Michael Ruse is one of evolution’s most ardent defenders. A philosopher of science who teaches at Florida State University, Ruse is a frequent presence in the media, a well-known author, and an energetic critic of both creationism and Intelligent Design.
In an interview published at Salon.com, Ruse discussed his new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle — and his comments in that interview raise a host of interesting questions. For one thing, Ruse admits that creationism and evolutionism are really two competing religions. The interviewer for Salon.com asked Ruse if he is saying that the creationists are right in claiming that the controversy is really over competing belief systems. Ruse’s answer:
I am saying that. I think they are right. I want to qualify that immediately by saying that the creationists play fast and loose. Like a lot of us, creationists slide from one position to another according to the kind of argument they want to make. A major theme of the intelligent design people is that theirs is in fact a scientific position, and I think that’s a double whammy.
Inasmuch as the creationists want to say openly that both sides are making religious commitments, I have to agree with them on that. I don’t think that modern evolutionary theory is necessarily religious. Evolutionary theory was religious, and there’s still a large odor of that over and above the professional science. The quasi-religious stuff is still what gets out into the public domain, whether it’s Richard Dawkins or Edward O. Wilson or popularizers like Robert Wright. Certainly Stephen Jay Gould. Whether you call it religious or philosophical, I would say these people are presenting a [worldview].
Ruse makes a distinction between evolutionary theory and evolutionism — a total belief system based on evolution as a principle, but admits that the disctinction between the two is often hard to see.
Here is another fascinating section from the interview: Look, I want to make it absolutely clear that I want to understand creationism, not endorse it. It’s important for us evolutionists to understand what is motivating creationists. Why do people hold these prima facie lunatic views? Which I think they are. . . . The most interesting thing that the creationists are doing is pointing, as Matthew says, at the beams in the eyes of the evolutionists. Meaning that we all too often get into evolutionism and link up our evolutionary positions with social prescriptions and with atheism.
What if evolutionary theory really does imply atheism? Ruse responds: I can’t understand why I can’t get through people’s thick skulls on this one. If in fact Darwinian evolutionary theory implies atheism, then you ought not to be teaching it in schools! It’s not good enough to say, “Well, I’m a National Socialist. But the fact that that meant a lot of Jews were hauled off to Auschwitz, that’s not my worry!” It bloody is! If your theory leads to 6 million Jews being made into soap, not only is there something deeply troubling about your theory, but you’ve got a moral obligation to face up to its implications. If this theory leads to atheism, then it’s got religious implications.
Ruse also demonstrates an intellectual condescension that is unworthy of someone who professes to take ideas seriously. A native of Great Britain, he suggests that Americans “have more of a capacity for self-delusion than other people.” He also dismisses leading anti-evolutionary thinkers as genuine in their beliefs, but “caught up in an appalling, idiosyncratic American religion.”
He also thinks that opposition to evolution is linked to a larger right-wing agenda. At least he understands that ideas and convictions are truly inter-related. This interview is sure to leave virtually everyone — regardless of the position taken on evolution — both interested and infuriated.
SEE ALSO: Peter Dizikes, “Evolutionary War,” The Boston Globe, May 1, 2005, dealing with Ruse’s new book. Note also that Ruse co-authored an important book with William Dembski, now Professor of Theology and Science at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. See Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, published by Cambridge University Press, 2004.
In another interview published earlier this year, Ruse said this: I am not saying that Darwinian theory is always religious – it is not. I am saying that often evolutionists use their science to do more than science and to give a world picture – origins, special place for humans at the top, moral directives – that we associate with religion. Creationism I argue flatly is a religion – the religion of biblical literalist, American protestant evangelicals of a right wing persuasion. Creationists deny that their position is purely religious, but I think that they do this to avoid the separation of church and state embedded in the US constitution. I suspect that many Darwinians will take issue with my claim that any part of their theorizing is religious – but I have made my case and rest it.
R. Albert Mohler Jr.
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