If you mean someone who agrees that logically there could be a god, but who doesn’t think that the logical possibility is terribly likely, or at least not something that should keep us awake at night, then I guess a lot of us are atheists. But there is certainly a split, a schism, in our ranks. I am not whining (in fact I am rather proud) when I point out that a rather loud group of my fellow atheists, generally today known as the “new atheists”, loathe and detest my thinking.
A while back I was a counselor at a summer camp, keeping an eye on a group of rowdy nine year olds. One of the kids was taunted relentlessly by the others for his incessant whining. He did not help his cause by answering such taunts with, “I don’t whine!” said in a pathetically whiny tone of voice.
If you have to tell people you are not whining, you’re whining.
Bragging about making the right enemies is a silly rhetorical device your average college editorialist stops using by his sophomore year. It’s especially pathetic when you rush into print repeatedly to boast of your pleasure at being criticized by the right people. Seriously, follow that link and tell me how his previous op-ed differs relevantly from the present one.
And while I may dislike and disagree with Ruse’s thinking, it is his actions over the last several years that I loathe and detest. I hate the way he has been doing everything in his power to prop up the ID folks. I hate that he persuaded a presitgious university press to publish a book co-edited by William Dembski, which featured four essays defending “Darwinism” that seemed tailor made to make evolution look bad. I hate that he contributes essays to anthologies designed to celebrate ID promoters and that he tells debate audiences that Dembski has made valuable contributions to science. Go here for relevant links and further details.
I will spare you what my fellow philosopher Dan Dennett has to say about me.
Dennett has good reason to say obnoxious things about Ruse, given Ruse’s incomprehensibly
unscrupulous behavior towards him. If you don’t care to follow the link, a while back Ruse and Dennett engaged in an e-mail correspondence. Ruse then handed over the correspondence to William Dembski for posting at the latter’s blog. It is generally considered a breach of etiquette, to put it kindly, to trun over private e-mails without first getting the permission of the sender. It is all the more inexplicable given that Dennett comes off as the calm, even-tempered one in the exchange, while Ruse looks like the crazed one.
First, non-believer though I may be, I do not think (as do the new atheists) that all religion is necessarily evil and corrupting. This claim is on a par with golden plates in upstate New York.
What an odd way of expressing himself! In an essay devoted to excoriating the new atheists for not appreicating the glory and profundity of Christian theology, he takes a completely gratuitous pot shot at Mormonism. Apparently it is okay to be rude and uncivil towards religion of which Ruse disapproves.
The Quakers and the Evangelicals were inspired and driven by their religion to oppose slavery, and a good thing too. Of course there has been evil in the name of religion – the pope telling Africans not to use condoms in the face of Aids – but as often as not religion is not the only or even the primary force for evil. The troubles in Northern Ireland were surely about socio-economic issues also, and the young men who flew into the World Trade Centre towers were infected by the alienation and despair of the young in Muslim countries in the face of poverty and inequalities.
&ldquol;The Evangelicals” most certainly did not oppose slavery. They were split on the issue, and there was no shortage of folks thumping their Bibles in defense of the institution.
But just marvel at this paragraph for a moment! How desperate do you have to be to defend religion on the grounds that the 9/11 hijackers weren’t just religious, or that the conflict in Northern Ireland wasn’t just about religion? The fact remains that religion played a huge role in both situations. That there are sources of evil other than religion has never been in doubt. It is also completely irrelevant.
Second, 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.
“God exists necessarily!” is not exactly a momentous philosophical discovery either. It is actually just a bad argument served up by theologians to evade the self-evident objection that using God as an explanatory principle creates more problems than it solves. The difference is that theologians are actually claiming to make profuond philosophical observations (they have impressed Ruse apparently, with their depth if not their correctness), while Dawkins was writing a book for an audience not steeped in theological discussions.
Dawkins, I promise you, is familiar with the idea that God exists necessarily. He is just not impressed by it, and rightly so.
Third, 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.
Some of my best friends are Christians! See my previous comment re amateur hour.
My dentist is an evangelical Christian. I let her stick sharp instruments in my mouth. Does Ruse think I am betraying my New Atheist cred with this admission?
I wonder if Ruse understands what “condescending” means. Telling someone you think their beliefs are foolish and potentially dangerous is not condescending. Rude, perhaps, but not condescending. Writing an op-ed in which you boast of your willingness to obtain advice from religious folks (if only on everyday matters)? That’s condescending.
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?
Ahem. No one is claiming that science implies the falsity of religion. So much for Ruse’s argument.
What people do claim is that evolution makes certain common conceptions of God difficult to maintain. Ruse himself closed his book Can A Darwinian Be A Christian? by noting that it is not always easy to be both a Darwinian and a Christian. Looks like he gets the basic idea.
Many people, upon learning about the holocaust, conclude that the world is not superintended by a just and loving God. From the other side, some look at the improbable victory of the colonial army over the mighty British in the American Revolution and see evidence that the United States is a nation blessed by God. Will Ruse use these facts to argue against teaching about the holocaust or the American Revolution?
Of course he won’t, because he is capable of distinguishing between facts and opinions. People draw all sorts of conclusions from all sorts of things. That has nothing to do with any constitutional questions about education. I, and many others, believe evolution makes Christianity implausible. Many others disagree. What has this to do with the constitutionality of teaching evolution?
On the other hand, evolution does flat-out contradict the religious views of Young Earth Creationists, a religious view that is well represented all over the country and is even the majority view in many school districts around the country. But Ruse does not think that constitutes a legitimate argument against teacing evolution. So flatly contradicting a major religious view is OK, but publicly suggesting that you find evolution and Christianity to be incompatible places evolution education in constitutional jeopardy. That’s a brilliant argument.
Basically, Ruse fails to take his own advice. He is so desperate to assert his own moral and intellectual superiority that he goes in for cheap shots and transparently bad gotcha arguments over giving a fair presentation of the views of those he opposes.