. . . I think also in the present, for many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion. . . . for Thomas Henry Huxley, I don't think there's any question but that evolution functioned, at a level, as a kind of secular religion. . . . I think Julian Huxley was certainly an atheist, but he was at the same time a kind of neo-vitalist, and he bound this up with his science. . . . it comes through very strongly that for Julian Huxley evolution was functioning as a kind of secular religion. . . . I'm just saying this in a matter-of-fact sense -- I think that today also, for more than one eminent evolutionist, evolution in a way functions as a kind of secular religion. . . . in On Human Nature, [E.O.] Wilson is quite categorical about wanting to see evolution as the new myth, and all sorts of language like this. That for him, at some level, it's functioning as a kind of metaphysical system.*
The New Atheists seem to hate Michael Ruse's soft touchy-feely liberalism. Of course, I don't buy into the Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) of Gould and Ruse (which feeds the "safe religion" dogma) much more than the idea that science and religion are at odds. In the typical double standard, what we have in our universities is (a) pervasive preaching that religion is only safe if it has nothing to say about the nature of the universe, (b) pervasive eulogizing that science will die a painful death if scientific results can be used to imply non-material or extra-scientific causes, and (c) pervasive commentary on how science has liberated us from our silly superstitions about deity.
The Pharisees and Sadducees in the anti-creationist camp aren't always closing ranks. I think anticreationism is a good name for the shared enthusiasm, in spite of the fact that the conflation of creationism with intelligent design is a ugly bit of equivocation, since it seems to be based on a fear of creationism being taken seriously. No doubt, the usual suspects would say that I am tacitly agreeing with their conflation of ID with creation science and Young Earth creationism. Rather, I am thinking of anticreationism as a sort of hysteria over the creationist bugbear that
(a) causes the afflicted to react against anything that threatens the authoritarian control of a scientific hierarchy, and
(b) causes the afflicted to respond to almost anyone (e.g. Rupert Sheldrake or David Berlinski) suggesting that science can point to non-material causes as though he or she were a creationist like Duane Gish. (I also think of this as "Duane Gish syndrome.")
|Ruse with trilobite tattoo|
In a pettiness that seems to typify the New Atheists, Jerry Coyne slams Michael Ruse for identifying the wrong Hitchens brother (in fact, he desperately screencaps Ruse's mistake in case Ruse notices the obvious error--which he does). For Coyne, this is the telling proof that Ruse is hopelessly confused. Well, the first bit anyway. Like Jeffrey Shallit obsessing over Schopenhauer attributions, Coyne takes Ruse to task over using the popular inaccurate version of the George Orwell quote: “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” Coyne loves the original: “This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.” Sadly, Coyne wasn't using the the Orwell quote to refer to neo-Darwinism or the New Atheist caricature of religious history.
Come to think of it, this also reminds me of a truly bizarre response that Daniel Dennett submitted for an article by David Berlinsky. It was a bunch of random, excited pettiness bordering on schoolyard bullying, among other things focusing on Berlinsky's mistake with a gender pronoun (not making this up) and unwittingly revealed his own ignorance over the term "combinatorial explosion." Berlinksy aptly called the response "a robust display of vulgarity." I think Dennett is capable of much better, and it would be a kindness to attribute that outburst to something written during a drunken rage.
Then again, maybe there are responses so juvenile that only very learned men will attempt them.
Ruse earns enough contempt from Coyne as a bad sport that Coyne shies away from more name-calling, clearly sounding disappointed that Ruse doesn't appreciate the unprofessionalism. PZ Myers is not so coddling, and wishes he had thought of "something better" (showing more contempt, presumably) to call Ruse than the 'clueless gobshite' he calls him. To his credit Ruse has never called out Myers as an oozing pustule of rancor and absurdity. One gets the impression reading Myers' response that he has no problem attributing both "[b]lind, unquestioning worship of our leaders" and "incessant fractiousness and dissension" to theistic religion, but considers it a great contradiction to say that, like theistic religion, either is true of the anti-religion complex of atheism, materialism, Scientism, "free thought," and secular humanism. He doesn't correct Ruse on applying either description to theistic religion.
My guess is that what really irks Myers is that he doesn't like that Ruse is saying that people that hold to atheistic and materialistic worldviews often behave like fundamentalist proselytizers and that the American people have a legitimate interest in government schools not being used for such proselytizing -- or at least, that the proselytizing not be so overt and obvious. Eugenie Scott's response to Ruse on this score was that he was simply being "dumb." (To which he replied, "But while that may indeed be so, I am not sure that it is an argument." I am quite sure it isn't, Michael.)
Are schools promoting a metaphysics of naturalism? Are kids getting that picture from "the science" or from the way science is being taught?
Ruse acknowledges that what one finds compelling (or what kind of evidence one may be willing to admit) is guided by one's metaphysics:
But [Philip Johnson and I] did talk much more about the whole question of metaphysics, the whole question of philosophical bases. And what Johnson was arguing was that, at a certain level, the kind of position of a person like myself, an evolutionist, is metaphysically biased at some level, just as much as the kind of position of let us say somebody, some creationist, someone like [Duane] Gish or somebody like that. And to a certain extent, I must confess, in the ten years since I performed ["performed"?], or I appeared, in the creationism trial in [Epperson vs.] Arkansas, I must say that I've been coming to this kind of position myself.*Michael Ruse again:
. . . I think also in the present, for many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion. . . . for Thomas Henry Huxley, I don't think there's any question but that evolution functioned, at a level, as a kind of secular religion. . . . I think Julian Huxley was certainly an atheist, but he was at the same time a kind of neo-vitalist, and he bound this up with his science. . . . it comes through very strongly that for Julian Huxley evolution was functioning as a kind of secular religion. . . . I'm just saying this in a matter-of-fact sense -- I think that today also, for more than one eminent evolutionist, evolution in a way functions as a kind of secular religion. . . . in On Human Nature, [E.O.] Wilson is quite categorical about wanting to see evolution as the new myth, and all sorts of language like this. That for him, at some level, it's functioning as a kind of metaphysical system.*I think that the same postmodernist sympathies in Ruse that make him very interested in social constructivism in science also simply can't abide the idea that humans have some exalted status in the natural order. Ruse (2010) expresses skepticism in Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini's proudly professed atheism because he suspects that they "just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world. " Maybe they are simply seeing what the "ancient mind" called "the image of God." Hey, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck ...
Is it ironic that Ruse is complaining that Coyne and his fellow ultra-Darwinian materialists are ripping on him for bucking against Scientism when Ruse's response to Jerry Fodor's similar transgression was to denounce Fodor as "wicked" for not realizing the possible ramifications of Darwin doubt on U.S. public policy? (Ruse is a English conservaphobe at a Canadian school, mind you, in spite of the enormous role he has played in U.S. science politics.)
Is it ironic that Ruse can feel conflicted about having to censor his postmodern second-guessing of "science's" claim to ultimate truth because of the political implications, while publicly condemning Fodor for "giving creationists a piece of candy"? Isn't this just one secular creationist crusading against another?
Epilogue: I wrote "anticreationism" for the lack of a better word at the time. I just noticed that this is a term that Ruse uses to describe the NCSE.* I'll add here that I think Ruse is right to think that the New Atheists have put at risk (God bless 'em) the hitherto successful method of NOMA: Religionists can go on claiming to know the meaning of life, and we scientists will decide what is real and what their children will be told is real. (Sounds legit.)
That Pigliucci's accusations of conspiracy unwittingly extend to people on his own side constitutes, in my opinion, further evidence that his zeal against creationism (as understandable as it is) has generated in him an illegitimate negative bias against anything that is in any way associated with creationism. Once again, I believe Pigliucci's strong dislike for creationism is well-founded, but it appears to have caused him to miss the point of The Design Inference, whether the point of the book turns out to be correct or incorrect. - Mark Velutic [emphasis mine]