As the the season of atheist-bashing proceeds, faitheist Michael Ruse continues to whine about us on — of all places — the religious “Science and the Sacred” website, a venue for “leaders of the BioLogos Foundation.” Ruse’s article is called “Why I think the new atheists are a disaster,” and you could write it with your eyes closed. It’s full of the usual accusations, including Ruse’s speciality: the claim that atheists are as big a disaster for the pro-evolution movement as are fundamentalist creationists:
. . Secondly, I think that the new atheists are doing terrible political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting. Americans are religious people. You may not like this fact. But they are. Not all are fanatics. Survey after survey shows that most American Christians (and Jews and others) fall in the middle on social issues like abortion and gay marriage as well as on science. They want to be science-friendly, although it is certainly true that many have been seduced by the Creationists. We evolutionists have got to speak to these people. We have got to show them that Darwinism is their friend not their enemy. We have got to get them onside when it comes to science in the classroom. And criticizing good men like Francis Collins, accusing them of fanaticism, is just not going to do the job. Nor is criticizing everyone, like me, who wants to build a bridge to believers – not accepting the beliefs, but willing to respect someone who does have them. For myself, I would like America to have a healthcare system like Canada – government run, compulsory, universal. It is cheaper and better. But I engage with those who want free enterprise to be involved in the business. Likewise I engage with believers – I don’t accept their beliefs but I respect their right to have them.
Most importantly, the new atheists are doing terrible damage to the fight to keep Creationism out of the schools. The First Amendment does not ban the teaching of bad science in publicly funded schools. It bans the teaching of religion. That is why it is crucial to argue that Creationism, including its side kick IDT, is religion and not just bad science. But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If teaching “God exists” is teaching religion – and it is – then why is teaching “God does not exist” not teaching religion? Obviously it is teaching religion. But if science generally and Darwinism specifically imply that God does not exist, then teaching science generally and Darwinism specifically runs smack up against the First Amendment. Perhaps indeed teaching Darwinism is implicitly teaching atheism. This is the claim of the new atheists. If this is so, then we shall have to live with it and rethink our strategy about Creationism and the schools. The point is however that the new atheists have lamentably failed to prove their point, and excoriating people like me who show the failure is (again) not very helpful.
I think that P. Z. Myers and his crew are as disastrous to the evolution side – and people like me need to say this – as Ben Stein is disastrous to the Creationism side – and the Creationists should have had the guts to say so. I have written elsewhere that The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist. Let me say that again. Let me say also that I am proud to be the focus of the invective of the new atheists. They are a disaster and I want to be on the front line of those who say so.
In the immortal words of Clara Peller, “Where’s the beef?” Where is the evidence that vocal atheists are setting back the cause of evolution? This is only an opinion, and no better than the opinion that by pushing back the influence of religion, the new atheists are actually promoting the acceptance of evolution. I agree with P.Z. Myers that we should “let a thousand critics blossom,” with each of us supporting evolution in the way we know best.
And Ruse, who seems to pride himself on his sophisticated knowledge of theology, runs completely aground when he equates teaching Darwinism with teaching atheism. I don’t know of a single evolutionist who teaches atheism in their classrooms, or who even says in the classroom that Darwinism is tantamount to atheism. Show me, Dr. Ruse, one atheist who violates freedom of religion by saying, “God does not exist” in the public school (or even the university) classroom. Yes, teaching evolution may have the side result of eroding some peoples’ faith, but, as I’ve pointed out before, the erosion of faith can occur in the geology classroom, the astronomy classroom, the ethics classroom, and even in the theology classroom! (How many believers have lost their faith when learning about how the Bible was actually put together?) As the respect for rational discourse increases, as it should with a good education, the respect for religion will erode. But that doesn’t mean that a good education violates the First Amendment.
Behind all this, I think, is Ruse’s anger at having been attacked by atheists, something he makes pretty clear in the article:
I am not a devout Christian, yet if anything, the things said against me are worse. Richard Dawkins, in his best selling The God Delusion, likens me to Neville Chamberlain, the pusillanimous appeaser of Hitler at Munich. Jerry Coyne reviewed one of my books (Can a Darwinian be a Christian?) using the Orwellian quote that only an intellectual could believe the nonsense I believe in. And non-stop blogger P. Z. Myers has referred to be as a “clueless gobshite.” This invective is all because, although I am not a believer, I do not think that all believers are evil or stupid, and because I do not think that science and religion have to clash. (Of course some science and religion clashes. That is the whole point of the Darwinism-Creationism debate. The matter is whether all science and religion clash, something I deny strongly.)
Ruse also goes after Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and other new atheists for their lame and unsophisticated arguments against religion. This is again standard fare, but if there’s a better theological argument for the existence of God than has been criticized by these people, I don’t know it. For someone who touts his sophistication in theology and philosophy, Ruse shows himself appallingly dense about the relationship between teaching evolution, teaching atheism, and the First Amendment. And it’s sad that a philosopher with any pretension to intellectual rigor must consort with the mushbrained BioLogos Foundation.
NOTE: As the evisceration of Ruse proceeds at the Science and the Sacred website as well as at RichardDawkins.net, I want to highlight one comment made by “Mr. Forrest” (comment 45 on the Dawkins.net thread), especially the part in bold (my emphasis). As Mr. Forrest notes, the ontological argument, which Ruse sees as badly treated by Dawkins, is just plain stupid.
Holy crap… the ontological argument is the one that goes approximately:
1. I can imagine a perfect God
2. One of the attributes of perfection is existence
I just vaguely remeber this one from religious studies. Apart from being WILDLY idiosyncratic AND a logical and empirical train-wreck, I would like to challenge the theists to come up with a specific morally perfect god and have them answer a couple of moral dillemas. Then we’ll see how “perfect” their god is.
Oh and the article was fucking awful. I think its insulting in the extreme to presume that people are incapable of having a discussion in frank terms.
Calling the new atheists violent or strident serves EXACTLY the same function as calling an african-american “uppity”. We’re standing up for our views and being really insanely polite about it considering the effects of religion.
Do we really need million man marches, riots, decades of civil rights activism etc. to be granted the right to speak our minds?