Michael Ruse's Essay:

'Is Evolution a Secular Religion?'


Natural History Museum, London.  A secular cathedral?


In Science 299, 1523 - 1524, (March 2003), Michael Ruse investigates the idea that evolution operates as a kind  of secular religion.  He traces  the three stages of the history of Evolution:

As a consequence, in the third phase, in the 1940s and 1950s, there were two sorts of study of evolution: very professional empirical work and, in parallel, works using evolution as a basis for moral exhortations and calls to action.  Ruse gives the example of George Gaylord Simpson with his straight scientific text 'Tempo and Mode in Evolution' in 1944, followed by the popular 'The Meaning of Evolution' in 1949 which included material justifying the claim that the American way was superior to communism.

Ruse claims that this continues to today: evolution as straight professional empirical science in parallel with, sometimes from the same authors, evolution as secular religion. Ruse's thesis relies on those scientists who wish to use evolution as a means to undermine theology and replace it with the 'religion' of evolution.  He uses E O Wilson as an example and quotes his 'On Human Nature'.

But ultimately, Ruse defends the science of evolution against the claims of creationists that it is simply a secular religion.  He concludes the essay as follows:

So, what does our history tell us? Three things. First, if the claim is that all contemporary evolutionism is merely an excuse to promote moral and societal norms, this is simply false. Today's professional evolutionism is no more a secular religion than is industrial chemistry. Second, there is indeed a thriving area of more popular evolutionism, where evolution is used to underpin claims about the nature of the universe, the meaning of it all for us humans, and the way we should behave. I am not saying that this area is all bad or that it should be stamped out. I am all in favor of saving the rainforests. I am saying that this popular evolutionism--often an alternative to religion--exists. Third, we who cherish science should be careful to distinguish when we are doing science and when we are extrapolating from it, particularly when we are teaching our students. If it is science that is to be taught, then teach science and nothing more. Leave the other discussions for a more appropriate time.

Michael Ruse, Science 299, 1523 - 1524

So, according to Ruse, the creationists are ultimately wrong in their claim that evolutionary science represents only a secular religion and nothing more.