  • Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible[4]
Scientific career
FieldsEcology and Evolution
InstitutionsUniversity of Chicago, University of Maryland
Doctoral advisorRichard Lewontin
Notable studentsH. Allen Orr, Mohamed Noor
InfluencesBruce Grant, Richard Lewontin

He is the author of the text Speciation and the bestselling non-fiction book Why Evolution Is True.[6] Coyne maintains a website and writes for his blog, also called Why Evolution Is True.[7] He is a hard determinist.[8]

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.[9]

Scientific work

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.[10]

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). He has taught evolutionary biology, speciation, genetic analysis, social issues and scientific knowledge, scientific speaking and writing. He considers evolutionary biology to be "... more like the fine arts of science, in that it's aesthetically quite satisfying, but it also happens to be true, which is an extra bonus."[9]

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".[11][12][13][14]

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.[15]

Coyne lists the following evidence for evolution, as detailed in his book and elsewhere:[16]

Transitional fossils provide rich evidence for evolution.[17] Charles Darwin predicted such fossils in 1859, and those later identified as such include:[16]

  • 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.[16]

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.


Born to Jewish parents, Coyne considers himself a secular Jew,[18] 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.[9] He has frequently participated in public forums and cross-fire debates with theists.[19]

Pseudoscience critic

Coyne comments and responds to critics of science and evolution. In a rebuttal, he clearly identifies his reasons for skeptical reasoning.[20]

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.[21]

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."[21]

He is also a critic of the Neurodiversity movement, claiming that in its extreme, neurodiversity wishes to deny medical treatment for any person with a mental condition, particularly autism, even if the person wants a medical treatment.[22]

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.[9] He also protested regularly against the Vietnam war. Coyne does not approve of the way some contemporary Liberals are "trying to shut people up."[9] 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."[9]

Coyne believes in social justice but feels that identity politics have turned into identity tactics. He believes in the 1960s 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."[9]


Coyne believed in the idea of determinism after reading a paper by Anthony Cashmore on determinism and the criminal justice system. He states that recognising there is no free will makes one 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."[9]


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.[9]


Noteworthy scientific papers

Coyne's peer-reviewed scientific publications include numerous papers in Nature

  • Coyne, Jerry A. (25 April 1985). "The genetic basis of Haldane's rule". Nature. 314 (6013): 736–7388. doi:10.1038/314736a0. PMID 3921852.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (29 September 1988). "A couple of cross-pollinators". Nature. 335 (6189): 467. doi:10.1038/335467a0.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (20 April 1989). "Protean evolution". Nature. 338 (6905): 672. doi:10.1038/338672a0. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (28 September 1989). "The European identity". Nature. 341 (6240): 363. doi:10.1038/341363a0.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (1 March 1990). "Endless forms most beautiful". Nature. 344 (6261): 30. doi:10.1038/344030a0. PMID 18278018.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (6 February 1992). "Genetics and speciation". Nature. 355 (6360): 511–515. doi:10.1038/355511a0. PMID 1741030.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (28 May 1992). "Much ado about species". Nature. 357 (6376): 289–290. doi:10.1038/357289a0.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (22 July 1993). "Recognizing species". Nature. 364 (6435): 298. doi:10.1038/364298a0.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (19 May 1994). "Rules for Haldane's rule". Nature. 369 (6477): 189–190. doi:10.1038/369189a0. PMID 8183338.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (31 August 1995). "Speciation in monkeyflowers". Nature. 376 (6543): 726–727. doi:10.1038/376726a0.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (19 September 1996). "God in the details". Nature. 383 (6597): 227–228. doi:10.1038/383227a0.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (29 April 1999). "The self-centred meme". Nature. 398 (6730): 767–768. doi:10.1038/19677.
  • Coyne, Jerry A.; Catherine S. C. Price; Kelly A. Dyer (29 July 1999). "Sperm competition between Drosophila males involves both displacement and incapacitation". Nature. 400 (6743): 449–452. doi:10.1038/22755. PMID 10440373.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (2001). "Creationism by Stealth". Nature. 410 (6830): 745–746. doi:10.1038/35071144.
  • Coyne, Jerry A.; Anna Llopart; Susannah Elwyn (26 September 2002). "Fruitflies (Communication arising): Pigmentation and mate choice in Drosophila". Nature. 419 (6905): 360. doi:10.1038/419360a. PMID 12353025.
  • Coyne, Jerry A. (18 May 2005). "When science meets religion in the classroom". Nature. 435 (7040): 275. doi:10.1038/435275a. PMID 15902230.
  • Coyne, Jerry A.; Matthew Cobb (27 August 2008). "Atheism could be science's contribution to religion". Nature. 454 (7208): 1049. doi:10.1038/4541049d. PMID 18756233.
  • Coyne JA, Shapin S, Colwell R, Nowak M, Ravetz J, et al. (24 September 2008). "Which science book should the next US president read?". Nature. 455 (7212): 464–467. doi:10.1038/455464b.
  • Coyne JA, Poeppel D, Brown M, Solomon S, Wang MW, et al. (29 July 2009). "A break from the bench". Nature. 460 (7255): 574–577. doi:10.1038/460574a. and Science as well as recent publications from other journals.

Recent Publications

Coyne is a prolific author and commentator, with many hundreds of technical presentations, invited commentaries, and miscellaneous publications. Selection of recent miscellaneous commentaries and 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.

Publications in Evolution, the International Journal of Organic Evolution

Additional Noteworthy Publications


The New Republic


  • "A Letter to Charles Darwin" OUP Blog (celebrating the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth)
  • 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 more than 55,000 readers follow the website.
  • On March 4, 2015, it was announced that Coyne was awarded the Richard Dawkins Award.[23]
  • On September 30, 2015 (coincidentally International Blasphemy Day), Coyne announced to readers of his website that he was retiring from teaching and academics. As a Professor Emeritus, he continues the 'Why Evolution Is True'-website, writes, lectures and travels.


  1. "Cat travel week: home again (lab cats)". 2010-09-17. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  2. Jerry A. Coyne; H. Allen Orr (1 January 2004). Speciation. Sinauer Associates, Incorporated Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87893-089-0. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  3. Jerry A. Coyne (22 January 2009). Why Evolution is True. Oxford University Press. pp. 8–. ISBN 978-0-19-164384-2. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  4. Jerry A. Coyne (19 May 2015). Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. Viking Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-670-02653-1. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  5. "Jerry Coyne". 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-24.
  6. "Best Sellers Hardcover Nonfiction". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  7. Jerry, Coyne. "Why Evolution Is True". Jerry Coyne. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  8. "You don't have free will", Vancouver, June 2015
  9. Harris, Lee. "Meet Jerry Coyne, the University's Most Prolific and Provocative Emeritus Blogger". The Chicago Maroon. The Chicago Maroon. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  10. "Freedom of Religion Foundation, Emperor Has No Clothes Award". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  11. Coyne, Jerry (February 12, 2009). "Why Evolution Is True". Forbes. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
  13. Zepps, Josh (June 16, 2006). "Jerry Coyne - The Case Against Intelligent Design". Point of Inquiry. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  14. Coyne, Jerry (July 1, 2007). "The Faith that Dare Not Speak its Name" (PDF). The New Republic. Retrieved 2007-07-29.
  15. Smith, Adrian A. "Episode 7 Jerry Coyne". Age of Discovery Podcast. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  16. Coyne, Jerry (2010). Why Evolution is True (second ed.). USA: Viking Penguin. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-14-311664-6.
  17. Andrews, Seth. "Why Evolution is True (with Dr. Jerry Coyne)". Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  18. Jerry, Coyne (2013-04-12). "Stupid religious rule #11734, and a note on my ancestry". Jerry Coyne. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  19. Jerry, Coyne (2012-11-29). "Ceci n'est pas un blog". Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  20. Chopra, Deepak; Jerry A. Coyne (November 18, 2013). "Deepak Chopra Responds to Pseudoscience Allegations. Jerry Coyne Fires Back". The New Republic. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  21. Jerry, Coyne (2014-02-05). "Bill Nye Won Last Night's Creationism Debate". The New Republic. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  22. Coyne, Jerry (23 June 2015). "What do we do about "neurodiversity"?". Why Evolution Is True. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  23. "Jerry Coyne Receives 2015 Richard Dawkins Award!". Atheist Alliance of America. Archived from the original on 2015-03-06.
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