September 2005

Sarah Statz

nonfiction

The Evolution-Creation Struggle by Michael Ruse

In a debate that has become highly personal and ever more politicized, philosophy of science professor Michael Ruse should be praised for breaking out his “I am a very publicly committed evolutionist, an ardent Darwinian, and for three decades now I have been fighting creationists…” disclaimer on page two of his new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle. It’s refreshing, to say the least.

That said, he promptly commences on a historical and intellectual tour of the history of both the facts and theories of evolution and “evolutionism” (all very different things, he argues), and draws parallels between their development and the growth of “creationism” as a doctrine. Although the press material from Harvard University Press shouts in headline text, “Surprising Similarities between Evolutionist and Creationist Thinking,” to be more accurate, it should refer to their surprising shared infancy and coming of age.

There is no doubt that this is a comprehensive, well-researched, and fairly readable text about the history of evolutionary and creationist thought, which examines both the key players in the historical debate and their theories and beliefs. Ruse is, after all, an acknowledged expert in the history of science and philosophy and has written many books similar to this one (Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? and The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debates among them). Starting with the Reformation and, later, the Enlightenment, he examines how the cultural idea of progress espoused by thinkers and scientists in the eighteenth century eventually became intertwined with an adherence to Darwinism and evolutionary theory. Likewise, he examines how religious institutions and writers responded to those theories and progressive beliefs by indulging ever more faithfully in “literal” readings of Genesis and the creation story. The paradox that Ruse seeks to dissect is that the concurrent development of each school of thought inevitably led to their ever more opposed (and more fervently espoused) viewpoints.

On its own merit, Ruse’s discussion of how the debate is a fight between siblings, who are “defining themselves against each other” (as he stated in a recent interview at Salon.com) seems valid, but not at all as shocking as one gets the feeling Ruse is trying to make it seem. Of course they define themselves against each other. Anybody watching the news lately will get the feeling that’s part of the fun for the debaters. One of his other main tenets, that avowed atheists and evolutionary biologists and theorists like Richard Dawkins have made science their own religion, and have therefore weakened their arguments against others’ religious faiths (and creationism beliefs), seems similarly viable but not all that groundbreaking.

As a straight history of science Ruse’s book works. As a plea for evolutionists and creationists (as well as intelligent design proponents, whom he also discusses) to find common ground, I’m not sure he’ll reach either audience. More so than re-reading this book or recommending it, I wish I could loiter around Amazon.com and somehow interview people who purchase it. Although it seems timed and titled to capitalize on the current debates on the topic, I can’t imagine that many engaged in the fight on either side will find much to interest them here (unless Intelligent Designers want to read it and get fired up to defend their position, which Ruse treats with barely concealed contempt). I wonder about the book’s audience primarily because I thought I would be fairly representative of its members -- a Catholic who is ready to agree with Ruse that one can be a Christian and still believe in some form of evolutionary development and history -- and I found very little here that got or held my attention.

Ruse is a skillful writer, but more so when not trying to play interpreter or moderator. I’d highly recommend finding a copy of his earlier work, The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debates, which is less provocatively titled but more substantive. It also provides more helpful information and resources on the subject, and fewer of Ruse’s not-so-subtle suggestions for how evolutionists might consider learning just enough about creationists to be better able to eventually crush them.

The Evolution-Creation Struggle by Michael Ruse
Harvard University Press
ISBN: 0674016874
327 pages