Aiding & abetting III: fundamentalism’s evolutionist?

Michael Ruse is a curious fellow. Outspoken defender of evolution, yet the darling of the creationists, who love him for his claim that “evolutionism” is not only a religion but in fact the estranged sibling of Christianity.

Ruse has long defended evolution against Intelligent Design (ID). Ruse has also scolded the likes of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett for their aggressive hatred of religion, as we saw last time. He’s a walking contradiction — or is he?

There’s enough to Michael Ruse that one short posting was not enough. So here’s the second in a series on Ruse and his ideas over the next while. For now, we’ll concentrate on why the fundamentalists are wrong to treat Ruse as “their” evolutionist. Yes, Ruse is a so-called “accommodationist,” eager to find common ground between religionists and Darwinists; but his hope is social, not scientific:

It is not just a theological issue but also a social one as evolution represents modernism, sex ed, abortion on demand, and so forth (when I say represents, I mean acts as a marker for people who have these sorts of beliefs). Creationism stands for anti-modernism (anti-abortion and so forth). I really don’t see much hope for a meeting of the extremes; whether people more in the center can be influenced is of course another matter. I very much hope so.

But that common ground is one of understanding, not of agreement. The simplest reason that Ruse should not be trundled out as a champion of revealed truth every time evolution is on the agenda is simple: what he believes is inimical to what the Bible literalist believes.

In a display of selective listening, fundamentalists are so eager for outside support that they ignore his championing of evolution, at the same time trumpeting his notion that science-based atheism and Bible literalism are, respectively, the Reformation and the counter-Reformation of the Enlightenment. Two religions, duking it out. Fundamentalists like that characterization a lot, obviously.

That Ruse has issues with some atheists doesn’t in any way support Bible literalism. Let’s get any misapprehension about what Ruse believes out of the way at the start. Here’s what he has to say about ID:

Intelligent Design theory is a mountain of waffle resting on analogy. Neither scientists nor believers should touch it.

Ruse doesn’t believe that ID is bad science or even pseudoscience — he doesn’t accept that it is any kind of science at all:

The very essence of ID is admitting defeat and invoking inexplicable miracles. The bacterial flagellum is complex. Turn to God! The blood clotting cascade is long and involved. Turn to God! That is simply not the way to do science. And as it happens, both the flagellum and the cascade have revealed their very natural, law-bound mysteries to regular scientists who keep plugging away and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

Ruse is sure that ID isn’t science; and he’s just as sure that it’s not good religion, either:

ID is theology – very bad theology. As soon as you bring God into the world on a daily creative basis, then the theodicy problem – the problem of evil – rears its ugly head. If God works away miraculously to do the very complex, presumably in the name of goodness, then why on earth does God not occasionally get involved miraculously to prevent the very simple with horrendous consequences? Some very, very minor genetic changes have truly dreadful effects, causing people life-long pain and despair. . . . If God thought it worth His time to make the blood clot, then why was it not worth His time to prevent Huntington’s Chorea?

As well as rejecting the “science” of ID, Ruse has little better to say of the most prominent ID proponents in cognitive psychology and philosophy. From Jerry Fodor to Thomas Nagel to Alvin Plantinga, Ruse cites their lack of knowledge of the science:

. . .  I want to draw attention to the way this crop of critics ignores evolutionary biology—aside from the kind of cherry-picking in which Fodor engages. Nagel may sneer about the failure to find “accessible literature” that answers his worries. In what part of the library was he doing his literature search? Where, for example, is any discussion of the Grants’ work on the Galápagos finches? What about a detailed look at the new scholarship that is challenging earlier thinking about the evolution of bipedalism? What about the discoveries of molecular biology and of the similarities (homologies) between humans and fruit flies? And why no mention of Marc Hauser and his work uncovering the secrets of moral thinking? There is a deafening silence on those and other issues. Fodor, Nagel, and Plantinga don’t need to turn themselves into biochemists, but some awareness of the issues and advances would not be entirely misplaced.

Why so little interest in learning the actual science that supports evolution? Ruse thinks that there’s an ulterior motive:

This total lack of interest in the science is surely suggestive. The critics are being driven by other, for them deeper, concerns. . . . Plantinga is open in his fear that Darwinism makes impossible the guaranteed existence of our species. More, for years he has argued that Darwinism is bound up with the metaphysical belief that everything is natural (as opposed to supernatural), and that this leads to a collapse of rational belief and knowledge. The chance elements in Darwinism are simply not compatible with Plantinga’s Christian faith.

As nonbelievers, Nagel and Fodor are a bit different, but not that different. For years Nagel has argued against a reductive view of the human mind, believing it to be more than just molecules in motion—the obvious end result of Darwinism. At some level, Nagel believes, the mind is above the material.

Now that we are clear that Ruse has no sympathy for the claims of Bible literalism and ID, despite his fight with more aggressive atheists, what’s left for the fundamentalists to love about him?

Next time we look at Michael Ruse, we’ll examine his ideas on morality — there won’t be any God-given rules there, either.


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