And Another Thing … this site is not

So, having disposed of the knee-jerk reaction to “Fundamentalist” and the expectation that I’m going to say that real science is creationist science, I may as well confirm that this isn’t about treating science as a religion itself.  After all, there are people who do take science, or scientism and evolutionism, as a sort of substitute for religion. They look to “Science” for answers to the great philosophical and ethical questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I behave?

Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, is famous for having admitted this occurs. I will take as my reference, however, the article in the Huffington Post in which he defends himself from the over-enthusiastic response of creationist reporting: “Is Darwinism a Religion?” (Posted: 07/21/2011 8:26 am EDT Updated: 09/20/2011 5:12 am EDT, I encourage you to check it out for yourself if you’d care to judge for yourself exactly what he was trying to communicate.

To summarize Ruse’s article, he didn’t say that evolution was a religion, what he said (and still says) is that SOME evolutionists treat it as an alternative to religion, making it like a religion for all intents and purposes. Or to use a popular phrase, “It’s complicated.”

For one thing, he points out that it’s not clear what makes a religion. Some religions have all the things we normally associate with them, but some don’t have (for example) a belief in God (or any god) as a requirement. Oddly, he doesn’t mention what I would think of as a prime example of something borderline and also sort of connected to this issue of making evolution a religion: Scientology, AKA the Church of Scientology, which was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and uses technology and pseudo-science to gain adherents. Members seem to vary on whether or not they’re following a religion.

Ruse states plainly that he doesn’t “think believing that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection (his version or today’s version) commits you to religious belief.” Yet he says that even his own extension of evolutionism to a pattern for learning and deriving ethics “can act as a religion substitute or alternative.” So while he’s “happy to accept” it when people even more zealous over evolutionism than he is insist their passion “should not be taken as a religious passion,” he still thinks they “show the sociological characteristics of the religious.” Curiously, Richard Dawkins, whom Ruse correctly selects as the prime example of such zeal, has said that he would not try to derive his ethics from evolution. Complicated indeed.

Ruse finishes (more or less) with noting there are some people who apparently take their belief in Science to a level that really is equivalent to religious belief. He points to the historical example of T. H. Huxley, whose enthusiasm for representing and defending Darwin’s new idea earned him the nickname “Darwin’s Bulldog.” Most modern evolutionists see evolution as an essentially random thing, which just happened to produce humans along with everything else, and we may just as easily have gone extinct (and still might), becoming just another forgotten species. For Huxley and many others, evolution showed a manifest destiny of progress toward humans, pointing the way to even greater beings evolving from us. This was a great impetus for eugenics, the belief and practice of ensuring that only the fittest humans should have children. It was the main motivation behind the Holocaust. Hmm, Ruse doesn’t mention eugenics…

He does note, “Huxley gave what he himself called ‘lay sermons,’…”  What surprises me is what Ruse takes as (I take it) the prime example of making evolutionism a substitute for religion: natural history museums! It’s especially eyebrow-raising when I think of the shocked (shocked!) reactions in the media over Answers in Genesis starting their museum. Creationists pointed out that there were many evolutionary museums, but it puts an extra glow on the matter to see Ruse describe Huxley and others founding museums with the phrase “building churches — cathedrals — to their new religion.” After all, they are “places where, instead of going to a Christian cathedral on a Sunday morning, a family could go on a Sunday afternoon” and, I would add, see an alternative story of how everything came to be.  Ruse claims, “On the principle that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, natural history museum after museum was built in the style of a gothic cathedral or earlier.” I take it he means they were purposely creating a look that would invoke a feeling similar to that of going to church, perhaps even worshipful, or at least creating a sense of awe.

So, while it’s clear that this site isn’t about that sort of thing, it is possible that “Fundamentalist Science” would evoke in some minds the concept of zealously regarding Science as the modern replacement for religion. I’ve seen comments on science articles indicating that there are such people, and they have no respect at all for anyone who disagrees with them, and feel like no measure would be too drastic to bring about the end of all religion. They do not even tolerate those who are less intolerant than they are. As Ruse notes, “the New Atheists loathe people like me who (like them) have no religious belief but who think that science as such does not refute religion.” As a philosopher, Ruse understands that “science as such” is simply a tool for studying nature.