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Will Robert Pennock Become the Next Michael Ruse?

If you’ll give me the Mic, I won’t Rob much of your time while Penning this short Ruse.

In the Dover trial, Robert Pennock is the Plaintiffs’ expert on the philosophy of science, and Pennock pushed hard for a definition of science which is essentially “methodological naturalism.”

This is eerily similar to the 1982 case, McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F.Supp. 1255 (E.D. Ark) over the teaching of young earth creationism, where Darwinist Philosopher of Science Michael Ruse testified that science was defined as follows:

  • (1) It is guided by natural law;
  • (2) It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;
  • (3) It is testable against the empirical world;
  • (4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word; and
  • (5) It is falsifiable.

Ruse’s definition incorporates the precise methodological naturalism advocated by Pennock in Ruse’s requirements (1) and (2). Ruse’s definition was also subsequently accepted by Judge Overton and etched into Eastern Arkansas law.

But we all know what happened to Michael Ruse.

In the wake of McLean, Ruse edited a volume entitled “But is it Science?” which philosopher of science Larry Laudan explained that “The victory in the Arkansas case was hollow, for it achieved only at the expense at perpetuating and canonizing false stereotype of what science is and how it works.” (Laudan, in But is it Science?, pg. 355)

Laudan explained that “It simply will not do for the defenders of science to invoke philosophy of science when it suits them . . . and to dismiss it as ‘arcane’ and ‘remote’ when it does not.” (ibid., pg. 355)

Similarly, Philip Quinn called Ruse’s testimony “fallacious” and not representative of “settled consensus of opinion in the relevant community of scholars”. (But is it Science, pg. 384). Quinn warned that: “One bad precedent, particularly one so extensively publicized and so apt to arouse passionate feelings, is already one too many.” (ibid., pg. 384) Laudan concurred that “bad philosophy makes for bad law” (ibid., pg. 355).

Laudan has elsewhere explained the problem with Ruse’s form of demarcation arguments:

“From Plato to Popper, philosophers have sought to identify those epistemic features which mark off science from other sorts of beliefs and activity. Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that philosophy has largely failed to deliver the relevant goods. Whatever the specific strengths and deficiencies of the numerous well-known efforts at demarcation . . . it is probably fair to say that there is no demarcation line between science and non-science, or between science and pseudo-science, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers.”

(Larry Laudan, Beyond Positivism and Relativism (Westview Press, 1996), pg 210)

Ruse’s definition has thus undergone much criticism from philosophers of science. But as time has passed, Ruse has proven to have an honest and pure heart. Thus, Ruse eventually conceded that his definition had implicit metaphysical underpinnings which were, essentially religious, and didn’t help you distinguish “religion” from “science”:

“But those of us who are academics, or for other reasons pulling back and trying to think about these things, I think that we should recognize, both historically and perhaps philosophically, certainly that the science side has certain metaphysical assumptions built into doing science, which — it may not be a good thing to admit in a court of law — but I think that in honesty that we should recognize, and that we should be thinking about some of these sorts of things.”

(Transcript: Speech by Professor Michael Ruse, Saturday, February 13, 1993, 1993 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the symposium “The New Antievolutionism”, at ““)

And Ruse also admitted:

“[F]or many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion … And it seems to me very clear that at some very basic level, evolution as a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism, namely, that at some level one is going to exclude miracles and these sorts of things come what may.”

(Transcript: Speech by Professor Michael Ruse, Saturday, February 13, 1993, 1993 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the symposium “The New Antievolutionism”, at ““)

Finally, Ruse went as far as to essentially retract all of his original testimony:

“I as a philosopher of science am worried about what I think were fairly crude neo-positivistic attitudes that I had about science, even as much as ten years ago, when I was fighting in Arkansas.”

(Transcript: Speech by Professor Michael Ruse, Saturday, February 13, 1993, 1993 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the symposium “The New Antievolutionism”, at ““)

It took a lot of guts for Ruse to make these statements, and concede that some of the most famous testimony about science in the history of American courts canonized a bad definition of science which involves assumptions that are indistinguishable from an outright religious position.
David Dewolf, Stephen Meyer, and Mark DeForrest characterize Ruse’s retraction:

“Michael Ruse himself repudiated his previous support for the demarcation principle by admitting that Darwinism (like creationism) ‘depends upon certain unprovable metaphysical assumptions.'”

(in Teaching the Origins Controversy: Science, Or Religion, Or Speech?, 2000 Utah L. Rev. 39, citing to “Speech by Michael Ruse to the Annual Meeting of the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science (Feb. 13, 1993)“)

It should be recognized that Michael Ruse states his support for Darwinism to this day. But Ruse deserves much credit for his honesty.

Will Robert Pennock become the next Michael Ruse? This is dependent upon whether or not Pennock ultimately proves to be as honest and introspective as Michael Ruse.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



__editedKitzmiller v. Dover Area School DistrictMichael RuseRobert Pennock