Pharyngula

We have made Michael Ruse very sad and very angry. He has an essay up called Why I Think the New Atheists are a [Bloody] Disaster, in which he bemoans the way he has been abused by these brutal atheists, and explains how he thinks these godless scientists are damaging the cause of science and science education. Here’s the heart of his pitiful complaint.

Richard Dawkins, in his best selling The God Delusion, likens me to Neville Chamberlain, the pusillanimous appeaser of Hitler at Munich. Jerry Coyne reviewed one of my books (Can a Darwinian be a Christian?) using the Orwellian quote that only an intellectual could believe the nonsense I believe in. And non-stop blogger P. Z. Myers has referred to be as a “clueless gobshite.” This invective is all because, although I am not a believer, I do not think that all believers are evil or stupid, and because I do not think that science and religion have to clash. (Of course some science and religion clashes. That is the whole point of the Darwinism-Creationism debate. The matter is whether all science and religion clash, something I deny strongly.)

It’s true — I did call him a clueless gobshite. However, the reason is most definitely not what I have highlighted in his comment above, and apparently he was not able to read what I wrote for comprehension — perhaps he was stunned by my invective, and went temporarily blind when he looked at the page, seeing nothing but “clueless gobshite” in 72 point bold blinking text.

No, what has earned him our ire is his weirdly selective criticisms — the way he consistently leans favorably towards creationism, giving the most charitable interpretations of their motives while gently chiding them for their beliefs, and conversely, trying to turn on flamethrower rhetoric at the atheists (‘trying’, I say, because all he can generate anymore is a confused and intermittent sputter), damning them for their bad philosophy and accusing them of being out to demolish science.

This latest essay is a perfect example. Look at what he does here:

But I think first that these people do a disservice to scholarship. Their treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.

I don’t think there can be any doubt that he has nothing but contempt for the arguments of the “New Atheists”, and he is not at all hesitant to say so. They have not met his standards of philosophical scholarship, and it rouses him to the full fury of an offended academic, one who must put these scoundrels in their place. Bad philosophy is a cardinal sin to Michael Ruse, that is the honest and objective basis for his complaints — it couldn’t possibly be a lingering belief in belief, or perhaps even some professional jealousy, or that for many years he has been in a comfortable back-patting relationship with the creationists in which he politely disputes their claims, after which Ruse and the creationists mutually congratulate each other on their civility and open-mindedness, and he receives his honoraria.

No, it must be our poor reasoning and slovenly philosophy. But then, how do we explain this?

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. Actually the arguments are not that “new,” but no matter – the publicity has been huge. Distinctive of this group, although well known to anyone who studies religion and the way in which sects divide and proliferate, is the fact that (with the possible exception of the Catholic Church) nothing incurs their wrath than those who are pro-science but who refuse to agree that all and every kind of religious belief is wrong, pernicious, and socially and personally dangerous. Recently, it has been the newly appointed director of the NIH, Francis Collins, who has been incurring their hatred. Given the man’s scientific and managerial credentials – completing the HGP under budget and under time for a start – this is deplorable, if understandable since Collins is a devout Christian.

Wait…this makes no sense. He says, “The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist” — has he read The Language of God? Has he even tried to wade into the embarrassingly inane philosophy of Collins’ BioLogos website? I mean, seriously, if he is such a paragon of intellectual purity that he is furiously offended at Dawkins’ work, why is he not also protesting the grade-school foolishness of Collins’ arguments? Why, in all these sniping public essays he’s been writing these past few years, does he always find excuses to blister the atheists’ hides, while making kindly apologies for or ignoring the greater failings of his creationist and religious friends?

Furthermore, he consistently predicts woe and doom and disaster because those darned atheists are so wrong and stupid and annoying, while never making the same extravagant lamentations about the effects of institutionalized creationism and religion, which has far more public power and influence. Always, the blame falls on those who challenge most strongly the pernicious effects of faiths that defy reason and science.

That’s why he gets called a clueless gobshite and a pusillanimous appeaser and a pusher of nonsense. It has nothing to do with not thinking “that all believers are evil or stupid”, because I don’t think that, and neither do any of these “New Atheists” that I know. In that essay which gave him conniptions, I plainly spelled that out, repeatedly and strongly saying that I think most creationists are victims of a con game, and are neither evil nor stupid. I don’t know how he could now quote two words of mine from that post without noting that all the rest of it contradicts his claims about us…except, perhaps, that strange temporary blindness syndrome that fries his occipital lobe at the sight of “clueless gobshite”.

We’ve also repeatedly pointed out that our opposition to Collins is definitely not because he is a Christian, but it seems to be futile to mention that to these apologists. I guess in a world where Catholic priests can be excused for raping children because they are Christians, it’s hopeless to expect that the slighter offense of being an irrational proselytizer with a poor understanding of evolution won’t be excused for the same reason, that the poor fool is a Christian. It’s an interesting defense; apparently no one will ever be able to criticize a Christian nominee for high office ever again, and the safest strategy for those on that kind of career track is to be the wackiest possible Christian you can be.

But otherwise, just look at the rhetoric in his essay: at every opportunity, he uses positive language and generous words for his friends the creationists, and the strongest condemnations for prominent atheists; there is absolutely no question where his loyalties lie. At the same time, he levies no blame and holds to no fault the organized liars for Jesus who promote Intelligent Design creationism…while the atheists are taking the country down the road to disaster, disaster, disaster. Could he possibly, at some point in his fading career and diminishing credibility, take a deep, deep breath and notice who is snuggling up to lawmakers and sneaking creationism into our school boards, who is propagandizing creationism to our teachers, who is throwing buckets of money into press releases and ideological conferences (in which Michael Ruse cheerfully participates) that deny science and promote anti-science?

Ah, probably not. He knows he would have no future in a secular world, and his fortunes right now are too strongly tied to his blithe role as the ever-helpful intermediary to the creationists.

There’s more that could be deconstructed in his pathetic whine — Jerry Coyne rips into his claim that atheism damages education. I’m not going to accuse Ruse of being a bloody disaster to progress, though, since he has become a trivial irrelevancy and a rather silly figure who takes pride in standing on a bridge between good science and people who believe Jesus created the dinosaurs, reassuring everyone on the crazy side that it’s OK to cuddle up to ignorance.


I guess I have become so accustomed to the anti-atheist hyperbole that I hadn’t even noticed something several commenters have pointed out: Ruse calls the “New Atheists” “violently anti-religion”. Violently? Really?

Here’s all I can say about that.

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