Who’s Insisting?

More guilt-mongering of non-theism, more default assumptions that there is something wrong or wicked or suspect or in need of a damn good explanation about naturalism. Also more Michael Ruse.

Professor Ruse takes a long look at why opponents of evolution feel so threatened and why evolutionists are so surprised and perplexed at the opposition…Although Darwin’s own work was a model of professional science, a great deal of evolutionary thought before and after him, in Professor Ruse’s judgment, deserves to be termed evolutionism, a kind of secular religion built around an ideology of progress.

Okay, stop right there. A ‘kind of’ secular religion? That’s a weasel-term. Could be the reporter’s rather than Ruse’s – but either way it’s weasel-language. And then, what does ‘secular religion’ mean? And ideology is not the same thing as religion. Ideology can certainly do a lot to distort thinking, but it’s not the same thing as religion, and it just confuses things to talk about it as if it were. An ‘ideology of progress’ does not require any supernatural beliefs whatever; religion does; it’s the supernaturalism that’s at issue; so to conflate an ‘ideology of progress’ with religion in a context where supernaturalism versus naturalism is the subject, is cheating. People who defend or try to protect religion resort to cheating a lot. That’s annoying, and they ought to stop doing it.

From the beginning, evolutionary theory has been drenched in religion. The aggressors in the warfare between theology and science were not just religious believers insisting that their ancient Scriptures were the basis of scientific truths but scientific enthusiasts insisting that evolutionary theory was the basis for conclusions about religion.

More cheating, though of a milder kind. Tendentious language. For one thing, ‘drenched in religion’ turns out to mean pointing out that evolutionary theory doesn’t require religion, or makes religion superfluous. That’s an odd thing for ‘drenched in religion’ to turn out to mean. For another thing – aggressors? Why aggressors? Why is it aggressive to try to explain a naturalistic subject by naturalistic means? And then, more minor rhetoric: there’s ‘enthusiasts’ and ‘insisting’. It’s minor, but it all adds up: it adds up to the usual default assumption that no one has any business pointing out that there is no good evidence for the truth claims religions make, or that religious answers to naturalistic questions are not helpful and are not answers.

But as Professor Ruse notes, as genuine science no less than as pseudoscience, “Darwinian evolutionary theory does impinge on religious thinking.”…Other elements of Darwinism go right to the heart of any belief in a caring, almighty God. The power of strictly natural interactions of random events and reproductive advantage over huge spans of time to explain the emergence of diverse and complex life forms appears to render the guiding role of such a God superfluous. The grim picture of those life forms, including humanity, emerging through a ruthlessly cruel process of natural competition appears to render such a God implausible.

Yes, true. Although problems with the idea of a caring almighty God did not begin in 1859. (Actually it’s a rather depressing reflection on human history that so many people did manage to believe in a caring almighty God for so long. I mean – caring? Caring? How could they possibly have thought that?)

Then there is the debate about the “methodological naturalism” that for purposes of scientific investigation restricts explanations to findings about material nature. Does “methodological naturalism” lead inexorably to a “metaphysical naturalism” holding that material nature is in fact the whole of reality? Professor Ruse says no. But he acknowledges that the slippery slope is there.

There again – the slippery slope. That’s another pejorative. More cheating.

In the end, Professor Ruse’s new book suggests that the religious resistance to evolutionary theory is a lot more understandable and a lot less unreasonable than its opponents recognize.

Well of course it’s understandable: religious believers don’t like having their beliefs challenged. That’s not a secret. But less unreasonable? Well, only if you think it’s reasonable to let wishes determine beliefs about the world, and to let them control what other people write and teach, as well. It’s not self-evident that that is particularly reasonable, frankly.

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