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Posts by Michael Ruse

April 18, 2010, 03:17 PM ET

Why Tony Flew Should Go to Heaven

Eschatological verification is a rather odd concept that was invented in the 1950s by the philosopher of religion John Hick. Back in those days, the pall of logical positivism still hung over the Anglophone philosophical world, and a major issue was that of the meaningfulness of statements. Supposedly, only statements that could be verified (falsified in Karl Popper’s alternative version) were truly meaningful. You can verify “Michael Ruse has not yet retired,” and so (to the obvious regret of many readers of my pieces for The Chronicle of Higher Education) it is meaningful, whereas you cannot verify “Tuesday is tired” and so it is not meaningful. 

The question was about religious statements. How do you verify “Jesus made possible our eternal salvation”? What possible empirical evidence would do the trick? Hick proposed that at least we can do a one-way verification. If after death we...

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April 11, 2010, 01:55 PM ET

A Prof at 70: Having Fun, Feeling Guilty

In 1965 I got a job at a newly founded university in Ontario, Canada. I stayed at the University of Guelph until 2000, at which point I took a job south, at Florida State University, where I am now. My reason for leaving Guelph was quite simple. At that time, Ontario universities had compulsory retirement at 65, and there was no way that I wanted to retire. I enjoyed my job immensely and, as important, I had a second family. Had I retired on schedule, I would have been stuck at home with three teenagers. When, quite out of the blue, the offer came from Florida, it was, as they say, a “no brainer.”

Here I am now, 10 years later, turning 70 in a couple of months, having the time of my life. I am a historian and philosopher of science who works on evolutionary biology. Last year was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. I went to Europe six times, to South America a couple ...

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April 7, 2010, 12:12 PM ET


I think I may have mentioned that this semester I am co-teaching a course on science and film. I have just finished the module dealing with The Bomb. I guess this was particularly pertinent given that President Obama is just now trying to limit the use of such means of mass destruction.  According to The New York Times today, Russia and America alone have more than 20,000 nuclear weapons.

I was a teenager in the 1950s, so I needed no special education on the threat from the atomic and hydrogen bombs. We lived with it daily. My students however have really no proper sense of them at all. Frankly, I don’t think most of them could tell you where to find Hiroshima, although given their ignorance of geography that doesn’t tell you much. I know for a fact that less than a third know where to find Toronto on the map.

We showed a number of the standard movies, including of course the...

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April 4, 2010, 12:40 PM ET

Accommodationism III

The most important interpreter of science in the second half of the last century was not trained as a philosopher. Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published in 1962, was a physicist who then turned to the history of science.  His main tool of understanding – the paradigm – has entered into everyday discourse, often with meanings very different from those that he intended.

 Basically, Kuhn saw all scientific activity as taking place (or striving to take place) within a given conceptual framework, something which guides our understanding by setting new problems (Kuhn called them puzzles) and by disallowing certain strategies and methodologies.  You can change frameworks, or paradigms, but you cannot do productive science without them.

In my last piece on the relationship between science and religion, I left hanging the problem of how it is that one is to a...

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March 31, 2010, 02:02 PM ET

Edward O. Wilson on Sociobiology

I have just returned from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. I was there to participate in a small conference honoring Edward O. Wilson, the well-known evolutionist. Although he spent his working life at Harvard, Wilson comes from the South and is a graduate of the University of Alabama. These days, Wilson (who celebrated his 80th birthday last year) has moved beyond straight science. His big interest is in biodiversity and the threat that modern life poses to the earth’s natural habitats, especially the destruction of the tropics and even more especially the Brazilian rain forests. For Wilson, this is a personal campaign, because as a world-leading expert on the ants, he has spent many a summer foraging in the forests, looking for and examining these tiny (and very abundant) creatures.

Wilson has written many books, but I am sure that posterity will highlight one above the...

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March 24, 2010, 12:04 PM ET

Time for a Laugh

So this fellow walks into a bar, right? Then he walks into another bar. And yet another bar. Repeat this action for thirty-five years. And that's how this book got written. (Nicholas Pashley)

That grim January day when Scott Brown was elected to the United States Senate to fill the seat formerly occupied by Ted Kennedy was the day I went into steep decline. For the next month I literally could not bring myself to open the pages of The New York Times. I was so depressed that the thought of rehashing the mistakes made and the dreams dashed were just too much for me. Had it not been for the comics page of the Tallahassee Democrat, I don't think I could have made it through.

And now, all is changed. It is a messed-up law with all sorts of problems and holes and possibilities for grotesque profits by greedy people, but it is the law of the land. Finally, Americans have the prospect of...

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March 21, 2010, 11:53 AM ET

Accommodationism II

There are four standard ways of viewing the relationship between science and religion: warfare or conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. (See my piece of March 12 for more details.) Now, let us see how these cash out, using Christianity as our example of religion, but suspecting strongly that conclusions can be extended readily to other religions.

The New Atheists like Richard Dawkins argue that science and religion are in conflict, and in many respects it is hard to disagree. If, based on your reading of Genesis, you accept that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that humans appeared complete (and adult) in a single founding pair, and that there was some time later a worldwide flood that wiped out almost all of the inhabitants, then you are simply in conflict with huge amounts of modern science, from astronomy to geology, from geology to biology. If, as a Mormon, you...

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March 18, 2010, 02:03 PM ET


Dean Falk is one of my closest friends down here at Florida State University. She is a paleoanthropologist, a student of human origins, and her specialty is the brain. She has spent much of her life with upended skulls, filling them with rubber and then peeling it off. Obviously the grey matter is long gone, but you can tell a huge amount about the brain by studying the bumps and fissures and so forth that are revealed by the inside of the skull. More recently, she has turned high tech, and a lot of the work done now is based on magnetic resonance imaging, a method of seeing the inside of things without actually having to disturb them at all.

In 2003 a group of Australian researchers working on the island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago astonished the world by announcing that they had found the skeletal remains of little human-like creatures, about 3’ 6” tall and with very small...

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March 14, 2010, 03:12 PM ET


I swear, Michael Ruse is like your befuddled old uncle who behaves nicely most of the time, but then, in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, says something like, 'Oops, I wet myself!' -- Jerry Coyne

I confess that as I approach my 70th birthday, I take an almost perverse pleasure in this comment. I remember once, as a young scholar, a more senior friend saying to me: "Mike, there is something far worse than being criticized. That is being ignored." I took this message to heart and it stays with me. Have I mentioned that on my 50th birthday I put together a collage of unfriendly reviews of my books, reproduced it on the back of an invitation to my party, and sent it to all of the critics? Most had the grace to take it in the spirit intended and sent (I think genuine) best wishes for my future.

What is strange is that it should be the well known evolutionist Jerry Coyne making it...

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March 10, 2010, 12:02 PM ET

Three Cheers for Descartes

I must remember that I am a man, and that consequently I am in the habit of sleeping, and in my dreams representing to myself the same things or sometimes even less probable things, than do those who are insane in their waking moments. How often has it happened to me that in the night I dreamt that I found myself in this particular place, that I was dressed and seated near the fire, whilst in reality I was lying undressed in bed! At this moment it does indeed seem to me that it is with eyes awake that I am looking at this paper; that this head which I move is not asleep, that it is deliberately and of set purpose that I extend my hand and perceive it; what happens in sleep does not appear so clear nor so distinct as does all this. But in thinking over this I remind myself that on many occasions I have in sleep been deceived by similar illusions, and in dwelling carefully on this...

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