Professors are under a lot of pressure. We have certain images that we need to cultivate in order to stay in the club. One of them is the image of a messy, disorganized, eccentric. I've got that one down pat.
I have four piles of reading material. There's the one on my bedside table for reading at night when I should be sleeping. There's a stack of papers and articles in my shoulder bag that I'm supposed to read on the train and subway. There are books on my desk at home and there's a huge pile of things on the desk in my office.
Since I started blogging, none of these piles are getting smaller.
Last night I finally got around to reading an article by Michael Ruse in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer.
Ruse, M. (2007) Fighting the Fundamenalists: Chamberlain or Churchill? Skeptical Inquirer March/April 2007:38-41.This is one of many articles in this special issue devoted to "Science, God, and (non)Belief."
Perhaps if I'd read the article sooner I might have anticipated the stance that Nisbet and Mooney would take in the framing debate. I actually thought the appeasers had learned their lesson. I thought they discovered last Fall that they can't stifle dissent. I was wrong. Ruse is singing the same old tune. The chorus goes like this, "Why can't we just get along?" The real message is, "Why don't you arrogant atheists just shut up and learn to think like an appeaser?"
The teaser on the Ruse article sets the tone for what's coming. He says,
We who think that biblical literalism has no place in science classrooms should be standing together and fighting ignorance and prejudice. Why then do those of us against creationism live in a house divided?Well Michael, there are several reasons. One of them is that you are setting up the division yourself by trying to define the problem on behalf of everyone else.
I'm opposed to Biblical literalism, just like you. But I'm not necessarily opposed to keeping it out of the schools at all costs. That's just not a priority for many non-Americans. As a matter of fact, I'd like to bring it into the schools and get students to debate evolution and creationism in the classroom. So, right away you're starting with an assumption. You say I'm supposed to advocate fighting religion in American schools and defending the American Constitution. You also frame the debate in terms of fighting creationism while I prefer to think of the battle as a fight between rationalism and superstition. You've lost me before you even get to the opening paragraph.
(Later on we'll see that your version of "ignorance and prejudice" is differnt than mine so we can't even agree on that.)
Ruse then goes on to describe the problem as he sees it,
... at the moment, those of us against creationism live in a house divided. One group is made up of the ardent, complete atheists. They want no truck with the enemy, which they are inclined to define as any person of religious inclination—from literalist (like a Southern Baptist) to deist (like a Unitarian)—and they think that anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish.Okay, let's stop here for a moment and ponder how Ruse is defining his opponents. I am one of those people and there's a lot of truth in what Ruse just wrote.
I do indeed think that religion is behind the anti-science movement. I think that religion is the problem, not creationism. Creationism is just one symptom of the anti-science, anti-intellectual, stance of the most fervent believers. Theistic evolution is another symptom of what I think is fuzzy religious thinking about science, albeit not as outrageous as believing in the literal truth of Genesis [Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground].
It's easy to see the silliness of the Young Earth Creationists; however, I find it difficult to see the difference between the Intelligent Design Creationism of a Michael Behe or a Michael Denton and that of Ken Miller, Francis Collins, or Simon Conway-Morris. They look very simlilar to me.
Michael Ruse doesn't have this problem,
The second group is made up of two subgroups. One has as members liberal Christians who think that evolution is God's way of creating .... The second subgroup contains those who have no religious beliefs but who think that one should collaborate with the liberal Christians against a shared enemy, and who are inclined to think that science and religion are compatible.There's the rub. The appeasers are atheists who think that Theistic Evolution is compatible with science.
Ruse makes it clear that he disagrees with "ardent atheists." To his credit, he raises then dismisses the argument that "ardent atheists" should keep quiet because they provide aid and comfort to the enemy. Instead, he raises anther point. Ruse criticizes the atheists like Dawkins because of their lack of scholarship.
If I thought Dawkins and company were right, I would defend them one hundred percent and let the chips fall where they may. My real problem is one of scholarship, put simply, which is I guess what you would expect of a university professor like myself. I would be a lot more impressed with the ardent atheists if I felt that they were making a genuine effort to engage in dialog with those whom they criticize. I do not mean actual physical dialog, but at the least intense study of the claims of those against whom they fulminate. Take, for example, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, and his critiques of the various arguments for the existence of God. Why does he not acknowledge that few if any Christians have ever claimed that the proofs are the true reason for the belief in God?Booooooring. We've heard this whining before. Why doesn't Ruse acknowledge that people like me and PZ have carefully read Finding Darwin's God, Life's Solution, and The Language of God? We've examined the arguments made by the Theistic Evolutionists and found them wanting. What more can we do? I'm not a mind reader. I can't guess what sort of secret "sophisticated" arguments they might have lying in reserve. They haven't told us.
Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway-Morris are among the leading proponents of Theistic Evolution. They're the people Ruse wants to ally with. They've told us exactly why they believe in God and why they think science is compatible with their religion. I'm not buying it. I seriously wonder whether Ruse does either but I guess we'll never know since, as his allies, they are immune to the kind of criticism leveled at Dawkins.
Have you ever thought about why you'll never hear Ruse criticizing Miller and Collins for their lack of scholarship? Can you say "hypocrite"?
Maybe PZ, Dawkins and I are wrong. Maybe there really are rational arguments that reconcile Christianity (and other religions) with science. Maybe the conflict that everyone talks about is imaginary and people like Francis Collins have already found the solution. Maybe, but I doubt it. That's not the point. If Ruse truly believes we are wrong then let him engage in debate instead of just falsely accusing us of sloppy scholarship.
Having ordained that the "ardent atheists" are not scholars, he summarizes his opinion of us like this.
I start to suspect that these people ... in their way are tarred with the same features of which they accuse the creationists. There is a dogmatism, a refusal to listen to others, a contempt for nonbelievers, a feeling that they alone have the truth, that is the mark of so many of the cults and sects that have sprung on American soil since the nation's founding.Hmmm ... so we're no different than religious cults, eh? What's the solution?
Please God-or non-God—let us quit fighting among ourselves and get on with the real job that faces us.Wow! For an appeaser you sure have a funny notion of how to stop fighting among ourselves. First you insult and demean us then you say we should get along. That's ridiculous.
When I disagree with someone I don't pull any punches. In that sense I'm no different that Michael Ruse. However, I don't then turn around and ask my opponent to give up the beliefs I've just trashed and join me in fighting another battle—especially one that they're not interested in. That would suggest I wasn't listening to a word they said. But that's exactly what Michael Ruse is doing.
We need to accept the fact that atheists disagree on the mild form of creationism called Theistic Evolution. Some of us oppose it on the grounds that the logic behind it is no different than the logic of Intelligent Design Creationism. Other atheists don't see a problem with Theistic Evolution because, according to them, science and religion are compatible. Fine. We can agree to disagree and have lots of fun debating it at the same time.
But please don't try to shut me up by calling for a big tent strategy against the more extreme creationists. That's the whole point of the Ruse article in spite of the brief disclaimer in the middle. From the opening teaser to the very last sentence, the take-home message is for all atheists to come together. But it's a very special kind of coming together, isn't it? Our side has to give up everything. That sort of coming together usually goes another name. It's called surrender.
So here's my message to the appeaser athiests. If you don't like what we say then by all means speak out. Challenge us. Debate us. Show us why you think Theistic Evolution is very different from Intelligent Design Creationism. Write an article comparing Nature's Destiny by Michael Denton and Life's Solution by Simon Conway-Morris. Tell us why you choose to ally with Conway-Morris but oppose an intelligent design creationist like Denton. Make your case with scholarship. But please, please, stop whining about the fact we disagree. That's not going to change anything.
(Are you listening Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet? This applies to you as well. If you support Theistic Evolution then tell us why. Don't try and confuse the issue with talk of "framing." We all know about frames. It's just a fancy word for spin.)