Ruse, Michael. Darwinism as Religion: What Literature Tells Us About Evolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. xvi + 310 pages. Hardcover, $38.50.
As a relevant backdrop, Charles Darwin's publication On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) sparked a change in thinking that became known as the Darwinian Revolution. Darwin argued that all organisms, including humankind, are the end product of a long, slow, natural process of evolution rather than the outcome of intelligent design by an omnipotent God. Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science with a deep knowledge of both the science and the history of the origins of organisms, argues that progress was an important aspect of Darwin's evolution by natural selection, brought on by the ongoing struggle for existence. The book is an impressive and detailed survey of Anglophone modern literature on the subject. It includes elite creative writings by Voltaire, Erasmus, Eliot, Hardy, James, Tennyson, Huxley, Stevenson, Dickinson, Conrad, Sinclair, Vonnegut, McEwan, and Robinson, among others.
The approach through creative writing is an attempt to show that evolutionary theory functioned as a secular religion. Ruse shows that contrary to what many think, including the opinions of the leading historians of the era, the Darwinian revolution was not only scientific, but also religious or metaphysical. The author summarizes Darwin's theory and notes that in its early reception, some recognized the potential for it to serve as a replacement for the creation narrative in the Bible's Book of Genesis. He demonstrates that through Darwin, evolutionary thought challenged Christian Scripture and made an effort to supplant it as a secular religion.
The introductory chapters highlight that the most important contribution of Darwin was the transition of evolutionary thought from pseudoscience to popular science. However, in what specific ways is science a religion or unlike religion? Ruse invokes Richard Dawkins, best known for his books The Selfish Gene (1976) and The God Delusion (2006), who argues that while religious faith lacks evidence, science is based on verifiable evidence. What's more, Darwinian evolutionary theory adopts the norms of good science, including coherence, consistency, and predictive ability. Invariably, religion is a belief system based solely on faith. So what makes Darwinism a competing religion? It not only provides alternative explanations about origins and...