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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Wrong or simplistic or misleading..."

Ruse:
I do dislike the fact that stuff I think wrong or simplistic or misleading gets great traction with the public. I dislike it from the Tea Party. I dislike it from the New Atheists. I think Dawkins is simplistic when it comes to analyzing the arguments for the existence of God. I think Dennett is na├»ve and simplistic when he thinks that so sophisticated an issue as the growth and belief in religion can be analyzed in terms of Dawkins’s cultural units of memes. I think Harris is crude beyond belief when he thinks that morality can be reduced to scientific findings. I cannot say anything about Hitchens, since I quit reading him when he supported George W. Bush’s excursion into Iraq.

Ruse is entitled to think various views are wrong or simplistic or misleading, though the usual response when we see views that strike us like that is to try to publish the views that we consider right, adequately complex, and reliable. He has no problem getting his own ideas published.

But in any event, he really ought to look in the mirror. How is his theory about the constitutional implications (in the US) of the New Atheism not wrong, simplistic, and misleading? Likewise for his theory about how the cases have been decided so far. I realise that Ruse gave evidence about the nature of science in one important case, but that doesn't make him a constitutional lawyer or even a philosopher of law. This happens to be something I know a little about, and it's pretty obvious to me who is being simplistic, etc., here.

10 comments:

a Nadder said...

When he talks about the simplistic nature of arguments by New Atheists and the Tea Party in the same breath I'm just reminded of Asimov's relativity of wrong bit.

"[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

Blake Stacey said...

Quoth Ruse:

I think Dawkins is simplistic when it comes to analyzing the arguments for the existence of God.

Well, most "arguments for the existence of God" are pretty simplistic.

Thanny said...

If you're referring to Ruse's claim that treating science as atheistic makes it unconstitutional to teach as simplistic, you couldn't be more right.

It doesn't take a lawyer to see that. All you need is a broad familiarity with the "Lemon test". Science education has a secular primary purpose. Whatever it says about religious beliefs is incidental and not a violation of the First Amendment.

Of course, I've yet to see any criticism by Ruse that isn't simplistic and misguided.

Gregory C. Mayer said...

Russell-- You may already know this, but the DC Circuit Court has already addressed the claim that evolution is itself an establishment of religion in Crowley v. Smithsonian. A snippet:
[the balance between freedom of religion and learning] was long ago struck in favor of diffusion of knowledge based on responsible scientific foundations, and against special constitutional protection of religious believers from the competition generated by such knowledge diffusion.

See links to my post mentioning it on WEIT http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/a-day-at-the-museum/

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks for that - I think I actually read that post at the time, but had forgotten about it and the specific case.

Russell Blackford said...

And Thanny - I absolutely agree. There's really some irony with this. Ruse calims to be contemptuous of people because they can't disprove (to his satisfaction) a wrong, simplistic, and misleading claim about the constitutional situation in the US.

steve oberski said...

Ruse says "I think Dawkins is simplistic when it comes to analyzing the arguments for the existence of God."

The only reason there are "arguments" for the existence of God is because there is no evidence.

A simplistic argument wold have been "show the evidence and then we'll talk".

sqlrob said...

@Steve:

What is wrong with the simplistic argument of "show me"?

Ken Pidcock said...

You may already know this, but the DC Circuit Court has already addressed the claim that evolution is itself an establishment of religion in Crowley v. Smithsonian.

Thank you, I didn't know this. Channeling Ruse (actually, channeling Calvert), I would reply that science education in schools is compulsory, and that this makes all the difference. Speaking personally, though, I don't see where anybody could possibly claim that what is not taught could constitute establishment.

Dave Ricks said...

We've covered Ruse's legal error directly, plus the irony of his contempt. I'll just add an observation, that Ruse argues in this form -- If gnus keep doing some bad thing X, then courts in the US will rule that teaching evolution is government establishment of religion. But could Ruse tell us, what is this bad thing X that gnus do, and how would X appear in a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)?

Would a SCOTUS decision cite X = a mocking tone on the Internet? Or X = the content of a web site discussing ideas that have been in books for ages? No, Ruse can offer no such bad thing X in a legal argument.

I think Ruse really objects to X = philosophy, and Jerry Coyne saying religion is epistemologically incompatible with science. At first I was surprised Ruse's article picked Jerry's web site WEIT as his nemesis over Pharyngula or RDnet. But I think Jerry speaking plainly bursts Ruse's bubble, and Ruse can't argue directly against Jerry's claim.