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The two-volume Cambridge History of Atheism offers an authoritative and up to date account of a subject of contemporary interest. Comprised of sixty essays by an international team of scholars, this History is comprehensive in scope. The essays are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including religious studies, philosophy, sociology, and classics. Offering a global overview of the subject, from antiquity to the present, the volumes examine the phenomenon of unbelief in the context of Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish societies. They explore atheism and the early modern Scientific Revolution, as well as the development of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and its continuing implications. The History also includes general survey essays on the impact of scepticism, agnosticism and atheism, as well as contemporary assessments of thinking. Providing essential information on the nature and history of atheism, The Cambridge History of Atheism will be indispensable for both scholarship and teaching, at all levels.
Why do we think ourselves superior to all other animals? Are we right to think so? In this book, Michael Ruse explores these questions in religion, science and philosophy. Some people think that the world is an organism - and that humans, as its highest part, have a natural value (this view appeals particularly to people of religion). Others think that the world is a machine - and that we therefore have responsibility for making our own value judgements (including judgements about ourselves). Ruse provides a compelling analysis of these two rival views and the age-old conflict between them. In a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion, he draws on Darwinism and existentialism to argue that only the view that the world is a machine does justice to our humanity. This new series offers short and personal perspectives by expert thinkers on topics that we all encounter in our everyday lives.
This Element is a philosophical history of Social Darwinism. It begins by discussing the meaning of the term, moving then to its origins, paying particular attention to whether it is Charles Darwin or Herbert Spencer who is the true father of the idea. It gives an exposition of early thinking on the subject, covering Darwin and Spencer themselves and then on to Social Darwinism as found in American thought, with special emphasis on Andrew Carnegie, and Germany with special emphasis on Friedrich von Bernhardi. Attention is also paid to outliers, notably the Englishman Alfred Russel Wallace, the Russian Peter Kropotkin, and the German Friedrich Nietzsche. From here we move into the twentieth century looking at Adolf Hitler - hardly a regular Social Darwinian given he did not believe in evolution - and in the Anglophone world, Julian Huxley and Edward O. Wilson, who reflected the concerns of their society.
What is faith? Is it just a matter of propositions, claims, such as “God is love”? Or is it more a matter of commitment, perhaps not fully articulated, of having a background awareness of God and his love? And what is the position of faith for the Christian? Is faith alone enough, or does one need to supplement it with reasoned argument and possibly appeal to outside evidence? The New Atheists argue that Christianity fails because it rests on faith, and, today, we see that reason and evidence, most notably science and its confirmed theories, negate faith claims. Faith therefore is seen as delusional, a function of the fact that people are scared of death and the apparent meaninglessness of their lives. Ruse and Davies raise and argue these questions, coming to very different conclusions.
The authors run through the major arguments for the existence of God: Anselm’s ontological argument (and also Descartes’s version), arguing that the very notion of God a priori proves hs existence; Aquinas’s cosmological (or causal) argument, that God is needed to stop an infinite regression of causes from the present to the past; and the teleological argument or the argument from design, that the design-like natural objects of this world demand a designer. Then they raise the standard objections: Gaunilo’s criticism that the ontological argument proves the existence of perfect islands, which is ridiculous, and Kant’s objection that you cannot infer matters of fact by a priori reasoning; Dawkins’s criticism that the cosmological argument raises the unanswered question of what causes God; and Hume’s criticism of the design argument, and Darwin’s subsequent demonstration that natural selection can explain final causes naturalistically, and so there is no need to invoke a Designer God.
Why do we disagree? Ultimately, it comes down to faith. The Christianity Ruse is rejecting is the Christianity of Kierkegaard. Faith demands a leap into the absurd. Reason and evidence backing up the faith commitment would render it inauthentic. Believe without seeing the scars! Hence, for Ruse, given that he thinks this the only authentic Christianity, all attempts to make sense of Christianity are pointless. You are trying to square the circle. Davies is a committed Christian, a Roman Catholic philosopher, and theologian. For him, faith and reason do not clash; they are complementary. Hence, for Davies it is legitimate – demanded – that he bring reason to bear on his faith beliefs, for instance, concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation. In the end, although there is sympathy for the beliefs of the other and much respect, Michael Ruse and Brian Davies are on different tracks, and they do not run in parallel.
The tensions between our two authors start to rise. Ruse dismisses natural theology and proofs for the existence of God. Faith or nothing, and that means nothing because faith does not work. Davies responds by pointing out that there is biblical evidence for natural theology, and turns to Aquinas for guidance. The saint agrees that faith trumps reason and is enough alone for Christian belief, but argues also that reason, natural theology, has its place. It can supplement and back up the commitments through faith. There is therefore no conflict between reason and faith. Both have their role. In any case, argues Davies, scientists make faith commitments, having to start somewhere without prior proof, so in the end science is in the same business as religion. Ruse responds that the commitments of science and the commitments of religion are entirely different. The Christian cannot end the case by using this line of argument.
This chapter deals with arguments against the existence of God, at least a God as is supposed by Christianity – Creator, omnipotent and omniscient, all-loving especially toward his special creation, humankind. Ruse thinks that the arguments are effective. Above all, he cannot reconcile the Christian God with the problem of evil. He sees that human free will, including the power to do great evil, can in some sensed be reconciled with the Creator. He sees also that natural evil can likewise be reconciled with the Creator. He just cannot see that the Creator, knowing it was going to happen, let it happen. The suffering of small children cannot ever be reconciled with the end, no matter how good. Davies, taking a position much influenced by the great theologians, especially Aquinas, thinks that people like Ruse have an altogether mistaken understanding of God and his nature. The Bible is far from portraying God as the friendly chap in the sky, as supposed by Ruse. And theology backs up this realization by showing that, properly understood, we can speak of God as all-powerful and all-loving.
The two authors come apart here, not simply because Ruse is a nonbeliever and Davies a practicing Christian. Ruse was raised a Quaker and so, thinking theologically, he thinks in a Quaker context. More than anything he is accepting (or he would be if he were still a believer) of apophatic theology. One cannot say what God is but rather what He is not. How one works out the details of the Trinity are not that important. One is committed to the Trinity on faith, and for the rest – “now we see through a glass darkly.” For Davies, by contrast, theology is grounded in the thinking of the great theologians. He believes one can make progress on understanding the Trinity. Here is where the clash comes, not so much because Ruse is a nonbeliever, but because his theology tells him that all such attempts as those of Davies are bound to fail. 1 + 1 + 1 ≠ 1.
Morality is about right and wrong. There is the question of what we should do, substantive ethics, and the question of why we should do what we do, metaethics. There is little if any real difference between Ruse and Davies at the substantive level. At the metaethical level, Ruse takes a subjective view and Davies an objective view, but in important respects there is shared belief. Both ground morality in human nature. Right and wrong at the substantive level is a matter of who and what we are. Kindness to children is a good thing, because that is natural for humans. Hate of the disabled is wrong, because that is unnatural. But whereas Ruse grounds human nature in Darwinian evolutionary theory, and believes that there is no extra appeal to authority, and so is subjective, Davies grounds human nature in God’s loving creation, and hence in this sense is objective. An action is good is because God made us that way, and to do the right thing is to do the (God-created) natural thing.
Is debate on issues related to faith and reason still possible when dialogue between believers and non-believers has collapsed? Taking God Seriously not only proves that it is possible, but also demonstrates that such dialogue produces fruitful results. Here, Brian Davies, a Dominican priest and leading scholar of Thomas Aquinas, and Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science and well-known non-believer, offer an extended discussion on the nature and plausibility of belief in God and Christianity. They explore key topics in the study of religion, notably the nature of faith, the place of reason in discussions about religion, proofs for the existence of God, the problem of evil, and the problem of multiple competing religious systems, as well as the core concepts of Christian belief including the Trinity and the justification of morality. Written in a jargon-free manner, avoiding the extremes of evangelical literalism and New Atheism prejudice, Taking God Seriously does not compromise integrity or shy from discussing important or difficult issues.
Modern-day Creationism, taking the Bible literally, lays claim to being the truly authentic Christianity dating back to the Gospels. But while it is true that there have always been those inclined to read scripture more literally than others, from the first there have been interpretations and more, taking one away from the actual words of the text. St. Augustine, the most influential figure in Western Christianity, was clear on this. The Bible is inspired, the Word of God. God, however, knew that He could not always talk literally. The ancient Jews were not sophisticated, fourth-century Romans and would have had little understanding if, say, rainbows were described in scientific terms. Metaphor or allegory was essential (Augustine 1982).
In this Element, Michael Ruse offers a critical analysis of contemporary atheism. He puts special emphasis on the work of so-called 'New Atheists': Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchins, whose views are contrasted with those of Edward O. Wilson. Ruse also provides a full exposition of his own position, which he labels 'Darwinian Existentialism'.