Tom Woodward is a professor of religious studies at the Trinity College in Florida. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the president of the C. S. Lewis Fellowship, dedicated to evangelizing students and professors and equipping Christians to deal with scientific and historical apologetics and current issues.
"Wait a minute!" called the moderator, trying to take back the podium from the speaker at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Still looking at the audience, the speaker, Professor Michael Ruse, wryly commented, "Before you start applauding, she's going to cut off all of my buttons, and drum me out of the society!"
Indeed, this renowned philosopher of science had stunned his listeners at the 1993 annual AAAS meeting in Boston by announcing that he had recently come to view evolution as ultimately based on several unproven philosophical assumptions.
Ruse, a professor of zoology and philosophy of science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, was a key speaker at a seminar convened to debunk "The New Creationism." Ruse had specifically been asked to "refute Phillip Johnson's book, Darwin on Trial." (Intervarsity Press, 1991.) Instead, he shocked his colleagues by endorsing one of its key points: that Darwinian doctrines are ultimately based as much on "philosophical assumptions" as on scientific evidence.
Dr. Michael Ruse (left) and Dr. Phillip Johnson (right) presented the two primary positions for the Dallas symposium in 1992.
Assuring his audience, "I'm no less of an evolutionist now than I ever was," Ruse nevertheless explained that he had given fresh consideration to Johnson's thesis that Ruse himself, as "an evolutionist, is metaphysically based at some level just as much as . . . some creationist. . . . I must confess, in the ten years since I . . . appeared in the Creationism Trial in Arkansas . . . I've been coming to this kind of position myself."
Ruse was referring to McLean v. Arkansas, in which Federal Judge William Overton ruled that Arkansas' "Balanced Treatment Act" was unconstitutional. At the trial, Ruse had testified that creation-science is not science at all. Invoking the fact/faith dichotomy, Ruse claimed that Darwinism was scientific because establishing its validity required no philosophical assumptions. All other views, he claimed, required such assumptions and were therefore unscientific. His testimony became the centerpiece of Judge Overton's ruling.
Ruse told the AAAS audience one reason he's reconsidered his position was meeting Phillip Johnson face to face and participating in a 1992 symposium on Darwinism at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. At this symposium, co-sponsored by Christian Leadership Ministries' SMU chapter, the C.S. Lewis Fellowship of Clear-water, Florida, and the Foundation for Thought and Ethics in Dallas, an exciting encounter took place between five Darwinists and five intelligent design advocates, including Johnson.
Although rigorous and candid, the symposium received high acclaim from all for its spirit of good will. One Darwinist participant said, "I feel that the meeting was conducted on a high scientific level, and that it was a useful and informative experience." [Ed.'s Note: published proceedings are available.]
Referring to intelligent design advocates, Ruse explained, "I find it a lot easier to hate them in print than I do in person, and in fact I found Phillip Johnson to be a very congenial person, with a fund of very funny stories about Supreme Court justices, some of which may even be true, unlike his scientific claims."
Ruse justified his change of heart by tracing a succession of leading Darwinist thinkers, including T. H. and Julian Huxley, who had viewed evolution as "something akin to a secular religion." At the end of his talk, Ruse opened the meeting for questions. Greeted by a moment of stunned silence, he leaned toward the microphone and asked, "State of shock?"
So how much damage has been done to the teaching of evolution as undisputed scientific fact since Ruse's concession? Dr. Arthur Shapiro, a zoologist at the University of California at Davis and a fellow symposium participant, published an account of the meeting in the anti-creationist NCSE Reports titled "Did Michael Ruse Give Away the Store?" Many Darwinists fear he did. But others believe Ruse should be commended for his courage, and given back his buttons.
The C.S. Lewis Fellowship is dedicated to evangelizing students and professors and equipping Christians to deal with scientific and historical apologetics and current issues. For more information, write P.O. Box 9000, Holiday, FL 34690-9000; (813) 799-5413.
Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? (Richardson, TX: Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 1994) The proceedings of the symposium on Darwinism in March 1992, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Hardcover, 227 pages, including an 11-page index.
Price: $37.50, plus $3.50 postage and handling (discounts available for two or more books). Mastercard and Visa accepted. Not available in bookstores. To order, call or write: Foundation for Thought and Ethics, P.O. Box 830721, Richardson, TX 75083-0721, Attention: Dean Anderson, Dir. of Marketing; phone (214) 661-1661.