The scientist is George Church and here's Coyne's description of his credentials:
George Church is a well known molecular geneticist who helped design the first “direct” method of DNA sequencing, and played an important role in initiating the Human Genome Project. He has an appointment at Harvard University and consults for several companies. His latest endeavor is the Personal Genome Project, designed to get DNA sequences from many individuals with the aim of curing genetic maladies.Pretty impressive. He certainly doesn't appear to be professionally "debilitated", so what's Coyne's gripe? Well, evidently Church actually believes things that Coyne thinks no scientist should believe. On his blog Church wrote this:
Some people feel that science and faith have nothing in common. But a considerable amount of faith drives everyday science — and frequently religion addresses scientific topics .... The overlap is vast and fertile. As we learn more about nature, for many of us, this greatly strengthens rather than lessens our awe.Coyne calls this "sad", the sort of thing, apparently, which debilitates one's performance as a scientist.
Coyne thinks there's a big difference between the sort of faith exercised by a scientist and the sort of faith exhibited by the religious believer and that the two should not be commingled in the same person. I think his distinction is problematic, but I'll leave it to the reader to check it out.
For my part, I don't think there's really any difference between the faith exercised in science and the faith exercised by a well-educated religious believer. For both, faith is believing something to be true despite the lack of proof that it's true.
Both the scientist and the religious person commit themselves to the truth of some hypothesis without having proof that the hypothesis really is true. What each does have, though, is evidence that their belief is true.
Some might acknowledge that this is so but reply that the scientist requires a higher standard of evidence than does the religious believer, but I'm not sure that that's the case.
Blind faith is believing something despite a lack, or paucity, of evidence, and a naturalistic scientist like Coyne is at least as likely to exhibit blind faith as is the religious believer and may even be more inclined to do so. Indeed, the naturalist believes many things for which he has no evidence at all.
For example, a naturalist (one who believes that nature is all there is) believes that living things were generated from inert matter, that information can be coded into DNA apart from a mind, that electrochemical reactions in the brain can generate meaning and sensations (qualia), and that naturalism itself is true. He may also believe that there are other universes (a multiverse) besides our own, that moral duties can exist independent of a transcendent moral authority, and that his life has an overall purpose. There's no empirical evidence for any of these beliefs, however. To the extent that Prof. Coyne or any naturalist believes any of them he's indulging in sheer blind faith and is thus hardly in a position to credibly criticize the religious believer for his beliefs.
Thanks to Telic Thoughts for the tip.