Ruse on academic anti-Darwinists

March 8, 2010 • 2:15 pm

In the latest Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse describes the excitement of modern evolutionary biology and then takes out after those academics who, lately, have their knickers in a twist about evolution. These include the philosopher/theologian Alvin Plantinga and the philosophers Jerry Fodor (co-author of What Darwin Got Wrong) and Thomas Nagel (endorser of Stephen Meyer’s intelligent-design book, Signature in the Cell). Ruse faults them all, correctly, for their ignorance of the field they’re criticizing.

But rather than work over the details, I want to draw attention to the way this crop of critics ignores evolutionary biology—aside from the kind of cherry-picking in which Fodor engages. Nagel may sneer about the failure to find “accessible literature” that answers his worries. In what part of the library was he doing his literature search? Where, for example, is any discussion of the Grants’ work on the Galápagos finches? What about a detailed look at the new scholarship that is challenging earlier thinking about the evolution of bipedalism? What about the discoveries of molecular biology and of the similarities (homologies) between humans and fruit flies? And why no mention of Marc Hauser and his work uncovering the secrets of moral thinking? There is a deafening silence on those and other issues. Fodor, Nagel, and Plantinga don’t need to turn themselves into biochemists, but some awareness of the issues and advances would not be entirely misplaced.

Good for Ruse. It’s especially helpful when a philosopher goes after fellow Darwin-bashing philosophers; otherwise they can claim, as Fodor has, that we simply don’t understand what they’re saying.

24 thoughts on “Ruse on academic anti-Darwinists

  1. “Good for Ruse. It’s especially helpful when a philosopher goes after fellow Darwin-bashing philosophers”

    Cue the headline: “Michael Ruse Can’t Win!”

        1. I like to think of them all as “tone deaf and talentless”, telling Mozart that he’s doing it wrong. Because that’s how it really looks to some of us who at least can whistle a tune to pitch, and maybe even harmonize a bit.

        2. A serious scientific study of this phenomenon, called “The Dunning-Kruger Effect” is described in my posting at

          It says that it is common for people who think they know a lot more than they actually do to attack the people who actually know it. Anyone who reads the comments on blogs should read this. It changes the way you look at cable news and commentary. And blogs.

  2. I would argue that many, if not most, think that sevolutionary biologists argue that the science of a “moral grammar” for example, is basically explained by evolution as we know it, which of course is arguable. Coming out and writing that “….And why no mention of Marc Hauser and his work uncovering the secrets of moral thinking?..” is an exaggeration, at best, and really pisses some-insert word here- off, a lot, which is good. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu writes rule 22: “If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant” Rule 23: “If he is taking his ease, give him no rest”. Internet classic archives, transl by Lionel Giles

  3. I think it works better if y0u have a sword!
    Actually, even reading my simple blog “arguendo” at
    would have at least introduced them to all the subjects Jerry mentions here.
    It is not hard to find plenty of good well-written information on the internet, and you can often get excellent, serious discussions by reading all the comments.

    1. I apologize for this blatant commercial. I will try to be a better blog-citizen in the future.

      The point I should have been makng was that the “philosophical” works under discussion displayed an alarming ignorance of the purported subject of the books.

      1. I’m happy to see interesting links, only gonna get pissed off if they’re crappy. And no-one has to click on them if they don’t want to.

  4. To bad Ruse is an anti-new atheist accomodationist who has his own pet theodicy, like Shermer he’s a theologian too.

  5. I don’t think it’s a good idea to support accomodationist with pet theodicies. I’d rather stay intellectually honest, thanks.

  6. My hat’s off to anyone who can argue with creationists and not loose their cool – I’ve given up long ago. Very frustrating to attempt a civilized discussion with someone who, when backed into a corner with fact and logic, can pull out the wild card of faith and God to get out of it every time. I do think that arguing with these people is productive, in that it forces us to question our own premises and therefore probe these questions to a greater depth than we otherwise would have.

  7. I apologize for jumping on this point.

    However, the more I think about this post and especially this line: “that we simply don’t understand what they’re saying.” the more I’m sickened by it.

    “We”!? Are you kidding? Have you read what Ruse has said of The God Delusion and New Atheist? If anything, Ruse has been true to form for many, many years. He has bewailed TGD as philosophically and theologically naive and embarrassing.

    How the heck could anyone reconcile this guy as part of “we”? This is exceedingly disappointing and I challenge anyone to debate me on this point.

    1. Apparently your point is that since Ruse has said some wrong things in the past (a point i agree with), that we must stick our fingers in our ears and not listen to a word he says. I wouldn’t waste my time “debating” such idiocy with you. Take your ball away and go home.

      1. I dunno, I read your comments and thought Reginald wasn’t too far off the mark.

        Ruse is often full of shit. That doesn’t mean that every single thing he says is wrong. He happens to be right about this one, and it helps to have a philosopher — and one that often disagrees with our side, at that — point out that Fodor and Plantinga are full of shit.

        Question, I apologize if I am misinterpreting you, but the way your comments come across it seems you are in a way acting out the caricature of anti-accomodationists that was drawn in the recent “Ken Miller Can’t Win” article. We can strongly disagree with these folks on some issues, and yet still recognize when they are right on other issues. And it’s important to show this — otherwise, we become exactly what the other side says we are.

        1. “That doesn’t mean that every single thing he says is wrong.”

          First, I didn’t say Ruse was wrong, so here we agree.

          The question then becomes what “we” is Jerry talking about? Evolutionist?

          My point is, he is certainly not “we” in the sense of being, yes dare I say it, anti-accomodationist and New Atheist. Shall we take “we” in a general sense? That doesn’t help either, what general sense is this?

          Ruse has gone after Dawkins and the New Atheist enough times and with enough vigor to where when someone aligns him with “we”, I want to know what is being said and I have every right to be offended by being arbitrarily lumped in with Ruse.

          We, yes we, can say Ruse is right, but that doesn’t call for saying he is part of “we” in the sense of those that support and defend New Atheism (including The God Delusion) and anti-accomodationism. If it is meant as an evolutionist, then that point should be made perfectly clear.

          1. The question then becomes what “we” is Jerry talking about? Evolutionist?

            It seemed clear when I read it that Jerry meant the “we” to mean biologists, as opposed to philosophers, such as Fodor, In other words, Fodor claims that biologists can’t possibly understand the abstruse points that he (Fodor) is making, because the biologists are so philosophically naive, therefore Jerry thinks it helps when a philosopher, such as Ruse, criticizes other philosophers, such as Fodor, Plantinga, etc. He’s right, of course, and I really can’t see what you’re so up in arms about.

  8. Just a few reminders (don’t think you need them, but it may help). Really, read these again and say who is being the caricature of anti anything.

    Michael Ruse:

    “Why I Think the New Atheist are a Bloody Disaster”

    “I think that P. Z. Myers and his crew are as disastrous to the evolution side..”

    Strike one for “we” the evolutionist.

    (From Uncommon Decent, that Ruse ok’d to post)

    “Ruse On Dawkins’ Delusion”

    “Dawkins is brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology (not to mention the history of science).”

    Strike one for “we” siding with the philosophy.

    You probably know already I could go on.

  9. I used to be a pert-time historian of science and was going to jump in and help you out.

    But, you are doing just fine and it is fun to watch you work. keep it up!

    Just bought the my fifth copy of “Why Evolution is True” as a gift to another of my colleagues (docents) at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (NMMNS). If I ever have the good fortune to meet you in the flesh you owe me a drink.

  10. Religion was replaced by Philosophy.
    Philosophy was replaced by Science.

    Witnessing philosophers having an internecine spat is little superior to witnessing theologians arguing over the putative numeric capacity of pin-heads upon which imaginary angels dance.

    Those rare professional philosophers who do make consistent sense, do so from science, not philosophy.

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