Michael Ruse on why the New Atheists are a "bloody disaster"

Michael Ruse, the atheist philosopher of biology, has written an interesting post about the extremism and intellectual failures of the “New Atheists”. Ruse teaches at the Florida State University and is himself an ardent critic of Creationism and Intelligent Design, authoring numerous books on the topic and in the philosophy of science (“Darwinism defended: a guide to the evolution controversies”, “Taking Darwin seriously: a naturalistic approach to philosophy”, “Biology and the foundation of ethics”, etc). But in his guest post on BeliefNet, Ruse argues that the New Atheists are doing “political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting” and even a “grave disservice” to science. In their campaign to keep Creationism out of schools, Ruse says “the new atheists have lamentably failed to prove their point, and excoriating people like me who show the failure is (again) not very helpful”.

Ruse is particularly critical of Richard Dawkins, proclaiming that “The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist”:

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.

Read the whole thing here (HT: JT)

10 replies
  1. Rob
    Rob says:

    I should love to see Ruse debate some of the creationists or ID’ers that he has criticized in this article. Excellent piece by the way — I really like Ruse in a funny kinda way :-)

  2. Karol Karolak
    Karol Karolak says:

    Michael Ruse, is definitely right calling PZ Myers who is publishing Pharyngula Blog an idiot.
    http://www.faithfulnews.com/index.php/articles/redirect/11458

    Quote,
    I think that P. Z. Myers and his crew are as disastrous to the evolution side – and people like me need to say this – as Ben Stein is disastrous to the Creationism side – and the Creationists should have had the guts to say so.
    ===================================

    PZ Myers who bills himself as a biologist and scientist of some sort and at the same time he claims that existence of life on Earth does not violate Second Law of Thermodynamics. When he is pressed on that subject he is unable to provide any plausible explanations. When he is presented with explanation that Brownian ratchet is the exact mechanism that is used by living organisms to overpower limitations imposed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics he refuses to acknowledge such information and he keeps insulting people who point out to him his complete and utter ignorance of basic science.

    Please visit this link:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/03/gary_goodyear_believes_in_evol.php
    Quote,

    #163Posted by: Karol Karolak P. Eng. | March 19, 2009 6:05 PM

    Dear PZ Myers,
    You allegedly are a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota. Given your extensive knowledge you should have no difficulty explaining the fact that existence of life on planet Earth violates Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    Would you be so kind to offer us dumb Christians a plausible scientific explanation for what we call a miracle of life before you start calling names and casting stones on us??
    Would it be too much of us if we were to check your qualifications by asking you such simple question before we accept your harsh judgement?

    #167Posted by: PZ Myers | March 19, 2009 6:12 PM

    Evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. Neither does biology in general.

    One of the ways we can tell you are one of those dumb Christians is that you offer up your incomprehension of a basic physical principle as if it were evidence against our existence.
    #175Posted by: Karol Karolak P. Eng. | March 19, 2009 6:57 PM

    ‘Tis Himself’
    It seems that you are the only clown on this forum who makes a lame attempt to answer my very simple question.
    I will try to focus you a bit so we do not have to look at the whole Universe in order to explain what is happening on molecular level.
    Lets try again: What exact mechanism of molecular interactions is used by living organisms in order to overcome Second Law of Thermodynamics and create what we Christians call a Miracle of Life??
    =======================================
    Please follow the link posted above to read the rest of that discussion.
    I regret to mention that
    P. Z. Myers and his crew were long on insults and very short on meaningful answers.

  3. Rob
    Rob says:

    A friend sent me a few of his comments as follows:

    Michael Ruse also said:

    “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.”

    I like Plantinga’s take on Dawkins:

    “…Despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying.”

    “‘The God Delusion’ is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn’t give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a “delusion.”
    The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it.”

    The full article of Plantinga on Dawkins is found here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/002/1.21.html

    McGrath rightly compares Dawkins anti-religious polemics to “the anti-religious programmes built into the education of Soviet children during the 1950s, based on mantras such as ‘Science has disproved religion!,’ ‘Religion is superstition’ and the like.”

    Comparing Dawkins to the Soviets’ anti-religious attitude in the 50’s is right-headed because the communists knew nothing about the religion they try to suppress.

    Dawkins has been embarrassingly exposed of his ignorance of philosophy. Surely he would have read all the exposure of his juvenile understanding f philosophy. And he must be hopping mad and upset because we are hearing so little of him of late. He has been exposed as the emperor without clothes.

  4. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    I detoured into the Open Parachute (linked above) because I was interested to find out why a blogger would blog on part of a comment, posted in a totally different blog on a totally different site. It must come down to the maxim that controversy fuels interest. You could write on any sort of obscure topic that you may want to when you start making blogs from comments. So I went from a “Dawkins Bashing” teaser, to the reverse bashing of “Thinking Matters”, Michael Ruse and Uncommon Descent with claims of silly articles and demonisation. Are we all blind to our own hypocrisy?

    At least there was some useful information about Dawkins next book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Should be a good read as Dawkins is great on biology. And I am always keen on finding the evidence for evolution … the GEM (Grand Evolutionary Myth) evidence that is. (I accept evolution that is fully encompassed by natural selection, adaptation and variation.)

    Having read The God Delusion a while ago though, I am not sure that Dawkins new book will live up to the title. I say this because I found Dawkins arguments in The God Delusion, fabricated and weak. Being a person who is convinced that God is real and that I have a relationship with God, you might expect me to say as much. After all, what else could I say about a book that calls me deluded, right? Which leaves me in the unfortunate position of being dismissed before I can even open my mouth. And this is why Ruse is so appreciated by Christians. At least he is not “deluded” and thus you have to engage with his argument. It is not that easy to just dismiss him.

    I read The God Delusion because some atheist friends highly recommended it to me. While it was slightly difficult to be on the brunt side of the book, it was actually disappointing to find that the book had far more bias than basis. From the suggestion that Jesus was never real, the misrepresentation of the gospels to the argument for abiogenesis being: “a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of planets in the universe … suppose it [abiogenesis] was so improbable as to occur on only one in a billion planets … even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets – of which Earth, of course, is one”, there was nothing to break open this “delusion” that I am apparently in. (I am not quote minning, I read these chapters many times and this really is the extent of the argument in favour of abiogenesis.)

    Self-refutation ran rampant through the book. For example, Dawkins calls it child abuse to raise a child in a religion. He calls the teaching a child about the supernatural, wrong. Then he commends a group called the “Brights” (a term that means exactly atheist) for having a doctrine that: “Any youngster who is told that he or she must, or should, be a Bright can NOT be a Bright.” The religious denunciation quickly followed: “Can you even imagine a church or mosque issuing such a self denying ordinance? But shouldn’t they be compelled to do so?” Dawkins story telling can be so engaging that you tend to miss the argument. What kind of crazy doctrine says, we know this to be true, but as you have been told that this what you must believe, you are now not allowed to believe it? What sort of person would follow this? How does the desire to not force people into following something turn directly into the demand that they cannot follow it? Ruse’s call of “bluster and bombast” are quite appropriate.

    If I have been unfair, let me know. I am not bashing Dawkins. He actually is great on biology and story telling. But I find his arguments and position on God, untenable.

  5. Ken
    Ken says:

    Jonathon – you ask “why a blogger would blog on part of a comment, posted in a totally different blog on a totally different site.” And refer to my post at Open Parachute.

    Now, this reply may, or may not get through to you:

    1: I no long attempt to comment on this blog because comments of mine have been removed in the past. This has happened to other commenters who have criticised posts here. Others have had parts deleted.

    Now, my policy is to not comment further on such blogs. If there is any substantive issue I will comment on my own blog and everyone is welcome to respond (I do not delete comments arbitrarily as is done here). Clealry, I will respond in this way when I believe anti-science ideas are promoted here or elsewhere.

    This (attempted) comment is obviously a “one off” – attempt to explain to you.

    2: This arbitrary deletion of comments has occurred to me on several local blogs. Beside Thinking Matters there is “say hell to my friend”, NZ Christian News. Similarly, Uncommon descent. Notice a pattern?

    Currently my comments seem to be accepted by MandM and True Paradigm. I respect them for that.

    3: I believe that discussion can usefully be maintained across several different blogs – often to the benefit of all blogs in terms of attracting traffic.

    4: Jonathon – you obviously have something to say about my post. I invite you to comment at Open Parachute. For obvious reasons it is not possible for me to maintain a discussion here.

  6. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Ken,

    I have never met you before, but thanks for clarifying yourself in the previous post. It does seem fair enough indeed, and as such, it was kind of you to come and post here.

    Re (4). I would like the say thanks for highlighting Dawkins new book. It is the first time that I have heard of it and I am now interested to read it. I do assume that this was the major reason for your blog in the first place. Other than that, there is not much else I can say.

    Oh, I was slightly disappointed to see some ‘return bashing’, because I think that if you grumble from your perception of the activities of others, you should be very careful to not be perceived to be engaging in those activities yourself. But hey, that is my personal opinion and not worthy of further elaboration or defense.

    The rest of my previous post was not related to your blog. Rather than just agree with this blog that the arguments were very weak in “The God Delusion” (which I do agree with), I decided to give a couple of examples to highlight that position. There are many more examples in the book. In short, I was primarily responding to this blog and had been slightly diverted by the link to Open Parachute.

    In regard to your stated activity that you will blog when you see anti-science ideas promoted, I will encourage you to hold fast to such an action. I love science and look forward to your defense of scientific principles.

    ——
    In relation to the side issues, I like the ideal of not deleting contributions. But liking the ideal is where I stop. It seems to me that there are justified reasons for removing posts or banning contributors. Providing the opposing view is not what I would call a justified reasons. But disrespect, abusive comments, personal attacks and the breaking of site rules, do seem fair enough to me. I am not saying that you did any of these. I am just saying that I think it is fair enough to moderate at the appropriate time.

    Finally, I love your Avatar drawing (of yourself I presume). It is unique, simple and very eye-catching. Cheers mate.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ken,

    There seems to me so many mistakes and offences at this “Dawkin’s bashing” thread at Open Parachute. My following remarks are generally directed at Ken, but also the others there.

    1) You can’t dismiss someone’s arguments because of their motivations – its a fallacy called ad hominem.

    2) You can’t judge someone’s motives for writing what they have written.

    Which is what you have done in the case of Ruse. You claim its professional jealousy which motivates him, but he never stated this explicitly and so you have no grounds for believing it. From his tone and manner here I suspect he would most likely strongly deny that charge and affirm the exact opposite: that he’d rather be himself with good arguments than Dawkin’s with bad arguments) What you’re doing is like giving therapy to someone you’ve never met – it shouldn’t be done because it can’t be done.

    3) You can’t just hand-wave away an argument away – especially one from an eminent ethicist. You need to actually engage with the argument and refute it if you want it to go away. At least, that is, if you want to be taken seriously. And definitely if you want to be considered a reasonable person.

    4) You have a responsibility to report arguments/articles/other people, etc., balanced and fairly without distortion. Doing otherwise is dishonest; self-serving sensationalism; and sloppy reasoning.

    5) This love affair with Dawkin’s! Perhaps Ken – or someone else at Open Parachute – would like to give an argument why Richard Dawkin’s (a scientist with no formal training and evidently no serious engagement whatsoever on his chosen subject matter – the Philosophy of Religion) is qualified to write a book with the aim of showing God “almost certainly does not exist”? Or perhaps there is an argument in The God Delusion that can stand up to scrutiny someone somewhere would like to champion?

    Ridicule without reasons may be deleted – no guarantees.

    6) Otherwise, pretty much all the comments from Ken on that thread are just bluster (empty rhetoric) with no substance.

    Maybe I’m being uncharitable – after-all, take away an atheist’s bluster and what else does he have? God forbid it actually be an argument.

  8. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Stuart, you are an extremely fair and reasonable person. I often find myself wishing I had your clarity and logical nature when trying to express myself. This is worth repeating and I am going to keep it as a reminder for myself. It is so helpful when desiring to formulate an evenhanded and fair response.

    Stuart wrote:
    1) You can’t dismiss someone’s arguments because of their motivations – its a fallacy called ad hominem.

    2) You can’t judge someone’s motives for writing what they have written.

    3) You can’t just hand-wave away an argument away – especially one from an eminent ethicist. You need to actually engage with the argument and refute it if you want it to go away. At least, that is, if you want to be taken seriously. And definitely if you want to be considered a reasonable person.

    4) You have a responsibility to report arguments/articles/other people, etc., balanced and fairly without distortion. Doing otherwise is dishonest; self-serving sensationalism; and sloppy reasoning.

    Thanks and cheers.

  9. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    For the record, and as I have repeatedly stated to Ken in the past – Ken says that his blogs have been arbitrarily deleted from “say hell to my friend” [sic], which is my blog, Say Hello to my Little Friend.

    Ken lied, plain and simple. I have told him clearly in the past, he has (sort of) admitted it and retracted the claim, and then he has repeated the same false claim again when he thought I wasn’t looking, knowing full well that it is not true. I have never ever deleted any of his comments from my blog. He is repeating claims that he knows to be false so that he can bolster his false claim to others that Christian blogs delete his comments. Perhaps he thinks (chuckle) that people fear him. If they actually did, such untrue claims on his part would not be necessary.

    Being less than knowledgeable when it comes to philosophy of religion etc is not a sin. Lying, however, takes a person’s reputation to another place entirely.

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