Mike Ruse: Thank God I'm Not a New Atheist


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

I am a non-believer. If you asked me about Christian beliefs specifically (a creator God, Jesus as redeemer, resurrection, eternal life etc) I am an atheist. However, the New Atheists cannot stand me.

My objections to New Atheism

So why then am I not a New Atheist? Partly it is aesthetic. They are so vulgar.

Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. To take one example, the Ontological Argument for God was first devised by Anselm and refurbished by Descartes. Roughly, it runs thus: God is by definition that than which none greater can be thought. Does He exist? Suppose He doesn’t. Then there is a greater who does exist. Contradiction! Hence, God exists.

In The God Delusion , Richard Dawkins dismisses this longstanding and much debated philosophical argument with a few sneering paragraphs. His critique is on a par with someone arguing against Dawkins’ own body of work by saying that selfish genes cannot exist because genes cannot be selfish (and with about as much understanding or sensitivity). But hardly any serious theologian or philosopher thinks the Ontological Argument is valid in the way I have just described it. It has been reframed and reworked. Every serious theologian and philosopher knows that the argument leads us into important and sophisticated questions about the nature of existence. Does the notion of necessary existence – which must surely be true of God if he exists – even make sense? And so forth. To arrogantly dismiss the argument is bad scholarship and, worse still, bad taste. Ironically, I get on better with many of my Christian interlocutors than I do with many atheists.

@philosurfer do you have any insight on your PhD advisor? Also, I find his comments on Revelation interesting. I hope I get a chance to go deeper with him on this some day.

So why not God for me? Most importantly, I say that religious belief – and Christian religious belief in particular – relies first and foremost on revelation. Faith and not reason. In fact this was a major point of contention when I discussed these issues with my Christian protagonist Prof John Lennox

It seems that the the need for revelation is very easy to defend. I wonder how he has engaged with the case I am turning around in my head. (perhaps no one has brought it forward).


Michael Ruse has a new book just out that may be of interest given the discussions that take place here.

The Problem of War: Darwinism, Christianity, and their Battle to Understand Human Conflict

(Daniel Deen) #3

Not much more than what you can find out on the web. He is a solid agnostic who keeps reminding me and the rest of his students and friends that we should not wait with baited breath for a conversion from him.

Not sure exactly what case you are speaking of here, but I’ve run through with him the basic apologetics style NT argument from miracles. He was disinterested and often repeats that he simply is not into all that apologetics stuff. You can find his basic position related to miracles/revelation in:

My favorite of his work so far was:

as it captures the very popular-level nature of evolution/creation debates.

I also enjoyed this one:

and lastly, he is really excited about his latest book. I’ve yet to receive a manuscript! Through email correspondence, he has mentioned how much the religion of his childhood shaped him. He believes he is much indebted to it, even if he is not a believer anymore:

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #4

I suppose I do not mean the standard apologetics. I am discussing instead the logical case for why revelations is necessary in addition to natural revelation, without actually engaging Scripture per se. I touched on it partly here:

A more direct way of putting it:

  1. Suppose the all powerful God who created everything actually exists.

  2. What chances would we, as humans on earth, have of ever contact or understanding this God by observing nature?

  3. It appears that the answer is we would not have any hope of contacting or understanding him much at all, except to know that He is better than all of creation if it is True that he exists, and other such very abstract things.

  4. How could that God who created everything be know then?

  5. It appears that this God could be known if He chose to reveal Himself to us. So if a God that big exists we should expect to look towards revelation to see if he has revealed himself.

Note that this does not identify the Bible specifically as the correct revelation. Nor does this establish the existence of God, or that God would want to be known by us. It does, however, establish the legitimacy of looking to revelation if we are considering the hypothesis that God exists and wants to be known. Revelation, in fact, is a very logical place to look if one believes that God created all things and wants to be known by us.

Before rejecting this as a special pleading, notice that it closely parallels our interactions with people themselves. We can observe people all the time, such as a celebrity on TV. We cannot, however, know him unless that inaccessible celebrity chooses to reveal himself to us. Likewise we can be in a conversation with a person about what is going on in their head, and how they feel about us. Without raising up to many bad memories of blind dates and marriages, it is self evidence we will have great difficulty knowing what another person thinks about us unless they choose to reveal it to us. If direct revelation was not important, we would no need for communication between one another.

For these reasons, we should be cautious about summarily dismissing revelation when we are discussing the possibility of God. Perhaps a coherent revelation could even be, rationally, the tipping for understanding key things about God, such as His existence. In fact, this may even be what we expect would be the norm, given our plain inability to access the Creator of All by our own devices.

So that is my case @Philosurfer. You are a philosopher. I’m curious who else makes that case, and what you think Mike Ruse might say. Also, I wonder what @Andrew_Loke might say, as this is right up his alley too.

(Clinton Ohlers) #5

@swamidass if you engage Ruse more, you may be interested in taking a look at a book he first wrote in 1985 (2nd ed. 1998) entitled, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy. It may help you to better understanding his views and establish a common ground from the significance of evolutionary thought for your very different sets of beliefs. In it, he set out to begin to develop a philosophical system based on naturalistic evolution.

(system) #6

(system) #7