More from Michael Ruse

As a follow-up to Michael Ruse’s article from The Stone, in my previous guest blog, I take these excerpts from Gary Gutting’s interview with Ruse, also in the Stone, of July 8, 2014, Does Evolution Explain Religious Beliefs.

Gary Gutting: What do you think of the claim that scientific accounts provide all the explanations needed to understand the existence and nature of the world, so that there’s no need to posit God as the ultimate explanation?

Michael Ruse: Let me start at a more general level by saying that I don’t think science as such can explain everything. Therefore, assuming that the existence and nature of the world can be fully understood (I’m not sure it can!), this is going to require something more than science.

As far as I am concerned, if you want God to have a crack at the job, go right ahead!

In my view, none of our knowledge, including science, just “tells it like it is.” Knowledge, even the best scientific knowledge, interprets experience through human cultural understanding and experience, and above all (just as it is for poets and preachers) metaphor is the key to the whole enterprise….

Metaphor helps you move forward. It is heuristic, forcing you to ask new questions. If your love is like a rose, what color is the rose? But note that it does so at a cost. A metaphor puts blinkers on us….

Now combine this fact with history. Since the scientific revolution, one metaphor above all — the root metaphor — has dictated the nature and progress of science. This is the metaphor of the world as a machine, the mechanical metaphor. What questions are ruled out by this metaphor? One is about ultimate origins….I think the machine metaphor rules out an answer to what Martin Heidegger called the “fundamental question of metaphysics”: Why is there something rather than nothing? … or if you like why ultimately there are material substances from which organisms are formed.

And If the person of faith wants to say that God created the world, I don’t think you can deny this on scientific grounds…. Dawkins thinks he can put to rest the causal argument for God’s existence. If God caused the world, then what caused God? Of course the great philosophers, Anselm and Aquinas particularly, are way ahead of him here. They know that the only way to stop the regression is by making God something that needs no cause. He must be a necessary being. This means that God is not part of the regular causal chain ….

G.G.: Do you think that evolution lends support to the atheistic argument from evil: that it makes no sense to think that an all-good, all-powerful God would have used so wasteful and brutal a process as evolution to create living things?

M.R.: Although in some philosophy of religion circles it is now thought that we can counter the argument from evil, I don’t think this is so. More than that, I don’t want it to be so.

I don’t want an argument that convinces me that the death under the guillotine of Sophie Scholl (one of the leaders of the White Rose group opposed to the Nazis) or of Anne Frank in Bergen-Belsen ultimately contributes to the greater good. If my eternal salvation depends on the deaths of these two young women, then forget it.

As an ardent Darwinian evolutionist I think that all organisms, and I include us humans, are the end product of a long, slow process of development thanks to the causal mechanism of natural selection. So this means that I think features like the eye and the hand are around because of their adaptive value; they help us to survive and reproduce…

I include society and culture here although I would qualify what I say. I don’t see being a Nazi as very adaptive, but I would say that the things that led to being a Nazi — for instance being open to indoctrination as a child — have adaptive significance. I would say the same of religion….

The upshot is that I don’t dismiss religious beliefs even though they ultimately can be explained by evolution. I think everything can! I wouldn’t dismiss religious beliefs even if you could show me that they are just a byproduct of adaptation, as I think Darwin himself thought. It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful. I think you have to judge religion on its merits….

So I don’t buy the moral argument for the existence of God. I think you can have all of the morality you need without God….I am standing up for my own. In part, this is political. Religion is a big thing in America, and often not a very good big thing….

I should say that my Quaker childhood — as in everything I do and think — is tremendously important here. I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that. Finally, I just don’t like bad arguments. In my case, I think I can offer good arguments against the existence of the Christian God. I don’t need the inadequate and faulty. In “Murder in the Cathedral,” T.S. Eliot has Thomas à Becket say, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Amen.

The interview was conducted by email and edited. 

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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