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Darwinism as Religion

A Review

 Michael Ruse - Darwinism as Religion (2017) - ISBN:  978-0190241025Paul Gosselin (2020)

Nietzsche in his essay The Gay Science, described the destiny of the "free spirit", pursuing its convictions to the very end (1882/1924: 287), willing to experience: …” a freedom of will, whereby a spirit could bid farewell to every belief, to every wish for certainty, accustomed as it would be to support itself on slender cords and possibilities, and to dance even on the verge of abysses. Such a spirit would be a free spirit par excellence.” Well, over the years the philosopher of science Michael Ruse has been playing with a rather dangerous idea. The purpose of the following may be construed as encouraging Ruse to take a further step in his dance and the edge of a radical step.

I have recently finished reading a rather promising book by Michael Ruse, his Darwinism as Religion (2017). On the face of it, this appears to be a daring attempt by Ruse to take Darwinism into uncharted territories. That said, this is a book that does not reach it's potential. During his career Ruse has clearly opened an interesting can of worms. In this book we see Ruse caught between the implications of his own previously expressed "Dangerous Idea" (Darwinism as Religion) and his own ideological loyalties. Since he began toying with his “Dangerous Idea”, Ruse at times appears haunted by guilt and spends an appropriate amount of time in this book Christian-bashing as an effective means of proving his sincere “orthodox (evolutionary) faith” to his brethren and convincing them to forgive his sins of doubt (about evolution as pure science). One would expect that all be forgiven…

Those who have followed the origins debate over the last 30 years or so are aware that Ruse has been playing something like a trickster role, on the one hand proclaiming himself a loyal and devout evolutionist, yet on the other hand playing a dangerous game making damaging comments about evolution, which may be perceived by some as handing out ammunition to evolution’s adversaries, gifts the critics of evolution have found quite useful. It goes without saying that this is a somewhat awkward situation…

In a nutshell, one could say that in this text Ruse chronicles the development of the Evolution concept, first of all by examining a few 18th century movements and pre-Darwinian ideas that have fed into Darwinism, then discussing the publication (and reception) of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and it’s subsequent growing influence in the West and, particularly, it’s interaction with culture and Christianity. In chapter 1, Ruse explains how Darwin’s evolution idea fed on the Enlightenment concept of Progress. While Ruse, when pressed, will not be outdone to emphatically thump his copy of The Origin and pontifically assert the fact of evolution, nonetheless from time to time he does make statements going off on odd tangents. Here’s an example from chapter 1 (The Eighteenth Century) (2017: 13)

Note not just that evolution came into this world as a function of—an epiphenomenon on—thoughts of human Progress, and how its reception therefore was going to be very much a matter of how people regarded Progress as an idea, but what this meant for the status—certainly the perceived status of the idea of evolution itself. If you want to support or counter a regular scientific claim—for instance, about the nature of the double helix-then you turn to the empirical evidence, for and against. There was no question of doing that here. At least in part this was because there really wasn't that much empirical evidence. But also in part—a bigger part—because people saw that value commitments were what was really at stake. In this sense, then what we have is less something strictly scientific—certainly not something scientific like the real sciences of the day, physics and chemistry—but more something that fell into a category already recognized (the French king had set up a commission that found just this of mesmerism) and that was soon to be labeled a "pseudoscience." One means here something of a pretender—something backed by and promoting values rather than empirical evidence. It is also something that tends to set up tensions in the conventional and staid, a bit of a threat to the status quo. In this respect, then, it is something that bears some similarities to a religion, a suspicion strengthened if one finds that it sets out to challenge existing, conventional religions. It is to this issue that we turn now.

Darwinism as pseudoscience and religion? That is something to chew on… While Ruse may think that Darwinism’s core concepts deriving from ideologico-religious currents is a rather novel idea, but this is something the professor of medieval literature, C. S. Lewis, was aware of quite a while ago[1] (Lewis 1960/1987: 103):

… the attraction of Darwinism was that it gave to a pre-existing myth the scientific reassurances it required. If no evidence for evolution had been forthcoming, it would have been necessary to invent it. The real sources of the myth are partly political. It projects onto the cosmic screen feelings engendered by the Revolutionary period[2].

That said, when Ruse alludes to Darwinism as Religion he rather quickly glosses over what he means by religion. But as we shall see this is both clumsy[3] and convenient.

Now the Dangerous Idea meme of course refers to Daniel Dennett’s take on Darwin’s Dangerous Idea[4], that is evolution. Dennett explains this meme by noting that in his youth, he heard stories about a mythical substance (probably derived from sci-fi literature) called “Universal Acid.” Universal Acid is basically a very corrosive (imaginary) substance. Nothing can resist it, not the hardest wood, glass, stainless steel or ceramic. A plastic or glass container could not contain it as it can dissolve anything. One litre of Universal Acid would burn through the door of the strongest bank vault, but would continue on to the centre of the Earth since nothing could ever stop it. Over the years of his academic career, Dennett realized that Neo-Darwinism has many things in common with the concept of Universal Acid. Neo-Darwinism may also be considered a very corrosive substance that can take on any ideological relic of the West's superstitious religious past, dissolve it and lead to a strictly materialistic explanation. Nothing can resist it.

And what does this have to do with Michael Ruse? Well, as Ruse points out, since 1979[5] he’s been toying with the idea of Evolution (or Darwinism) as religion. This is what could be considered Ruse’s Dangerous Idea. It actually is a VERY dangerous idea as, if taken to it’s logical conclusion, it too would dissolve Darwinism as we know it and leave very little left. And the logical conclusion of this idea would of course be the denial of Evolution’s status as scientific theory and relegating it to the status of a solely religious or mythological artefact. To be clear, of course Ruse is VERY careful to avoid such an outcome… and being a “good boy”, he is appropriately vocal about the “scientific fact of evolution”. No charge of heresy should stick to Ruse on that account…

Let’s take a look at how Ruse navigates the minefield he has created for himself. Aware of the pain he has caused other evolutionists over the years with his heretical ideas, a substantial part of the book is devoted to saving face, that is by preaching to the “unbelievers” (Christians) about the incontrovertible fact and logical inevitability of Evolution. It is a stirring moral sermon. And as Ruse borrows through Enlightenment influenced literature, he points out the ills of Christianity, trotting out all the Enlightenment tropes one could ask for, such as corrupt priests, clueless believers, oppressive religious figures, etc. No doubt this is necessary to regain street cred from other evolutionary devotees after making numerous distressing and inflammatory comments about evolution in the past. In this part of the book Ruse takes care to ignore his own “dangerous idea” and falls back on reassuring Enlightenment stereotypes such as “evolution as a scientific fact”. In the Prologue, Ruse serves up the pathetic trope (p. 43) about Darwin the orthodox Christian whose Christian views were shattered by the scientific evidence for evolution on his five-year trip (1831-1836) on the HMS Beagle. Despite being contradicted by facts[6], it appears evolutionists still need this trope. it certainly has it's (ideological) uses...

In this book Ruse often uses the word “religion”, but as a rule one can clarify Ruse’s thought by simply replacing it with word “Christianity”. Here’s an example: “Evolution arrived on the back of the social doctrine of Progress. It was therefore at once plunged into the battle against religion”. (p. 18) In any case, Ruse very rarely demonstrates any concern with other religions. In chapters 7 through 11 Ruse discusses the extensive cultural impact (particularly in literature) of Darwin’s theory, examining material that may appear novel to some, but somewhat redundant for those who’ve read Gillian Beer’s Darwin’s Plots (1983), which Ruse quotes...

Here is one of Ruse’s earlier (and rather clear) public expressions of his “Dangerous Idea” (1993: 3):

Certainly, historically, that if you look at, say, evolutionary theory, and of course this was brought out I think rather nicely by the talk just before me, it's certainly been the case that evolution has functioned, if not as a religion as such, certainly with elements akin to a secular religion. Those of us who teach philosophy of religion always say there's no way of defining religion by a neat, necessary and sufficient condition. The best that you can do is list a number of characteristics, not one of which is necessary for a religion but a combination of some is sufficient for a religion. You might list a belief in a God, an ethical system, a set of ceremonies, a priesthood, and so forth. Buddhism probably fails on the God question as does Unitarianism[7]. But we would still count them religions because they have other features, like the ethical system, priests (or the equivalent), and so forth. Considered in this light, there's no doubt about it, that in the past, and I think also in the present, for many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion.

A few years later, Ruse’s thinking on such matters had further evolved and he rather candidly stated (2005: 3):

In particular, I argue that in both evolution and creation we have rival religious responses to a crisis of faith — rival stories of origins, rival judgments about the meaning of human life, rival sets of moral dictates, and above all what theologians call rival eschatologies — pictures of the future and of what lies ahead for humankind.

While carefully avoiding to go too far with his “Dangerous Idea” in Darwinism as Religion Ruse does offer us a few titbits so we find the 2nd half of his book devoted to fleshing out what Darwinism has to offer regarding “rival stories of origins, rival judgments about the meaning of human life, rival sets of moral dictates, and above all what theologians call rival eschatologies”. Most of the material Ruse covers is drawn from 19th and 20th century literature. Ruse has long been aware of the implications of his “Dangerous Idea” and has attempted to walk the straight and narrow path to avoid stepping on one of those mines he himself has set. Of course Ruse could not bear the idea that Darwinism is only religious. Here is one of Ruse’s attempts (2003)

So, what does our history tell us? Three things. First, if the claim is that all contemporary evolutionism is merely an excuse to promote moral and societal norms, this is simply false. Today's professional evolutionism is no more a secular religion than is industrial chemistry. Second, there is indeed a thriving area of more popular evolutionism, where evolution is used to underpin claims about the nature of the universe, the meaning of it all for us humans, and the way we should behave. I am not saying that this area is all bad or that it should be stamped out. I am all in favor of saving the rainforests. I am saying that this popular evolutionism—often an alternative to religion—exists. Third, we who cherish science should be careful to distinguish when we are doing science and when we are extrapolating from it, particularly when we are teaching our students. If it is science that is to be taught, then teach science and nothing more. Leave the other discussions for a more appropriate time.

Ah, no need to worry, despite all the evidence for religious character of Darwinism, there are still real evolutionists are doing real science. Case closed… But there’s good reason to think that the distinction Ruse attempts to make here between the real science practiced by evolutionists in universities and what he calls popular evolutionism is entirely bogus, as it is quite comparable to the distinction one could draw between the erudite and literate religion practiced by theologians and scholars splitting theological hairs on the one hand and, on the other, the cruder and more down-to-earth religion practiced by peasants. It’s all the same religion nonetheless…

And while tenured evolutionists[8] will predictably have a finer grasp of the more arcane doctrinal nuances of Darwinism than may have high school teachers, biology undergrads or politicians, they are all tapping into and contributing to the same belief system (or origins myth), Ruse must also be aware that beyond contributing to a vast body of literature, evolutionists actual contribution to hard science is more elusive. Compare this to Isaac Newton’s physics, which has allowed us to send astronauts to the moon (and bring them back) or germ theory that has led to microbiology and advances in surgical procedures, vaccines as well as advances in food preservation. Besides stacks and stacks of books with the word evolution in them, evolutionists don’t have much to show… What scientific advances has the Theory of Evolution actually enabled?

While Ruse is silent on such matters, some scientists have opened their mouths on such matters. Ernst Mayr, a prolific biologist and world authority on evolution, was aware that evolution did not compare very well with real scientific theories (1982: 310):

The greatest obstacle to the establishment of the theory of evolution was the fact that evolution cannot be observed directly like the phenomena of physics, such as a falling stone or boiling water or any other process that takes place in seconds, minutes or hours during which on-going changes can be carefully recorded. Instead, evolution can only be inferred. But in order to draw inferences one must first have an appropriate conceptual framework. Fossils, facts of variation and of inheritance, and the existence of a natural hierarchy of organisms can serve as evidence only after someone has postulated the occurrence of evolution. (emphasis added)

And Jerry Coyne once observed (2003: 171):

In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.

Mainstream scientists have sometimes voiced similar views and in unguarded moments gone even further. For example, Adam S. Wilkins, the editor of the prestigious journal BioEssays once wrote (2000: 1051):

"The subject of evolution occupies a special, and paradoxical, place within biology as a whole. While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution', most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. 'Evolution' would appear to be the indispensible unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one."

Reacting to Wilkins’ comments, the American biochemist Philip Skell doubled down, painting a bleak picture of Darwinism’s contribution to science (2005: 10):

I would tend to agree. Certainly, my own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming's discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.
I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss[9].

Darwinian Theological Subtleties
In chapters 11 and 12 Ruse compares Christian theology to Darwinian theology on a variety of points such as the meaning of life, eschatology (the end of time), the afterlife and the understanding of suffering. Ruse, of course does NOT use the expression “Darwinian theology”. That would be too revealing. Ruse is VERY careful to steer away from most of the implications of his “dangerous idea”, that is seriously looking into the scientific status of the theory of evolution.

As Ruse works his way through 19th and 20th century Enlightenment-influenced literature that parades the sins of Christians it should come to no surprise that there is no hint of self-criticism of the sins that could be connect to the Darwin’s materialistic origins myth. This isn't too surprising as while the Judeo-Christian belief system contains the concept of confession of sins and repentance one finds no comparable doctrine in any of the ideologies derived from the Enlightenment (such as Darwin’s materialistic origins myth). The “Enlightened” never need to reflect on their sins or repent seeing someone else [10] is always at fault.

Predictably, in chapter 8 [Race and Class] Ruse totally sidesteps evolutionary racism and yet accuses Christianity of racism despite the fact that the race concept is NOT found in the Bible and actually has roots in Greek thinking[11], then being taken up and developed by the Enlightenment[12]... Yet the race concept is right there on the title page of the Origin (in the subtitle...). But evolutionists in this day have forgotten all about that... Regarding an understanding of evil in human existence, Darwinians have little to offer beyond “Get used to it”. The brutal events of the 20th century (along with a 25 year sentence in the Gulag) forced Russian writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to reflect on such matters and rejecting knee-jerk Enlightenment psychological ruts he famously wrote in his Gulag Archipelago that the fault-line of evil and sin runs much closer to home than we’d like to admit... (1973: 168)

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.
Socrates taught us: "Know thyself."

Regarding the Darwinian perspective on the meaning of life Ruse has little to offer except the usual pious platitudes about “taking advantage of life”. Regarding support for ethics and morals on the basis of the Darwinian origins myth, Ruse looks at T. H. Huxley’s (Darwin’s Bulldog) take on the subject (2017: 57-58)

Huxley now wanted to argue that ruthlessness and the like are not particularly moral qualities and that we must learn to control them, but this is not the writing of a man who has turned his back on the struggle for existence and natural selection in human evolution. The whole point is that that is what did cause us and now we show the effects.

But what the basis for controlling our (violent or selfish) impulses might be, neither Huxley nor Ruse have much to say. Darwinians all recognize we are the product of a very violent and inhumane process (the fight for survival). But then we are supposed to forget this fact and just believe this will all get sorted out without any serious thinking… Perhaps Darwinists believe a magic wand will conjure up high moral standards and altruism. It will just happen. The American biology professor William B. Provine appears to have given serious thought about such matters and offered the following blunt observations on the impact of Darwin’s materialistic origins myth (1990: 23):

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin's views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That's the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either. What an unintelligible idea.

Ruse plays some interesting tricks in this book. He seems to enjoy serving up examples of Christians who accepted and admired Darwin’s theory. But here’s the thing[13]. Were a Christian to take a closer look at the cases Ruse presents generally these will clearly fall into the category of heretics, that is people claiming to be Christians, but denying central articles of faith[14]. But the sword Ruse uses here is two-edged, as should one apply the SAME logic and approach to Darwinism, he would be forced to accept Hitler’s Darwinism, which inevitably leads to a link to the Holocaust. But there’s a hook here. While Christians have a sacred book (the Bible) which encodes the core beliefs of the faith and constitutes the standard to which the individual’s faith is compared, there is no such sacred text for Darwinism, there is no such agreed-upon reference point or standard which a Darwinist MUST meet or face exclusion. Of course, while Darwin’s Origin remains a respected text, revered by evolutionists, it is hardly a sacred text to which ALL Darwinists MUST submit[15]. Evolutionists make no such demands on themselves. To a large extent, Darwinism is an evolving amorphous body of doctrine[16].

As a result, Darwinism is defined only by the huge body of literature (fiction and non-fiction) that Darwinists have produced since The Origin. None of it can be logically excluded (as there is no basis to do so), even the works of eugenicists such as Darwin’s nephew Francis Galton or any of the pre-WWII scientific racists. All of these MUST be considered legitimate expressions of Darwinism because there is no agreed upon rational, objective criteria to exclude them. Since Evolution has been put on the table by thinkers such as the count de Buffon and Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, Darwinism has been (and is) an evolving body of doctrine. It is a moving target, it offers no sacred text, no doctrinal standard, which could provide a basis for kicking out any heretics. There are no clearly defined central articles of Darwinian faith. As a result, the “Hitler misused Darwinism” line[17] is nothing more than a cheap damage control ploy.

Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer - A Natural History of Rape.
So how do Darwinists handle their heresy cases?
In 2000 American biologists Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, published a study entitled A Natural History of Rape, claiming that rape is not only a sign of male domination over the female, but is also an evolutionary strategy allowing men competing for a limited number of women to ensure the transmission of their genes when conventional sexual negotiations fail. Rape therefore is viewed as behaviour occurring when the male's reproductive capacity encounters significant obstacles. Predictably this publication provoked outrage from both scientists and media. Ironically the most vocal critics of Thornhill and Palmer's work nonetheless share their adversary's evolutionary cosmology, thus making it impossible for them to advance any substantive criticism. As a result, they find themselves reduced to hand-waving, voicing empty rhetoric about the “misuse of science” and alleging that Thornhill and Palmer's research is "irresponsible, tendentious and scientifically unfounded." Among the more vocal critics of A Natural History of Rape we have the American biologist Jerry Coyne. And what is Coyne’s (convenient) conclusion? Applying evolution to a particular social behaviour (rape) is of course illegitimate… (2003: 188)

Amid this debacle―for A Natural History of Rape is truly an embarrassment to the field―I am consoled by the parallels between evolutionary psychology and Freudianism. Freud's views lost credibility when people realized that they were not based on science, but were actually an ideological edifice, a myth about human life, that was utterly resistant to scientific refutation. By judicious manipulation, every possible observation of human behavior could be (and was) fitted into the Freudian framework. Evolutionary psychologists are now building a similar edifice. They, too, deal in dogmas rather than the propositions of science. Evolutionary psychology will have its day in the sun, but versions of the faith such as Thornhill and Palmer's will disappear when people realize that they are useless and unscientific.

Why this particular case is an illegitimate application of evolution, Coyne has little to say. Coyne’s brief comment about embarrassment is revealing and suggests that the only reason he opposed Thornhill’s and Palmer’s book is that it is bad marketing for Darwinism and exposes too clearly the real consequences of this origins myth… Thornhill and Palmer could plausibly respond that Coyne is not a true Darwinian and not consistent enough in his Darwinism…

Now back to the origins debate and the masses of evolutionary infidels. While postmoderns (what Americans typically refer to as “the Left”) reject the Enlightenment concept of Science as Truth and claim to be “open” about religion[18], Neo-Darwinism is still rather useful to postmoderns as it destroys the concept of moral absolutes (so you can do what you want...). Once you admit the primarily religious function evolution plays, then the ardent zeal (and emotion...) with which evolution is defended by its devotees becomes entirely understandable. While debates in real science about whether light is a wave or a particle affect very few people and gets the blood boiling of only a handful of individuals, but if the credibility of evolution is seriously threatened, the credibility of many other ideologies/belief systems will be called into question. As a result this provokes VERY strong emotional reactions when this cosmology is seriously questioned. This of course also explains the heretic hunting syndrome that the Expelled movie (narrated by Ben Stein) and Jerry Bergman’s Slaughter of the Dissidents book series has documented.

Giving Ruse a Slight Push…
For the most part Ruse’s Darwinism as Religion idea has been offered as a bit of a joke, perhaps as a spicy idea that could sell a few books, but with no effect on the status quo.  But what if one were to take Ruse seriously? Now let’s, just for a moment, attempt to get Ruse out of his ‘comfort zone’. Here is a scenario connected to Ruse’s Dangerous Idea, that he may have briefly given thought to, but does NOT discuss in Darwinism as Religion. What if the all the logical implications of his concept of “Darwinism as Religion” were given practical applications? Perhaps Ruse has had nightmares about this…

This leads us to the legal situation in the US. There, evolutionists have increasingly come to rely on the courts (rather than on the “natural selection” of ideas in an open debate) to defend their ideological monopoly in education. Tungate (2005) mentions that, besides all the trials in state courts, 17 lawsuits were filed between 1968 and 2005 in the federal legal system.  So far, in all these court cases, evolutionists have found judges sympathetic to their cause and have beaten off the heretics (critics of Darwinism). When one takes a close look at these cases it becomes clear that the arguments and assertions used by Darwinists in these legal cases have followed a rather predictable pattern. Here’s a nutshell view:

1) evolution = science
2) all other theories on origins = religion
3) call on expert witnesses to support 1 and 2[19].
4) discredit critics of evolution (particularly by exposing their “religious” motivations)

Now despite all the growing critique of Darwinism made by Young Earth Creationists (YECs) as well as Intelligent Design (ID) proponents on the science side developing more sophisticated arguments and calling on an ever-growing accumulation of empirical data (from geology to computer science, palaeontology, physics, microscopy, astrophysics to genetics), in education the critics have run into a huge brick wall as the equations in points 1 and 2 have been used as a “lethal weapon” to deny both YECs and ID proponents any access to educational institutions, shielding Darwinism from almost all rational discussion and criticism. The message is clear: There can be no debate here. These are legal/philosophical issues on which both YECs and ID proponents have made very little headway up until now.

Now suppose one were to run with Ruse’s Dangerous Idea and clearly reject Darwinism’s scientific status[20] and, as a result, relegate it to the category of materialistic origins myth, what then? Should such an argument become more widely accepted, that the evolutionist’s “lethal weapon” legal argument (the two equations) is in fact invalid, this could lead to dramatic upheaval in education and call into question evolutionist’s ideological monopoly there. What if in science education, it was no longer considered acceptable to shut out non-materialistic views of origins? Or, looking at this from another angle, what if in science education all discussions regarding origins were simply excluded (or relegated to philosophy or religious classes)? What if science research funding organisations refused to fund any research on Evolution? Were evolution’s ideological monopoly in primary and high school in US education to fall apart, this would have inevitable repercussion higher up in the system. And as the comments by Wilkins and Skell above indicate, a number of scientists may in fact feel that deliberately excluding Darwinism from the education system and from science funding may not turn out to be a loss for science at all but actually be a benefit as this would divert scarce money back to real science.

Because in the US, there is a legal principle called the “separation of Church and State” which evolutionists have often exploited to exclude any critique of evolution out of the entire US education system. What if this principle came back to bite them? Were this issue to be taken to the Supreme Court and a ruling handed down branding Evolution as an origins myth, thus RELIGIOUS in nature (and NOT science) this could lead to not just completely defunding Evolution in all government-funded education in the US, but also defunding all evolution-related research... As a result, Evolution could NOT be legally taught in science classes in the US at all. Imagine that? Imagine Darwinists losing their moral high ground, no longer being able to accuse the critics of being “anti-science”? This would be a sea change in the debate. Imagine Evolutionists having no other recourse but going door-to-door, just like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, to make converts[21]?? But of course any hint of a serious court case of this sort would be immediately understood by Darwinists for the HUGE threat it would pose to their monopoly in education. Mainstream media would react predictably... Universities would react predictably... Mainstream science organisations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, would react predictably... There would an outcry. There would be protests. There would be warnings of the end of the world from academic pundits. All this emotion from Darwinian devotees is of course the natural outcome when a religion’s core beliefs are seriously questioned… The impeachment trial Donald Trump faced in 2019 would be a quiet tea party in comparison... But the situation in the US is unique and move in this direction is possible.

Putting Ruse’s (Darwinian) god into the test tube…
In chapter 9 of Darwinism as Religion as he chews his way through 19th and 20th century literature, Ruse examines the issue of a morality based on Darwinism. We are assured that it will all work out… Christians view moral law as something necessary in a Fallen World and that this law is a limitation on the evil that now lurks in the hearts of the fallen sons of Adam and the fallen daughters of Eve. The propensity to violence, to manipulation, oppression or to lie is found in all our hearts… Writing in the aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt mused on some of the violence and moral repercussions resulting from the domination of two belief systems derived from the Enlightenment, that is Nazism and Communism (1976: xxxii-xxxiii):

I shall briefly enumerate a few of the more striking points, which could only be guessed at before and which are now supported by documentary evidence. We always suspected, but we now know that the regime was never "monolithic" but "consciously constructed around overlapping, duplicating, and parallel functions," and that this grotesquely amorphous structure was kept together by the same Fuhrer-principle—the so-called "personality cult"—we find in Nazi Germany; that the executive branch of this particular government was not the party but the police, whose "operational activities were not regulated through party channels"; that the entirely innocent people whom the regime liquidated by the millions, the "objective enemies" in Bolshevik language, knew that they were "criminals without a crime"; that it was precisely this new category, as distinguished from the earlier true foes of the regime—assassins of government officials, arsonists, or bandits—that reacted with the same "complete passivity" we know so well from the behavior patterns of the victims of Nazi terror. There was never any doubt that the "flood of mutual denunciations" during the Great Purge was as disastrous for the economic and social well-being of the country as it was effective in strengthening the totalitarian ruler, but we know only now how deliberately Stalin set this "ominous chain of denunciations in motion," when he proclaimed officially on July 29, 1936: "The inalienable quality of every Bolshevik under present conditions should be the ability to recognize an enemy of the Party no matter how well he may be masked." (Italics added.) For just as Hitler's "Final Solution" actually meant to make the command "Thou shalt kill" binding for the elite of the Nazi party, Stalin's pronouncement prescribed: "Thou shalt bear false testimony," as a guiding rule for the conduct of all members of the Bolshevik party.

While it is unlikely that Arendt would explicitly link this behaviour to the Enlightenment, with the British literary critic George Steiner we nudge a little bit closer to making such a connection. Reflecting on 20th century disasters in his essay Grammars of Creation, Steiner (like Arendt, also Jewish) observed (2001: 4):

When, however, allowance is made for selective nostalgia and illusion, the truth persists: for the whole of Europe and Russia, this century became a time out of hell. Historians estimate at more than seventy million the number of men, women and children done to death by warfare, starvation, deportation, political murder and disease between August 1914 and 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans. There have been hideous visitations of pestilence, famine and slaughter before. The collapse of humaneness in the twentieth century has specific enigmas. It arises not from riders on the distant steppe or barbarians at the gates. National Socialism, Fascism, Stalinism (though, in this latter instance, more opaquely) spring from within the context, the locale, the administrative-social instruments of the high places of civilization, of education, of scientific progress and humanizing deployment, be it Christian or Enlightened. I do not want to enter into the vexed, in some manner demeaning, debates over the uniqueness of the Shoah ('holocaust' is a noble, technical Greek designation for religious sacrifice, not a name proper for controlled insanity and the 'wind out of blackness'). But it does look as if the Nazi extermination of European Jewry is a 'singularity', not so much in respect of scale — Stalinism killed far more — but motivation. Here a category of human persons, down to infancy, were proclaimed guilty of being. Their crime was existence, was the mere claim to life.[21a]

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, the zekNow the 20th century civilisation and elites Steiner describes here are clearly post-Christian, that is deeply influenced by the Enlightenment worldview[22] and Darwin’s materialistic origins myth. Can this plausibly be a coincidence? Are the events described above then not the natural/logical consequences of getting rid of the Creator and moral God of the Old Testament? After all, he is the One who said, “Thou shalt not kill”. Solzhenitsyn is one well-known escapee from Enlightenment influence. In his Templeton Prize address Solzhenitsyn mused about the origin of the huge catastrophe brought upon Russia by the Bolshevik Revolution (1983);

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

One thing strikes me about this comment. Solzhenitsyn had a background in mathematics and knew that if you eliminate a critical factor in an equation, then the end result will be radically different. So men did not "forget" God, rather they eliminated Him from the equation...  To some evolutionists, these issues are clear enough. Regarding the reception of Darwin’s Origin of Species Provine notes (1990: 23)

When Darwin deduced the theory of natural selection to explain the adaptations in which he had previously seen the handiwork of God, he knew that he was committing cultural murder. He understood immediately that if natural selection explained adaptations, and evolution by descent were true, then the argument from design was dead and all that went with it, namely the existence of a personal god, free will, life after death, immutable moral laws, and ultimate meaning in life. The immediate reactions to Darwin's On the Origin of Species exhibit, in addition to favorable and admiring responses from a relatively few scientists, an understandable fear and disgust that has never disappeared from Western culture.

Now why isn’t this clear to Ruse? One could get the impression that such matters are of no interest to him. The best he can do is serve up high-sounding nonsense platitudes such as (2017: 207) “Eliot shows how on her secular approach to morality, as with Christianity, there are failures but there can be successes too. People after Darwin continued to recognize sin but knew that it must be and could be dealt with”. But if Ruse’s objective is selling Darwinism to Christians[23], then his strategy of skimming over some of the repercussions of Darwinism makes sense... The renowned biologist and evolutionist Ernst Mayr was aware of the difficulty of basing morality on Darwinism and also indulged in the usual hand-waving and wishful thinking (1988: 89):

Evolution does not give us a complete codified set of ethical norms such as the Ten Commandments, yet an understanding of evolution gives us a worldview that can serve as a sound basis for the development of an ethical system that is appropriate for the maintenance of a healthy human society, and that also provides for the future of mankind in a world preserved by the guardianship of man.

That said, there’s no end to the stacksof of edifying books by Darwinian theologians attempting to develop a system of morality based on Darwin’s theory, but they all seem condemned to gather dust on university library shelves. Everyone involved seems to perfectly understand that such attempts have no influence on anyone’s life, go nowhere and are basically a waste of paper and ink. Now is the BioLogos god Ruse is attempting to sell to Christians of any use? How can one plausibly consider the BioLogos god a moral god in any sense of the term? Philosopher (and evolutionist) David Hull made the following remarks on the evolutionary process and its possible compatibility with a loving or moral God (1992: 486)

[The] process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death pain and horror. (...) the God implied by evolutionary theory and the data of natural history (...) is not a loving God who cares about His productions. He is (...) careless, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.

At best, one could say the BioLogos god is an incompetent god, who never gets it right the first time and spends his time blundering around his creation pretty much hopelessly and waiting for someone to come along and bail him out. This is Ruse’s Darwinian god. Regarding the possibility of deriving a plausible moral system from Darwinism, here is an original take. As a pre-Darwinian materialist, the Marquis de Sade considered that if the gods are dead, where do humans turn to for moral standards? His solution to this dilemma was simple and straightforward; imitate nature. Here is how he worked out the implications of his moral system in regards to relationships between men and women. (Sade 1795/1972: 112, my comments in brackets):

If it is undisputed that we [men] have received from nature the right to express our [sexual] desires indifferently to all women, it equally true that we have the right to require them to submit to our desires, not on an exclusive basis [Sade is thinking of marriage for life here], I should be contradicting myself, but on a temporary basis. It is undeniable that we have the right to establish laws requiring her [the woman] to submit to the passion of he who desires her. Violence is one of the implications of this right and we are entitled to use it legally. But why not !? Nature itself has proven that we have this right in that it has endowed us with superior strength with which we may submit them to our desires.[24]

This is a rather easy to understand argument. On the basis of his presuppositions, de Sade’s conclusion is entirely logical… That said, because of the serious marketing issues involved even some zealous evolutionists, such as Richard Dawkins have voiced reservations. In an interview with the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Dawkins spoke about the issue of applying an explicitly evolutionary morality (2000):

There have in the past been attempts to base a morality on evolution. I don't want to have anything to do with that. The kind of world that a Darwinian, going back to survival of the fittest now, and nature red in tooth and claw, I think nature really is red in tooth and claw. I think if you look out at the way wild nature is, out there in the bush, in the prairie, it is extremely ruthless, extremely unpleasant, it’s exactly the kind of world that I would not wish to live in. And so any kind of politics that is based upon Darwinism for me would be bad politics, it would be immoral. Putting it another way, I’m a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, when it comes to explaining the world, but I’m a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality and politics.

Interesting that Dawkins should claim that politics based upon Darwinism would be immoral. Why immoral? Where does Dawkins get this idea of morality? Why such moral scruples? This seems to be an ethical-rabbit-pulled-out-of-the-hat trick…Voilà!! Now you have morality. Don’t ask any questions. Keep moving people, nothing to see here… Keep your tin-foil hat on there. Have a nice day…

Happy landings Mr. Ruse.


Arendt, Hannah (1951/1976) The Origins of Totalitarianism. Harvest Book New York xliii-576 p.

Coyne, J.A., (2000) “Of Vice and Men: The Fairy Tales of Evolutionary Psychology,” pp. 27-33 a review of A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, New Republic, April 3.

Coyne. J.A. (2003) Of Vice and Men: A Case Study in Evolutionary Psychology. pp. 171-190 in Evolution, Gender, and Rape. Cheryl Brown Travis (ed.) Bradford/MIT Press 454 p.

Dennett, Daniel C. (1995) Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Simon & Schuster New York London 586 p.

Darwin, Charles (1887) Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (vols. I & II) [published by his son Francis Darwin] C. Reinwald Paris

Dawkins, Richard (2000) The Descent of Man (Episode 1: The Moral Animal) (a series of radio shows, broadcast in Jan. and February 2000 by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, produced by Tom Morton)

Gosselin, Paul (1986) Des catégories de religion et de science: essai d'épistémologie anthropologique. Samizdat

Gould, Stephen Jay (1981) Mismeasure of Man. WW Norton 400 p.

Hull, David L. (1992) The God of the Galapagos, Nature, pp. 485-486 August 8 vol. 352

Lewis, C. S. (1960/1987) The World's Last Night and other Essays. Harvest New York 113 p.

Mayr, Ernst (1982) The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance. Cambridge Mass, Harvard U.Press xiv-974 p.

Mayr, Ernst (1988) Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist. Harvard U. Press Cambridge MS 564 p.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1882/1924) The Joyful Wisdom [The Gay Science]. (trans. Thomas Common, P. V. Cohn & M. D. Petre) MacMillan New York (Volume X: Complete works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Levy ed.) 370 p.

Provine, William B. (1990) Reply to: Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism. First Things, November First Things no. 6 October

Provine, William B. (1994) Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy? A debate between William B. Provine and Phillip E. Johnson at Stanford University, April 30, 1994

Ruse, Micheal (1983) The Ideology of Darwinism. pp. 233-256 in Darwin Today: The 8th Kühlungsborn Colloquium on Philosophical and Ethical Problems of Biosciences. (Nov. 1981) Geissler, E., Scheler, W. Akademie Verlag Berlin

Ruse, Michael (1993) The New Antievolutionism (transcript by Paul A. Nelson of a presentation made at a seminar of the American Association for the Advancement of Science), Boston, February 13, 8 p.

Ruse, Michael (2000) How evolution became a religion: Darwinians wrongly mix science with morality, politics. National Post (Saturday, May 13)

Ruse, Michael (2002) Darwinism and Atheism: A marriage made in heaven?. pp. 137-153 In Science and the spiritual quest: new essays by leading scientists. W. Mark Richardson ed. Routledge London/ New York vii-264 p.

Ruse, Michael (2003) Is Evolution a Secular Religion? pp. 1523–1524 Science vol. 299, March

Ruse, Michael (2005) The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Harvard University Press Cambridge MA 336 p.

Ruse, Michael (2009). Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster. Beliefnet/The BioLogos Foundation

Ruse, Michael (2017) Darwinism as Religion: What Literature Tells Us about Evolution. Oxford University Press New York NY 312 p.

Sade, Marquis de; & Blanchot, Maurice (1795/1972) Français, encore un effort si vous voulez être républicains. (extrait de La Philosophie dans le boudoir”) précédé de L'inconvenance majeure. Jean-Jacques Pauvert Paris (collection Libertés nouvelles; 23) 163 p. (has been translated, Philosophy in the Bedroom)

Skell, Philip S. (2005) Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology. The Scientist August 29

Solzhenitsyn, Alexandr I. (1973) The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation. Volume I. Harper & Row New York 660 p.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexandr (1983) Templeton Prize address. London

Steiner, George (2001) Grammars of Creation. Faber & Faber New Haven & London 344 p.

Tungate, Mel (2005) Federal Court Decisions Involving Evolution and the First Amendment.

Wilkins, Adam S. (2000) Intro (issue on Evolutionary Processes) pp. 1051-1052 BioEssays vol. 22 no.12 December


[1] - In an article entitled The World's Last Night, originally published in 1951.

[2] - That is social and political thought which was deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking.

[3] - Ruse is too easily satisfied by a common-sense definition of “religion”, which suits his purposes as it is easily distinguished from Darwinism. Going beyond a superficial understanding of religion and looking at religion as simply a belief system (Gosselin 1986, ch. 1) will inevitably make things slightly messier

[4] - Which of course refers to Dennett’s book by the same name, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995).

[5] - Preface, page x.

[6] - It is disappointing to note that Ruse himself provides evidence flatly contradicting this picture of Charles Darwin on pages 10-11. Clearly the concept of evolution was well known in the Darwin family as Charles’ grandfather (doctor and Freemason) Erasmus had given much thought to the concept of evolution (generally discussed under the heading transformism) and written a two-volume treatise on the subject (Zoonomia 1794–1796) as well as poems.

[7] - Ruse of course is still stuck on the common-sense definition of religion, with a reference to the supernatural AND to divinities.

[8] - Thus mathematically trained Darwinists such as Ronald Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane in England, and Sewall Wright in America applying math to the concept of natural selection might be compared to learned medieval scholars passionately discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin…

[9] - And, to be blunt, probably about 90% of the articles in scientific journals using the words evolution or evolutionary as a password (and even more in pop science media) would fall into this category. This amounts to an Enlightenment dhimmi tax for access to science publications. Scientists refusing lip service to the dominant materialistic origins myth can eventually expect repercussions of some kind, especially if they make part of their living in teaching.

[10] - Case in point, take a look at Stalin’s 1936 speech excerpt provided by Hanna Arendt below.

[11] - S. J. Gould discusses this in the first chapter of Mismeasure of Man (1981). Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato took for granted that certain groups were inherently equipped to rule, others to be ruled. But as 16th and 17th century Europeans expanded their influence into Africa and the Americas, meeting unknown cultures and peoples, this concept of groups inherently equipped to rule naturally mutated into the race concept as we know it. Both concepts have the principle of heredity at the heart…

[12] - Once the concept of “Progress” had taken hold among Western elites, it was an easy/logical step to apply this to humans. This is what provided Enlightenment devotees with the concepts of superior/advanced races and inferior/less evolved races. Darwin himself had no qualms about unambiguously expressing and applying this ruthless logic to real-world social situations (Darwin 1887: II):

Lastly I could show fight [sic] on natural selection having done more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago, of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is? The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.

And Darwin’s worldview birthed the scientific racism that totally dominated the social sciences from the late 1800s to World War II. As a result the great majority of anthropologists (my field of study) and social scientists were evolutionists AND eugenicists (advocates of scientific racism), but that after the shock and horror of the Holocaust became widely known, they suddenly "forgot" about eugenics and all lined up to sign universal declarations of human rights. All men are brothers! Everyone knows that… Bunch of hypocrites... It would have been rather inconvenient had people begun to make the connection between evolution and the scientific/evolutionary racism that dominated the social sciences (VERY heavily influenced by Darwinism) before World War II.

[13] - Ruse clearly enjoys such tricks. Look at what he insinuates here (2003: 1523):

… Thomas Henry Huxley. In many respects, Huxley played to Darwin the role that Saint Paul played to Jesus, promoting the master's ideas. But just as Saint Paul rather molded Jesus' legacy to his own ends, so also Huxley molded Darwin's legacy.

Ah yes, Saint Paul moulded, diverted or perverted Christ’s teaching. This is what Ruse is telling us? But any Christian who knows his Bible knows Paul did no such thing. The Apostles would have nailed him for heresy had he done so, but rather than do this, they confirmed and endorsed his teaching: “even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you;  as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2Peter 3: 15-16). But perhaps Ruse is indulging in a bit of projection here? The lesson should be learned: Darwinists who have fallen out of favour are expendable… and will be disowned… So it is with T. H. Huxley and Herbert Spencer… They had their uses in the 19th century, but no more. They are now spoiled goods.

[14] - Individuals that Scripture bluntly describes as “holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away” (2 Tim. 3: 5)

[15] - Most evolutionists have never read The Origin and would admit (when pressed) that they consider much of it outdated.

[16] - So long as you are careful to exclude a God that actually cares about people and one to whom one would actually have to give an accounting to. Other than that, vague god-talk is fine and perfectly acceptable.

[17] - The flip side of this line is (inevitably) the “Hitler was a good Christian” line, which has gotten much mileage, deflecting serious criticism away from the Darwinian origins myth and onto its adversaries.

[18] - Except any coherent form of Christianity…

[19] - Ruse has in fact been called to testify in such cases.

Galapagos finches[20] - The full argument for this claim appears in my Flight From the Absolute, volume 2, which offers detailed evidence drawn from both social anthropology and the philosophy of science demonstrating that these equations are in fact bogus and that while Darwinism does involve some empirical evidence, it serves a PRIMARILY religious, not scientific, function. Evolution then should more properly be considered an origins myth, a materialistic myth of course, but myth nonetheless... The best empirical evidence offered by Darwinists are cases such as beak variations in Galapagos Finches or Richard E. Lenski’s nylon or citrate eating bacteria which evolutionists VERY quickly offer up and then proclaim “Evolution!” as soon as they see some variation in organisms, deliberately ignoring the more serious question about the actual mechanisms making the observed variations possible. Clearly they are only interested in scoring ideological points to market their origins myth…. Thus the best empirical evidence Darwinists have is actually irrelevant to the core claim made by Darwinism. The core claim made by Darwinism being that ALL of life comes from minerals, the non-living element, solely by means of physical and chemical laws. This is the central Darwinian superstition. Yet there is no direct empirical evidence for this specific core claim (and Pasteur’s experiments flatly contradict it) and if one rejects this core claim on this basis, then all Darwinists can legitimately offer on empirical grounds is “Galapagos finch beaks vary, speckled moth colourings vary and bacterial food intake varies.” Mind-boggling and universe-shattering are the implications… Not so much…

[21] - As opposed to using taxpayer’s own money to ram their materialistic origins myth down the throat of the general population…

[21a] - There is a rather good chance Steiner was inspired by Hannah Arendt here as, in The Origins of Totalitarianism Arendt makes these comments (1976: 302)

Deadly danger to any civilization is no longer likely to come from without. Nature has been mastered and no barbarians threaten to destroy what they cannot understand, as the Mongolians threatened Europe for centuries. Even the emergence of totalitarian governments is a phenomenon within, not outside, our civilization. The danger is that a global, universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages.84

[22] - Though Steiner adroitly shifts the blame a bit, alluding to “administrative-social instruments […] be it Christian”… But as Ruse points out (p. 68), even in the 19th century, their were cases of high ranking Anglican clergy, such as Charles Kingsley, who were already under Enlightenement influence and quickly bought into Darwinism as soon as it began to gain traction.

[23] - And it is. Ruse has made this clear in a 2009 article on where he stated regarding the contributions of the New Atheists to the battle between Darwinists and Darwin critics (Creationists and ID proponents)

I think that the new atheists are doing terrible political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting. Americans are religious people. You may not like this fact. But they are. Not all are fanatics. Survey after survey shows that most American Christians (and Jews and others) fall in the middle on social issues like abortion and gay marriage as well as on science. They want to be science-friendly, although it is certainly true that many have been seduced by the Creationists. We evolutionists have got to speak to these people. We have got to show them that Darwinism is their friend not their enemy. We have got to get them onside when it comes to science in the classroom. And criticizing good men like Francis Collins, accusing them of fanaticism, is just not going to do the job. Nor is criticizing everyone, like me, who wants to build a bridge to believers – not accepting the beliefs, but willing to respect someone who does have them. (…) Likewise I engage with believers – I don’t accept their beliefs but I respect their right to have them.

Basically Ruse feels the New Atheists make the issues too clear… He agrees with their objectives, but not their methods... As Lenin is said to have observed, “useful idiots” still have their uses… You know what Mr. Ruse? I think most Christians would prefer an honest New Atheist opponent to a postmodern friend like you…

[24] - Translation PG.