I just finished reading this interview at The Stone, where Gary Cutting talks with philosopher Dr. Michael Ruse about atheism, evolution, and religious belief. I must admit, I found Ruse’s comments to be surprisingly refreshing. Even though he’s a committed atheist, he exhibits none of the scorn or sarcasm of the Richard Dawkins-types (in fact, he expresses greater affinity toward Christian philosophers like Anselm and Aquinas than Dawkins). He also interacts with the best of Christian scholarship, rather than taking the cheap way out by setting up straw men. I would even go so far as to say that we Christians can learn a lot from Ruse about interacting charitably with opposing viewpoints. This is a prime example of common grace in the life of an unbeliever.
I was also impressed by the quality of his arguments, and found myself agreeing with him at many points. Rather than trumpeting the modernist notion of science as the be-all and end-all of human knowledge, he demonstrates a remarkable level of epistemic humility. He says:
In my view, none of our knowledge, including science, just “tells it like it is.” Knowledge, even the best scientific knowledge, interprets experience through human cultural understanding and experience, and above all (just as it is for poets and preachers) metaphor is the key to the whole enterprise.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. And as for his response to the argument that religious belief is merely an evolutionary adaptation, he doesn’t fall for the genetic fallacy: just because you can give an account of a belief’s origins, that doesn’t make the belief untrue. After all, advocates of evolution would have to affirm that there’s an evolutionary account for belief in evolution too!
When it comes to the problem of evil, his response sounds more formulaic and predictable. Nearly every atheist you ask today will tell you that the main reason they can’t believe in God is because of the presence of so much suffering and evil in the world. Ruse isn’t convinced by so-called “greater good” theodicies, and he is pretty candid about his personal bias here:
Although in some philosophy of religion circles it is now thought that we can counter the argument from evil, I don’t think this is so. More than that, I don’t want it to be so.
I am sure that Ruse is fully aware that his own personal wants can’t dictate the justice of God’s actions. Nevertheless, I don’t think any proposed solution to the problem of evil is going to convince him, until he becomes convinced of the evil within his own heart. I’m not singling him out here for special vilification; this a condition that every human being (myself included) is born with. Besides, even if he becomes convinced of some theistic argument or another, how far does that really get him? No one is saved by faith in theism; we are saved by faith in Christ, and Christ alone.
I will pray for Dr. Ruse’s salvation. And I will also pray that more unbelievers would exhibit the same willingness to listen that he does. For any Christian readers who want to become better familiar with the best of atheist philosophy—rather than the first-year-undergraduate arguments of the Dawkinses of the world (Ruse’s description, not mine)—I would recommend Graham Oppy’s Arguing about Gods (Cambridge University Press, 2009), Jordan Howard Sobel’s Logic and Theism (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and Michael Martin’s The Improbability of God (Prometheus Books, 2006).