Things that we do, despite the possibility
of Darwin-inspired moral nihilism: Play backgammon.
Eat good meals. Drink with friends. Commit
adultery (maybe) Dig our gardens.
We all have strong moral beliefs and make
confident moral judgments. Terrorists are
evil; discrimination is wrong. But where
do these beliefs come from? One answer is
that there are moral facts out there in the
world waiting to be discovered, and rational
creatures like us are capable of discovering
them. Another is that these moral beliefs
are part of a specific human psychology that
has developed during the course of evolutionary
history. According to this view, the urge
to help thy neighbor is a result of the same
evolutionary process that produced the urge
to sleep with thy neighbor's wife. Both urges
are adaptations, like the human eye or the
opposable thumb, and have evolved because
they conferred higher fitness on the organisms
that possessed them.
For more than thirty years, the philosopher
Michael Ruse has championed this latter view.
His 1986 book Taking Darwin Seriously is a full-length defense of the position
that the theory of natural selection has
a lot to tell us about our moral lives. Since
then, Dr. Ruse-professor of philosophy at
Florida State University and an absurdly
prolific author-has written numerous books
and articles clarifying and expanding his
purely naturalistic approach to morality,
religion, and epistemology. His most recent
book is called Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a
Ruse and other like-minded theorists have
generated excitement with their views and
a fair amount of controversy as well. Criticism
of evolutionary ethics is a bipartisan affair.
From the left come attacks from a large and
vocal contingent of academics, who range
from being baffled to being appalled by the
claim that human nature is not entirely a
social construction. (The great evolutionary
biologist and entomologist E. O. Wilson-coauthor
of a number of articles with Ruse-was known
to certain university activists as "the
prophet of the right-wing patriarchy."
During the course of one of Wilson's lectures,
a group that called itself "Science
For the People" dumped a bucket of ice
water on his head and then chanted "You're
all wet.") On the right, there are the
hard-line moral realists engaged in their
search for "moral clarity." To
them, Darwinism introduces an element of
subjectivity that threatens to undermine
the certainty they bring to ethical affairs.
And of course there are the religious fundamentalists,
who object not only to a Darwinian approach
to ethics but to the truth of evolutionary
theory itself. Ruse got a taste of this brand
of anti-Darwinian sentiment during his involvement
in the infamous Arkansas creation trial.
I began our interview-which took place over
email and over the phone-by asking about
In 1981 the state of Arkansas passed a law
requiring science teachers who taught evolution
to give equal time to something called "creation
science." The ACLU sued the state, and
you served as one of their expert witnesses.
First of all, what exactly is creation science?
MICHAEL RUSE: Well, it's a form of American
fundamentalism and biblical literalism. It's
the belief that the Bible, particularly the
early chapters of Genesis, are a reliable
guide to history, including life history.
Creationism itself is not a new phenomenon-it
goes back certainly to the nineteenth century.
The basic tenets are: the world is 6,000
years old, there was a miraculous creation,
a universal flood, that sort of thing. Creation
science as such is a phenomenon of the 1960s
and seventies; it was polished up in order
to get around the U. S. Constitution's separation
of church and state. And that's why they
call it creation science. Because they want
to claim scientifically that Genesis can
The Believer: What role did the ACLU want
you to play in overturning the law?
MICHAEL RUSE: I was one of the expert witnesses
called to testify against the law. Technically
speaking, they were just trying to show that
creation science is not science. So my job
as a philosopher was to testify as to the
nature of science and the nature of religion,
and show that evolution is science, and creation
science is religion.
The Believer: And so because of that, it
did not deserve equal time in the classroom.
MICHAEL RUSE: It's not a question of what
it deserves. The Constitution forbids the
teaching of religion in publicly funded schools
The Believer: In your book But Is It Science?,
you describe the trial, and you talk about
the deposition you gave to the assistant
attorney general of Arkansas, David Williams-it
sounded like quite a grilling. At one point
he asks you how you regard morality. You
respond, "I intuit moral values as objective
realities." Fortunately, you say, Williams
didn't ask what you meant by that. But since
it's relevant to the topic of this interview,
what did you mean exactly?
I'm not sure, really. I don't think of that
as accurate, exactly, as to what my position
really is. I think if you look at books that
I wrote, like Sociobiology: Sense and Nonsense,
I certainly didn't think that morality could
be reduced to evolutionary biology, in those
days. I'm not sure if I've changed my mind,
or come to a fuller understanding of the
issue. I think I would still say-part of
my position on morality is very much that
we regard morality in some sense as being
objective, even if it isn't. So the claim
that we intuit morality as objective reality-I
would still say that. Of course, what I would
want to add is that from the fact that we
do this, it doesn't follow that morality
really is objective.
The Believer: I like your account of the
"hospitality room" the afternoon
before the trial. It was you, a bunch of
religion witnesses, and an open bar. But
they were witnesses for the ACLU, right?
MICHAEL RUSE: Yes, they were there to testify
that it certainly isn't traditional religion
to be forced to accept a literal reading
of the Bible. Bruce Vawter, a Catholic priest,
pointed out that if you go back to St. Augustine
and earlier, they've all argued that one
should be able to interpret the Bible metaphorically
if science and the facts dictate otherwise,
and so it follows that the Bible taken literally
isn't necessarily true. The theologian Langdon
Gilky was arguing this, too, but from a contemporary
theological perspective. Most theologians
today, he said, do not believe in an absolutely
literal interpretation of the Bible. And
there was also George Marsden, an eminent
historian who talked about the development
of the fundamentalist movement and how it
came into being. And again, trying to show
very much that this is not traditional Christianity,
but rather an indigenous form of American
The Believer: But you say that the lawyers
for the ACLU may have made a mistake in having
an open bar right before the rehearsal.
MICHAEL RUSE: Well, I think they were worried
that we'd all be sloshed or hung over before
the actual trial. I mean, open bar. Well,
we may have had a few gins, but it wasn't
The Believer: Fraternity party.
MICHAEL RUSE: Or even a meeting of the APA.
The Believer: So the rehearsal suffered a
little, but then in court the testimony went
MICHAEL RUSE: It did.
The Believer: And the judge used a couple
of your points in his decision against the
state of Arkansas.
MICHAEL RUSE: Not just a couple of my points.
If you look at the judge's decision in But
Is It Science?, his five or six criteria
for what counts as science are taken precisely
from my testimony. And you know, I'm not
showing off-but that's what he did. And in
fact, this is what got people like Larry
Laudan2 hot under the collar.
The Believer: There were some other well-known
expert witnesses, too. Francisco Ayala, Stephen
Jay Gould. In your book, you write a nice
passage about them. You say "to hear
Ayala talking lovingly of his fruit flies
and Gould of his fossils was to realize so
vividly that it is those who deny evolution
who are anti-God, not those who affirm it."
What exactly are you saying here?
MICHAEL RUSE: I'm saying that if in fact
you're Christian then you believe you were
made in the image of God. And that means-and
this is traditional Christian theology-that
means that you have intelligence and self-awareness
and moral ability. So what I would say then,
that not to use one's intelligence, or to
deny it or not to follow it, is at one level
a heretical denial of one's God-given nature.
And so this is the point I made-that in being
a scientist, far from being anti-Christian
or anti-God, you are utilizing the very things
that make one God-like, in the Christian
perspective. Of course, on the other hand,
Christians are always caught up in this business
of faith versus reason. And they love to
argue that the most childlike among us can
achieve understanding of God, true faith.
So faith is very important for Christians.
Nevertheless, it's a very important part
of Christianity that our intelligence is
not just a contingent thing, but is in fact
that which makes us in the image of God.
The Believer: OK, let's talk about Darwinism
and morality. Because on this topic, it's
not just religious fundamentalists who object
to an evolutionary approach. A wide range
of people are disturbed by the idea that
there could be any connection between Darwinian
theory and ethics. Should they be?
MICHAEL RUSE: Yes, I certainly think they
should be. In the past, evolution-Darwinian
selection-has been used to legitimize some
dreadful political and moral (for want of
a better word) views. Hitler is open about
his social Darwinism in his Mein Kampf. Others
have done the same. However, being disturbed
is not to say that one should not take seriously
the possible connection, because people have
done bad things in its name. I would not
reject the teaching of the Sermon on the
Mount because priests have put their hands
on little boys' willies.
The Believer: Do you think the connection
has had some positive effects as well?
MICHAEL RUSE: Yes, in fact, historically
one can make the case that social Darwinism
has been a force for good as much as for
bad. Alfred Russel Wallace used his evolutionism
(and he was a codiscoverer of the theory
of natural selection) to argue for socialism
and feminism. People today also argue for
things I find attractive. Sarah Hrdy argues
that females are at least as successful as
males and as dominant in their way, even
though they use strategies that do not involve
brute force. Ed Wilson argues for biodiversity
in the name of evolution-he thinks if we
destroy the rain forests, then we destroy
humankind, and this is a bad thing.
Of course what I would argue is that the
connection between Darwinism and ethics is
not what the traditional social Darwinian
argues. He or she argues that evolution is
progressive, humans came out on top and therefore
are a good thing, hence we should promote
evolution to keep humans up there and to
prevent decline. I think that is a straight
violation of the is/ought dichotomy. 3
The Believer: In your books you refer to
this as a violation of "Hume's Law."
Can you explain exactly what Hume's Law is?
MICHAEL RUSE: I take Hume's Law to be the
claim that you cannot go from statements
of fact-"Duke University is the school
attended by Eddy Nahmias"-to statements
of value-"Duke University is an excellent
school." Some say Hume was simply pointing
to the fact that people do go from fact to
obligation and was himself endorsing this
move-but I think this is a misreading of
Hume and certainly goes against his own philosophy.
The Believer: So then it seems that Ed Wilson,
much as we support his cause, is guilty of
violating Hume's Law, too. He's getting a
normative conclusion-we should promote biodiversity-from
facts about the way the world is. I know
you two are friends-how does he respond to
MICHAEL RUSE: Ed does violate Hume's Law,
and no matter what I say he cannot see that
there is anything wrong in doing this. It
comes from his commitment to the progressive
nature of evolution. No doubt he would normally
say that one should not go from "is"
to "ought"-for example from "I
like that student" to "It is OK
to have sex with her, even though I am married."
But in this case of evolution he allows it.
If you say to him, "But ‘ought' statements
are not like ‘is' statements," he replies
that in science, when we have reduction,
we do this all the time, going from one kind
of statement to another kind of statement.
We start talking about little balls buzzing
in a container and end talking about temperature
and pressure. No less a jump than going from
"is" to "ought."
The Believer: But you agree with Hume that
the jump can't be made. Still, you want to
say that there is some relationship between
ethics and Darwinism, right?
MICHAEL RUSE: My position is that the ethical
sense can be explained by Darwinian evolution-the
ethical sense is an adaptation to keep us
social. More than this, I argue that sometimes
(and this is one of those times), when you
give an account of the way something occurs
and is as it is, this is also to give an
explanation of its status. I think that once
you see that ethics is simply an adaptation,
you see that it has no justification. It
just is. So in metaethics4 I am a nonrealist.
I think ethics is an illusion put into place
by our genes to keep us social.
The Believer: An illusion-so then are you
saying that the only true connection is that
Darwinism can account for why we (falsely)
believe that ethics is real?
MICHAEL RUSE: No, I distinguish normative
ethics from metaethics. In normative ethics
I think evolution can go a long way to explain
our feelings of obligation: be just, be fair,
treat others like yourself. We humans are
social animals and we need these sentiments
to get on. I like John Rawls's5 thinking
on this. On about page 500 of his Theory
of Justice book, Rawls says he thinks the
social contract was put in place by evolution
rather than by a group of old men many years
Then in metaethics, I think we see that morality
is an adaptation merely and hence has no
justification. Having said this, I agree
with the philosopher J. L Mackie6 (who influenced
me a lot) that we feel the need to "objectify"
ethics. If we did not think ethics was objective,
it would collapse under cheating.
The Believer: What do you mean by that? The
moral system needs us to think that ethics
MICHAEL RUSE: If we knew that it was all
just subjective, and we felt that, then of
course we'd start to cheat. If I thought
there was no real reason not to sleep with
someone else's wife and that it was just
a belief system put in place to keep me from
doing it, then I think the system would start
to break down. And if I didn't share these
beliefs, I'd say to hell with it, I'm going
to do it. So I think at some level, morality
has to have some sort of, what should I say,
some sort of force. Put it this way, I shouldn't
cheat, not because I can't get away with
it, or maybe I can get away with it, but
because it is fundamentally wrong.
The Believer: But what about chimpanzees
and other species that engage in altruistic,
and some would even say moral, behavior?
They probably don't have any notions of objectivity
and yet they still do it.
MICHAEL RUSE: I don't know that they don't.
I would say that as soon as one starts to
have some sort of awareness, then I would
be prepared to say-obviously much less than
us-that there is some sense of objective
morality. When I come in and my dog looks
guilty and I find it's because he peed on
the carpet. I mean, sure, part of it is that
he's afraid I'll beat the hell out of him,
but by and large I don't beat the hell out
of my dog any more than I do my kids. So
I'd be prepared to say that the dog knows
he's done wrong. Now, on the other hand,
my ferrets, which are around, and you know,
they'll shit anywhere. I mean, I like ferrets,
I love ferrets, but I don't think they have
any awareness of right and wrong when it
comes to these things. Whereas I really think
that dogs and cats do, particularly dogs.
The Believer: I would definitely say dogs
more than cats. Cats don't seem to ever think
they're in the wrong.
MICHAEL RUSE: Right. And you know, I've talked
to ethologists about this. Dogs are very
social animals. And morality is a social
phenomenon. And so in certain respects, dogs
might be closer to humans even than, say,
gorillas. And certainly orangutans. Orangutans
are not particularly social beings at all.
And so even though we're much closer phylogenetically
to orangutans than we are to dogs, dogs have
gone the route of sociality in a way that
we have. So you might well find that something
like a moral sense appears in dogs more than
orangutans. I mean, that all sounds terribly
anthropomorphic but it's not entirely stupid.
Dogs work in groups, and that is what has
made them the successful species that they
are. They hunt together, share food. I mean,
I'm not a dogologist. But I think it would
be interesting to note, do you find cheating?
Are certain dogs excluded at some level because
they don't play the game? I wouldn't be surprised
if something like that happens. And you know,
particularly at the chimpanzee level, there
seems to be an awful lot of sophistication
on who can be trusted and who can't be trusted,
and who's cheating and so forth.
The Believer: And you would regard that as
a belief in objectivity?
MICHAEL RUSE: Yes, I would. But I don't feel
the need to insist that they have a full
awareness of objectivity, but it certainly
seems to me that my dog shows a level of
guilt and it's not just a matter of fear.
The Believer: It's true-I've never hit my
dog in my life, but if she's ever done anything
wrong, she looks guilty.
MICHAEL RUSE: Right, and you know exactly
what she's done. But believe me, with ferrets,
guilt is not a word in their vocabulary.
But we're like dogs, social animals, and
so we have morality and this part of the
phenomenology of morality, how it appears
to us, that it is not subjective, that we
think it is objective.
The Believer: But you've said that you think
that at bottom there is no objective morality.
MICHAEL RUSE: The fact that you have a theory
about something doesn't follow that you can
do it. I mean, you can lie on the couch for
years and the therapist can point out that
your mother doesn't really hate you, but
then you go out into the light of day, and
then you know that your mother hates you.
What I'm saying is that human nature can't
be turned over because of what a couple of
philosophers are doing. I mean, David Hume
makes this point. If you do philosophy, it
all leads to skepticism. You can't prove
a damn thing. But does it matter? No! We
go on. I take Hume very seriously on this
point. Our psychology prevents our philosophy
from getting us down. We go on. We play a
game of backgammon, we have a meal. And then
when we come back to think about philosophy
it seems cold and strange.
So I think ethics is essentially subjective
but it appears to us as objective and this
appearance, too, is an adaptation. It is
not just that I dislike rape. I think it
is really and truly wrong. Rawls of course
denies that ethics is subjective and as a
Kantian thinks the answer is that the social
contract is a condition of rational people
living and working together. But I am inclined
to think that rational people might have
another social system different from ours.
So, in a way, I am a Humean seeing morality
as a matter of psychology.
The Believer: So it's not morality itself,
but this feeling of objectivity in morality
that is the illusion-right? But doesn't that
mean that as clearheaded Darwinians, we have
to say that there are no objective moral
facts? And therefore that it is not an objective
fact that rape is wrong?
MICHAEL RUSE: Within the system, of course,
rape is objectively wrong-just like three
strikes and you are out in baseball. But
I'm a nonrealist, so ultimately there is
no objective right and wrong for me. Having
said that, I am part of the system and cannot
escape. The truth does not necessarily make
The Believer: The truth here being that there
is no real right and wrong.
MICHAEL RUSE: Yes, but knowing that it is
all subjective doesn't necessarily mean that
I can become Nietzschean superman and ignore
it. I take very seriously Raskolnikov in
Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky points
out that, even if we have these beliefs,
that there is no right and wrong, we can't
necessarily act on them. And, you know, I
see no real reason to get out of the system,
either. If I rape, I am going to feel badly,
apart from the consequences if I am caught.
And the reciprocation-I don't want my wife
and daughters raped, but even rape is relative
in a sense to our biology. If women came
into heat, would rape be a crime/sin? I wrote
about this once in the context of extraterrestrials-is
rape wrong on Andromeda?
The Believer: I'm not sure what you mean
by "within the system it is objectively
true." Do you mean that because we have
laws and norms against rape, then rape is
wrong? Or do you mean that for our species,
given our biology, rape is objectively wrong?
If it's the latter, aren't you violating
Hume's Law, too?
MICHAEL RUSE: I would say that within the
baseball system, it is objectively true that
three strikes and you're out. It is true,
but I would not say it's objectively true
that George Steinbrenner should keep faith
with Joe Torre. This latter is a Michael
Ruse judgment call. There is no ultimate,
God-given objective truth about baseball.
It is an invention.
There is no ultimate truth about morality.
It is an invention-an invention of the genes
rather than of humans, and we cannot change
games at will, as one might baseball if one
went to England and played cricket. Within
the system, the human moral system, it is
objectively true that rape is wrong. That
follows from the principles of morality and
from human nature. If our females came into
heat, it would not necessarily be objectively
wrong to rape-in fact, I doubt we would have
the concept of rape at all. So, within the
system, I can justify. But I deny that human
morality at the highest level-love your neighbor
as yourself, etc.-is justifiable. That is
why I am not deriving "is" from
"ought," in the illicit sense of
justification. I am deriving it in the sense
of explaining why we have moral sentiments,
but that is a different matter. As an analyst
I can explain why you hate your father, but
that doesn't mean your hatred is justified.
The Believer: So then by analogy, Darwinian
theory can explain why we have moral sentiments
and beliefs, right? So let's get into the
details. Why was it adaptive to have this
moral sense? Why did our genes invent morality?
MICHAEL RUSE: I am an individual selectionist
all the way. Natural selection has given
us selfish/self-centered thoughts. It had
to. If I meet a pretty girl and at once say
to Bob Brandon, 7 "You go first,"
I am going to lose in the struggle for existence.
But at the same time we are social animals.
It's a good thing to be, we can work together.
But being social demands special adaptations,
like being able to fight off disease and
to communicate. We need adaptations to get
on, and this I think is where morality comes
in-or the moral sense-and other things like
human females not coming into heat.
The Believer: I wanted to ask this before-what
is it about human females not coming into
heat that leads to us being moral?
MICHAEL RUSE: Human females not coming into
heat does not make us moral or immoral-but
it is an important fact of our sociality
and it is an important fact when we are making
moral judgments (which are always matters
of fact plus moral principles). I am simply
saying that if women did come into heat,
then even if we had the same moral principles-treat
others fairly, etc.-it would simply not make
sense to condemn someone for fucking the
female if he got the chance. Having to take
a shit is a physical adaptation and it makes
silly the moral claim that you ought never
shit-although it does not affect the claim
that it is wrong to go to your supervisor's
for supper and end by crapping on his Persian
The Believer: That's what I meant-why would
it not make sense to condemn someone for
raping a human female, if human females went
MICHAEL RUSE: Look, in my view, as a naturalist,
I think epistemology and ethics are dependent
on the best modern science. Look at Descartes
and Locke and Hume and Kant. The point is
that if women went into heat, then biology
really would take over and we would lose
our freedom. Have you ever been in a situation
where you were sexually frustrated and didn't
particularly want to jerk off but ended by
doing so? Were you really a free agent? Or
you are really hungry and there is a plate
of French fries in front of you? Does one
blame the alcoholic for drinking? I used
to smoke and I would not say that I was free.
The point is that "ought" implies
a choice, and if women came into heat then
there would be no choice. I don't have a
hell of a lot of choice even though they
don't. So it's not that we are always moral-we
certainly aren't-but we have the urge to
be moral as one of the package of human adaptations.
The Believer: OK, I can see why selection
has given us selfish thoughts. A trait that
leads you to give up the girl to Brandon
every time is not going to get passed onto
the next generation. Because you need a woman
to pass on traits of any kind. At least for
now, with the cloning ban. But adaptations
that lead us to be moral seem trickier-especially
those that on the surface would seem to decrease
chances for survival and reproduction. Take
for example the sense of guilt that we might
feel when cheating on a spouse. Why would
selection encourage a trait like that?
MICHAEL RUSE: I would be inclined to see
guilt as part of the package of emotions
that enforce morality. But I would never
say that morality stops actions that are
bad. Sometimes the guilt does stop adultery,
but I suspect more often it is the fear of
The Believer: So then is the gist of this
that morality has developed as a way of curbing
some of our most antisocial or destructive
tendencies? And that we have enough natural
autonomy so that, sometimes at least, our
moral sense wins out?
MICHAEL RUSE: That is right. We are a balance,
or, if you like, a conflict, between selfishness
and altruism. This is something that Saint
Paul said a long time ago-but not everything
that Saint Paul said is wrong. That is, whether
the autonomy comes in. I think we are causally
determined but rather like sophisticated
rockets that have the ability to redefine
their targets in mid-flight as the new information
The Believer: This idea that ethics depends
on the best modern science is still fairly
unpopular among philosophers, isn't it? I
was just at a weekend colloquium on "intrinsic
value" and all the talk was about rights,
human dignity, and rationial agents-concepts
that don't have much to do with science.
Do you agree with your friend Ed Wilson's
remark that the time has come for ethics
to be removed from the hands of philosophers,
MICHAEL RUSE: Ed Wilson is given to too much
rhetoric, but essentially I agree. Although
there is a lot more interest in evolution
and ethics than there was twenty years ago,
and respectable people like Brian Skyrms
and Elliott Sober have written on the topic.
The Believer: Both of these authors have
developed naturalistic and Darwinian explanations
for the evolution of altruism, or of the
social contract. And both rely (in Skyrms's
case, heavily) on game theory to support
their claims. But game theory makes a lot
of assumptions, some say unjustified assumptions,
about inheritance mechanisms. How do you
respond to the charge raised by Stephen Jay
Gould and others that theories like theirs,
and yours, are really "just so stories"?
That there is too little attention paid to
the mechanisms through which complex behaviors,
and something like a moral sense, could be
MICHAEL RUSE: I am sick of the criticism
of "just so" stories. Look at the
volume on commitment just edited by Randy
Nesse. There are lots of references to psychologists
and others who are working on these issues
empirically. Of course the game theory people
make assumptions. That's how you do science.
Get an idea, build a model, check it out,
revise and redraw-etc., etc.. You don't make
progress by sitting on your bum farting on
about spandrels8. And you can quote me on
The Believer: Done. Another objection I hear
often is that if evolution can entirely explain
morality, then moral nihilism is a consequence.
Life has no meaning. We should all become
like raving Dostoyevsky characters, or kill
ourselves, or at least train ourselves out
of any altruistic tendencies we might have
and take advantage of everyone else. Now
I can't see any reason why we should train
ourselves out of anything, even if moral
nihilism is true. Actually, the whole idea
seems to violate Hume's Law. But it's undeniable
that many people find the Darwinian worldview
almost unbearably bleak. What would you say
to some of these people?
MICHAEL RUSE: I think ultimately there is
nothing-moral nihilism, if you wish. But
I think Dostoyevsky was spot on in Crime
and Punishment to see that even if we see
the full story, it does not mean that we
can act on it, given our natures. Raskolnikov
of his own will confesses, remember. But
generally why should we try to go against
our nature? It only makes us miserable. The
only time I think it might make sense to
try to step out of the moral game is if we
saw that it was leading to worse things down
the road. Again, Hume as always had the best
response-backgammon and a good meal with
your friends. Philosophy leads to skepticism,
psychology lifts you out of it.
The Believer: So you wouldn't worry like
some do about the cat being let out of the
bag-about society at large coming to believe
that morality was nonobjective?
MICHAEL RUSE: I certainly don't worry. I
am far, far more concerned about the irrationality
of the average American politician, especially
Bush-stuff right out of fundamentalist religion
about millennia and dispensations and raptures
and that sort of thing.
The Believer: And to those who say something
like, "If I thought that all there was
at bottom were genes trying to replicate
themselves, I'd kill myself," we can
say, No, you won't. You may think you would
kill yourself, but you won't. Because you're
a human being, and human beings like to have
fun, play games, and drink with friends.
MICHAEL RUSE: Yes, but there's more than
just that. I would also say that having Christian
beliefs produces a fair number of heavy-duty
psychological stresses and strains. I mean,
I'm not quite sure that. Christ, the little
fuckers, have they-no, I'm sorry, I thought
they'd pissed on the carpet.
The Believer: Was that the dog or the ferret?
MICHAEL RUSE: The ferret. But they didn't.
I mean, frankly, I find it a great relief
no longer to believe in God. I don't know
why it is but my God was always a bit of
a Presbyterian. After creating heaven and
hell and then humans, he spends the rest
of creation, you know, hating them and making
life miserable for them. I find it a great
relief not to have that kind of God hovering
The Believer: Is this a new development?
MICHAEL RUSE: To a certain extent. My father,
who went from one religion to another, finally
found peace of mind by arriving at a kind
of Voltaire situation. You know, the best
we can do is dig our garden, so let's get
on with it. And so to a certain extent I
find that very consoling.
The Believer: Overall, then, do you find
the Darwinian view of the world to be an
MICHAEL RUSE: I don't find Darwinism optimistic
or pessimistic-that is getting close to reading
values out of a scientific theory-but I can
live with it OK, and I find it exciting that
we have the theory and can explore its full
implications, scientific and philosophical,
which for me are more or less continuous.
1 American Philosophical Association
2 Philosopher of science who retired early
(he was sick of the postmodernism that was
taking over the university system) and now
lives in a small Mexican town with his wife.
Laudan was a critic of scientific realism
and of claims that a clear line can be drawn
between science and non-science.
3 Ruse is referring to one of the most talked-about
problems in ethics—the move from "is"
to "ought." The eighteenth-century
Scottish philosopher David Hume was the first
to point out that moralists tended to derive
statements about what we ought to do from
statements about the way the world is. But
according to Hume, no one had ever provided
the justification for such a move.
4 Metaethics is the business of trying to
justify our ordinary ethical beliefs or systems.
Normative ethics involves making judgments
about how to behave (e. g. "It is wrong
to put your hand on little boys' willies.").
Metaethics examines the status of these judgments.
Are they objectively true or false? Are they
relative to specific cultures or species?
These are metaethical questions.
5 Harvard philosopher, probably the most
influential moral philosopher of the twentieth
century. He passed away in December of last
6 British philosopher most famous for his
book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong
7 Duke University philosopher of biology
8 Ruse is referring to famous paper by Gould
and the biologist Richard Lewontin called
"The Spandrels of San Marcos and the
Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist
Program." The authors criticize what
they believe to be the overly simplistic
approach of many Darwinian theorists.