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)

The Argument from Evolution

It is a common taunt among combative non-theists (henceforth called atheists) that evolution is a well established scientific fact, as if this somehow provides positive proof that God does not exist. Belief in God, as the title of Richard Dawkin’s book proclaims, is a delusion. If this is so it then follows that faith is a fairy-tale on the level of a child’s belief in Santa Clause, and that continued belief in God is directly opposing our best scientific knowledge. It appears as if there is an atheistic argument being made.

1) If evolution is true then God does not exist. 

2) Evolution is true.

3) Therefore, God does not exist. 

It is clear that (3) follows from premises (1) and (2) and by virtue of the law of logic called modus ponens the conclusion is necessary. So in order to defeat the argument then we will have to deny at least one of the premises. To start let us begin with the second. 


Premise 2: Evolution is true

Before we set about criticising evolution, it is important we establish clearly from the start that it is a matter of intellectual responsibility for everyone to think critically about important issues such as these. Ben Stein has recently pointed out in his documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed the unfortunate climate of academic bullying and curtailing of the freedom of enquiry in the United States. A healthy theory will be able to withstand vigourous questioning and it is the obligation of people to permit any questions and allow doubt in the pursuit of scientific truth. 

Creationists are often charged with only poking holes in what is otherwise a good theory. To which the reply can be made – tough luck – that is what should happen to all theories, good and bad. A leaky bucket that cannot hold water should be mended or replaced. The only way to know if the fruit is sweet or sour is to let it be pealed and examined. So let us turn to the criticisms that can be raised against evolution. I have categorised them into four problem areas.


1) The problem with fossils

When Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species he laid out several conditions that would bear scrutiny if his theory was true. One of these conditions was evidence of transitional forms in the fossil record. He asked the question “But, as by this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?”1 Over 150 years of exploration and research has past and not one transitional form has commended itself for any length of time to the scientific community. All new life forms appear suddenly and fully developed. 

Colin Patterson, the late Senior Palaeontologist of the British Museum of Natural History in London confesses in a letter in April of 1979, that there is no evidence of transitional forms in the fossil record. 

I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualise such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic licence, would that not mislead the reader?2

Stephen Jay Gould, professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University, conceded this point and so proposed an amendment to evolutionary theory called Punctuated Equilibria to explain away the absence of transitional forms. He says, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”3

Since evolution is gradual change, and no evidence of gradual change can be found in the geologic record, is punctuated equalibia a recognition that evolution should be abandoned?

What is more the supposed transitions, such as from reptile to bird are impossible. The lungs are completely different in function and form. The slightest change would result in a creature that is unable to breathe, let alone live long enough to provide progeny. It is no wonder such transitional forms do not appear in the fossil record.

Questionable transitional forms exist, such as the Archaeopteryx, however evolution predicts not a few but a whole host of intermediate forms. The absence of these is pointed out by micro-biologist from New Zealand, Dr. Michael Denton, in his influential book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.4

The fossil record is supposed to read as a vertical scroll in accord with the order of strata, the eldest layers being on the bottom the youngest layers being nearer the top. Evolution cannot explain exceptions in the record. In fact, there are more exceptions to the rule than there is the rule. One also wonders about poly-strata fossils, such as preserved tree trunks that run vertically through supposed millions of years of earth history.


2) The problem with soup

The first problem is there is no geologic evidence for concentrated organic pools on the early earth. This pre-biotic soup, from which life was supposed to arise, is becoming less and less likely the more that is found out about the conditions on the early earth. Besides this, it has been discovered that the dilution processes would have stalled and made impossible the formation of complex organic molecules needed for life to arise. 

Second, the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is detrimental to the process for the hypothesised beginning of life scenario. It was once thought that in the early earth’s history there was no oxygen, but evidence is accumulating that oxygen was not only present but abundant.

Third, experimentation with the origin of life is subject to heavy criticism. If life does arise out of experimentation, all that would prove is it takes intelligent design to create life in the lab. Also, there is no known natural conditions that simulate what is produced in the laboratory. Next, it is a huge conceptual leap to conclude that the naturalistic origin of life is possible from the data. 

Take for instance the Miller and Uri experiments in the 1950’s. By passing electric sparks in a methane gas solution they were able to synthesise amino acids. Amino acids form proteins, and proteins are found in living things, but the hope that this can explain the origin of living things is an enormous extrapolation of the data. To say this is life is like equating the word ME with the complete works of William Shakespeare. Further, the bi-products of these experiments, like 80% tar, are toxic and far more likely to kill than promote the continuation of any life that did arise. 

Fourth, the idea of life springing from non-life butts its head against the rock of the second law of Thermodynamics. It states that the amount of usable energy in the universe is deteriorating. The calculations of any reaction taking place to form life is somewhere in the order of one chance in 10 to the power of 40,000. On statistical analysis, a Shakespeare analogy such as the one above become insignificantly small. Still raw energy alone cannot bring order or information out of random chaos. Some sort of blueprint or plan is needed and that requires an intelligence. 

Fifth, the window of opportunity is incredibly small for the chemical origin of life to occur. This window is only 25 Million years, based on the presumption of a 5-6 billion yea age of the earth, and the earliest fossilised life forms at 3.8 billion years ago. A mere blip on the geological scale. 

For those reasons chemical origin of life scenarios are now rejected by the scientific community. This is documented in Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen’s work The Mystery of Lifes Origins.5

It could be said that this is not criticising evolutionary theory, but the origin of life theory of abiogenesis. This is a dodge however. As long as evolution remains an attempt to explain the origin of the diversity of life in terms of purely naturalistic phenomenon, this implies an ultimate origin of life theory such as the pre-biotic soup. Unlike soup, you can’t buy evolution in a separate package. Without an ultimate naturalistic origin scenario atheistic-evolution is no longer tenable. 


3) The problem with information 

The mechanisms of evolution are insufficient to explain the existence of highly specified and complex information in the cell. The death knell of evolution should have sounded in 1953 with the discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. When the two chains of bonded nucleotides that form the chromosomes was discovered to be a four letter digital code that determines all of the information necessary to produce all of the functions and all the structures in all living systems, Francis Crick, a code-breaker during WWII, intuitively grasped that this was the product of a mind. For their discovery he won the Nobel prize. His insight however did not convince him of God. Instead he credited the presence of information to aliens by adopting the idea of Pan-Spermia, a purely speculative hypothesis that is nevertheless drawn from the valid inference of design. 

The nucleus of the cell is a storage device for information. This vast amount of code is redundant, overlapping, and highly complex and specific. This information encoded in the DNA contains the manual for the construction of the body; determines the physical appearance of an individual; instructions for error-correction, and directions for self-replication. Such wondrous machines cry out for a masterful designer. The intricacy of the code raises two fundamental problems for evolution. First, information is the product of a mind and not of natural processes. Second, all evidence accrued thus far in experimental and observable science is that information can only be muddled or lost: not gained. The question that arises is how does one account for the  presence and addition of information? In other words, where did the simple cell get the code for teeth?

The mechanisms of evolution, namely natural selection, random mutation, and time do not provide a sufficient answer to how a simple life-form can develop into another, more complex life-form. But there is one mechanism that can explain the existence of this highly specified and complex information, namely Intelligent Design.

This is nowhere more poignantly pointed out by micro-biologist Dr. Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box, called by Time Magazine one of the most influential books of the twentieth-century. Here he points out some miniature biological machines, such as the flagellum of certain bacteria, are irreducibly complex, a concept that highlights the appearance of design and therefore infers an intelligent designer. 

A mouse trap is irreducibly complex as it would be unable to function at all without any one of its parts. Take away the base, or the hook, or the trigger and the mouse trap would not function at all. Just like the mouse trap, so this miniature biological organism is irreducibly complex. This does not mean it is simple. The flagellum functions like a molecular motor, but with the efficiency that overwhelms all current mechanics. The structure has no function and no survival value without all of its parts. This means that when the bacteria was formed it was formed all at once – a concept breaking the mould of the evolutionary paradigm. Moreover, the parts have to have a specific assembly order for any function to be possible. This complexity immediately calls into question the mechanisms of evolution. Time, chance and natural selection by themselves cannot explain its construction. There needs to be an intelligent designer. 

Further still, the diversity of life on planet earth far exceeds the evolutionary mechanisms time constaints. Natural selection and random mutation work to slow for all generally accepted models concerning earth’s history.

It is worthwhile pointing out that Intelligent Design is not creationism dressed in a lab-coat, hiding disguised with the respectability of a modern scientist. Creationism is a doctrine that is necessarily committed to a particular creator. (For the Christian the creator is of course the eternal one true God, revealed in Jesus Christ, but the creator will vary depending on the which creation story is accepted.) Intelligent Design however does not speak to the second-order question of who the designer was or why the universe or biological system was designed. As we will see that would be overstepping the bounds of science. That is why Dr. William Demsky and Dr. Philip Johnson are genuine when they say Intelligent Design is not a religious movement. It has religious implications for sure, but when they are wearing their scientific hats they do not say who is responsible for the design, only that design is recognisable and present. That does not mean they cannot as philosophers say who is responsible for the presence of design, or when they go home to their wives speculate on why it is there. 


4) The problem with science

The philosophy of science itself argues against evolution. Philosophy, as a discipline which evaluates the assumptions and foundations of other disciplines is uniquely able to offer critiques on science itself. As a seond-order discipline part of the task of philosophy of science is to appraise the scientific method. Little taught or understood by students or graduates, the scientific method outlines not only the correct procedure for scientific enquiry but shows the limits of science.

The Scientific Method begins with (1) observation, then (2) a proposal of a question or a problem, then (3) a hypothesis (educated guess), then (4) experimentation, then (5) a theory is proposed (a hypothesis with a high degree of probability) which leads after further experimentation to (6) a scientific law (when the theory is shown to be valid on a universal scale), such as the Laws of Thermodynamics or the Law of Gravity. 

This means that science is merely interpretation of the data. Science cannot prove a scientific fact – that is beyond the scope of the scientific method. It can only deduce a result with a high degree of probability and never absolutely verify or prove a truth, but only falsify one. It also means that science deals with the what and how, and not the who or why. 

The scientific method is inductive and we should be careful not to overstep its bounds. So when a person declares that evidence for evolution is so great it should be called law, it is clear they have an incorrect definition of science and are using it in an incorrect manner. 

Technically calling Evolution a “theory” is incorrect, for evolution cannot even get started on step number one – observation. The very nature of the case is a one-time, unrepeatable event. So operation science is the incorrect field to operate in. Rather it is a field called ‘origin science‘ which includes forensic science (crime scene investigations) and archaeology. Evolution is more accurately described as a model (as is creation) and should be assessed as a model. A model is held up to the light of the evidence and using the tools and rules common with historical research, we evaluate the model on the basis of (1) explanatory scope, (2) explanatory power, (3) plausibility, (4) degree of ad hoc-ness or how contrived it is, (5) in accord with accepted beliefs and (6) outstrips rival theories.

So how does evolution fair, now that it is in its correct category? Obviously more can be and should be said regarding this area of enquiry. But a good indication is to note that when a model violates known theories and laws, such as the second law of thermodynamics, the cell theory and the law of biogenesis, that model should be ejected from the window of its ivory tower. When the model does not explain the evidence, such as the exceptions in the fossil record, it should be regarded as a relic only to be found in out-dated textbooks.

There are further problems the philosophy of science brings to light. For instance, evolution is not something that can be read straight off the evidence, but is predicated on a philosophical commitment to naturalism. This is pointed out successfully by Dr. Philip Johnson in his book Darwin on Trial. Thus far the evidence for biological evolution only supports micro-evolution, or change within limits. It is a philosophical question rather than a strictly scientific question if this evidence should be projected onto the macro scale. Macro-evolution represents a huge extrapolation of the data.

Dating methods are sometimes deeply philosophically flawed by dogmatically assuming the principle of uniformity (uniformitarianism) and often use circular reasoning. This by its nature is a philosophical problem.


Premise 1: If evolution is true God does not exist

This premise is implied by many people. As we have seen the evidence for evolution is far from convincing, so we need not look at this first premise to deny the conclusion that God does not exist. But what about Premise 1 on its own merits? If evolution is true does this imply that God does not exist? 

It seems clear that it is not so. At most, if evolution is true, all it would mean is that a certain literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is incorrect. Indeed, there have been many Christians who have believed in God, and found no contradiction in also believing in evolution. Many very clever people are theistic evolutionists, including C.S. Lewis who thought that God very well could have used the process of evolution to bring about human life. 

Howard Van Till of Calvin College asks:

“is the concept of special creation required of all persons who profess trust in the Creator-God revealed in Scripture? . . . most Christians in my acquaintance who are engaged in either scientific or biblical scholarship have concluded that the special creationist picture of the world’s formation is not a necessary component of Christian belief . . .”6

Augustine in the fourth century (1500 years before the pressure of modern science) was suggesting that the days of Genesis one were not literal “solar days,” but narratorial devises to explain a logical framework. Davis Young from Calvin College writes:

Some things were made in fully developed form as we see them today, and other things were made in a potential form, so that in time they might become the way we see them now. Augustine went far beyond any superficial reading of the text by claiming that neither the creation nor the subsequent unfolding took place in six ordinary days. He is explicit that God did not create the world over the course of six temporal days. “The sacred writer was able to separate in the time of his narrative what God did not separate in time in His creative act”7 8

Yet even if the Bible’s creation account demands a literal interpretation, then all that would follow is that the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy is false. Dr. William Lane Craig suggests essential doctrines in systematic theology form a central core that you should fight for to the wall. Tenets like the existence of God, His essential attributes, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of Salvation you never give up, but unessential doctrines with respect to God and salvation can be positioned nearer the periphery of that theological circle. In light of the defence of Premise 2, such an admission would be altogether too hasty. Still, it is worth noting that if the scientific community can establish a convincing proof and give explanations of the model’s noted shortcomings, that God’s existence is not something that is at stake.

What this brings to light is the hidden assumption implied in the argument, namely that God’s existence is dependant on the Bible’s revelation. A defender of biblical truth will no doubt be unmoved by such an assumption if he has a high view of the project of Natural Theology.

If God exists he can use the process of evolution. But if God exists he does not need the process of evolution. Therefore, if evolutionary theories fail scrutiny, why not give them up? For the apologist, regarding God’s existence, it is a matter of complete indifference if evolution did or did not occur. Evolution, therefore brings a very different challenge to the table then the atheist charges. The discussion is an in-house one; less an external attack on Christianity and more a matter of internal consistency of interpretation, as well as integration with the discipline of science.

What is so irksome to the committed atheist is he sees if evolution fails as a scientific model it leaves a gaping hole in his world-view. You may then ask what is there to plug this hole apart from theistic creationism? In the words of Richard Dawkin’s “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”9 Ergo, if Darwin topples there goes the intellectual kudos of the atheist. Alvin Plantinga, philosopher at the University of Notre Dame says, “For the nontheist, evolution is the only game in town; it is an essential part of any reasonably complete nontheistic way of thinking; hence the devotion to it, the suggestions that it shouldn’t be discussed in public, and the venom, the theological odium with which dissent is greeted.”10

Strange as it may seem, it is not the theist who is biased towards the evidence, but the naturalist. The Christian can be open to where the evidence leads on the basis that the Genesis creation account permits a wide manner of interpretations, while the atheist is totally committed to Darwin’s speculations. 


The Tables Turn:

It is perhaps with this realisation in mind that led Jeffery Lowder to offer the more cautious argument from evolution. He stated in the year 1999 during The Lowder-Fernandes Debate: Naturalism vs. Theism, that evolution is more likely given naturalism than given theism. 

If evolution is true, then God is not needed for the account that various life forms that exist today and have existed in the past, and therefore evolution is compatible with naturalism. If theism is true however, evolution may or may not be true. Evolution is logically compatible with theism; God could have used evolution, but God could of used many other methods than evolution – methods which are ruled out by naturalism. Moreover, given that over 99% of species that have ever lived on earth is now extinct, evolution seems like a pretty strange way for an all-powerful being to create living organisms. Did God have to keep experimenting till he got things right? Thus evolution is some evidence for naturalism over theism. [sic] 11

This argument cedes the point that evolution is compatible with theism. This then constitutes a denial of the first premise. However his conclusion that if evolution is true it is more likely given naturalism rather than theism is based on the assumption that if God was the intelligent designer behind the origin and diversity of life He would have used an efficient method. Efficiency has been pointed out to be only a consideration for beings with limited time, resources and power. There is no reason to think that the creator God of Christian theism would desire efficiency when he was creating. Moreover, the way in which this God bought about the origin and diversity of life may have been in accord with other over-riding concerns, such as how the universe was to operate for the living beings he planned would occupy and observe it.

But why think that evolution is more likely given naturalism? This seems to ignore all the powerful evidence coming out of the scientific community in the last fifty years that has so strengthened the teleological arguments for God’s existence. First, the incredible cosmological fine-tuning of the conditions necessary to enable evolution even to take place, fall within extremely thin parameters. Second, the examples of calculations of the probabilities for the formation of basic biological structures. Both these exceed coincidence (or blind chance) and cry out for an explanation. It is therefore quite reasonable to imply a highly skilled and intelligent designer or divine miracle.

In 1943, the French statistician Emil Borel stated that when considering probabilities on a cosmic scale anything that exceeded one chance in 10 to the power of 50 should be regarded as impossible. This is a very small number when you consider the probabilities that are involved in evolutionary models, but it is a very big number when you consider there is only an estimated 10 to the power of 82 subatomic particles in the universe. 

Dr. Hubert Yockey, physicist and information scientist calculates the chances of a single protein containing only 100 amino acids would form spontaneously is less than one chance in 10 to the 65th power. Sir. Fred Hoyle calculates the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell is one in 10 to the 40,000th power. Yale university biochemist and biophysicist Harold J. Morowitz calculates the chance of a single bacteria arising by chance is one in 10 to the hundred-billionth power.

In his book Information Theory and Molecular Biology, Dr. Hubert Yockey states “The belief that life on earth arose spontaneously from non-living matter is simply a matter of faith in the strict reductionism and is based entirely on ideology, not on science.”12

Sir. Fred Hoyle said in Nature, “The likelihood of the formation of life from inanimate matter is one to a number with 40,000 naughts after it . . . It is big enough to bury Darwin and the whole theory of evolution . . . If the beginnings of life were not random, they must therefore have been the product of purposeful intelligence.”13

Dr. Francis Crick, in his book Life Itself says, “An honest man armed with all the knowledge available to us now can only state that in some sense the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”14

The strength of the teleological argument is only increasing as more is discovered about the fine-tuning of the cosmos for intelligent life. In the Anthropic Cosmological Principle two of the world’s leading cosmologists, John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, point out 10 steps in the course of human evolution, such as the development of the DNA base genetic code, the origin of mitochondria in the cells, the origin of photosynthesis, the development of aerobic respiration, the development of the inner skeleton and the development of the eye, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star, and would have incinerated the earth. The odds they calculated for the assembly of the human gnome was somewhere around 4 to the -360th power to the 110,000th power — simply an incomprehensible number. For reasons like this as well as others, “there has developed a general consensus among evolutionists that the evolution of intelligent life. . . is so improbable that is unlikely to have occurred on any other planet in the entire visible universe.”15

In other words, the origin of biological complexity in sentient life is far more likely given theism than given naturalism. This therefore calls for an amendment to the original atheistic argument. 1-1) If evolution is true, it requires a divine miracle. But if it is the case that evolution is true, this constitutes an argument for Gods existence.

1-1)   If evolution is true, it requires a divine miracle

2)   Evolution is true

3-1)   Therefore, God exists

Isn’t it incredible that what the atheist originally thought disproves God, is actually a powerful argument for His existence?



1. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapter 6.

2. Colin Patterson, letter 10 April 1979, in Sunderland L.D., “Darwin’s Enigma: Fossils and Other Problems,” [1984], Master Book Publishers: El Cajon CA, Fourth Edition, 1988, p.89.

3. Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution’s erratic pace,” Natural History, Vol. 86, No. 5, pp.12-16, May 1977, p. 14

4. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler; 3Rev Ed edition (April 15, 1986)

5. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Lifes Origins: Reassessing Current Theories, Philosophical Library Inc, 1984.

6.  Howard Van Till, When Faith and Reason Cooperate, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI,

7. St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J., 2 vols. (New York: Newman Press, 1982), pg. 36.

8. Davis A. Young, The Contemporary Relevance of Augustine’s view of Creation, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Ml, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 40.1:42-45 (3/1988),

9. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London and New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1986), pp. 6, 7.

10. Alvin Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN. Christian Scholar’s Review XXI:1 (September 1991): 8-33. 

11. Jeffrey Lowder, The Lowder-Fernandes Debate: Naturalism vs. Theism: Which Way Does the Evidence Point? (1999), (, retrieved 12 October, 2008) 

12. Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory and Molecular Biology, 1992, Cambridge University Press, Page 284.

13. Sir. Fred Hoyle, “Hoyle on Evolution”, (Nature, Vol. 294, 12 November 1981, p. 105)

14. Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature, Simon & Schuster, 1982, Page 88

15. Barrow, John and Tipler, Frank (1986): The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Clarendon Press, pg. 133.