Damn! Just when I was praising the Guardian for publishing critiques of faith, along comes Michael Ruse to argue that “Dawkins et al bring us into disrepute.” By “us,” of course, he means “atheists.” Sadly, Ruse, whose ideas are quickly approaching their sell-by date, simply expels the same arguments as all faitheists:
1. I know theology and you don’t.
. . . unlike the new atheists, I take scholarship seriously. I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I meant it. Trying to understand how God could need no cause, Christians claim that God exists necessarily. I have taken the effort to try to understand what that means. Dawkins and company are ignorant of such claims and positively contemptuous of those who even try to understand them, let alone believe them. Thus, like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, “What caused God?” as though he had made some momentous philosophical discovery. Dawkins was indignant when, on the grounds that inanimate objects cannot have emotions, philosophers like Mary Midgley criticised his metaphorical notion of a selfish gene. Sauce for the biological goose is sauce for the atheist gander. There are a lot of very bright and well informed Christian theologians. We atheists should demand no less.
The assertion that “God exists necessarily” is not a satisfactory answer to critiques of First Cause arguments. As Dawkins and many REAL PHILOSOPHERS have pointed out, one could equally well say that the Universe exists necessarily. It is not fatuous to ask “What caused God?” — not a bit. What was God doing before he created the Universe? Yes, there are a lot of very bright Christian theologians, but I haven’t seen any of them make a satisfactory argument for why God exists. Theology is the business of turning empirical necessities into religious virtues.
2. Atheists aren’t nice or humble enough.
. . .how dare we be so condescending? I don’t have faith. I really don’t. Rowan Williams does as do many of my fellow philosophers like Alvin Plantinga (a Protestant) and Ernan McMullin (a Catholic). I think they are wrong; they think I am wrong. But they are not stupid or bad or whatever. If I needed advice about everyday matters, I would turn without hesitation to these men. We are caught in opposing Kuhnian paradigms. I can explain their faith claims in terms of psychology; they can explain my lack of faith claims also probably partly through psychology and probably theology also. (Plantinga, a Calvinist, would refer to original sin.) I just keep hearing Cromwell to the Scots. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” I don’t think I am wrong, but the worth and integrity of so many believers makes me modest in my unbelief.
Lord help me, why would anybody turn first to a theologian if they needed advice about “everyday matters”? Do they have any special expertise? And besides, how can we be “mistaken” in our view that “there’s no evidence for God”?
3. Atheists are politically incompetent and should shut up.
I want evolution taught in the schools and I can think of no way better designed to make that impossible than to spout on about religion, from ignorance and with contempt. And especially to make unsubstantiated arguments that science refutes religion. I never conceal my nonbelief. I defend to the death the right of the new atheists to their views and to their right to propagate them. But that is no excuse for political stupidity. If, as the new atheists think, Darwinian evolutionary biology is incompatible with Christianity, then will they give me a good argument as to why the science should be taught in schools if it implies the falsity of religion? The first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America separates church and state. Why are their beliefs exempt?
For a long time Ruse has been making the ridiculous argument that if you feel that evolution promotes atheism, then teaching evolution is the same thing as denigrating religion in the pubic schools. Apparently the man is serious. Although Ruse loudly and constantly praises himself for his perspicacity and deep understanding of philosophy and politics, he seems unable to comprehend this simple fact: the erosion of one’s faith by the facts of biology, astronomy, geology, biblical scholarship and the like does not mean that these fields are equivalent to atheism. Is that so hard to understand?
So here’s my “good argument,” Dr. Ruse: lots of things that we teach students make them question not only their faith, but their fundamental values. This is GOOD. Questioning your principles is one of the main aims of education, as Socrates knew well. As biology teachers, our job is to teach evolution, for that is the true account of the history of life. If that account leads some people to question or leave their faith, that’s just too bad. But it’s not the same thing as telling students that there is no god.
Who is the one bringing us into disrepute? Ruse should look in the mirror.