I swear, sometimes I think that pro-evolution accommodationists see evolutionists as a bigger enemy than are creationists. This became clear to me earlier this week, when I received a nasty, chest-thumping email from philosopher Michael Ruse, accusing me of two things:
1. Since I was not a philosopher, I had no credentials to pronounce on issues of philosophy, religion and theology. You know what I think of this claim.
2. My “anti-religion” activities are inimical to the cause of promoting evolutionary biology. You know what I think about this as well: religion is really the root cause of creationism, which won’t dissipate until we loosen the grip of faith on America.
I’ll quote just two sentences from Ruse’s email: “But as it is, we are in a battle in America for the scientific soul of its children. I don’t know who does more damage, you and your kind or Phillip Johnson and his kind. I really don’t.”
This made me laugh. Ruse is the Discovery Institute’s favorite philosopher, a guy who can always be counted on to stroke IDers and say, “Yes, yes, you’ve really been misunderstood. I understand. It’s those nasty atheists who are really the ones cooking up trouble.” Ruse edited a book with ID prima donna William Dembski, and has posted on the Discovery Institute website. Fortunately, most philosophers and evolutionists don’t take Ruse too seriously. He is constantly coddling the faithful to grotesque extents, even going so far, in his book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?, to float the idea of an intergalactic Jesus who could carry the message of salvation between every planet on which life evolved. (See my review of this execrable tome here.)
Ruse still likes to make trouble, though. His latest shenanigan is a collaborative posting with Andrew Brown (on Brown’s column) at the Guardian website (I swear, the Guardian has published three pro-religion, anti-atheist pieces in the past three days. What’s with them?). The post is absolutely unbelievable in its hauteur — and stupidity.
Ruse reports that he visited Kentucky’s Creation Museum, where he had an epiphany. He suddenly realized how misunderstood creationists really are. We nasty, militant atheists don’t take the trouble to step into the creationists’ shoes and understand where they’re coming from. From Ruse’s circular email, coopted by Brown:
Just for one moment about half way through the exhibit …I got that Kuhnian flash that it could all be true – it was only a flash (rather like thinking that Freudianism is true or that the Republicans are right on anything whatsoever) but it was interesting nevertheless to get a sense of how much sense this whole display and paradigm can make to people.
It is silly just to dismiss this stuff as false – that eating turds is good for you is [also] false but generally people don’t want to [whereas] a lot of people believe Creationism so we on the other side need to get a feeling not just for the ideas but for the psychology too.
Really? Didn’t Ruse himself, along with Kenneth Miller and other theistic or theist-friendly scientists, work together to show that creationism is false in the Dover trial and earlier creationist cases? Isn’t that the way we win in court? Well, maybe, but Ruse’s beef is that we need to be armchair psychologists as well as scientists, something that the deeply empathetic Ruse has apparently mastered. Brown concurs:
This is, I think one of the key differences between the new, or militant, atheists and Darwinians like Ruse, just as atheist as they but a lot less anti-religious. The new atheists recoil instinctively from the idea that they should get a feeling for the ideas and psychology of creationists. To them the essential point about believers is that they are stupid and crazy and wrong. So why waste your one life trying to inhabit a mind smaller and more twisted than your own?
(Just for fun, click on Brown’s links above. They don’t lead you to statements by the “new atheists”!)
Well, I won’t waste time rebutting Brown’s (and Ruse’s) view, for P. Z. Myers has done a splendid job of it over on Pharyngula. This is one of P.Z.’s all-time classic posts. Check out the eloquent peroration after he has worked himself up to the heights of indignation:
I sympathize [with creationists] because they are all missing the awesomeness of reality for the awfulness of some narrow Bronze Age theocratic bullshit.
But there are also some for whom I have no sympathy at all.
I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before a grandiose monument to lies, an institution that is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and ultimately anti-human, in a place where children are being actively miseducated, an edifice dedicated to an abiding intellectual evil, and choose to complain about how those ghastly atheists are ruining everything.
Those people can just fuck off.
Well, a mite strong there at the end, but I share P.Z.’s frustration and anger. Do look at the readers’ responses (my favorites from last night are #25 and #47) and especially the readers’ responses to the Brown/Ruse post. Suffice it to say that Brown’s piece did not go down well.
Let me point out Brown’s twisted logic at the end of his piece:
But this constant identification of religion with irrationality, stupidity, cruelty, and ignorance [by the new atheists] is doubly self-defeating. It doesn’t of course work to persuade anyone out of religious belief. But it also promotes some quite grotesque self-deception. For if all the bad traits in human nature are religious, and I am not religious, then I am surely free from all the believers’ faults. Sometimes I think this explains the attractions of that style of atheism.
Oh dear. Who ever said that all the bad traits in human nature are religious? Or that atheists are free from faults? This is just smoke and mirrors, and what it mirrors is Brown and Ruse’s refusal to face the complete lack of evidence for both God and the epistemic assertions of the faithful. And I’m dead sick of the Brown/Ruse failure to engage the substantive arguments of atheists. Instead, they repeatedly criticize our tone. This is a tactic born of desperation. It’s what students of animal behavior call displacement activity: for example, when a pissed off sea gull attacks a leaf.
People like Ruse are afflicted with what philosopher Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief” — the idea that even if the tenets of religion are wrong, it should still be promoted because it’s good for people and for society. I find this notion incredibly condescending. We know from the situation in Europe, where there are a ton of atheists, that people do not need religion to live happy, fulfilled, and moral lives.
UPDATE: Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse describes Ruse’s own sordid history of cozying up to creationists. I had forgotten that Ruse gave a series of public talks with ID bigwig William Dembski, and didn’t know that Ruse described Dembski’s book The Design Inference as “a valuable contribution to science.” To science??