In his new piece in the Guardian, “Why Richard Dawkins’ humanists remind me of a religion,” philosopher Michael Ruse once again likens New Atheism (and humanism) to religions, whines at length about the names he’s been called (and claims that he doesn’t mind it!), and then makes two mistakes in one sentence. Here’s a screenshot of the latter before he fixes it:
Leaving aside the misconception that I have a “blog”, here are Ruse’s errors:
1. I am not a disciple of Peter Hitchens. I am a fan of his late brother, Christopher Hitchens. Presumably Ruse knows that there’s a huge difference between these men—or does he?
2. Ruse does not use the quote from Orwell that I applied to Ruse’s fatuous statements. The real quote, one that I’ve used several times, comes from Orwell’s “Notes on nationalism,” and is much better:
“One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”
I have read a ton of Orwell—in fact, probably everything he ever wrote—and I don’t remember the quote that Ruse gives. It’s online as Orwell having said it, but I couldn’t find it in his own writing. In its “Orwell” section, Wikiquotes notes that it is misattributed:
“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
- Possibly a paraphrase of Bertrand Russell in My Philosophical Development (1959): “This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.” It is similar in meaning to the line “One has to belong to the intelligentsia…” from Notes on Nationalism (1945).
Really, Michael, can’t you or The Guardian check your facts? Peter ≠ Christopher, and please read your Orwell rather than Googling him. The quote I used is really very good, and applicable in many cases, such as when intellectuals like you spew nonsense.
But those mistakes pale in comparison to how ridiculous Ruse’s Guardian piece is. It’s the usual flawed comparison between New Atheism and religious faith, combined with his customary extended whine about the horrid names he’s been called. Here’s a snippet:
Humanism in its most virulent form tries to make science into a religion. It is awash with the intolerance of enthusiasm. For a start, there is the near-hysterical repudiation of religion. To quote Richard Dawkins:
“I think there’s something very evil about faith … it justifies essentially anything. If you’re taught in your holy book or by your priest that blasphemers should die or apostates should die – anybody who once believed in the religion and no longer does needs to be killed – that clearly is evil. And people don’t have to justify it because it’s their faith.”
In the caricaturing of “faith” as murderous fundamentalism, one hears echoes of the bloody and interminable Reformation squabbles between Protestants and Catholics. It is also of course to give help to the real enemy, those who turn their back fully on science as they follow their religion.
There are other aspects of the new atheist movement that remind me of religion. One is the adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement: it is not just a matter of agreement or respect but also of a kind of worship. This certainly surrounds Dawkins, who is admittedly charismatic.
What is palpably clear from Ruse’s writings is that he wishes he were that charismatic! I guess science is a religion, too, because we have our heroes: people like Darwin, Pasteur, and Feynman.
Not only does Ruse fail to distinguish the Hitchens brothers, but he apparently can’t tell the difference between humanism and atheism.
I can’t bear to excerpt the part of the piece where Ruse bawls about how much of an atheist he is, and how much he dislikes religion, and yet despite his good work the new atheists still dump on him. (Perhaps, Michael, it’s because you spend so much time confecting dumb arguments to help religious people accept science.) I defy you to read that part without cringing.
Since Ruse is so sensitive about being called names, I’ll refrain from adding new epithets to the pile. His piece discredits itself, and though I’m told Ruse once did good work in philosophy, but it’s hard to retain much respect for the man after reading this latest essay.