A Subtle Ruse, But It Won’t Do

Michael Ruse. [shakes head] I don’t know, I just don’t know. I simply can’t agree. I think he’s wrong. I think it’s bad (or at least dubious) tactics and I think it’s even worse morality and epistemology.

But those are two different things. I know, I know. Is and ought; facts and values. But lying about the one takes you into questions about the other. Which is a roundabout way of saying that even if it were good tactics I don’t think it’s morally respectable to tell lies about what you take to be the truth for tactical reasons. At least not on the whole; not in general; not as a rule. In life and death situations (a murderer with an axe asks you where the little girl with the dear little puppy is because he wants to sell her life insurance, that kind of thing) it’s different; but as a general principle, we shouldn’t go around saying the stork brings babies and there is a thriving colony of utopian hemp-farmers on a planet behind the Hale-Bopp comet, simply to appease and mollify a lot of damn fools who think so and will get all offended and bent and slit-eyed if we contradict them. Especially, frankly, people who are educators, shouldn’t do that. Especially people who occupy chairs that are actually named ‘for the public understanding of science.’ People like that just have an occupational duty not to pretend to believe in a nice man in the sky who makes all our boo-boos go away simply because a lot of sentimentalists want to go on thinking so forever and ever amen and if we don’t let them then they’ll trash science education. Therefore I find it highly irritating that Ruse keeps telling them they should. I’ve upbraided him about it before, and he’s still at it.

Virtually every prominent Darwinian in recent decades has eschewed social Darwinism, and most believe that evolution itself, while responsible for the increased complexity of organic forms over time, cannot be regarded as a linear process driving toward a particular endpoint. But Ruse asserts that popular contemporary biologists like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have also exacerbated the divisions between evolutionists and creationists by directly challenging the validity of religious belief – Dawkins by repeatedly declaring his atheism (”faith,” he once wrote, ”is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate”), and Wilson by describing his ”search for objective reality” as a replacement for religious seeking.

But what are they supposed to do? What the hell is wrong with Dawkins’ ‘repeatedly’ declaring his atheism? And what is he supposed to do instead – lie? Shut up? What? And why should he do either one? When theists get to go on the radio and talk everyone else into the ground – why are atheists supposed to zip it? Oh, it makes me tired, this kind of thing. And there’s always more of it. It’s just an unending flood. It’s all the more depressing when people like Ruse join in.

Ruse, a self-identified agnostic, acknowledges the ”thrilling quality” of Dawkins’s writing but says he objects to adamantly anti-religion statements coming from a scientist. ”I don’t have any more belief than Dawkins,” he says. ”But I do think it matters that he is making it very difficult for those of us who care about evolution to put forward a reasonable face to the reasonable portion [of the public] in the middle.”

But there again. That just seems to be saying people should lie either explicitly or by omission, merely for tactical reasons. It’s appeasment, that’s all, and it doesn’t even work. The more people mollify religious zealots, the more the zealots demand. That’s all there is to it. There’s no such thing as satisfying them by just kind of moderating the tone. If you’re not completely on their team, you’re one of the lost, to be turned into pools of unsavory liquid when Jeezis comes back with his ray-gun or whatever it is. And the more they are appeased, the more they go on bullying, and the more likely atheists are to think that they are the only atheists on earth and they’d better not say anything lest they be sliced up with a dull razor.

And then he ends up asking exactly the question I’m asking.

”What am I supposed to do?” he asks in response. ”I’m an academic. I believe in freedom. I believe the most important thing you can do is criticize your own ideas.”

Eh? You’re an academic, you believe in freedom, so you’re spending your energy telling other academics not to say what they think is true, so that they won’t make creationists even angrier than they already are? Does that compute? What are they supposed to do, I keep wanting to know.

And by the way. When are newspapers going to start making their reporters take that course in elementary thinking straight. What’s wrong with this beginning?

In states from Alabama to Pennsylvania, supporters are attempting to restrict the teaching of evolution – and introduce their current favorite theory, Intelligent Design, into the classroom…And such efforts may be having an effect. According to a Gallup survey released last November, only about a third of Americans believe that Darwin’s theory is well supported by the scientific evidence, while nearly half believe that humans were created in more or less their present form 10,000 years ago. What accounts for this revival?

See it? See the problem? What revival? What effect? We can’t tell. We haven’t got a clue. The reporter just gave us one survey; we don’t have anything to compare it to. For all we know the figures ten years ago were 100% One survey is not useful for comparative purposes or for deducing a ‘revival.’

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