Michael Ruse on evolution and creation

January 6th, 2013 in clues. Tags: , , , ,

Michael Ruse

I have commented before on philosopher and atheist Michael Ruse (Michael Ruse on why is there something rather than nothing?).

Ruse specialises in the philosophy of science and religion, and a recent interview in Science on Religion is worth a read.

Creation vs evolution

He believes that creationism and Intelligent Design are mistaken, and even dangerous. But he sees no great conflict between science and christianity, provided christianity is willing to see the early chapters of Genesis as myth (something Augustine suggested as long ago the 4th century).

In fact, Ruse suggests, christians should see Darwinism as a sign of a great God:

I would argue that this is a wonderful world brought about by natural law. It is a world of mystery and excitement. This, it seems to me, fits far more with a creator God of Christianity than the god who simply did it all by fiat in an instantaneous miracle. In many respects, therefore, I want to argue that, far from being a difficulty, Christianity finds Darwinism to be a challenge and a triumph.

This reminds me of a comment by particle physicist and christian John Polkinghorne, that a God who created the universe so it would evolve human beings (and much more besides) was greater than one who needed to keep interfering to get to that point.

Ruse against christianity

Ruse is not as anti-religion as some atheists. He believes christianity struggles to explain the problem of evil, and the fact that evolutionary scientists are adamant that that evolution is a random process given order via natural selection and therefore doesn’t allow God to be certain that it would lead to human beings and Jesus, etc. But he also recognises that christianity supplies some answers to questions that science and non-belief cannot answer:

the Christian argues that there is something rather than nothing because God created the world, that God stands behind morality, that consciousness is in some sense being made in the image of God, and that the purpose of the world is for us to find ultimate happiness with God our creator. I don’t say that these answers are beyond criticism.

I accept the difficulty posed by the problem of evil (see How can God allow evil?), but I can’t see any problem with a timeless all-knowing God creating a world via natural and random process which he nevertheless knows how they will end up, and I welcome his understanding about the force of arguments from morality, reason, purpose and consciousness.

Ruse vs the atheists

Because he sees the strengths of christianity even while disbelieving it, Ruse is very critical of more militant atheists who claim that science and religion are incompatible. He sees some of them as being philosophically naive:

In the God Delusion Dawkins shows appalling ignorance of both philosophy and theology. He seems to think that he is the first person ever to ask the question “who caused God?” And with this, he seems to think he has an irrefutable objection to the cosmological argument for the existence of God. He is fully unaware of the fact that people like Thomas Aquinas have wrestled with this and proposed the notion of a necessary being ….

Ruse has taken a few personal hits from other atheists, and has defended himself many times. Here is his recent criticism of “the new atheists’ on Beliefnet.


  1. He believes that creationism and Intelligent Design are mistaken, and even dangerous. But he sees no great conflict between science and christianity, provided christianity is willing to see the early chapters of Genesis as myth (something Augustine suggested as long ago the 4th century).

    I agree with Ruse on that. However, Ruse says a lot of silly things, and thereby makes his own critics.

    You linked to the Ruse Beliefnet article. There, he says:

    Which brings me to the point of what I want to say. I find myself in a peculiar position. In the past few years, we have seen the rise and growth of a group that the public sphere has labeled the “new atheists” – people who are aggressively pro-science, especially pro-Darwinism, and violently anti-religion of all kinds, especially Christianity but happy to include Islam and the rest.

    A philosopher should know better than to say anything so foolish. If he wants to say that they are “vigorously” anti-religion, perhaps there’s some point to that. But when he instead uses “violently”, he is using language that is way over the top.

  2. Hi Neil, I can understand how you might be sensitive to Ruse’s wording – I feel the same sometimes when people make overstatements about my beliefs!

    I am not necessarily endorsing what Ruse says, my interest is in the boundary and interface between belief and unbelief, and Ruse writes about that. So I wouldn’t want to support an unfair statement by him. But consider these statements:

    Sam Harris: “I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.” Couple this with: “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” and you have a matter for concern.

    Richard Dawkins has famously said that inculcating religious belief is like child abuse, and none of us would leave an abused children alone with their abusers. Some have made the inference that if he had the power, he would remove children from religious parents.

    Many atheists have made strong statements about science and religion not being compatible, and used this to argue against the appointment of christians to science jobs – Francis Collins for example. Again one can infer that they would discriminate in this way if they had the opportunity.

    Finally, many of PZ Myers columns at Pharyngula are so nasty that many of his fellow atheists (e.g. Sam Harris, John Loftus, Michael Ruse) have come out against him.

    Whether all this justifies Ruse’s use of “violently” is another question, but I think if he has overstated, his opponents have provoked him by doing the same. But I agree with you that more moderate language would be better.

  3. Ruse’s use of language like “agressively” and “violently” may also be motivated by some New Atheists comparing his view that science and (at least some) religions don’t contradict eachother to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement politics. That’s an egregiously poisonous comparison.

  4. I disagree with a lot of what Sam Harris says. I’m not an admirer of Dawkins, either, though I probably don’t disagree with him anywhere near as much as I disagree with Sam Harris. I do not admire the style of PZ Myers, however I do think that if I look past the style, he often has better judgment on issues than does Dawkins.

    As for the Dawkins statement of child abuse – I have not read it in full context, so I’m not sure what he actually meant. I personally don’t have a problem with the way that most Christian parents raise their children. However, some fundamentalist parents go out of their way to keep their children ignorant of ideas such as evolution, and I do think that forced ignorance borders on being abusive.

    I do not have a problem with Francis Collins. Some time ago, Jerry Coyne was very critical of Collins on his blog. I disagreed with Coyne, but I don’t remember whether I posted that disagreement as a comment.

    Maybe that gives you an idea where I stand on these questions.

    I grew up in Australia (Perth area). In the USA, there is far more entanglement of religion and government than I remember from Australia. And at least part of the anger you see with PZ Myers is his objection to this entanglement.

  5. G’day Neil, I live in Sydney but have never been to Perth. I think you are right in what you say, though I think a little charitable towards Myers (but being charitable is good!). And I think Ruse thinks pretty much the way you described Myers feels, but applies it to the way atheists tangle up science and irreligion as well. Thanks again.

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