Philosopher Michael Ruse, an atheist, has nevertheless made a bit of a career out of telling Christians how they can reconcile their theology with the facts of science. I’ve posted about this many times (in fact, I’m too lazy to look them up this afternoon), but the reasons for his faitheism still elude me.
And Ruse continues to publish this kind of stuff. I’ve been plowing through the 600-page Blackwell Guide to Science and Christianity (J. B. Stump and A. G. Padgett, eds.), which is a pretty good compendium of views on the war between science and Christianity (and yes, it is a war), although the 54 essays are mostly on the pro-religion side. There is one piece by Michael Ruse, however, “Darwinism and atheism: a marriage made in heaven?” (pp. 246-257, and the answer is “yes”), in which he finds yet another way to tweak theology so that the science-loving Christian is not affronted by evolution.
The other day I posted on the views of Christian paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris, who, along with many of his coreligionists, sees the evolution of humans as inevitable. It almost has to be, for we are made in God’s image; and surely God’s intention was to create—whether ex nihilo or through evolution—a species capable of apprehending and worshiping his most excellent qualities. (It always amazes me how easily theologians who say that we can’t fathom God’s will can nevertheless easily divine His intentions.) If there is a point to Christian creation, is must be the creation of Christians.
Ruses’s piece actually has some good bits, for he pretty much takes apart all the arguments advanced so far about why the evolution of humans was inevitable. But at the end he goes south and, after dismantling all other arguments, gives his own reasons why our evolution had to have happened. And remember, he’s an atheist! It’s like a Jew giving anti-Semites new reasons to hate the Jews.
Here’s how Ruse responds to the familiar explanations of human inevitability:
1. Arms races. Richard Dawkins has said that evolutionary “arms races” between competing species might inevitably lead to the evolution of high and complex intelligence. I disagree with Richard on this, and pretty much for the reasons that Ruse adduces:
“. . . even the non-expert can see a great deal is being presupposed here First, do arms races exist and do they always have the results of [sic] that Dawkins suggests? Paleontological evidence implies that predators and prey pretty fairly rapidly reached the peak of their abilities and get little or no faster after that. Likewise, paleontological evidence suggests that the opportunism of evolution can lead to many different forms, not all of which involve intelligence. Without something more being added there is certainly no necessity for the emergence of beings like ourselves.” (p. 254).
2. There was a pre-existing “human niche”. Again, this is doubtful, and for the very reasons that Ruse suggests: we have no ability to define niches in the absence of organisms, and many organisms also create and change their own niches through their behavior. (The classic example is the beaver, which by evolving the ability to cut down trees and build dams has suddenly created a whole new habitat for itself—rearing pups and living inside the den.) Many organisms “create” their own niches, ways of life that we would never have thought in advance could exist. This notion is called “niche construction.” There’s simply no way to make a compelling argument that somehow, before the first monkey came down from the trees, there was a preexisting niche for “highly intelligent social primate” that was destined—inevitably—to be filled!
3. God tweaked mutations to make humans. This argument is a favorite not just of theologians, but of some atheistic but religion-friendly philosophers like Elliott Sober. The idea is that to create humans, God worked on the sly, tweaking mutations that were necessary to transform our primate ancestor into a hominin. We could never detect this, so it’s a good theory for theologians, though not so great for philosophers. God-tweaked mutations have also been suggested by physicist-theologian Robert John Russell, echoing the argument of Asa Gray, a contemporary and opponent of Darwin:
“It is hardly a surprise to learn that many find Russell’s solution problematic. One surely has here some version of the ‘God-of-the-gaps argument. One is breaking with science to achieve a theologically acceptable outcome. At the very least, one is putting strain on one’s understanding of Darwinism. . . . anticipating Russell, Gray argued that some variations are directed. Darwin was horrified and responded that to make such a move as this was to take evolutionary discussion out of the realm of science. Many feel this objection still holds today.” (p. 255).
Agreed. Theistic evolution like this is not scientific evolution, and people who accept it shouldn’t be seen as true allies of evolutionary biology. They are inserting miracles into the evolutionary process—a form of creationism.
But Ruse has his own solution, which involves multiverses.
Ruse’s explanation of why human evolution was inevitable (p. 255-256):
The situation I favor invokes (for theological not scientific reasons) some kind of multiverse state of affairs (Ruse 2010). There are many, an infinite number, of universes. I point out that humans have evolved and therefore, however difficult, they could have evolved. In other words, run the process enough times and humans will evolve. Note that “enough times” might mean many, many billions of times—an infinite number in some sense. If God creates universes enough times then humans will evolve. The fact that it takes a great deal of time is irrelevant. It would bore us to wait, but God is outside time and space. He sees always that humans will evolve. I argue, therefore, that although evolution is unguided, the coming of humans was not unplanned.
I love the double negative “not unplanned,” which is designed to take the sting out of the word “planned.” Whenever I see such phrasing, I remember George Orwell’s advice in his essay Politics and the English Language: “One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.”
And really—isn’t it planned simply because God saw that if he wanted to use evolution to create humans but couldn’t be assured of our arrival in a single universe, then he had to create multiple universes? That sounds like a plan to me!
But I digress. On to the rest of Ruse’s argument:
Does this not imply an awful lot of waste on the part of God? Obviously it does from one perspective. However, note that God may not think a universe totally wasted [JAC: dopers, please ignore the last phrase] even if we do not exist in it. Already in this universe we have many worlds which presumably are unoccupied, at least unoccupied by humanlike beings. So if we are going to talk of waste, we are already up to our necks in that problem.
So there you have it. Perplexed Christians, do you feel better? I didn’t think so.
Why not? Well, there are still a few problems. The waste problem, simply because it’s made infinitely worse by positing multiverses, doesn’t go away. Why didn’t God just make the Earth and Sun in the first place, and forget all those other elbenty gazillion planets and universes? Also, Ruse doesn’t recognize that positing multiverses as an answer is not acceptable to many Christians, who feel that that notion (though justified under some theories of physics) is simply a Hail Mary pass thrown by scientists to get rid of the problem of fine-tuning.
Still another problem is one that nobody ever talks about (although Paul Draper discusses it in a wonderful anti-religion essay, “Christian theism and life on Earth,” in this same volume): is it really more probable that God used evolution to effect creation than to poof things into existence ex nihilo? Since God could already create complex life from nothing—after all, that’s how he made Jesus—why didn’t he just make lots of other humans (and animals and plants) in an instant, the way Genesis describes it?
The only reason theologians marvel at how much better it was for God to use evolution than de novo creation to bring life into being is because they have to: that’s what science tells us. They’re making a virtue from necesssity. But if you didn’t know about evolution, and knew only about the Bible and the idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn’t you have guessed a priori that if God brought all life into being, he’d do so via an instant miracle rather than by a 3.5-billion-year process of evolution on one planet out of billions in a single universe out of billions of universes?
After all, the Bible—the inspired word of God—says not one word about evolution. On the contrary, it says life came about by a miracle.
Of course, we enlightened ones know that that was only a metaphor, and God meant evolution all along.