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Posts by Michael Ruse


May 29, 2012, 10:23 AM ET

Creationism Rears Its Ugly Head—Again and Again and Again

Here we go again. The latest news on the fighting-Creationism front is that states like Georgia have found ways to channel public funds to private schools. Some of the money goes–Surprise! Surprise!—to fund athletic scholarships. (And in places like Georgia, “athletics” means football.) Almost all of the money goes to institutions that teach Creationism—young earth, miraculous creation of organisms, two and only two humans coming last, and of course a universal flood. A Beka Book— “excellence in education from a Christian perspective”—is a major textbook supplier.
An A Beka high school science text concluded that “much variety within the human race has developed from the eight people who left the Ark.” Another text, used in sixth grade, makes repeated references to Noah and the flood, which it calls the reason for both the world’s petroleum reserves and the...
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April 5, 2012, 10:03 AM ET

England's Faded Glory

  Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside I do like to be beside the sea! I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom! Where the brass bands play: "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!" So just let me be beside the seaside I'll be beside myself with glee. In England, you are never very far from the sea; so, last week, having flown to the country of my birth to attend a conference, I took advantage of the opportunity to make a couple of trips to the coast. I should say that some of my happiest memories are, as a child, spending Augusts in Wales camping beside the sea. That it usually rained non-stop and that we kids would spend countless damp hours under canvas playing vingt-et-un for matchsticks in no way detracts from the memories. I do remember that the moment the sun came out we would dash down to the sands, get the most dreadful sun burn, and have to spend the next week being coated in... Read More

December 7, 2011, 08:30 AM ET

A Mormon Responds

My piece on the Mormons has generated a huge response, both public and private.  I intend to write more myself today or tomorrow, but I think it important that the other side, as it were, have its opportunity to make its case.  Below I am reprinting, with the author's permission, a thoughtful letter I received—one of many.  It is rather longer than a normal blog post, but for obvious reasons, I did not want to constrain the writer in any way. * Professor Ruse, I read with interest your recent post at The Chronicle of Higher Education regarding Mormons and politics. I hope it isn't too presumptuous, but I wanted to give you my thoughts. I am both a believing, practicing Mormon and an academic. I teach law, and my research focuses on legal theory and legal history, including Mormon legal history. Hence, you may wish to ignore my remarks for the double disqualifications of... Read More

January 20, 2011, 05:14 PM ET

My Family and Other Animals

"Pets can improve mood, but evidence is thin that they can improve health" (Washington Post headline, Tuesday, January 18, 2011) So the Ruse family moves down to Florida from Ontario in 2000.  The first thing that Lizzie does is go out and buy a pig.  There is a flea market in the south end of Tallahassee, and you can buy anything there.  Including Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs that aren’t really, for they grow and grow until they look like the brutes running wild in the Florida panhandle that need real men like Sarah Palin to take them out. The trouble was that the pig wasn’t very friendly.  It would bite and push and grab and all of the sorts of things that pigs from the panhandle do naturally. We tried being nice, we tried tough love, we tried hiding.  It just didn’t work and so in the end the pig went.  The very nice people who picked it up said it would have a good home.�... Read More

October 9, 2010, 10:00 AM ET

Why I Hate Conferences

At the end of last month, I went to a conference in Marseilles in the South of France.  As these conferences go, it went.  It was not the worst I have ever attended.  It was not the best.  On evolution, it lasted four days, and basically consisted of one paper after another—some good, some less so—delivered at high speed in a limited space of time.   To use a metaphor that the philosopher Gilbert Ryle once used about the literary style of one of my colleagues—many short sentences, crammed one after another—it was all a little bit like eating peanuts to a metronome.

There was of course a reason for the format.  In Europe, as in America, if you don’t give a paper, you cannot get money to go to a conference.  So everyone gets to give a paper, and the program is jammed full to accommodate all of the presenters.  At least this French conference was not as bad as is promised...

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October 2, 2010, 12:56 PM ET

Green Light for the Red Light?

I  have never used a prostitute in my life.  I have never smoked pot either, for that matter.  It has little to do with morality.  In my lifetime, I have spent a great deal of money trying to get women to go to bed with me, usually unsuccessfully.  And I used to smoke cigarettes like a chimney until my first wife walked out and that source of tension was gone.  It is a cultural thing really.  When I grew up after the Second World War, the dangers of venereal disease were drummed so far into us all that for years I hesitated to use a public lavatory.  And marijuana was equated with heroin, so that was that.  Who wanted to end up like Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm?  To this day, in a similar vein, I find it impossible to leave the table with food still on my plate.  Habit, not rational choice. I don’t feel particularly strongly on the prostitution issue.  I... Read More

September 30, 2010, 03:24 PM ET

Shedding a Tear for Tony Curtis


Tony Curtis is dead and a little bit of me has died too.  He was one of the iconic male film stars of the 1950s.  I suppose he was not as big as Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne, and he was certainly not an actor of the caliber of Henry Fonda or Spencer Tracey.  But he had real star appeal and there was something truly endearing about the Bronx accent, especially when he was dressed up as a Roman slave in a short tunic.  Above all, he was one of the stars—along with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe—of the funniest American movie ever.  I first saw Some Like it Hot in the summer of 1959, the year it appeared, and I last saw it earlier this year on DVD.  I show it regularly in my film course, Philosophy and Film, alternating it with the funniest British movie ever, Kind Hearts and Coronets.

For those of you so culturally deprived as not to know the plot, like the best farce, it is...

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September 26, 2010, 11:06 AM ET

A Black Mark for Calvin College

Those of us who work at secular institutions sometimes forget, or perhaps we were never really aware in the first place, how difficult it can be for our colleagues in church-affiliated institutions, especially when they want to go beyond the strict bounds of the comfortable norm.  A good (if that is the right word) instance of that to which I refer is going on right now, with whistles and bells, at Calvin College in Michigan.

I have often said that I would have given my eye teeth to have been educated as an undergraduate at one of America’s top liberal arts colleges, and I have always thought of Calvin as a good reason why.  Academically the faculty is top notch – I think the Philosophy Department is right up there with the very best in the nation – and the dedication to teaching is simply humbling.  Add a great campus and good facilities and you know why I rate it so highly.  ...

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September 17, 2010, 09:31 AM ET

John Henry Newman

Go to fullsize imageThe great British theologian John Henry Newman was born into a family in the evangelical wing of the Church of England.  After he went up to Oxford, he moved up the scale, becoming a leader of the high-church faction in the Anglican denomination.  He and others in the “Oxford Movement” began issuing a series of pamphlets, “Tracts for the Times,” in which increasingly they repudiated the Protestant Reformation arguing that their church stood in direct succession to early Christianity.  Finally, Newman recognized the absurdity of his position, and made the move over to Rome.  He took a number of earnest young men with him, but generally there was now a drawing back and in a sense a relief that the boil had burst and that now the rest of the Anglicans could get on with their lives.

It is hard now to realize what a dramatic move it was for Newman to convert.  English Catholicism goes back...

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September 14, 2010, 08:30 AM ET

'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'

I don’t know how many people have actually read Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), but everyone knows the basic story.  A kind and loving doctor, living and working in London, invents a potion that turns him into a fiend who follows the evil ways of that dark city.  Eventually the doctor repents and tries to slough off his vile alter ego.  But it is too late.  He keeps changing whether he wants to or not, and finally commits suicide, ending his life as Mr. Hyde dressed in the clothes of Dr. Jekyll.

There have been many attempts at analysis.  Most probably the story is intended as a reflection of the two-layered, hypocritical nature of late Victorian society, although plausibly (since Stevenson was a Scot and deeply immersed in the culture of his homeland) it is a meditation on Calvinism and original sin—the evil that dwells within us all.  What it is not...

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