Ruse offers to help

It takes more than one person to argue with Michael Ruse. Jerry has, Russell has, but I still found new stuff that irritates me, so here it is.

…science tells us that Adam and Eve are fictions. That Saint Paul or Uncle Tom Cobley and all thought otherwise is irrelevant. They were wrong. This is not to say that they were stupid or careless. Two thousand years ago, for a Jew to believe in Adam and Eve was perfectly sensible. But time moves on and with it our understanding of the world around us, and old beliefs have to give way to new ones. Aristotle thought that some people were born to be slaves. He was wrong. St. Paul thought we are descended from Adam and Eve. He was wrong.

But wrong in different ways, for different reasons. Science tells us that Adam and Eve are fictions, but (Sam Harris notwithstanding) it doesn’t tell us that some people are not born to be slaves. On the contrary – science could well tell us that some people are born to be slaves, provided it started from some stupid (but not particularly unscientific) assumptions, such as that people with (or without) certain Xs are born to be slaves. Science could pick out which people have (or lack) the certain Xs, and the job would be done. Saying why that’s wrong is not the same kind of thing as demonstrating that Eve and Adam are fictions.

What should be the attitude of the Christian faced with clear evidence that some part of the Bible cannot be taken literally and that this must have consequences for hitherto-accepted theology? Clearly, some alternative theology must be sought. This is not giving up or mere ad hoc responding. The great British theologian John Henry Newman saw clearly that the essential truths of the Christian faith remain unchanged, but that, given new knowledge in each age, they need constant reinterpretation and updating.

An, naughty Michael Ruse – note that “saw.” Note that “saw clearly.” Ruse claims that Newman saw clearly something which is in fact contestable and contested; by wording it that way Ruse of course loads the dice. What, exactly, are “the essential truths” of the “Christian faith” and how on earth does Ruse know they remain unchanged? And if they remain unchanged, what does it mean to say they need constant reinterpretation and updating? How is that not just having it all ways, by merely saying so? The essential truth remains unchanged but it needs constant reinterpretation and updating but nevertheless it remains unchanged…apart from the constant reinterpretation and updating. A “truth” that is constantly reinterpreted and updated can’t be said to remain unchanged, can it.

Well he goes on to explain – but it’s still just saying; it’s nonsense.

God is creator, Jesus is his son who died on the cross for our sake, this act of sacrifice made possible our eternal salvation — these claims are unchanged. But what exactly this all might mean is another matter.

If what it all might mean is another matter, then the claims are not unchanged! You can’t do both, dammit – you can’t say they’re unchanged apart from being changed. Just keeping the husks of words but completely changing the meaning does not equal unchanged claims.

Oh it’s so tiresome all this special pleading.


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