The longer Michael Ruse at Aeon magazine

A few days ago Michael Ruse published a dreadful piece in the Guardian that made two points:

1. We New Atheists and humanists are essentially religious in our behavior, with our own “jihads” (crusades against religion), “worship” (of divinities like Richard Dawkins), and what Ruse calls “the narcissism of small differences” (the feuding over trivial matters, like those that caused schisms within Mormonism). There’s some justification for faulting atheists on the third count, but that still doesn’t make our views a religion. After all, many secular organizations fracture for a variety of reasons.

2.  He, Ruse, has been unfairly maligned by atheists even though he is a nonbeliever and doesn’t much like religion. Yet we call the poor boy names like “clueless gobshite” (a monicker coined by P.Z. Myers, and one Ruse never tires of citing). But after complaining about all the opprobrium he receives, in the end Ruse admits that he likes it!:

As I said, I don’t care about the personal attacks. I have the kind of personality that welcomes being in the public eye, even if the attention is critical. I have teased Coyne and sent him $50 as a retainer to make sure I am not forgotten. But I do think it all tells us something. Call it a secular religion if you will, but the humanism I have been discussing in this piece does bear strong similarities to conventional religion. One finds the enthusiasm of the true believer. And as a non-believing Darwinian evolutionist, as one who is a humanist in the broader sense, this makes me feel rather ill.

In other words, in the second sentence Ruse admits he’s the Paris Hilton of philosophy (there are other parallels, too, but I won’t go into them). One would think that a serious academic cares less about publicity than about his reputation among fellow academics, which itself depends on the quality of his scholarship. Lately Ruse has been below par on the second two counts, and yet doesn’t get near the publicity he thinks he deserves.

David Sepkoski, Ruse’s friend (who always noted, erroneously, that Ruse was maligned unfairly) urged us to read the longer piece in Aeon Magazine from which the Guardian piece was excerpted, “Curb your enthusiasm: high priests, holy writ, and excommunications: how did humanism end up acting like a religion?” At nearly 6000 words, the Aeon piece is a slog, but someone had to read it.

I must report that while the Aeon piece is longer, it isn’t much better. It’s padded with some potted history (do we really need to hear about the Huxley-Wilberforce debate again?), but makes exactly the same two points as does the Guardian piece—at greater length.  The one addition is a gratuitous attack on scientism.

Rather than dissect such a long piece, I’ll present a few quotations:

Why do I get upset by this? ["Science behaving like a religion?"] Firstly, because I didn’t give up one faith to take up another. There are many aspects of religion that I find really offensive, celibate old men in skirts telling young women how to run their private lives being one. Not all scientists are keen on authority; plenty would say that the best thing about science is that it is anti-authoritarian. Nonetheless, when scientists start talking about values, they often find it hard to resist the temptations of moralising and authoritarianism.

Secondly, I am uneasy that Humanism puts human beings at the centre of things in a way that is reminiscent of religion, especially monotheistic traditions. Huxley’s world vision makes humans as central as Christianity does. This kind of self-importance has contributed to world pollution and appalling behaviour towards plants and animals.

As if humanists aren’t largely concerned with saving the planet!  Take a look at the Republicans and religious fundamentalists, Dr. Ruse: your ire would be better directed at them. A lot of opposition to environmentalism and anthropogenic scenarios for global warming come from religion.

It’s this kind of nasty and undeserved attack on atheists and humanists (another lesson for Ruse: atheism does not equal humanism) that draws our ire.  Even those concerned largely about human welfare recognize that saving the planet, and its other species, is essential to our destiny.

Thirdly, although science and religion can clash (you can’t believe in modern paleoanthropology and a literal Adam and Eve), I don’t think they are always in opposition. There are some meaningful questions that science simply does not address. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ ‘Does life have a purpose?’ If religion wants to have a crack at answering these, then science cannot object. You might criticise the religious answers on theological or philosophical grounds, as I would, but not on scientific grounds. I don’t see Huxley or his intellectual descendants allowing this.

We don’t object at religion asking these questions; we object at their pretense of being able to answer them.  Religions give no real answers (e.g., what is God’s nature? How should we live/copulate/eat?), as witnessed by the schisms among faiths in how they answer such questions. When will people like Ruse learn that asking or addressing questions is not the same thing as answering them?  Seeing that distinction doesn’t require a lot of neurons! Religion will never answer why there is something rather than nothing; science has come up with answers, depending on your definition of “nothing.”

Frankly, I’m surprised at Ruse’s obtuseness here. Clearly science and religion are in opposition because their methodologies, ways of assessing “evidence,” and outcomes of “understanding” are completely discrepant. Science can answer many of its questions; religion can’t answer a single one.

We don’t object to religion beating its head against the wall; we object to its pretense that it can find real answers, without good evidence, about what exists in the universe. Only science can do that.

Ruse then objects that the “religion” of humanism can’t provide us with morality, either:

The trouble is, there is no simple line from evolutionary biology to the ethical life, and there is no guarantee that an alternative secular religion will lead us there. Huxley’s vision of a rationalised world united by Evolutionary Humanism makes me uneasy.

But he fails to note that neither, as we know since the time of Plato, can religion! And philosophy, Ruse’s own discipline, hasn’t done a particularly good job either. Nevertheless it’s the atheists/humanists whom Ruse goes after, not the faithful, who can’t even admit that their morality doesn’t come from God. Scandinavia, the home of “secular religion,” is, I maintain, more moral than the hyperreligious United States.

And Ruse wonders why we atheists scorn him! His logic is simply rotten to the core, and he has some bizarre animus against atheists whose source is hidden in his cerebral fissures.

But wait—there’s more bad logic!

The bible of the movement, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, defines itself not so much in its aggressive statement of non-belief, although that is certainly there, but in putting science in opposition to religion and replacing it as the basis of a world view. This is not new. Dawkins has been arguing for a long time, as have many evolutionists, that reconciling a Darwinian natural world with Christian belief is impossible.

The God Delusion is not a “bible,” it’s not nearly as aggressive as Ruse makes out, and the worldview it espouses it not one that neglects morality, or even bases morality on science (as Sam Harris does), but simply advances the reasonable view that beliefs based on evidence are better than those based on superstition and wish-thinking. Clearly, religiously-based views are the source of many of the world’s ills. Without religion, we wouldn’t be throwing acid into the faces of schoolgirls or terrorizing children for masturbating. And Jews could eat bacon!

Ruse’s longer piece then repeats many of the traits of “humanism” he sees as essentially religious. These are false parallels, for the essential characteristic of religion— its acceptance of supernatural beings that usually interact with the world, and reliance on revelation instead of evidence—are missing from humanism.

And, argues Ruse, the faithful’s dislike of other religions is mirrored in our dislike of fellow atheists like him. Once again he whines:

As I said, I don’t care about the personal attacks. Indeed, I have the kind of personality that welcomes being in the public eye, even if the attention is critical. I have teased Jerry Coyne (something he does not entirely appreciate) and sent him $50 (something he did appreciate) as a retainer to make sure I am not forgotten. But I do think it all tells us something. Call it a secular religion if you will, or call it something else entirely. The Humanism I have been discussing in this piece does bear strong similarities to conventional religion. One finds the enthusiasm of the true believer, and this encourages a set of unnerving attributes: intolerance, hero-worship, moral certainty and the self-righteous condemnation of unbelievers. As an atheist Darwinian evolutionist, as one who is a humanist in the broader sense, this makes me feel really ill.

Really, Michael, at long last have you no sense of decency?

Well, I did get $50 from Ruse, and spent it on a fine meal to compensate me for having to read him. But fifty bucks goes only so far, and my willingness to publicize Ruse’s terrible arguments is once again exhausted. So please, Dr. Ruse, send no more infusions of cash. Unlike some religions, atheists don’t sell indulgences. It’s not worth my time or money to read 6000 words of bad philosophy and criticism of atheism by someone who claims to be on our side but is absolutely desperate for publicity. That is what makes me ill.

47 Comments

  1. Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Jerry you could just let him send the money for lunch every once in a while :)
    What beef does he have with atheists? or to put it differently what does he expect from us?

    • Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:00 am | Permalink

      It’s not a real beef, it’s a gimmick- and a very transparent one at that. Unfortunately the world is full of these opportunists using marketing formulas to make money and remain in the public eye.

      • Egbert
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:40 am | Permalink

        Who isn’t?

  2. Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    It almost seems like he’s annoyed at being unable to garner attention from his philosophical work because that of the ‘New Atheists’ (I really don’t like that term) is so much more publicly engaging, so he tries to get attention by jumping on the “Ooh, isn’t Dawkins a meanie?” bandwagon. Whenever Dawkins speaks publicly he is always calm, eloquent & entirely rational – far from the image that Ruse’s out-of-context quotes paint him as.

  3. Dawn Oz
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    I have nothing to add – just to thank Jerry for reading and presenting the article so clearly. Ruse argues that if atheists share any social characteristics with a religion – then they are a religion; yet ignores the defining aspect of a religion – that of received wisdom? Given he is educated, then he is a charlatan playing word games which Wittgenstein, Hume and Russell would find appalling.

  4. corio37
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    Ruse, de Botton and David Sloan Wilson, like many others, are suffering from the Trotsky syndrome. Having seen oneself for years or decades as a champion and leader of a revolutionary movement, it’s very upsetting when that movement starts to succeed without your help, and politely declines your attempts to give it direction and advice. What their complaint boils down to is just this: “The New Atheists aren’t all about ME.”

    • Darth Dog
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      I think you nailed it.

      “Wait for me! I’m your leader!”

    • TFJ
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      There’s definitely a bit of the spurned philosopher at play. His major beef seems to be with the New Atheists’ philosophical unsophistication. He had a jab at Dawkins for not taking on supposedly stronger and more sophisticated apologetics in the God Delusion.

      Funny thing is the stridency and militancy with which he has criticised Dawkins and other Gnus in the past.

      • TFJ
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        Left out the end of the last sentence.

        Funny thing is the stridency and militancy with which he has criticised Dawkins and other Gnus in the past for being strident and militant.

  5. IW
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    Isn the Ruse family motto “Après moi le delusion”? Or is it, “Let them eat crow”?

  6. Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    The Ruselton Prize seems to be rather parsimonious.

    Freud’s “narcissism of small differences” is more appropriate for Ruse (seeing as how his unbelief is akin to slapdash reconciliation).

  7. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Google “Michael Ruse” & relevant terms such as “atheist” & it’s easy to see he’s been dragging the ocean bottom & muddying the water for years on this one topic. This man is a desperate troll seeking attention for some reason. I can’t imagine why…

    Michael Ruse writing in HuffPo April 2nd 2010:- A Scientific Defense of the Templeton Foundation

    “So while I am a bit wary about the [Templeton] Foundation and shall be watching its future developments – especially now that Sir John is gone and his far-more-evangelical son has taken the reins – I shall continue to defend its existence and its purpose. I don’t want to reconcile science and religion if this implies that religion must be true. At most, I want to show that science does not preclude being religious. But I don’t see that what I want and what others want means that we necessarily have to be bad friends and despise each other”

    It grieves me that Ruse is a Brummie [i.e. born in my home town of Birmingham, UK] ~ I’ve only just recovered from the shock of discovering that William Lane Craig earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at my University of Birmingham

    I say that the best policy with this atheist troll is to deny him the oxygen of publicity…

  8. Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Well said, Dr. Coyne! I have followed this debate between those few secular-minded people who share an attitude similar to Ruse’s regarding science and atheism and those who are champions of science and reason. I think the Trotsky syndrome might be an explanation for the attacks on science by the philosophers but I’m confused as to why other well-respected scientists would be motivated in such a way. Perhaps this phenomenon should be studied… Human nature is what it is- no matter what type of group one is in, there will be certain ways that people relate to one another. A study in group psychology might be recommended to Ruse. Is he serious in his attack on atheists/humanists/science or is it just a ruse?!

    • josh
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      But don’t you see!!! Both atheists and believers are subject to group dynamics! Ergo they are the same thing. Ruse and company are of course excepted from this analysis.

      • Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        The difference is that:
        - Ideology is only subjected to subjective personal experience, which is really just people saying the same things. The more words the better.
        - Science is subject to objective inter subjective, proof via predictions and measurable empirical events — data. The fewer words the better.

  9. LuminiferousEthan
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    >There are some meaningful questions that science simply does not address. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

    Being so steaming angry with the New Atheists, I’m surprised he isn’t aware of Laurence Krauss who has a book explaining just that.

    • Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Krauss aside, why shouldn’t there be something rather than nothing? Why should there have been “nothing” to “begin” with?

      /@

      • Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        I think it’s more effective to retort with the more basic question of “On what basis are you confident that there is something rather than nothing?”

        • mandrellian
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          How about starting with “Please provide a definition of ‘nothing’ sufficient that we can begin to answer why it isn’t there.”

          • Posted October 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

            Once again, that’s presupposing it isn’t.

  10. matt
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    ruse is under the false impression that the more he repeats the same old canards about atheists being just like over zealous religious believers, the more it must be true. it would be in his favor to learn to say more with less.

  11. Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    V funny take, well done.

    Ruse craves mush. He is comfortable with vagueness, and it is the firmness in which both fundamentalists and atheists present their case which irritates him to no end. His real allies are ‘moderate’ believers who like him excel at shovelling schmaltz.

    In other words, he is a man of style and no substance or else he could see that a firm manner does not make one a fundamentalist or else I should fire my dentist.

    Another clue is his clueless idea of a joke. Is he that detached from personal integrity to think sending dough to a vocal opponent is funny? My criteria for being an atheist worth her salt is to have a working sense of humour and Ruse, you failed.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      “In other words, he is a man of style and no substance . . .”

      And, unfortunately, his style sucks too. I don’t know if maybe in the past he was different, but these days he looks just like a talentless hack.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    In the long run, I entirely agree with Jerry Coyne, but I will hazard a few firstly sympathetic observations & then much less sympathetic notes as to what might be motivating Ruse.

    Ruse came to atheism after abandoning one of the most benign forms of religion, Quakerism. It’s arguable that if you become an atheist after abandoning Westboro Baptist (as has the son of Fred Phelps) you will look upon your former faith with loathing and contempt, but if you go from Quakerism to atheism, you will be more friendly to what you left behind.

    Ruse is also by his own admission very culturally and socially conservative. This alone is going to make him uncomfortable with several American atheist activists.

    Richard Dawkins is far more gentle then many give him credit for (whenever he’s on a BBC TV panel with a rabbi and priest he’s the “soul” of patience- and I had a delightful exchange with RD in a bookstore around here) but I really do think it was imprudent of him in his book to specifically compare Ruse with Neville Chamberlain (perhaps with more familiarity with Ruse I could be persuaded to change my mind). But Ruse ought to get past that.

    That said, I really balk at why Ruse wants to maintain friendships with hardcore creationists like Duane Gish. I get that Christopher Hitchens and Michael Shermer were affable towards Francis Collins, but not Ruse’s friendliness with Dembski & co. After all, these are exactly the sort of folk that Ruse has said are the “real” enemies of science. (Maybe that’s the one reason RD compared him to Chamberlain although that’s not the reason given in “God Delusion”)

    Most interesting is that Ruse is ALSO miffed at the creationist’s treatment of him(!!) and puts it !*ahead of*! balking at their positions(!!!) in this piece he wrote for BioLogos “I will say however that I was disappointed that when Ben Stein tried to make me seem foolish in his movie Expelled, not one of them [Gish, Dembski] sprang publicly to my defense. Anyone who did not condemn that gross piece of distortion of the issues should feel really ashamed.” http://blog.beliefnet.com/scienceandthesacred/2009/08/why-i-think-the-new-atheists-are-a-bloody-disaster.html

    So after noting that Ruse seems as much concerned about the way “Expelled” misrepresented him as how it distorted “the issues”(!!) I want to say, “Wake up and smell the coffee, Michael.” and “Try listening instead of talking for a while” and stop acting like a wounded animal.

    Finally, the comments at the bottom of the Aeon piece are mostly critical of Ruse and quite good.

    • Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Perhaps you are on to something in noting that Ruse was a Quaker before becoming an atheist. It’s always tricky and dangerous trying to speculate on a person’s (hidden?) motivations, but all of us are victims of hidden agendas in our subconscious brains. Or so Leonard Mlodinow argues in his book Subliminal, which I am reading now.

  13. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I suspect most people visiting this site are simply asking for solid, repeatable and unbiased evidence as a precondition for their beliefs. No sophistry, revelation or similar nonsense allowed. I certainly find it hilarious to be criticized for holding this view. Apparently, laughing can be a serious matter for Ruse. It can trap the unaware in a new polytheist religion having a pantheon of dangerous fanatical deities: Dawkins, Harris, Coyne et al.

  14. Chris
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    “In other words, in the second sentence Ruse admits he’s the Paris Hilton of philosophy (there are other parallels, too, but I won’t go into them).”

    Just so long as there’s not a Michael Ruse sex tape making the rounds….

  15. jeffery
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    “There are some meaningful questions that science simply does not address. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’”- The answer to this question is that there is no such “thing” as nothing; the concept of “no-thing” is a byproduct of our dualistically-wired brains. Like zero, “nothing” is basically a “placeholder” that lets one know that there COULD be something there. The subconscious weighing of existence v/s non-existence is what allows us to realize, every minute of every day, that we ARE here.

  16. Sastra
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    ‘Does life have a purpose?’ If religion wants to have a crack at answering these, then science cannot object. You might criticise the religious answers on theological or philosophical grounds, as I would, but not on scientific grounds.

    Does life have a purpose? Do volcanoes have a purpose? What is the mosquito for?

    Like many accomodationists eager to “allow” religion to peacefully coexist with science, Michael Ruse seems more than happy to decouple religion from the supernatural and just consider it on the merits of its social, cultural, and individual benefits. Become an anthropologist. Become a therapist. Think teleologically and ask “what is teleology for?” Not whether supernatural beings, forces, realms, and causes make sense in light of modern science and the bottom-up approach to understanding reality — but whether they help the Little People make sense of who they are. If so, leave them alone. They need it; we do not.

    I wonder how many critics of the New Atheists in general and Richard Dawkins in particular would have been perfectly fine with scientific attacks against believing in the supernatural — as long as these attacks stay away from religion. Maybe they think that distinction is more distinct than we do.

  17. lkr
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    By his own account, Ruse is submersed in a religious culture in Florida, and believes that’s true now and in the future in the US. He just assumes that if he and all other atheists don’t STFU, they will be smitten by now-friendly neighbors, colleagues, students. And especially the US Supreme Court.

    His model organism would be one of those marvelous mymecophilic beetles or roaches who pass as ants with a heavy dose of pheromone. Possibly in his case, one of those who also grow luggage handles to be carried from ant festival to ant festival…

  18. Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Here are the basic fear responses:

    - Fight: Personally attack the messengers of science and evidence-based knowledge, attack definitions, words, methods, name call like scientism/materialsm/atheism, etc — NEVER address the facts and real issues.
    - Flight: Run away from the real issues by pulling out quantum silliness, old books, philosophy, arcane discussions of no relevance. solipsism — if I feel it, it must be true.
    - Freeze: Say the same tired, trite thing, cite the same philosophy, scripture, thing over and over…

    • Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Possibly not the best line of attack, since there’s suggestions that “fawn” may be a separate quasi-basic fear response distinct from “freeze”; Ruse et al might charge that atheists are simply giving a fawning response.

      • Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Have to defer to folks who know animal ethology. However, the neural processes are conserved across species, including our own.

  19. history57
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Jerry, as usual I agree with all of your premises (which is why I never post a comment as I can’t improve on what you’re saying) Having said that, as a “Member of the Tribe”, I do want to comment on,”And Jews can eat bacon.” I get the joke but non-MOT’s may actually think we can’t eat bacon. After all, if Dr. Coyne says we don’t eat bacon, it must be true. My casual observations lead me to conclude that many people do believe that Jews keep kosher. I’m always struck when a gentile asks me in seeming astonishment, “you eat shellfish and bacon?”

    Aargh! I don’t know any Jews that are actually kosher. Modern-thinking Jews are not guided by that ancient primer written for goat-herders and slave-traders. I’m reminded of the scene from the holiest of holy’s, “The Life of Brian”, when Pilate asks John Cleese, “Centurion, are they mocking me?” and Clesse responds with, “Jewish humor, sir.” Most people, I’m afraid, don’t get Jewish humor.

    Cheers!

  20. darrelle
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I can only think of two options that make sense. Either Michael Ruse is not very smart, or he has ulterior motives. And I really can’t tell because ALL of his arguments lately have been juvenile and cliche. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.

    So, that leaves ulterior motivations. I am really interested in what could cause him to make such lame and, seemingly anyway, disingenuous arguments. Perhaps as JonLynnHarvey said above it has to do with his Quaker roots. But I’m doubtful that that could entirely account for his behavior. I think something like the Trotsky Syndrome hypothesis, first mentioned here by corio37, is more probable.

    • Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Has anyone ever heard of a column which was rejected because it might have hurt the delicate sensibilities of atheists?

      Criticizing atheists is safe. And an atheist criticizing other atheists carries an initial cachet of objective integrity.

      Ruse doesn’t seem to know much, but he is darned good at pushing the buttons of popular bloggers, so his columns gain the veneered respectability of copious response.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      I’ve mentioned this before:

      a few years back, he went on a public “debate tour” with William Dembski.

      anyone who saw those “debates” (there are tapes of some of them still floating around) will immediately tell you the entire thing was scripted and staged.

      the purpose?

      to make money of course.

      makes perfect sense. In fact, both Dembski and Ruse are in the same boat, just rowing in opposite directions.

  21. Stonyground
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I really resent his use of the word Jihad. It is deeply insulting to suggest that me pointing out that I think that religion is harmful and untrue, and backing that up with the reasons that I think this, is in any way comparable to wanting to fight some holy war to exterminate or convert anyone who does not agree with me. It also says a lot about Ruse if he can’t see the difference.

    Thomas Paine came from a Quaker background. His writings expressed great contempt for organised religion. As I recall, he thought that the Quakers were OK but very dour.

    • TFJ
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s slightly unfair. Jihad has come to mean fanatical in common usage much the way Nazi is used to denote authoritarianism without suggesting genocide.

  22. Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    My favorite response to claims that Atheism is essentially religious in behavior is to challenge the claimant to present examples from all six of the “Ways” of being religious from Dale Cannon’s framework. Intellectual Inquiry is easy enough, but the other five are rather harder… and in some cases, the main examples that show Atheism is a religion make conventional religion appear even worse off than before the comparison.

  23. MadScientist
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    “I have the kind of personality that welcomes being in the public eye, even if the attention is critical.”

    Well, that’s all he needed to say – he craves attention no matter what the cause. Millions of people rolling their eyes and saying “what an idiot” is preferable to not being in the papers or on tv being talked about at all. Now could we please simply ignore the simpleton?

  24. DagoRed
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    RUSE: “plenty would say that the best thing about science is that it is anti-authoritarian.”

    No, they wouldn’t. Science is “anti-authoritarian” only because it is a method of establishing truth (and that is “the best thing about science” plenty would say). It is truth, not science, that has this anti-authoritarian capacity. People eventually end up gravitating toward undeniable truths (whether their source is scientific, legal, moral, or merely common-sense) and abandoning falsehoods, even those enforced in an authoritarian way, once the falsehoods are revealed by the wide dissemination of the truth. As usual, when Ruse starts talking about science, he often finds it hard to resist the temptation of misrepresenting and adulteration.

    RUSE: “Nonetheless, when scientists start talking about values, they often find it hard to resist the temptations of moralizing and authoritarianism.”

    Ruse is conflating the idea of professional authority with the idea of political authority. How can a scientist become “authoritarian”? Scientists wield authority only through intellectual persuasion, and when people are not swayed by such means, any “moralizing” scientist simply fades into the background labeled as a crank and a crackpot by his/her disagreeing audience (a fate, I am sure, Ruse himself is very familiar with by now). Is Ruse implying that that these “moralizing scientists” have the own personal legions of jackbooted militia to enforce their moralizing upon their non-compliant audiences?

    Ruse’s use of such ridiculous invective simply makes him appear more nutty than the opponents he attempts to impugn. Not a very effective writing style, if you ask me.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:11 am | Permalink

      No, they wouldn’t.

      indeed, science itself has nothing to do with authoritarianism.

      Academia, OTOH, exhibits struggles with authoritarianism just like any other human endeavor.

      One would think that a famous philosopher OF science would certainly make the correct distinction.

      I find Ruse, for the last 10 years at least, to be painful in his rhetoric.

  25. Ichthyic
    Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting now that Jerry has done what David Sepkoski asked of him, that Sepkoski has failed to appear in the comments here.

  26. quine001
    Posted October 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I have also written about this piece here: Ruse Redux.

  27. shakyisles
    Posted October 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Personal attacks and such don’t get anyone anywhere. That behaviour just polarises people. If you can see the truth in what others say, however sparse it might be, while holding true to what you know, you might be pleasantly suprised to see them become more open to seeing the truth in what you say. Some call it the ‘law of attraction’, or karma. Whatever you want to call it, the more you resist another, the more they push back against you! I see it in my children too :)


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  1. [...] Jerry Coyne has responded to Michael Ruse, who apparently claims that atheism is a religion.  I am never sure where that idea (that atheism is a religion) comes from.  Fundamentalists often bring that up.  It is stranger to see Ruse, himself an atheist, making that argument. [...]

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