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On Darwinian Atheists Lecturing Religious People on Proper Belief in God

Casey Luskin

I love watching atheists try to tell religious people what they should believe about God. I’m not talking about atheists trying to convince religious people not to believe in God. We expect that. I’m talking about atheists telling religious people how to continue properly believing in God. I find this incredibly amusing, because, you know, atheists are experts in things like keeping faith. Michael Ruse is a prime specimen.

An atheist (he says “I find it a great relief no longer to believe in God”) and self-declared “ex-Christian,” a few years back Ruse wrote a book titled Can a Darwinian be a Christian? and answered “Absolutely!” (p. 217) Now, in a recent piece in the UK Guardian, Ruse lectures none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury on proper belief in God:

Keep God out of the day-to-day functioning of things. If, like the archbishop of Canterbury, you absolutely must have God do law-breaking miracles — apparently he would give up and become a Quaker if the tomb had not been empty on the third day — then at least restrict His activities to the cause of our salvation.

I’m sure that God–and the good Archbishop–feel very much obliged to listen to Michael Ruse. (Steve Fuller doesn’t–see his response to Ruse here.)

Ruse’s recent piece continues the trend of evolutionists using theology to argue for their position. He charges that ID is “very bad theology,” complaining that when we infer ID, “the problem of evil — rears its ugly head.” But Ruse’s theological objection requires him to carefully ignore millennia-old JudeoChristian solutions to the “problem of evil.” Regardless of the theological implications, I prefer to approach these questions scientifically and assess ID using a scientific lens. If the scientific evidence points towards ID, why should theological concerns (in this case, highly misguided concerns) block a scientific conclusion?

This situation is doubly amusing: Not only are atheists telling religious people how to have faith, but atheist evolution lobbyists are openly and unashamedly letting theology stand in the way of scientific investigation–the very charge they constantly levy against ID. This confirms the thesis of Cornelius Hunter–namely that many arguments for Darwinism are grounded in theology, not science.

Why do we have this odd situation where atheists in the evolution lobby are using theological arguments to promote compatibility between God and evolution? It turns out they’re motivated more by politics than anything else.

For a good example, see Chris Mooney. In a November 2009 interview with a show produced by Public Radio International called “To the Point,” Mooney advised religious persons that “Traditional ways of reading scripture recognize various levels of meaning. Scripture could be saying something at a different level from what science says at its level — both can be right.” Of course not long before that he made clear, “I am as much an atheist as I have ever been.”

This is intriguing–and not just because Mooney is an atheist lecturing religious persons on how to properly accept religious scripture–but also because according to a 2001 article by Mooney in Slate, “Darwinism” has inherent anti-theistic implications that go well beyond mere contradictions with certain interpretations of scripture:

Darwinism presents an explanation for life’s origins that lacks any supernatural element and emphasizes a cruel and violent process of natural selection that is tough to square with the notion of a benevolent God. Because of this, many students who study evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown up with.

(Chris Mooney, “Darwin’s Sanitized Idea,” Slate, September 24, 2001.)

Of course Mooney has the right to believe what he wishes, but why did he change his tune? There’s a simple political motive that might drive atheists like Ruse and Mooney to start preaching that evolution and religion are compatible.

For all of Ruse’s false charges that ID “only pretends to be science to do a political and legal end-run around the US Constitution,” the reality is that constitutional concerns drive his crusade to promote compatibility between God and Darwin. Consider the following enlightening exchange between Ruse and new atheist Daniel Dennett, which Ruse leaked publicly to William Dembski in 2006:

I think that you [Daniel Dennett] and Richard [Dawkins] are absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design–we are losing this battle, not the least of which is the two new supreme court justices who are certainly going to vote to let it into classrooms–what we need is not knee-jerk atheism but serious grappling with the issues–neither of you are willing to study Christianity seriously and to engage with the ideas–it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims–more than this, we are in a fight, and we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of good will.

And here’s Mooney saying much the same thing:

What if Coyne and the New Atheists are right, and evolution (or science itself) isn’t actually neutral? What if there really is a fundamental conflict between science and religion? What if methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism aren’t really distinct–but the former inevitably also entails the latter? … I fear that were the New Atheists to somehow prevail on this point, the anti-evolutionists might wreak some serious havoc in the courtroom in a later case. This is one reason to be concerned about the New Atheist position.

So it turns out that atheists like Ruse and Mooney promote compatibility between God and evolution out of constitutional concerns. They fear that if atheism and evolution become too closely linked, this could make the teaching of evolution unconstitutional. Thus, they feel they’d better fix the problem by going around preaching that God and evolution are compatible.

Now they might genuinely believe it’s possible to reconcile God and evolution, but then again, don’t forget we’re talking about ardent evolutionists and atheists who personally reject belief in God and expressly admit legally / politically oriented motives for pushing the compatibilist perspective. Isn’t that at least a little suspicious?

In any case, this could explain the curious crusade of atheists who go around preaching on the compatibility of God and evolution.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, 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.