Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ruse swiftboats Wilson, and other atrocities.

Last night I attended a panel where Michael Ruse, Richard Lewontin, and three others discussed how to teach evolution. Ruse's presentation was shocking: he attacked E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and others with accusations of evolutionism.

Apparently, this is also part of his latest book, reviewed in The Evolution-Creation Struggle and Reviewing Ruse.

His presentation turned out to be a rehash of his article in Science: Is Evolution A Secular Religion? As I've come to expect from most philosophers, his argument is spectacularly bad. Essentially, he is claiming that evolutionism is a religion based on evolution, and his political opponents practice it.

The most obviously stupid argument that he made was his illustrations of churches and the British Museum of Natural History. See them in the article linked above. We're supposed to think how similar they are, and that it demonstrates his point. But of course, these buildings have columns and arched ceilings for much the same reason why both hippos and elephants have thick legs. When you want to build a large public building, there are many principles and traditions in architectural practice that tend to make the architecture somewhat similar. Which is why theatres, legislative buildings, large train stations, other museums, and any number of other buildings from that era also have columns and arched ceilings.

Ruse writes: In his On Human Nature, he calmly assures us that evolution is a myth that is now ready to take over Christianity. And, if this is so, "the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competition, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline"

Note how Ruse misrepresents scientific naturalism (which Wilson presents as all of consilient science) as only evolution, so that evolutionism can be limited to evolutionary biologists. But worse, he omits Wilson's explanation of why scientific materialism is myth-like: because belief in scientific laws relies on the unprovable assumption of materialism. So despite the ue of the word myth, Wilson is no different than any other scientist that way; just honest. So why did Wilson use the word myth? Because it was at the end of a chapter where he's describing humans as myth-using animals. Nor does Wilson forsee taking over Christianity: he sees merely disrepute of academic theology. The very next sentence, Wilson writes "But religion itself will edure for a long time as a vital force in society."

I find it strange that someone opposed to creationism would steal the epithet "evolutionism" and revive "progressionist" to describe scientists who attempt to inform political views with scientific knowledge. Judging from the bogus arguments I noticed, it looks to me as if these are simple political attacks on opponents, and unworthy.

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