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Michael Ruse vs. Jerry Fodor

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Fodor's new book creates stirMichael Ruse is not happy with Jerry Fodor’s new book (described here at UD). As Ruse begins his review in the Boston Globe: “What Darwin Got Wrong is an intensely irritating book….”

The buff Michael Ruse sporting new trilobite tattoo . Jerry Fodor playing the grumpy old man with common sense

Here is the conclusion of Ruse’s review:

The Darwinian does not want to say that the world is designed. That is what the Intelligent Design crew argues. The Darwinian is using a metaphor to understand the material nonthinking world. We treat that world as if it were an object of design, because doing so is tremendously valuable heuristically. And the use of metaphor is a commonplace in science.

Why then do we have these arguments? The clue is given at the end, when the authors start to quote – as examples of dreadful Darwinism – claims that human nature might have been fashioned by natural selection. At the beginning of their book, they proudly claim to be atheists. Perhaps so. But my suspicion is that, like those scorned Christians, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world. We have to be special, superior to other denizens of Planet Earth. Christians are open in their beliefs that humans are special and explaining them lies beyond the scope of science. I just wish that our authors were a little more open that this is their view too.

13 Replies to “Michael Ruse vs. Jerry Fodor

  1. 1
    O'Leary says:

    “At the beginning of their book, they proudly claim to be atheists. Perhaps so. But my suspicion is that, like those scorned Christians, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world. We have to be special, superior to other denizens of Planet Earth. Christians are open in their beliefs that humans are special and explaining them lies beyond the scope of science. I just wish that our authors were a little more open that this is their view too.”

    This is ridiculous.

    Humans ARE special. Even if that fact were not brought about by divine providence, it happens to be true. All efforts to show otherwise stumble over the reality. Humans build space shuttles and write papers on quantum mechanics and relativity, while apes poke sticks into termite holes and gibber at each other (at best).

    Come back ten thousand years from now and things will be just the same for the apes. They are not going anywhere; we did.

    If it is true, as Ruse sseems to imply, that one must deny this to be an atheist, then the best solution is just don’t be one.

    My goodness, Ruse has just created a brand new argument against atheism. One must believe stuff that is manifestly untrue, that anyone can see is untrue, not about the far past or the near future (which perhaps no man can know) but about what we can observe today.

  2. 2
    Retroman says:

    Why did you post that unflattering shirt-off picture?

  3. 3
    O'Leary says:

    Retroman at 2, maybe Ruse has a sense of humour. He seems to be displaying a tattoo of a trilobite.

    Social note: If you go get yourself tattooed and then take off your shirt to display the tattoo, and the photo becomes part of a public archive – it’s no one’s fault if some find it unflattering. 🙂

    As people who sell honey like to say, “Beauty is in the eye of the bee holder.”

  4. 4
    Rude says:

    This is all rather interesting—materialists scolding one another in regard to whether or not humans are exceptional.

    Some have gloried in that with God out of the way then we become god. But Darwinism, as we have seen, easily mutates into a nature worship that dispises human exceptionalism. What is it? Maybe that because from the larger perspective nothing really matters in materialism? We’re all just fortuitous billows of atoms that dissipate as purposelessly as clouds on a summer day.

    Maybe too it’s as if having dismissed the design in nature as only “the appearance of design”, the design of which humans are capable must also be viewed negatively—if its very existence is not suspect then its being a good thing is.

    I’ve actually heard Darwinists accuse Noam Chomsky (not to his face) of having an ulterior motive when claiming that human language and animal communication are different in kind and not just degree. His motive? It’s to avoid the racism inherent in Darwinism, that by creating a gulf between man and animal he is elevating all men to the same level.

    Materialism begets various genres of monist disciples—one the self-congradulating atheist who fearlessly faces the futility of it all being just matter—another the self-righteous animist seeking oneness with Nature—missing always is the materialist who sees man’s mind as transcendant. And so I suspect that Fodor—though he must know that to admit it would make him an Enemy of the Elite Consensus—is on his way out of materialism.

  5. 5
  6. 6
    Bantay says:

    Ruse says…”The Darwinian does not want to say that the world is designed. That is what the Intelligent Design crew argues.”

    It’s no surprise that Darwinians (ists?) don’t want to say the world is design. But that seems strained to me. It’s almost as if he is suggesting they could or should, but simply choose not to. Could it be because they are simply not willing, for unscientific reasons, to let go of their material presuppositions?

    Ruse also says “At the beginning of their book, they proudly claim to be atheists. Perhaps so. But my suspicion is that, like those scorned Christians, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world.”

    Wait! Could it not be that it is Ruse himself who cannot stomach the idea that humans are more than “just organisms”, and are in fact special?

    It appears to me that Ruse is guilty of the very thing he accuses others of. No, Mr. Ruse, we don’t have to be special, but we are special. You don’t need ID to demonstrate that much.

  7. 7
    johnnyb says:

    Hold it right there! “We treat that world as if it were an object of design, because doing so is tremendously valuable heuristically. And the use of metaphor is a commonplace in science.”

    Is he really arguing that ID, as a scientific heuristic, is actually the default stance of science? Really? Somebody better tell the NCSE.

  8. 8
    uoflcard says:

    johnnyb,

    I think the argument goes something like this (my comments in parentheses)…

    Biology (a more accurate word for this statement is “naturalism”) is the study of things that appear to be designed (because this is, unfortunately, undeniable), but actually came about via mistakes and subsequent natural selection (the creative ability of which is vastly unproven via either physical observation or simulation).

  9. 9
    Lock says:

    I guess its time for Ruse and others (I am sure some already do) to advocate that we start acting no better than the rest of nature (without current fakery and hangups), and quit pretending to be civil.

    Let’s just be who we really are and dance to our DNA.

  10. 10
    GilDodgen says:

    Denyse: Humans ARE special… Humans build space shuttles and write papers on quantum mechanics and relativity…

    …and make musical instruments, learn to play them, write symphonies and organize large groups of trained musicians to perform them, create all manner of art, build cathedrals, invent languages with which they record history and discuss ethics and values, discover math and its relationship to the laws of physics, ponder the meaning of it all, and… (time and space prevent continuing the list, which is huge).

    Evolutionary history is clearly characterized by consistent, persistent, major discontinuities – not the step-by-tiny-step evolutionary process upon which the entire Darwinian hypothesis has bet its scientific and evidential credibility. Humans represent the most glaring example of evolutionary discontinuity at the highest levels, and in the shortest period of time.

    Denyse: Ruse has just created a brand new argument against atheism. One must believe stuff that is manifestly untrue, that anyone can see is untrue, not about the far past or the near future (which perhaps no man can know) but about what we can observe today.

    This was a major factor in my conversion from atheism to theism, and more specifically to Christianity (which is the NCSE’s major concern about ID – they don’t want people, especially young people, to question the state-sponsored religion of materialism as promoted in the public schools). Students must be protected from the pernicious influence of those who challenge them to actually evaluate the evidence.

  11. 11
    AussieID says:

    Retroman and Denyse:

    Here’s a couple of things from Michael Ruse about his tattoo:

    “But the Cambrian gets right off running with really complex organisms like this trilobite that I’ve got tattooed on my arm. I should say all of my graduate students have to have a trilobite tattooed if they are going to get their degree: left cheek for M.A.’s, right cheek for Ph.D.’s. Nervous titters! And undergraduates saying “I’m buggered if I’m going to F.S.U.!””

    “Ruse says: “I’d always wanted a tattoo, ever since I was a kid. But in those days it was considered very vulgar.” He didn’t get one until he had five children of his own, but he inked up before any of them did. Why did he choose the trilobite as his image? “I had to think of something that was symbolic of evolution and immediately recognizable.” A trilobite fit both those stipulations. So, perhaps, would Darwin’s tree of life or an archaeopteryx; but those would be too complex, and “everyone knows what a trilobite is.” ”

    Well, as he says in the article, “the use of metaphor is a commonplace in science” He is wearing that comment on his sleeve!

    Well,… where his sleeve could be.

  12. 12
    SteveB says:

    I actually feel a little sorry for Ruse—a philosophy prof who apparently hasn’t thought through the implications of his world view.

    Two quotations from the piece are relevant.

    Toward the end of his piece, he sneers, “Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world.”

    I wonder if he really believes this. Just organisms. No better.

    Let’s consider this in light of what he says earlier, when he recommends experimentation to “see how the organisms get along without eyes and then without hair.” Presumably, he’s talking about depriving the organisms in question of their vision in order to demonstrate which features are crucial to their survival.

    But which organisms should be used in such experiments? Fruit flies? Lab rats? The students in his classes? If his assumptions are correct—if natural selection runs the show—one thing is clear: Homo sapiens IS no better (or worse…) than any other subject he might choose. Sure, there might be some pragmatic value in choosing one species over another, but to suggest that FSU undergrads are more somehow “superior to other denizens of Planet Earth” is preposterous, according to Ruse.

    But in spite of his bluster and incredulity, I still wonder if he really believes this. I’d like to suggest that Michael make an honest attempt to live consistently with the presuppositions that he explicitly articulates. This would include, for example, treating the people in his life (friends, family, colleagues, students…) as he would a mosquito or a thistle. Remember, “humans… are no better than the rest of the living world.” No better—I’m not making this up.

    I’ll just say at this point I have yet to meet the person who is able to actually do this.

    So if its not possible to live consistently with the presupposions in a practical sense, another option would be to reconsider them. While I formerly held a view similar to his, I decided to stand with the “scorned Christians” he refers to primarily because the Christian world view not only is intellectually defensible, but also provides a basis for human value and dignity, which Ruse’s naturalism, by his own admission, categorically denies.

  13. 13
    jstanley01 says:

    …no better than the rest of the living world.”

    “Better?” Uh, I believe that would indicates a value judgment. “Dirt are people too,” chum. That is, a bunch of atoms that accidently whirred together.

    This guy is a shill trying to palm off his opinion of what “better” by gift wrapping his b.s. in “scientific” wrapping paper.

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