Michael Ruse disses new atheism again, whines about his mistreatment, and makes mistakes

October 2, 2012 • 10:39 am

In his new piece in the Guardian, “Why Richard Dawkins’ humanists remind me of a religion,” philosopher Michael Ruse once again likens New Atheism (and humanism) to religions, whines at length about the names he’s been called (and claims that he doesn’t  mind it!), and then makes two mistakes in one sentence. Here’s a screenshot of the latter before he fixes it:

Leaving aside the misconception that I have a “blog”, here are Ruse’s errors:

1.  I am not a disciple of Peter Hitchens. I am a fan of his late brother, Christopher Hitchens. Presumably Ruse knows that there’s a huge difference between these men—or does he?

2.  Ruse does not use the quote from Orwell that I applied to Ruse’s fatuous statements. The real quote, one that I’ve used several times, comes from Orwell’s “Notes on nationalism,” and is much better:

“One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

I have read a ton of Orwell—in fact, probably everything he ever wrote—and I don’t remember the quote that Ruse gives. It’s online as Orwell having said it, but I couldn’t find it in his own writing. In its “Orwell” section, Wikiquotes notes that it is misattributed:

“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

  • Possibly a paraphrase of Bertrand Russell in My Philosophical Development (1959): “This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.” It is similar in meaning to the line “One has to belong to the intelligentsia…” from Notes on Nationalism (1945).

Really, Michael, can’t you or The Guardian check your facts? Peter ≠ Christopher, and please read your Orwell rather than Googling him. The quote I used is really very good, and applicable in many cases, such as when intellectuals  like you spew nonsense.

But those mistakes pale in comparison to how ridiculous Ruse’s Guardian piece is. It’s the usual flawed comparison between New Atheism and religious faith, combined with his customary extended whine about the horrid names he’s been called.  Here’s a snippet:

Humanism in its most virulent form tries to make science into a religion. It is awash with the intolerance of enthusiasm. For a start, there is the near-hysterical repudiation of religion. To quote Richard Dawkins:

“I think there’s something very evil about faith … it justifies essentially anything. If you’re taught in your holy book or by your priest that blasphemers should die or apostates should die – anybody who once believed in the religion and no longer does needs to be killed – that clearly is evil. And people don’t have to justify it because it’s their faith.”

In the caricaturing of “faith” as murderous fundamentalism, one hears echoes of the bloody and interminable Reformation squabbles between Protestants and Catholics. It is also of course to give help to the real enemy, those who turn their back fully on science as they follow their religion.

There are other aspects of the new atheist movement that remind me of religion. One is the adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement: it is not just a matter of agreement or respect but also of a kind of worship. This certainly surrounds Dawkins, who is admittedly charismatic.

What is palpably clear from Ruse’s writings is that he wishes he were that charismatic!  I guess science is a religion, too, because we have our heroes: people like Darwin, Pasteur, and Feynman.

Not only does Ruse fail to distinguish the Hitchens brothers, but he apparently can’t tell the difference between humanism and atheism.

I can’t bear to excerpt the part of the piece where Ruse bawls about how much of an atheist he is, and how much he dislikes religion, and yet despite his good work the new atheists still dump on him. (Perhaps, Michael, it’s because you spend so much time confecting dumb arguments to help religious people accept science.) I defy you to read that part without cringing.

Since Ruse is so sensitive about being called names, I’ll refrain from adding new epithets to the pile. His piece discredits itself, and though I’m told Ruse once did good work in philosophy, but it’s hard to retain much respect for the man after reading this latest essay.

h/t: James

157 thoughts on “Michael Ruse disses new atheism again, whines about his mistreatment, and makes mistakes

  1. It is indeed one of those pieces where the author just embarrasses himself.

    Ruse in short:

    “I keep writing really feeble articles like this and yet people still criticise me. They are so intolerant and unreasonable!”

    1. Followed by:
      “I’ll show them, I’ll write another feeble article.”

      He then wanders off muttering to himself about how unfair the world is….

  2. Given that there are ongoing riots with Muslims killing non-Muslims and destroying their property over offenses done to Islam, Michael Ruse takes time out of his day to insult atheists as forming another harmful religion. Seriously.

    Looking at his contributions to the Guardian and Huffington post, it seems like a good half or third of the things he’s published in the last year or two are anti-Dawkins or anti-New Atheist. You know why you don’t get any credit as an atheist? Because you’re splitting your time with criticism of religion with criticism of other atheists… for being atheists and talking about it!

  3. I would want to be famous someday but if am not I don’t cry wolf for those who because of their work have gained the public spotlight. Maybe you should advice him to change his approach and stop whining, he may just get a few followers if that is what he’s looking for.

    Regarding people in high esteem for their contributions to a shared goal doesn’t transform their fans into a congregation with a teacher.

  4. Many years ago my best friend said, “The reason I like you is because you take your work seriously, but you don’t take yourself seriously.”

    I read WEIT religiously–meaning it is a daily ritual–to tweak my thinking.

    Part of the challenge here is to decide what is really meant by what is said. For example, when WEIT writes, “the misconception that I have a ‘blog'” I read it as his personal view and accept it even though I spent forty years as a network geek and WEIT is a blog. It even says so in the sidebar… “Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.”

    One of the problems I find here and elsewhere is the different meanings intended by participants in a field and spectators. Atheists’ views of theists are much narrower than theists views of other theists and vice versa.

    Also creationists views of evolution where those I have spoken with view species as distinct biological entities while, if memory serves from reading Speciation by Coyne and Orr, many biologists hold a fuzzier view of what constitutes a species, there being at least two views on the term.

    As a religious person who sees behavior more important than belief, I enjoy sifting through these postings and comments. Thanks for the thought provocation.

    1. You don’t use the ‘B’ word. Gets right up his nose, sir. He can’t help it, he loses all self-control. Like a red rag to a wossname, sir. ‘Website’ is all right, sir, but not the ‘B’ word. Because, sir, when he gets angry he doesn’t just go and sulk, sir, if you get my drift. He’s no trouble at all apart from that, sir. All right? Just don’t say blog. Ohshit.”
      – from Guards! Guards! (sort of) by Terry Pratchett

      1. Thanks… I shall behave the best I can in the future… I got in trouble with Michael Ruse last year by telling him I was a non-theistic Christian… I try not to confuse conveying information and opinions with proselytizing in any form… 😉

        1. A christian who doesn’t believe in gods? Really? So why do you need to accept Jesus as your personal saviour, exactly what are you being saved from?

          1. Trying to keep this brief:
            1. Christianity is monotheistic, not multi-
            2. It is a religion based on the teachings of Jesus.
            3. Since there is no central authority for Christianity, each group must characterize itself; e.g., hundreds of denominations claiming to be Christian, each with differing views.
            4. Non-theistic, even atheistic, Christianity is a movement. I’ll refer you to John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, for debate.

            Another place to begin is at The Christian Humanist site http://www.christianhumanist.net

            One of the challenges in the science/religion debate is characterization of terms. Scientific terminology is fairly well agreed, religious is not. When in doubt, to whom do you turn. If scientists are the keepers of scientific terminology, then it seems appropriate that the religious be afforded they same courtesy.

            1. Christianity is monotheistic, not multi-

              Ha! Good one.

              Never mind the Trinitarian question, Christianity is exactly as polytheistic as any of its contemporary Mediterranean religions and in exactly the same way.

              If Set and Hades are gods, then so too is Satan.

              If the Olympians other than Zeus and Hera are gods, then so too are all the members of the Heavenly Host.

              If the numerous demigods (Hercules, Ajax, Dionysus, Mitra, etc.) are gods, then so too are all the Biblical heroes (Daniel, David, Joshua, etc.).

              If Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome, are gods, then so too are Abraham and Israel.

              If Prometheus and Pandora, then Adam and Eve.

              And, finally, if all the Roman (and other) ancestor spirits are gods, then so too are saints, guardian angels, and everybody who winds up in Heaven who has intercessory powers.



              1. If that is your view, fine. My reference to Christianity as being monotheistic is born of a layman’s reading of religious scholarship which notes Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the three predominant monotheistic religions.

                Since multi-theism is also a characteristic in your view, I’m guessing you have no problem with those who approach Christianity as non-theistic.

              2. I’m guessing you have no problem with those who approach Christianity as non-theistic.

                People are welcome to believe whatever sorts of nonsense they like, so long as they keep it out of the government.

                But, I must admit, the notion of a “non-theistic Christianity” seems even more absurd than usual.

                The only way to get to anything that could even vaguely qualify as “non-theistic Christianity” would be to reject the divinity of Christ, including the Resurrection and the afterlife and all the rest. You’d be left with little more than a handful of second-rate platitudes carefully excerpted from a third-rate fantasy horror story. And, really, what’s the point?

                I’d be more impressed with a hard-core Trekkie, honestly.


              3. In your subsequent comment you wrote, “The only way to get… “non-theistic Christianity” would be to reject the divinity of Christ, including the Resurrection and the afterlife and all the rest.”

                I suspect each of these were additions to the original Christian Jewish sect which coexisted peacefully it seems with the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and others until the destruction of the second temple in 68CE or so. The central question to be answered by religion is, “How am I to live my life?”

                Science is universal, religion is personal. Scientific proofs are written everywhere and readily contested. There are no religious proofs, only premises, which are either accepted or rejected or embraced with personal modification. There are no religious proofs, only beliefs, hopefully instructed by knowledge.

              4. I suspect each of these were additions to the original Christian Jewish sect which coexisted peacefully it seems with the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and others until the destruction of the second temple in 68CE or so.

                That’s an astonishing claim of historical knowledge. On what evidence do you base your claim?

                The central question to be answered by religion is, “How am I to live my life?”

                Patent nonsense. Not only is there no agreement between religions on the most important question, there isn’t even agreement within religions — or, indeed, across generations of the same religion.

                Besides, the majority of the religiously devout I know would say that the most important question to them is, “What does <insert deity / pantheon name> want of me?” It may reduce to your question, but it’s hardly the same.

                Science is universal, religion is personal.

                That the laws of nature are universally applicable is an assumption backed by no small amount of evidence, but it’s still an active topic of research, especially amongst cosmologists. And there are reasons to suspect that there are localities at various scales.

                Religion, on the other hand, is always a scam. The details of the scam vary, but it’s always some variation on the “trust me” theme, with the preacher attempting to appropriate the authority of the gods / the universe / whatever…and to use that authority to control the lives of those being preached at.

                Scientific proofs are written everywhere and readily contested.

                Science doesn’t deal in proof, only the preponderance of the evidence. And it’s not that the evidence can be contested that’s important but that it can be independently verified.

                Not sure that Newton was right about gravitational acceleration? Grab yourself a stopwatch, a ruler, an apple, and do the experiment for yourself.

                There are no religious proofs, only beliefs, hopefully instructed by knowledge.

                Religious beliefs are always instructed by wishful thinking. Those beliefs that are instructed by empirical observation aren’t religious beliefs; they’re scientific.



            2. It sounds like a complete waste of time to me, which is why I am an atheist. Anyway Catholicism is just thinly disguised pagan polytheism, worshipping a trinity. No doubt they will deny it by re-defining “Trinity” ,–which is why there are so many denominations.
              Scrap the lot,–say I.

              1. You shouldn’t waste your time. Me? I enjoy reading the contemporary views of Christian scholars who are moving from theism toward non-theism, yet seeking the meaning in the early works; e.g., Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, the Jewish writings leading to Jesus. To each his own. We get to choose… unless we don’t… then it’s mox nix. 🙂

              2. You have made my point for me. “Christian scholars moving from theism to non-theism”?
                How can they do that? Have they abolished God and his divine Son? After two thousand years are they a bit bored with traditional Christianity and have decided a change is required? Perhaps they will re-invent God again after a year or two? Whatever happened to the Eternal Truth of Christianity?
                See what I mean?-an absurd waste of time anguishing themselves over a piece of silly fiction.

              3. In a subsequent comment you wrote, “Have they abolished God and his divine Son? After two thousand years are they a bit bored with traditional Christianity and have decided a change is required?”

                God and his Divine Son were likely not a part of the original Christian Jewish sect. The traditional Christianity you reference began with the formation of orthodox Christianity in the fourth century thanks to Constantine I who selected the Christians who represented true Christianity. The best we can tell, the Christianity of the first three centuries was a heterogeneous movement based on both oral and written views presented ad the teachings of Jesus.

                That Christianity changes should come as no surprise as dedicated Christian scholars consider the fragmentary evidence and reflect on his philosophy of living as it applies today.

              4. Yes I realize that whatever it was before Constantine, Christianity thereafter became Orthodox Catholic, ie the religion of the Roman Empire, both east and west, Greek and Latin; and so it continued until the Reformation with the Nicene Creed being the official dogma of both Greek and Latin Churches,-in which the Trinity is official belief. Of course, both before and after Constantine therewehere innumerable sects,–Donatists, Docetists, Arians, Monophysites, Marcionites etc;–but these were all suppresed, often by extreme violence. We only now accept the Father and his Divine Son becaiuse Constantine and his successors imposed it on the Roman, and post-Roman Empire, and it has continued to be the Protestant tradition also, up to to-day.

              5. ps–The status of Jesus has changed since his death, (though it is not proved that he ever lived). He has been fully man and fully God, and various hybrid mixtures of both,-but at no time has God the Father been dethroned, not until modern Sophisticated Theology started playing around with him, demoting him from omnipotent to “simple” (Swinburne), and “the Ground of our Being”,–and now you say they are going to abolish him altogether?–great!-just what atheists have been working for. Praise DFawkins!

              6. God and his Divine Son were likely not a part of the original Christian Jewish sect.

                You profess to know a great deal about the origins of Christianity. Again, on what evidence do you base your claims?


              7. We have run out of reply links so I’ll end this by thanking you for your replies. The question for me is what was the original intention of the real or alleged teachings of Jesus (and Socrates and Buddha and Lao-Tzu).

                In the Tao, Lao-Tzu wonders at the surface of living versus the core of living stating that while appearing different they are the same. What did he (an imaginary figure I believe being born of a virgin as an old man) mean by that… then… and now.

                For me, religion is about the mystery of living an appropriate life.

                Thanks for your replies. I’m sure you have better things to do. 🙂

      2. You shamelessly win the internetz tonight for gratuitous but excellent referencing of the Librarian and Sir Pteri.

      1. Good one. Thanks for the pronunciation aid. I wasn’t sure if it was ‘web-lob’ or ‘we-blob’ the latter does seem to apply to some comment, possibly mine more than others.

        BTW, when lobbing an intellectual grenade be sure to pull the pin lest it bounce back.

    1. This article is in their “Comment is Free” section, which is where they troll the Internet with outrageous bollocks hoping for blog links and hence ad clicks.

      Just say “no” to the Guardian. It belongs with the Daily Mail.

      “Trolling is free; clicks are sacred.”

      1. They also give a platform to the odious John Bolton.

        Their actual news reporting is usually pretty good, although their science section is iffy.

    1. Ummm. . . are you saying that Ruse is not responsible for the tripe he wrote in the Guardian? Please! It’s a horrible, cringe-making piece.

      Yes, I know he’s your friend, so instead of continually trying to extricate his foot from his mouth on this website, how about having a quiet word with him about his penchant for embarrassing himself?

      What you’re trying to do is exculpate him by referring to something else he wrote–and I don’t think that other piece is very good either. Until I examine it, go see what Eric MacDonald says about it at Choice in Dying.

      1. No, Jerry, all I was “saying” or “trying to do” was invite people to take a look at the longer piece. I’m not sure where you’re inferring all those other motivations from.

        1. No, David, Jerry meant to say that he called your bluff immediately. There’s no need at all to read a longer piece by Ruse; the piece under discussion tells it all.

          1. Oh, jesus… my “bluff,” eh? You’re right–I was secretly trying to redirect readers to religionisawesome.com. But you caught me.

            1. C’mon now, David. You were trying to get away with the implication that either we, or the Guardian were taking Ruse out of context; that if we’d only read what he wrote at Aeon Magazine, Ruse would make more sense. I did, and he doesn’t, but regardless, neither reading helps me to figure out why Ruse is so . . . small.

              1. No, Marta, I wasn’t. I was posting a link. Plain and simple. The rest is in your imagination. If I’d known people were going to get this worked up I wouldn’t have bothered. I certainly won’t in the future.

                Seriously, though, if you want to have a discussion with someone, maybe you should just stick with what they actually say, and leave the mind-reading out of it. It’s not much of a discussion when your every response is “yeah, but what you REALLY meant was…”

                But discussing ideas doesn’t really seem to be the order of the day, does it? After all, it’s much more fun to describe someone you’ve never met as “small,” or (like Harry below) to sneer about someone being someone’s “keeper.” And hey, other people join in, and it’s a big pile-on and everybody gets to feel like they’re part of a special group. That’s pretty lame–certainly as lame as anything you’ve accused Ruse of saying.

                The sad thing is, there are people who might enjoy reading this blog and discussing the issues that are raised here, who happen to know a lot about biology, and history, etc., who don’t because of this kind of nonsense. I’m one of the only people in my professional circle who still does, but I think now I’m done, too. Do you really think that people who, say, know Michael Ruse personally don’t sit around and have heated intellectual arguments with him? Of course we do! That what it’s all about!

                And the beauty of the internet is that this kind of discussion doesn’t have to be limited to selective scientific meetings and professional gatherings–it brings people together who might never meet in normal life. People who would really learn things from each other. But frankly–and I know this from conversations with many, many scientists and others who study biology, but you can feel free to dismiss what I say as anecdotal–most people who are used to those kinds of intellectual exchanges professionally just don’t want to bother with the internet, because instead what happens is that you get jumped on by a bunch of people with anonymous handles looking to score points in front of their in-group. There’s nothing intellectually satisfying, or rigorous, about that, and why would anybody bother who can get their conversation elsewhere?

                Sorry for the long post, but this will be my last one on WEIT (and Jerry’s probably just as happy about that). I will resist the temptation to even come back to look at the comments. So if you want to attack some more, or discuss calmly, feel free to look me up and send me an email. But this form of communication just doesn’t work.

              2. Sorry, David, but you’re playing the Artful Dodger here. You’ve spent a lot of time on this website trying to defend your friend Ruse against his many horrible arguments and indiscretions. And you’ve done it again, trying to play the magician and say “Look over here–here’s the REAL Michael Ruse, not the barmy one in the Guardian!” But nobody has bought your ploy, because the unexpurgated Michael Ruse is just as annoying as the expurgated one, and we know your history.

              3. David, I stand by what I wrote, but I regret writing “why Ruse is so small.” I haven’t met him and I don’t know him, so this personal remark about him was uncalled for, and I apologize.

              4. david sez:

                But discussing ideas doesn’t really seem to be the order of the day, does it?

                good thing you aren’t actually discussing any then, in your overly wordy attempt at flouncing.

            2. Oh, jesus… my “bluff,” eh? You’re right–I was secretly trying to redirect readers to religionisawesome.com. But you caught me.

              nice strawman.

              it’s got a hat and everything!

          2. Yes, I meant to say your “bluff”. Your keeper has said what we would come to expect from him. Your damage control is useless here.

    2. Jerry has it right, that the piece in the Guardian is cringe-worthy. It’s hard to see how reading a longer piece in the same thrust accomplishes more than Ruse digging a deeper hole.

      Ruse writes that he doesn’t care about personal attacks, and then writes several paragraphs whining about personal attacks, specifically calling out Coyne and PZ Myers. The whole thing at the Guardian is really unpleasant.

  5. [blockquote]In the caricaturing of “faith” as murderous fundamentalism,[/quote]

    No, that’s a distortion of what Dawkins said. His point was that faith [b]can[\b] be used to justify anything.

    Ruse’s boo-boos regarding Hitchens and Orwell aren’t worthy of more than a footnote, in my view. I think it’s more effective rhetoric to refute the main point of your opponent rather than diluting your attack by covering all of his mistakes.

      1. I’m sorry, but I’m not taking anything you say seriously because you can’t figure out how to format html tags properly.

        (just kidding of course–I agree)

    1. But you must admit that confusing Peter and Christopher H. is very amusing, if only a “minor” slip! I can’t think of two people with more diametrically opposed views on religion (the topic of Ruse’s essay). Peter H. is ardent traditionalist, who appears to hate everything about the modern world, particularly of course in the UK. I nevertheless read his conservative columns in the Daily Mail, because, while he does not come close to his late brother, he writes fairly well.

      1. I can’t think of two people with more diametrically opposed views on religion

        And yet I have to pause all the time while I think of Hitchens’ first name. Doubtless I’ve said Peter before. People don’t store names in a fashion indexed by ideology. “Christopher” and “Peter” are bland, generic male names and it’s easy to substitute one for the other. It’s a trivial mistake, and it comes across as very petty to overemphasize it. The principle of charity applies.

  6. “philosopher Michael Ruse once again likens New Atheism (and humanism) to religions”

    When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    1. exactly what I was thinking.

      Ruse hasn’t been interesting since he decided to go on a “debate” tour with William Dembski.

  7. It seems that so many people are just desperate to shout “YOU’RE JUST AS BAD AS US!” they will try to go to any ridiculous length to try and do so.

    The “I’m an atheist but…” people are becoming almost as intolerable as many theists.

  8. Its a very strange argument, fallacious but having a grain of truth at it’s heart. Ruse seems to be saying:
    1. Religions are often disrepectful of (other) faiths.
    2. Gnu atheism is often disrrespectful of faiths.
    3. Therefore, the gnu atheism is a religion.

    Well, it is true that gnu atheism shares the trait of being disrespectful of religious beliefs with various sects. They are like some religions in this one respect. But that does not make it a religion, any more than being angry at Barak Obama’s policies makes one a tea party member.

    1. That would be:
      Even philosophers can do logic better than that.

      (For beginners
      A = x is a religion
      B = x is atheism
      C= x is disrespectful of some faiths.)

      1. Even philosophers can do logic better than that.

        I wish that were a fact. It seems to me it is their favorite argument for the relevance of philosophy, roughly:

        1. Science is treating knowledge.
        2. Philosophy is treating knowledge.
        3. Therefore, philosophy is philosophy of science.

        As all false logic, it is a very deep hat to pull their rabbit out of. Everyone become experts on everything, like how creationists with titles become experts on science.

  9. Ruse is getting quite the pounding in the OP’s comments, predictably.

    The “Peter Hitchens” error has already been changed to “Christopher Hitchens”.

    But it’s all good, because, quoting Ruse from his article at the Guardian, “I don’t care about the personal attacks. I have the kind of personality that welcomes being in the public eye, even if the attention is critical.” (Statements like these always have me looking around for somewhere to scrape off my shoes.)

    1. ” I have the kind of personality that welcomes being in the public eye”

      which, of course, explains Ruse entirely.

      he’s always been nothing more than a publicity hound.

  10. “I’m told Ruse once did good work in philosophy”

    Perhaps moving from Canada to the U.S. causes a stupidity virus to attack. (The old joke says that when someone moves in that direction, the average I.Q. of both countries increases.)

    1. That’s funny.

      Also, I’ll point out that I use the internet and as a consequence have run into many, many Canadians. Such as I can tell from my not-careful remembering of self-professed Canadians, the Canadian education system isn’t exactly churning out the best and brightest either.

      But still, that last zinger cracked me up. =^_^=

      1. Perhaps unnecessary to say, but of course you could just reverse “Canada” and “U.S.” in the joke. However it does seem to always be the bigger country that gets the stick here–the Norwegians say it against the Swedes, and see just below as well.

    2. The old joke says that when someone moves in that direction, the average I.Q. of both countries increases.


      same joke is said for people who migrate to OZ from New Zealand.

      …just how old is this joke i start to wonder…

      were Greeks saying it to Persians?

      1. Not many Aussies migrate to NZ. It’s mosly the other way. We get the best of the Kiwis, so the average IQ of Kiwiland goes down, and ours goes up a bit.

  11. Maybe somebody should just go and print up a bunch of Michael Ruse t-shirts, with his photo and “We Like Mike” printed on the front. In one fell swoop we can both grant him some near-hysterical worship for his personal charisma and force him to partake in the “adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement.” Proceeds go to the RDF.

    He won’t know who is being ironic, and who isn’t. Not for sure, that is.

    1. Of course, these can’t be worn at any skeptical conventions because the rules about which articles of clothing can be seen with what type of jewelry and what can be printed on either of those are getting very complex. I’ve even heard there exist strictures somewhere about not wearing clothes made from two different threads!

      1. Couldn’t resist, could you? Had to have a cheap shot, even though it’s a complete non-sequitur. You’re irredeemable.

      2. Yeah, it’s really not on topic but attacking something else. Please try to avoid dragging fights on other websites over here.


      3. You’re spouting nonsense here, Justicar. Even if you’re being hyperbolic in a failed attempt at humor, your implication is ridiculous.

  12. “I’m told Ruse once did good work in philosophy”

    That’s true. In fact, reading Ruse book “Taking Darwin seriously” when I was philosophy student was so inspiring to me that I switched to biology and eventually did a M.sc in biology instead of pursuing more philosophy studies.

    I really think it’s sad to see what has happening to Ruse the last few years. He is really destroying (already has perhaps ?)his former reputation as a respected philosopher of biology. He seems to just whine and bicker about these new atheist these days………

    1. _Taking Darwin Seriously_ is pretty good, but it does have a subjectivist streak which, in retrospect, might be worrisomely predictive of what happened. Not completely so, of course.

  13. Ruse is stretching the definition of “religion” until it is so vague and generalized it will apply to anything

    There are other aspects of the new atheist movement that remind me of religion. One is the adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement: it is not just a matter of agreement or respect but also of a kind of worship.

    I guess this makes football, baseball, Dungeons and Dragons, Obama/Romney supporters, being in the military, pride in your country, or any such grouping of people where there can be Red vs Blue “like religion”.

    Ruse’s caricature of religion is just as bad as he makes Dawkins’ out to be.

    Or maybe he is attempting to apply the worst argument in the world:

    P1: New Atheists hate religion
    P2: XYZ facet of New Atheism is like religion
    C: Therefore, New Atheists should hate New Atheism.

    Two can play at that game:

    P1: Michael Ruse has the letter “i” in his name
    P2: Hitler has the letter “i” in his name, and Hitler is the most disliked person in history
    C: Therefore, Michael Ruse is just like the most disliked person in history.

  14. Dear Jerry: I am so sorry to disappoint you, but if you look at the original article in Aeon you will see that I referred to Christopher Hitchens. Some copy editor or type setter or whatever they are called at the Guardian substituted one name for the other. Since the original article is referenced at the bottom of the piece in the Guardian, you might have looked at that before sounding off. But it would not have been as much fun, I do admit.


    1. I appreciate (Dr.) (Mr.) Sepkoski’s continued defense of you here at this site. Loyalty to one’s friends is understandable and, when not taken to blind extremes, admirable. You may have read here, earlier in the thread, that I’ve apologized to him for referring to you as “small”.

      You could engage any one of us in argument here. You could post a rebuttal, even. You could do all of that, but instead, what you post is a ridiculous chortle that the Guardian made a typo. And that’s all.

      If you want to swim with the damn whales (because every time I’m referred to something you’ve written, it turns out to be some self-absorbed sob about how Dawkins is being mean to you) stop being such a minnow.

    2. Thank you for the tacit admission (via focusing on the one thing that you can conceivably not be blamed for) that everything else in that woeful piece of publicity-seeking drivel is your own “work”.

    3. [With apologies for the length of this reply. I do not have my own blog to link to that would better suit a post of this length]

      When I sent Jerry the link to The Guardian’s version of your article, I noted that I hadn’t had time to read the longer version & conceded that “I don’t know the extent to which the original piece entirely lacks substance in its attacks – The Guardian may well have just taken the least passive sections to combine into this shorter version, but it makes for irksome reading”. I have now read the full version & I still find your arguments lacking substance.
      Yes, The Guardian (did you have no input into the summary at all? For now I will give you the benefit of the doubt & continue to imply that all the editing was done by The Guardian) does seem to have taken the least passive portions of your article. However, this only serves to condense the whining & pettiness rather than to remove it of context. Speaking of context, at one point in your version, you distort a quotation from Dawkins when you ‘reveal’ that it was he who described those who oppose evolution as bearing “a sign of insanity and possibly wickedness” by removing the other possibility that he mentioned – ignorance. Dawkins knows that not all those who oppose evolution are insane or wicked, they simply don’t know enough about it (either through wilful or imposed ignorance). So Dawkins’ mission is not, as you imply, to ridicule & vilify all those who are opposed to evolution, but to educate, which you rather uncharitably fail to mention, instead focusing on his objections to the wilfully ignorant.
      Following the quotation of Dawkins beginning “I think there’s something very evil about faith” you say he caricatures faith, but you seem to miss the part where he says “If you are taught…” – he doesn’t say that all people of faith are taught this. Do you claim that this never happens?
      The rest of your version that is missing from The Guardian’s seems to be mostly history, certainly not context. I would say that the edited version that appeared on CiF fairly reflects your piece’s attack on New Atheism & Humanism (your capitalisation in both cases) & quite frankly I think it’s petty & unfounded.

      Now, before you take this as evidence of me worshipping Dawkins I will disclose that I admire Dawkins’ eloquence & the fact that he has stood up for & given a voice to atheists (who are most certainly oppressed in certain parts of the world, parts of the US included). However, I have not read “the bible of the movement”, The God Delusion, and my opinion of him personally has soured slightly of late due to his offhanded dismissal of some of the concerns of certain feminist sceptics. Be that as it may, there is a big difference between worship & admiration, and I, along with most of the ‘New Atheists’ I would wager, would argue that Dawkins undoubtedly deserves the latter & consider the former ridiculous.

  15. What Ruse fails to understand about faith is that it’s nothing more nor less than a confidence scam. The faith one has that Jesus wants you to feed the hungry is no different from the faith one has in a used car salesman selling a car with a sawdust-filled transmission.

    Do some of the scams sold with faith bring some benefit to the victims? Sure.

    That doesn’t make faith any less evil, just as the schools and even hospitals many modern terrorist organizations run doesn’t make up for what they do.

    I don’t give a damn if your faith has magically convinced you of the veracity of everything that is truly good and noble in the world. Faith is fickle, and it wouldn’t take much more than a silver-tongued conman to use your own faith to convince you that he’s the “true” mouthpiece of your gods…and, at that point, it’s “game over.”



    1. Sometimes I while away the tedium of such criticisms by substituting the word “pseudoscience” for “faith.” After all, they are both epistemic crapshoots. It still works.

      “I think there is something very evil about pseudoscience … it justifies essentially anything.”

      “Hey — what about harmless forms of pseudoscience like the astrology columns in the newspaper? There’s some good common sense advice there! You’re acting religious.”

      1. That’s a valid exercise.

        However, I’d point out that it’s still faith that’s the problem with pseudoscience.

        I’m using “belief apportioned other than in proportion with all available empirical evidence” as a definition for “faith.” Though the religious would offer a different definition for the word, I believe they’d agree with me that my definition is consistent with their use of the word.



        1. I agree. Pseudoscience, like religion, insulates itself from outside criticism and thus lacks the normal checks and balances we need to keep ourselves from fooling ourselves and running amok.

          1. …which, of course, is the beauty of empiricism.

            It’s one thing to guess at how tall a tree is. But, if you’re always reaching for the tape measure, you’ll never fall into the trap of pretending that it’s some height other than what it really is — even if you wish it were taller, even if the king has decreed that it is taller, even if all your friends say that it’s taller.

            And, you never know when it might come in handy to know the real, rather than preferred, height of the tree….


  16. What would improve Ruse’s piece is less comparison with his treatment or credentials with treatment of others or their credentials.

    Remove lines such as “am reviled in terms far harsher than those kept for real opponents like creationists.” or “I am also a fanatical Darwinian – more so even than Dawkins, because…” and I would be more willing to believe he isn’t motivated by personal attacks.

    However, I agree with Ruse that Dawkin’s comparison of him with Neville Chamberlain in “The God Delusion” was over the top and inappropriate.

    And, I honestly don’t get why WEIT is not a blog!

    1. I would also add that New Atheism is kinda like a religion, but only in the loose sense that football or opera (among Italians) and science-fiction fandom is like a religion. (The intense infighting in the 1990s between fans of “Star Trek” and fans of “Babylon 5” was pretty crazy and reminded me of heated religious debates, but no one was ordering the imprisonment or execution of anyone else over it.)

    2. I do not like poor Chamberlain being insulted – he was in an impossible situation. He was an honourable honest man dealing with a dishonest dishonourable person in Herr Hitler. He was guilty of being naïve.

    3. WEIT is not a blog because Jerry loathes the word ‘blog’. It is indeed a particularly ugly specimen of the lexicon.

  17. I will again direct people to Ruse’s (IIRC) 1996 debate alongside Eugenie Scott, Barry Lynn, and Ken Miller who were collectively debating Behe, David Burlinski, William F. Buckley and some someone whose name I can never remember, where Ruse invites Buckley to join up with them asking him if the reason Buckley isn’t on the evolution side is because of Richard Dawkins. And then says if it is because of Dawkins, Ruse has a list of people who say things that are nicer and Buckley will like that list and thus he should join up with team evolution.

    Buckley stood there blinking for a second. I made it a point to remember Ruse’s name and take anything he says with a grain of salt – he’s slimy.

    For the lulz, start watching the following video at 4:20 –

    1. He’s not saying he has a list of people who are nicer. He’s saying he has a list of people Buckley will like. That’s a huge difference. I honestly fail to see the problem here.

      1. Well, if you don’t agree with what I said, I’m sure I can scare up a list of people who you’ll like who agree with what I said and thus you should agree with what I said.

        1. Ruse is explicitly saying he puzzled as to exactly why Buckley is so opposed to evolution and wants to know if its because of the way Dawkins links evolution to atheism.

          Ruse doesn’t say “what I said” nor imperiously “you should agree”- he says “evolution” (he’s not that self-referential) and queries “why do you oppose?”

          Furthermore, in THIS context, it isn’t Dawkins character or behavior he is bringing up, but Dawkins’ atheism pure and simple(!!), as asking if this specifically is the source of Buckley’s opposition to evolution! He then suggests he has alternative readings for Buckley (presumably accomodationists like Robert Pennock or Miller).

          I’m sorry, but in this video, Ruse simply isn’t playing the mind-games that you say he is playing!

  18. I still can’t understand why Ruse keeps getting his columns in print. Exactly who is he writing for? Most atheists can’t stand him and most theists ignore him. He’s only controversial because he writes the most dunderheaded things. Maybe we should just ignore him and hope he goes away.

  19. I would say that the New Atheism is a religion since is the sum of your beliefs about man and his relationship with the universe. God does not need to be involved. You are certainly the most ‘evangelical’ group that I’ve ever come across. You’ve really got the Jehovah Witnesses beat with a big stick. Not that that’s a bad thing. At least you don’t come to my house and leave pamphlets on my porch.

    1. In the same way as not collecting stamps is a hobby, since it’s the sum of things you do in your free time.

    2. “You’ve really got the Jehovah Witnesses beat…”, except you don’t do anything that the JWs do. That’s clear, I guess.

      1. The New Atheists I have found are passionate about their beliefs and try very hard to bring people to understand and join their movement. As a group (or congregation) they are much more devoted in their beliefs than almost any of the other ‘churches’ (Protestant Christians, Roman and Greek Catholics, Wiccans, Buddhists, Hindus, Jewish or Islamics, et al) I have dwelt with in the past or currently. As I said, this is not a bad thing.

        1. The thing is, that this passion and devotion is entirely because of opposition to various religious pressures (and maybe because we grew up in religions that never told us dissenting opinions). If religious pressure did not exist, no one would be enthusiastic about atheism.

          Contrast that to Christianity in the US. Growing up, I never even knew anyone who wasn’t Christian, yet we were constantly told to be more and more devoted, to put Jesus at the center of everything in your life, and to share that view with others, even though everyone was largely Christian. I’d imagine other religions are similar, always trying to get you to be more devout, and if not, to get others to be. Atheists may find some enthusiasm for science, but I think that’s a matter of taste.

        2. I think people who have figured out that there is no god and are comfortable saying so are just fed up with all the Christian brow beating they’ve been subjected to their whole life and are just thrilled to be out and talking about what a crock religion is. Okay, I’m talking about myself.

    3. You’ve really got the Jehovah Witnesses beat with a big stick.

      I’ve often thought we should all wear suits, ride bikes, and knock on people’s doors to tell the the Good News!


    4. New Atheists ” ‘evangelical’ “!? That is the first time I’ve heard that. I wish it would be fact, because it takes a long time to recognize the web presence of fora like WEIT.

      I note that you have no evidence, but anecdote. Color me unmotivated to take your opinion aboard.

  20. He posts the Dawkins quote as if it were extreme, but Dawkins there is describing the truth, or is it not true that people have been killed for not believing and that there are holy books commanding believers to do so?

    That’s not “near-hysterical”, it’s truthful and precise.

  21. One is the adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement: it is not just a matter of agreement or respect but also of a kind of worship.

    I think this also is a gross characterization of how Dawkins is viewed in the atheist community. Worship? No. More like gratitude. Dawkins stood up and said aloud what so many of us thought privately for so long. He’s our voice, rather than our being his voice. This is exactly the opposite relationship from that which exists between a prophet and his followers.

    1. Exactly. Worship? Who worships Dawkins? I think he’s a real thinker, and he writes beautifully. But worship him?

  22. Well, I like Michael Ruse. His book Darwinism Defended made me question my then creationist beliefs and look at the science. That was a long time ago, and I’ve since learned that science and religion don’t *need* to be in conflict. It’s just the extremists on both sides that seem to relish conflict.

    1. science and religion don’t *need* to be in conflict.

      As long as others will change their religious views to match what you think they should be, you’re quite correct.

      One of my earliest anti-creationism books that I read was “But is it Science?”, which was edited by Michael Ruse, so I’m inclined to have a favorable view of him, although I agree with Jerry Coyne about Ruse’s hostility towards “New Atheism”.

    2. Miles Teg #27 wrote:

      I’ve since learned that science and religion don’t *need* to be in conflict. It’s just the extremists on both sides that seem to relish conflict.

      Science and religion do indeed “need” to be in conflict as long as it matters whether or not the supernatural beliefs in religion are actually true — or ought to be believed.

      I suppose that for the genial, casual, non-“extreme” religious humanists who care far less about whether God exists than they care about the social, psychological, and aesthetics benefits of going through the practices of religion, there need be no conflict with science. There might be some conflict with religion, though.

      I also like Michael Ruse, and admire him in many ways. I just disagree with him on this issue.

    3. Most of what science has discovered does not conflict with any religious belief. Many religions have worked out interpretations of their faith which are compatible with most, if not necessarily all, of the body of scientific evidence.

      Nevertheless, science and religion remain irremediably incompatible, because every religion is rooted in revelation, a severely privileged knowledge, while science accepts only evidence which at least in principle is available to anyone.

      What distinguished science at its inception was ditching scripture. The Royal Society adopted “Nullius in Verba” as its motto for a reason.

      1. Most of what science has discovered does not conflict with any religious belief.

        this is not at all even close to being accurate.

        Many religions have worked out interpretations of their faith which are compatible with most, if not necessarily all, of the body of scientific evidence.

        THIS, OTOH, is much closer to being accurate.

        are you sure you can’t see the difference?

        1. Just don`t include Scientology with them. It is presented as a scientific religion. Have you been cleared? If not, you still have millions of demons inside you. OTOH you could be cleared housands of times and still be a plain Travolta.

        2. “Most of what science has discovered does not conflict with any religious belief.”

          “this is not at all even close to being accurate.”

          I wonder if it is. I wonder if anyone’s ever done an analysis of what proportion of scientific discoveries conflict with religious beliefs?

          It could well be that a lot of discoveries in actual fact do/did not conflict with religious belief simply because the phenomena were previously unknown and therefore religion had no opinion on them. At a guess I’d say, electricity for example, or radioactivity, or even DNA.

          Phenomena that were previously known (e.g. the solar system) are in a different category, obviously.

    4. “science and religion don’t *need* to be in conflict.”
      Astronomy and astrology don´t need to be in conflict. Although we arians don´t believe in the horoscope:)

    5. Well, the central theme of religion is that faith and belief without evidence is desirable, mostly very highly desirable.

      The central theme of science is that faith and belief without evidence is not only undesirable but to be avoided and should be noted when relied upon as a cautionary statement.

      You see the conflict?

      I’ve since learned that science and religion don’t *need* to be in conflict

      How does that work?

  23. I think both the old and new atheists need to loosen up a bit. So much of the infighting seems juvenile to me. I wish Ruse and Dawkins/Coyne/etc would just ignored each other.

    1. That’s interesting, because I have the opposite problem. The relationship and conflict between science and religion is such a vital and live controversy that the complaints about the “infighting” seem juvenile to me. I don’t get the need for harmony at all costs — nor do I understand why people would assume that heated disputes mean the disputants must really hate each other personally. Science is filled with passionate disagreement, and yet its goal is rational consensus.

      1. I don’t get the need for harmony at all costs — nor do I understand why people would assume that heated disputes mean the disputants must really hate each other personally.

        No one expects harmony, but that doesn’t excuse vitriol, which you see a fair amount of in the skeptical community. It’s a false dichotomy to say that being against “infighting” means you must be in favor of harmony.

        Regardless, the word “juvenile” describes behavior that children engage in, which is more likely to be infighting than peacemaking.

        1. No one expects harmony, but that doesn’t excuse vitriol,

          when shit stinks, you don’t lie and say it smells like roses.

        1. Without any statistics or even example I call the usual tone trolling. To recurse Ruse’s plaint through Coyne’s relating the real dispute:

          “But those mistakes pale in comparison to how ridiculous Ruse’s Guardian piece is. It’s the usual flawed comparison between New Atheism and religious faith, combined with his customary extended whine about the horrid names he’s been called.”

          Of course, you could say that is not the “real” dispute, except that Ruse make it one. The real dispute between atheism and religion would be that religion makes rejectable claims.

    1. What’s sorry about it? If Ruse writes “I’m an atheist, but—” how different is that from anyone else who qualifies their beliefs. I could easily say “I’m a Christian, but—”, Jerry could say “I’m a cat lover, but—”…

      1. Here in the U.K. when the expression “I’m an atheist, but”–is used it is generally followed by a list of reasons for being “spiritual, New Agey,–“I believe in “Something”, “I feel there is something more than just this”, “don’t you believe in anything?”–and so on. It really makes one feel like a good helping of genuine materialistic, mechanistic reductionism, to counterbalance all the postmodernist slush.

        1. Of course it is. “I’m X, but …” is necessarily followed by something incompatible to X. If it weren’t, the statement would be redundant (“I’m an atheist, but I don’t believe in gods”) or just a non-sequitur (“I’m an atheist, but I like pizza”)

  24. I imagine this has alreay been noted; but the poor way Ruse phrases it, he could be interpreted as stating that you wrote, The God Delusion as well. I had to read twice to see that wasn’t the intended meaning.

  25. On top of all the rest, Ruse repeats the witless right-wing trope that, in his dealings with Hitler, Neville Chamberlain was motivated by cowardice (or “pusillanimous[ness]” in la lingua Ruse).

    He wasn’t; he was motivated by his desire to preserve the British Empire, by turning the Reich Chancellor‘s dreams of conquest away from war with the Brits (who were vastly unprepared for it, witness their pell-mell retreat to Dunkirk) and toward Germany’s natural enemy, the untermensch occupying their Lebensraum to the east (as Hitchens — The Hitch, not Hitchens frère — once observed. See “Chamberlain: Collusion, Not Appeasement,” Monthly Review, January 1995.)

    This misapprehension of Munich leads every reactionary with a bellicose boner for foreign policy to fancy himself Winston Churchill redux. (Yes, we’re talking about you and your neocon cronies, President Dubya.)

    1. It is also arguable that Chamberlain bought enough time for Britain to build up its defences, and had Hitler attacked earlier he could have overrun Britain and the entire course of history would have changed – for the worse.

  26. You guys might like this which applies to Ruse…From the beautiful book of quotations by my great friend, great guy and great scientist (should have got the Nobel Prize with Schechtman) Alan Mackay in Harvest of a Quiet Eye: (I think Serbo-Croation Book of Quotations):
    “An intellectual is a parasite who exudes culture” sums up people who think they are intellectuals does it not!

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