All posts by Michael Ruse


Why Isn’t Evolutionary Medicine More Popular Than It Is?

You have got a fever, your body aches, and you feel dreadful. What should you do? The traditional answer is: “Take two aspirin, drink lots of fluids, get to bed and call me in the morning if you don’t feel better.” Could it be that this is just the wrong advice? That the last thing you should do is reduce your temperature with aspirin or ibuprofen or whatever? Is it, to use a phrase, nature’s way of fighting illness?

This is very much the position of a small group of biologists and medics who ar…


Should Atheists Reach Out to Christians?

Expectedly, my argument last week that the randomness of Darwinian evolution poses a major but not necessarily insuperable problem for the Christian has brought down on my head the wrath and contempt of the New Atheists. (The junior ones at least. The senior ones, like Aristotle’s unmoved movers, are so busy contemplating their own perfection, that they have no thoughts for chaps like me.)

Loveable, predictable Jerry Coyne is “baffled” by my constantly trying to find ways of reconciling science …


Does Darwinian Randomness Make Christianity Impossible?

Over on his blog, Why Evolution is True, the eminent Chicago evolutionist Jerry Coyne has taken on the role of my doppelgänger, since we agree 90 percent of the time and then 10 percent of the time find ourselves in completely different positions. Although perhaps I am his doppelgänger and exist only as a function of his imagination or psychic aura.

Putting such fascinating Germanic speculations aside, a couple of days ago Coyne raised a point about the science-religion relationship that has lon…


Penn State in Moral Context

Like everyone else, as the sordid Penn State story becomes more and more detailed, I have been more and more depressed and appalled. How could these men have so completely turned their backs on the gross mistreatment of young children? How could people in authority, people who made so much of their personal integrity, have so disregarded the most basic rules of morality? How could Joe Paterno of all people done what he did, for it seems now that there were sins of commission, active covering up,…


My Daughter Ate the Dog!

Actually, that is not quite true. She did not eat the family dog, or rather family dogs – for I confess that we have five dogs. It sounds as if Lizzie and I suffer from empty-nest syndrome. That is not true. We love our children to death, but we do very much enjoy loving them from a distance. It is rather that the number just grew. Anyway, I am glad to say that the Cairn Terriers – Toby, Grover, and Gabby – and the pound specials – Cricket and Weasely (I wanted to call her Shreeky after …


Cautionary Tales for Children

There are some things in life that give unalloyed, uncomplicated pleasure, year after year. For me, this group includes Pickwick Papers by Dickens, Don Pasquale by Donizetti, and fried haddock and chips (with lots of salt and vinegar). Make your own list if you will, because it is not a competition. But don’t try to impress just for the sake of it. I get huge pleasure from Descartes’ Meditations and every day of my life from my relationship with Lizzie, but I wouldn’t describe either as exactl…


Obamacare–Freedom vs. Equality

It was about 10:30 on Thursday morning that I realized how very tense I had been over Obamacare and the real possibility that it would be struck down by the Supreme Court. Now, thank God, we can move forward, knowing that even if the worst happens this fall, it is going to be very difficult to dismantle some of the key provisions of the act. Who, for instance, really wants to stop kids under 26 from staying on their parents’ insurance?

Obviously the Administration has done a lousy job on selling…


Forbidden Knowledge?

A piece in The New York Times raises a dilemma about which I have been thinking much recently. Is some knowledge too dangerous to be released? Is some knowledge so dangerous that people (usually scientists) should not even be allowed to pursue it?

We philosophers are pretty good at thinking up examples that muddy the waters. Suppose you have a friend who is suicidal and he asks you if you have twenty bucks he could borrow and do you know the address of the nearest store where he could buy a larg…


Shedding a Tear for Lonesome George

Lonesome George has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. A 200-pound tortoise, he died on Sunday at about the age (or so it is believed) of 100. He was the last known specimen of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni.

Discovered in 1971, George came from the Galapagos Island of Pinta. The major reason why so many species and subspecies of Galapagos tortoises are no more is human devastation. Whalers would put in at the archipelago and carry aboard literally hundreds of the animals, keeping them aliv…


Are the New Atheists Responsible for the Creationist Menace?

Robert Wright, the well-known journalist and author, has just suggested that the so-called New Atheists – people like Richard Dawkins who sneer and laugh at religion, thinking it a great evil and that science, Darwin’s theory of evolution in particular, shows the way forward – are if anything exacerbating the tension in the U.S. between those who accept evolution and those (“Creationists”) who accept some literal form of the Genesis story of origins.

He writes: “A few decades ago, Darwinians a…


What Should I Do With My Life?

A week or two back, David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, talked about an online forum where students from so-called “elite universities” discussed their futures. He wrote:

The student discussion was smart, civil and illuminating. But I was struck by the unspoken assumptions. Many of these students seem to have a blinkered view of their options. There’s crass but affluent investment banking. There’s the poor but noble nonprofit world. And then there is the world of…



On my recent trip to Africa, dashing from one plane to another at Heathrow Airport – in my opinion equaled only in its awfulness by the airport in New Jersey – I stopped at a bookshop to grab some reading for the journey. Hurried, I went for a safe choice, Robert Harris’s Fatherland, now celebrating its 20th year since publication. I had read it a long time ago and remembered it sufficiently to know that I liked it a lot and did not remember it sufficiently to anticipate every turn of the plot. …


Kenya’s Population Growth

Ruse with grad-student pal in Kenya

I was at supper the other day, chatting with my neighbor, a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Cambridge. As happens in these sorts of conversations, I asked him if he had any brothers or sisters. “Thirty,” he replied. “Goodness,” I said, “think of your poor mother.” “Oh,” he replied, “my father has four wives.” I was talking to a young Kenyan, on my recent trip to East Africa.

Now speaking as someone who has had two wives and who has five k…


Jubilee Joys

(Photo at The Sun. Click to see page of origin.)

According to one of my favorite supermarket tabloids, the marriage of Charles and Camilla is on the rocks. Apparently she can no longer handle his goofy ways, especially the speaking to plants. One gathers that dishes have been thrown. We have certainly come a long way from the halcyon days when Charles’s only desire was to be a certain intimate piece of feminine necessity, inserted appropriately.

One has to say, however, that yesterday (Sunday) o…


Richard Leakey–a Truly Great Man

The author, left, with Richard Leakey

I have just come back from a week in Kenya.  I was there to participate in a workshop on human evolution, invited by the organizer Rob Foley (a biological anthropologist at Cambridge) and his wife, Marta Lahr (also a biological anthropologist at Cambridge).  The welcome came primarily on the strength of a recent book I have published on philosophical questions around human evolution, but (to be totally candid) I was fortunate indeed to be included in such a …


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— “excellenc…


Evolution: It’s All About Us!

Mating ritual?

If David Barash’s series on the female orgasm showed anything, it is that when it comes to evolution it is human beings on people’s agendas. It always was this way. Charles Darwin’s paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was an 18th-century evolutionist and he made it clear that it is Homo sapiens that counts.

Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,
Of language, reason, and reflection proud,
With brow erect who scorns this earthy sod,
And styles himself the image of his God;


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: 1925-2012

I never saw or heard Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in person, but he–along with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf – has been part of my life since I was a teenager. First on LP’s, then on tape, and more recently on CDs. He was born too young to be a real part of the Nazi shame; she unfortunately was seriously compromised. But as interpreters and performers of German vocal music, they were and are beyond compare. Above all the lieder and above all lieder the lieder of Schubert. I write with tears in my eyes as I …


Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

NASA photo via Flickr/CC

My good friend Elliott Sober, perhaps today’s leading philosopher of science, is being roughed up by the New Atheists. Recently in a book, Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?, and then in a lecture that he gave at the University of Chicago, Elliott argued that if mutations are guided by God down at the quantum level, science cannot lay a finger on this claim. I should say that I don’t think that Elliott thinks that this claim is true and also that it is not original…


Gay Marriage Is a Generational Issue

Some years after I first came to Canada in 1962, the country changed from using the Imperial system of measures – pounds, gallons, miles – to the metric system – grams, liters, and kilometers.  As you can imagine, there was lots of grumbling from older people, with one or two garages defying the law and refusing to change. Then, some years later, with a new party in power, a move was made to switch back to the Imperial system.

It couldn’t be done.  No one under 20 had the slightest idea what …