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An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two)

November 22, 2019

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 21.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Seventeen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: November 22, 2019

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2020

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,175

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC is a British-born philosopher of science who lived and worked for a significant period of time in Canada, as a Canadian. He works on the lines and overlaps between religion and science, on the socio-political controversy between creationism and evolution (not intellectual or scientific controversy), and the line between science and non-science. He is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. He discusses: orthogenesis, not believing in spiritual religions or secular religions, intelligent design, and evolution via natural selection; philosophy of science; creationism as not science; debates and dialogues with creationists; Dembski’s note on the god of intelligent design as, ultimately, the Christian God; and history as a window into the possibilities for the future..

Keywords: creationism, epigenetics, evolution, Florida State University, intelligent design, Michael Ruse, natural selection, philosophy of science, religion, science.

An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future: Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When it comes to orthogenesis and not really believing in spiritual religions or secular religions, what do you make of the current state of the sociopolitical context of the fringes of intelligent design and the modern progress and research of evolution via natural selection, and some of the advances in genetics, epigenetics, and so on?

Professor Michael Ruse: That’s a good question. In some way or another, I talk about it. That’s all I almost do. My own feeling is that biologists have made huge advances in the last 200 years, not only with evolutionary theory but with the double helix. There’s no question.

This has led to huge new insights. Are we going to have a whole new paradigm somewhere down the road? I would be very surprised if we did. It is to say. There might be an obvious big switch like with the Newtonian mechanics in the 19th century. Everything was still fine. Then it collapsed in the 20th century. Could it happen in the 21st century?

Of course, it could. However, I, myself, am not worried as a conventional Darwinian by epigenetics. I think we’ve always known that development one of the big – what shall we say? – unknown areas of evolutionary biology or molecular biology, which was formulated in the 1960s.

We tend to treat organisms as black boxes. Genes and phenotypes and that sort of thing. By and large, not everybody, we tend to ignore what goes between them. Clearly, with molecular genetics, they’re starting to find out a huge amount of the ways organisms work. These homologies between humans and fruit flies.

[Laughing] how amazing can it be? Yet, evolutionary biologists and molecular biologists would pull back and say, “Hey now! That’s an incredible finding. But it doesn’t make me go, at the end of the day, ‘Oh my God! Everything I thought was completely wrong. It will never be fixed.”

Obviously, it is going to lead into another area of research and that sort of thing. Somehow, it is not worrying. In this sense, let’s build on what we’ve got, we can take all sorts of new directions because of it.

If you say to me, “Ah, yes! This could include some kind of Lamarckism,” which a lot of people are hoping. That it will lead to some kind of direction that Darwinian evolution does not have and then lead to some progression. I very much doubt it.  I could be wrong. However, I would be surprised.

My feeling: it will give us a hell of a lot of insight into the way selection works. We think this fits, eventually, in the context rather than start all over again. That’s my personal feeling about it. We know damn well selection works pretty well.

We run experiments. We learn so much about natural selection, e.g., skin color. All of those sorts of things. Natural selection is not going to be given up. The question, “Is it going to be pushed to one side?” As in, “There is selection, but…” It could be.  But I will wait and see. I am not anticipating it in the next week or two. How does that sound?

I don’t like the idea that sunsets aren’t meaningful. I think we can put meaning into it. I think we can understand nature in our own ways. I think we can say, “Ah yes! This is why certain organisms have certain adaptations.” But it is a meaning that we ascribe to it. There is no meaning there that is put onto us. That’s why I call humanism a secular religion in this sense. It is not God. It is religion in some sort of way.

Gods don’t survive. But religions do. Catholic priests will die.

2. Jacobsen: How did you work on philosophy of science?

Ruse: I worked as a philosopher. Thanks to the influence of people like Thomas Kuhn, I got very interested in history. So, I worked on Darwin. It led me into sociobiology, whether or not biology applies to humans.

At the same time, I was getting involved in the creationism debate. It was something I really enjoyed. [Laughing] being a prof. could be awfully ivory tower at times.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ruse: [Laughing] it appealed to the kind of personality I’ve got. Nobody ever calls me at 2 in the morning and says, “Oh my God, professor, I am worried about the synthetic a priori.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ruse:  I am not in a profession where somebody might call at 2 in the morning and say, “Doctor, the baby is coming!” Not that I do not want to get up every night. I was certainly drawn to doing things a little more publicly. At the psychological level, if you like, I found this very rewarding.

The other thing, which I also found rewarding, it brought me back into contact with liberal Christians. I never felt, and still don’t feel, any urge to join them in their beliefs. Having grown up among the Quakers, it was really almost like coming home to spend time with these people.

Usually, I go to a conference with them in New England and have done for the last 40 years. I find that very enjoyable. In this sense, this is what I grew up with. It is my kind of people. I like that. There’s always been that.

I’ve always been prolifically working on books. Certainly, it led me to working on science and religion in the last 20 years or so. That, of course, is what I have been writing on a lot now. For instance, a book that I did on war. That is why I took my students through the war battlefields of the First World War.

I never do anything without writing a book. So, I wrote a book on Darwinism and Christianity, and their treatment of war. I found doing those sorts of things very rewarding. I don’t pretend that I am a mega-brain.

But I think that I have been damned lucky in that way, to be both a researcher and a teacher.

3. Jacobsen: If we look at young earth creationism, a Bishop James Ussher point of view, as well as old earth creationism, for those who may not have unpacked the reasons for why these are not scientific ideas, why aren’t they? For instance, why is prediction important in science?

Ruse: One thing that you’ve got to take into account is the peculiar state of America compared to Canada or Great Britain. Neither Canada or Great Britain do you have the absolute division between the secular and the religious.

Where you cannot bring religion in any sense into the general pool, for instance, in Ontario, you have a Catholic school system. When I grew up in England, we learned religion from a Church of England point of view. Unless, your parents said that you couldn’t be there, which most didn’t [Laughing].

In Canada and Britain, there has a been more comfortable relationship between science and religion. As you know, in America, it is absolutely forbidden to teach religion in state schools.

But as we know, the Americans tend to be a hell of a lot more religious than the rest of us. If you look at Canada 50 or 60 years ago, there was more religion.  Today, Canada is not, basically, a religious country. Things are different in the US, particularly if you can look at the American South, where I live. There is effort to put religion in schools one way or another.

There is great tension about the teaching of evolution is taught. Evolution taken literally is against religion taken literally. You cannot have a world founded in 6 days and humans just a unique pair and then believe in modern evolutionary theory.

You need a hell of a lot of time. You never have a single pair of humans. They were not made out of mud. They were made out of monkeys. There is bound to be those sorts of clashes. There is always an effort to put religious ideas alongside or even instead of those evolutionary claims in the classroom.

You cannot say, “Just support religious schools.” Although, they’re trying to do it. They do this through charter schools. I think they’re succeeding. Note however is that what is going on is that the creationists don’t simply say, give us religion, they claim that, in some sense, their beliefs are equally validated by science.

Of course, this is what creation science was all about. It was trying to give creationism a justification with gaps in the fossil record showing evolution didn’t occur. These sorts of things. And because this is so obviously a move that flies in the face of conventional science, I would want to say that this shows that we have more of a political battle than an intellectual battle.

This all said, although I spend quite a bit of time fighting creationists, I have not spent the last 40 years working exclusively on creationism. Because, basically, I do not find it that interesting. Epigenetics, which you talked about 15 or 20 minutes ago, I find this much more interesting. I am not sure this has the implications that people think it has or hope it has. I think there is real science there and real philosophical questions.

So much of the creationism there, it is important to fight it. A lot of the work is not philosophical or intellectual, but political. That is not to say that it is not important work.

4. Jacobsen: In your debates and dialogues, and discussions, with Dr. William Dembski, and creationists, what have been the pluses and minuses of those debates, dialogues, or conversations?

Ruse: With the creationists, and the intelligent design people, by and large, we haven’t spent a great deal of time batting heads over the age of the Earth or the Adam and Eve thing. It is more on the question of design, which is the thing that intelligent design theorists seized upon.

On one level, they said, “We do not care that the Bible is literally true. What we want to argue for is some kind of design force through the world, which can only be explained by the invocation of a supernatural being.”

I think the intelligent design people go all the way from the hard six-day creationism perspective to those who are almost evolutionists, but guided evolution. I think someone like Michael Behe falls on that end of the spectrum as opposed to some of the others who, I think, like Paul Nelson, fall more on the literal side of the spectrum.

There’s no question. It has been the whole question with the matter of design, which has been the really crucial thing. I think, to be fair, this is an interesting philosophical problem. But there is only so far that you can take it. I look at this historically.

I wrote a whole book on purpose, for instance. It came out a couple of years ago. I am interested in the more historical level. I don’t find a great deal of joy or intellectual risk by spending time talking about design principles.

Because it does [Laughing] seem Darwin’s theory of natural selection moved that conversation along.

5. Jacobsen: Also, there have been admissions. Dr. William Dembski noted the designer of the intelligent design movement is the Christian God. So, it is every explicit.

Ruse: This is the thing. They do think it is the Christian God. They do not think it is a graduate student on Andromeda do an experiment on planet Earth.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ruse: So, I won’t call them hypocrites. But the intelligent design that they talk about is the tip of a much larger iceberg. There’s no question about that. It is interesting. Dembski, basically, has withdrawn from this whole conversation over the last ten years or so.

At some level, he feels, on the other side, much as I do. We have had out say about it. There is not much more to say at this level. It is time to move onto other issues. So, Bill Dembski, whom I have a good relationship with, was, particularly, like me.

He felt that we battled for ten years or so. We got to the point where, clearly, if we could not beat one another on things. Then we wouldn’t. I was happy to write a book on purpose. But I am a historian of ideas.

For me, writing about purpose in Plato or something like that, that’s not just intelligent design today with people like Dembski or Mike Behe.

6. Jacobsen: History can provide insights into possibilities for the future. If we’re looking at the development of scientific ideas, whether it’s in revolutions via Kuhn or in developments in evolutionary biology, providing insights into things as important as the development of vaccines.

Ruse: Yes. As I say, I have the feeling that you and I may not see eye-to-eye on this. I am pretty hard line against trying to find any kind of meaning in the world. Atheism is less important, to me, than anti-religionism in some sort of sense.

I don’t find meaning in the world. Let’s face it, Buddhists are atheists in some very important sense, but they find meaning. You can find meaning in some sense. That’s my point. That’s what I don’t want to do.

I don’t want to find meaning in the world. For me, this is being an existentialist. That means, if I am going to find meaning, I am going to find meaning within myself. For me, not finding meaning in the world, it is a very positive thing as well as, if you like, a negative thing.

It liberates me from what I think is a false way of doing things. It forces me back onto the right way of doing things. I look back on my life. To say, “It is meaningless.” It is bullshit. It is like saying, “Is there free will?” Of course, there is free will. The question is, “How do you analyze it?” Of course, my life has been meaningful.

It is how I analyze it. This is, for me, what is so important. It is the liberation of not having to find it from outside. In this sense, I do not find it in a deity or in nature. Of course, I can give meaning to nature. Of course, I can.

Of course, I convey meaning and find meaning, but I do not find the meaning in nature. That’s the thing telling me what to do. Of course, my wife tells me what to do all the time. Bu you know what I mean.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ruse: The key part of existentialism is that you are condemned to freedom. You, and you alone, have the obligation and the possibility to make meaning out of your own life. You are not going to find it outside. So, as I say, I find this kind of atheism about religion or meaning, external meaning, is liberating as much as a disappointment. How does that sound?

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor, Philosophy, Florida State University; Director, HPS Program, Florida State University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: November 22, 2019: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two) [Online].November 2019; 21(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2019, November 22). An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A, November. 2019. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 21.A (November 2019). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 21.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 21.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 21.A (2019):November. 2019. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Professor Michael Ruse, FRSC on Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, and History and the Future (Part Two) [Internet]. (2019, November 21(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/ruse-two.

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