Friday, March 24, 2006

Michael Ruse and Evolution as Religion

Here are some quotes from Michael Ruse's book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Ruse is a noted philosopher of science, an agnostic, and an outspoken supporter of evolutionary theory.
What about evolutionism, with its progress, moral exhortations, world pictures, and so forth? Is it proper to speak of this as a religion . . .?

. . . .

An ideology, to be sure. But would the term "religion" also be appropriate? Considering the nature of the beast, it truly seems so. The concept of a religion is notoriously hard to define, but one thinks in terms of a world picture, providing origins, a place (probably a special place) for humans, a guide to action, a meaning to life. There are other prominent features of many religions, such as belief in a deity and a formalized and recognized priesthood, but these features are not absolutely essential to the definition. Buddhists (and many Unitarians) would probably flunk the God question, and Quakers (by explicit design) have no clergy. Rather than getting too flustered by counterexamples, let us allow the oxymoron "secular religion" and cast our question in these terms. And the answer does seem positive.

Popular evolution--evolutionism--offered a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans in the scheme of things. At the same time, it delivered moral exhortations, prescribing what we ought to do if we want things to continue well (or to be redeemed and a decline reversed). These things hardly came by chance or in isolation. In asking about origins, evolutionism was answering a question posed by Christianity (and Judaism before this), and in focusing on the status and obligations of humans, evolutionism was trying deliberately to do better than Christianity.

. . .

To use a phrase invented by Thomas Henry Huxley's biologist grandson, Julian Huxley, the evolutionists were truly in the business of providing a "religion without revelation"--and like all fanatics, they were intolerant of rivals.

This raises an important question: what exactly is conveyed to students when they learn about evolution in public school and when the evidence that undermines macroevolutionary theory is banned? Do students get pure science? Or does a little religious "evolutionism" seep in as well? If it does seep in, how does that affect the constitutionality of teaching it with no alternatives? How can public schools avoid establishing evolutionism as a state religion?


At March 30, 2006 6:29 PM, Anonymous Honza Prchal said...

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