The skunk at the Darwinian garden party

I missed a Boston Globe profile of science philosopher Michael Ruse at the beginning of this month, but Rich Poll’s Apologia Report has pointed it out. Ruse, a vigorous defender of evolution, distinguishes between evolution and evolutionism, and he criticizes fellow academicians who do not see the clash of worldviews behind the public debates.

Profile author Peter Dizikes of Arlington, Va., quotes generously from Ruse’s critics who believe he’s helping the Intelligent Design movement too much, but he doesn’t bother talking with any proponents of I.D. Dizikes mentions that Ruse edited a book with Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski, and that he entertains no hopes of persuading I.D. advocate Phillip E. Johnson’s mind. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what Dembski and Johnson think of Ruse’s work? The Washington Post certainly didn’t leave its readers guessing what Johnson’s critics think of him in its recent thoughtful profile.

Nevertheless, Dizikes provides an engaging portrait of a man who clearly enjoys being a contrarian:

In his latest book, “The Evolution-Creation Struggle,” published by Harvard University Press later this month, Ruse elaborates on a theme he has been developing in a career dating back to the 1960s: 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.

While scientists and creationists often square off over the scientific evidence for evolution, the source of the ongoing dispute is deeper. “This is not just a fight about dinosaurs or gaps in the fossil record,” says Ruse, speaking from his home in Florida. “This is a fight about different worldviews.”

. . .Virtually every prominent Darwinian in recent decades has eschewed social Darwinism, and most believe that evolution itself, while responsible for the increased complexity of organic forms over time, cannot be regarded as a linear process driving toward a particular endpoint. But Ruse asserts that popular contemporary biologists like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have also exacerbated the divisions between evolutionists and creationists by directly challenging the validity of religious belief — Dawkins by repeatedly declaring his atheism (“faith,” he once wrote, “is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate”), and Wilson by describing his “search for objective reality” as a replacement for religious seeking.

All told, Ruse claims, loading values onto the platform of evolutionary science constitutes “evolutionism,” an outlook that goes far beyond the scientific acceptance of evolution as a means of explaining the origins and development of species. 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.”

To be sure, Ruse acknowledges, some biologists are religious, while a significant portion of religious believers are willing to accept the concept of evolution at least to some extent. But, he argues, the way evolutionists have often linked their science to progressive politics has, in recent decades, become anathema to many believers, especially fundamentalist Christians whose biblical literalism leads them to believe that worldly change will only arrive with the Second Coming. The advocates of evolution, Ruse argues, have thus been “competing for space in the hearts and minds” of many religious believers without even realizing it — much to the detriment of their cause.

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