Muddy Waters

G in comments brings up the question of how (and if) Michael Ruse defines ‘religion,’ so I’ve gone looking to see if I can find him doing that in articles and interviews (I don’t have his book, so looking there will have to wait). Here are a few relevant remarks.

From a recent interview – he doesn’t define it, but he does say a little about what he means by it in this context, answering the interviewer’s request to explain what he means by saying ‘the Darwin vs. Creation argument is often a battle of two religions’:

I am not saying that Darwinian theory is always religious – it is not. I am saying that often evolutionists use their science to do more than science and to give a world picture – origins, special place for humans at the top, moral directives – that we associate with religion. Creationism I argue flatly is a religion – the religion of biblical literalist, American protestant evangelicals of a right wing persuasion. Creationists deny that their position is purely religious, but I think that they do this to avoid the separation of church and state embedded in the US constitution. I suspect that many Darwinians will take issue with my claim that any part of their theorizing is religious – but I have made my case and rest it.

So what he means by it for the purposes of this discussion (in his book) is ‘to do more than science and to give a world picture – origins, special place for humans at the top, moral directives – that we associate with religion.’ Okay – that helps. Questions and objections immediately suggest themselves. ‘Origins’ is more than science? I would have thought it was science – origin of species kind of thing. And then, tending to associate things with religion – well that’s a whole big set of problems. Just for one thing, it’s often a mistake to do that. Moral directives for example can and should and do have secular justifications; ‘tending’ to associate them with religion tends to be just a bad and stupid and often harmful habit – so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to say people are doing religion when they talk about morality simply because some people still ‘tend’ to associate moral directives with religion. Does it. And finally – evolutionists give a world picture with humans at the top? They do? That’s news to me. But, it’s a little unfair to argue with the short version when I haven’t read the book. But then again – more people will see the journalistic simplifications than will read the book; journalism is influential; so in another sense it’s not unfair, or at least it needs to be done, unfair or not.

From an article in the Boston Globe:

Evolution is controversial in large part, he theorizes, because its supporters have often presented it as the basis for self-sufficient philosophies of progress and materialism, which invariably wind up in competition with religion.

Well, yes – but then anything of that kind inevitably winds up in competition with religion, doesn’t it. That’s not the fault of evolution, it’s because religion and religious people often think religion has or should have a monopoly on that kind of thing. Well that’s just too damn bad. They don’t get to have a monopoly; they used to, and they don’t any more.

Provocatively, Ruse argues that evolutionism has often constituted a ”religion” itself by offering ”a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans,” while its proponents have been ”trying deliberately to do better than Christianity.”

Okay – so it appears that at least some of the time he is (implicitly or explicitly? we’ll have to read the book to find out) defining religion as something that offers a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans. Well, that’s a pretty woolly definition of religion, frankly. Yes those things overlap with religion – but on the edges, not at the center; and overlapping is not the same as defining. Creationists and IDers are theists, not just people with a world picture and a story of origins and a place for humans. It just muddies the waters, as Stewart says, to pretend otherwise and then use that pretense to blame the people who don’t make truth-claims about supernatural entities for the hostility between religion and science.

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