Prominent Atheist Criticizes Richard Dawkins

From what I can tell, Michael Ruse seems to be an interesting person—the kind of person with whom you’d love to have a long, wide-ranging conversation over coffee. He’s currently a philosopher of biology at Florida St. University, having served as full time philosophy professor for 45 years. Writing a recent guest column for, he began a description of himself in this way:

In my seventieth year I find myself in a very peculiar position. Raised a Quaker, I lost my faith in my early twenties and it has never returned. I think of myself as an agnostic on deities and ultimate meanings and that sort of thing. With respect to the main claims of Christianity – loving god, fallen nature, Jesus and atonement and salvation – I am pretty atheistic, although some doctrines like original sin seem to me to be accurate psychologically. I often refer to myself as a very conservative non-believer, meaning that I take seriously my non-belief and I think others should do (and often don’t).

Though an atheist, Ruse has a firm grasp of that which the Christian faith stands or falls (as well as little patience for those who fail to see the connection):

But I have little time for someone who denies the central dogmas of Christianity and still claims to be a Christian, except in a social sense. No God, no Jesus as His son, no resurrection, no eternal life – no Christianity.

Ruse’s particular area of interest is the controversy between evolutionists and creationists/proponents of intelligent design. Standing regularly in opposition to the latter, he nevertheless does not believe “that science and religion have to clash.” This position has earned him fierce criticism from members of the “new atheist” camp, including perhaps its most prominent member, Richard Dawkins.

For his part, Ruse has not take the criticism lying down:

Let me say that I believe the new atheists do the side of science a grave disservice. I will defend to the death the right of them to say what they do – as one who is English-born one of the things I admire most about the USA is the First Amendment. But I think first that these people do a disservice to scholarship. Their treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.

A few comments in response:

  1. Ruse is not the only person to fault Dawkins’ handling of philosophy and religion/theology. But, coming as it does from a fellow atheist, his criticism has added credibility in a certain respect.
  2. His comments serve as an important reminder for anyone in the debate, including (especially!) Christians, to be fair to those in opposition and willing to recognize the areas in which they have little knowledge or expertise.
  3. That leads me to hope that the Christian side of this debate will have more and more dialog and cooperation between biblical scholars, philosophers, and scientists, to the effect that we have a more coherent and effective voice.

For those wishing to hear more from Ruse, check out the following interview he gave to the Center of Public Christianity.


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