He doesn't start well.
As a professional philosopher my first question naturally is: "What or who is an atheist?" If you mean someone who absolutely and utterly does not believe there is any God or meaning then I doubt there are many in this group.
As I pointed out in I'm an atheist, OK?, that definition of atheism is mainly used by theists who want to find ways of minimising the impact of atheism. For Michael to start out with that definition does not augur well.
The body of his argument starts with this
First, non-believer though I may be, I do not think (as do the new atheists) that all religion is necessarily evil and corrupting.I'm rather struck by the insertion of the word "necessarily" there, given the direction his argument takes later. Of course, its insertion allows for the possibility that all religion is in fact evil and corrupting, even if there isn't anything that makes it necessarily so. But even so, he is constructing a strawman. New atheists don't take the view that he is ascribing to them. They merely believe that (almost all) religion is based on a premise that is false, specifically the existence of a supernatural God. That belief without evidence has certain consequences, including a greater susceptibility to the calls of moral absolutism, which means that in practice some religion is evil and corrupting. I've described the New Atheist position as I understand it in Six atheist theses for light, not heat, so I shan't repeat it all here. Most atheists commenting on that article seemed to be broadly in agreement with it.
Ruse goes on with his second point.
Second, unlike the new atheists, I take scholarship seriously. I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I meant it. Trying to understand how God could need no cause, Christians claim that God exists necessarily. I have taken the effort to try to understand what that means. Dawkins and company are ignorant of such claims and positively contemptuous of those who even try to understand them, let alone believe them. Thus, like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, "What caused God?" as though he had made some momentous philosophical discovery.
There's that word "necessarily" again! I have taken the trouble to read a fair bit of theology and philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion, and I have also read the God Delusion. There is always the danger of regarding somebody as being wise and learned if they say something you already happen to agree with, and to regard somebody as ignorant and foolish if they say something you disagree with. It takes a great deal of detachment to set that aside and to see whether there might in fact be something in the opposing view. To do that, you need to look at the evidence.
So let us do that, and examine the Christian claim that God exists necessarily, and understand what it fact it means. I've been reviewing Richard Swinburne's "The Existence of God", and Swinburne does have quite a bit on the necessary existence of God, God's necessity is a central plank of his argument. Swinburne's version of the God proposition is this:
There exists necessarily a person without a body (i.e. a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient , perfectly good, and the creator of all things.
He goes on to describe "necessarily" at greater length.
The theist holds that God possesses the properties described in some sense necessarily, and that he is in some sense a necessary being. That is to say, God could not suddenly cease to be (for example) omnipotent. While God is God, he is omnipotent; nor could he cease to be God while remaining the same individual (as for example, the Prime Minister can cease to be Prime Minister while remaining the same person).
Further on he says
To say that some being necessarily or essentially has certain properties is to say that without these properties he could not exist. ... To use Kripke's well-discussed example, a person is an essential kind. If John is a person he could not be anything else; because if John ceases to be a person, he ceases to be. Let us call a person who is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly free, perfectly good and the creator of all things a divine being. The theist must claim that God is a being who belongs to the essential kind of divine being.
That deals with the necessity of God's properties, if he exists. If he isn't all that is described above, then he isn't God. All of the above consists of an extended definition of what God would be, if he exists. It doesn't make his existence inevitable, and so none of the above explains Ruse's view that Dawkins is fatuous in asking "What caused God?" Swinburne is obviously aware of this, and goes on as follows.
To say that 'God exists' necessarily is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable - not in the sense that we do not know the explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.So, according to Swinburne, there is no answer to Dawkins' question - you just have to accept the fact of God's existence, if in fact he does exist. Swinburne, throughout the whole of his book, does not claim that there is a valid deductive argument for the existence of God. So by Swinburne's definition, although God's existence and properties are both necessary, this does not mean that God's existence is real, i.e. that on the available evidence it is inevitable that God does in fact exist. Swinburne spends the rest of the book looking at various bits of evidence for and against God's existence and comes up with his view on the balance of probability of God's existence.
Now, in my view, to say that God's existence is inexplicable and expect people to leave it at that is just the sort of call to ignorance I described in the 4th point of Six atheist theses for light, not heat. Swinburne's account of "necessary existence" is quite different from that which you might imagine from Ruse's throwaway use of the phrase, which one might take to be synonymous with "inevitable". It isn't, but you would never know from Ruse's article. Ruse claims that he has gone to the trouble of understanding what "necessary existence" means. Maybe so, maybe not - but we cannot tell, because he hasn't gone to the the trouble of explaining to us what he understands by it.
Third, how dare we be so condescending? I don't have faith. I really don't. Rowan Williams does as do many of my fellow philosophers like Alvin Plantinga (a Protestant) and Ernan McMullin (a Catholic). I think they are wrong; they think I am wrong. But they are not stupid or bad or whatever.Another strawman. Nobody denies that there are some very good people who have faith, and nobody denies that there are some very clever people who have faith. But the only way by which we can decide whether atheists or theists are correct in their beliefs is (as I described in The cosmic detective) to have a look at the evidence, and see what it tells us. And Ruse, since he thinks that Williams, McMullin, Plantigna et al are wrong, has presumably concluded that the balance of the evidence points to the nonexistence of God.
Ruse finishes with this point.
Fourth and finally, I live in the American South, surrounded by ardent Christians. I want evolution taught in the schools and I can think of no way better designed to make that impossible than to spout on about religion, from ignorance and with contempt. And especially to make unsubstantiated arguments that science refutes religion.Nobody says science refutes religion. Dawkins certainly doesn't. As I understand it, the New Atheists take a view encapsulated by Laplace. On being asked by Napoleon "they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator", he replied "I had no need of that hypothesis.". (Of course, this rather gives the lie to the use of the word "new" in the name "New Atheists". Although I don't have an exact date for the comment, Laplace probably made it in the first decade of the 19th century.)
Scientific evidence does demonstrate that various factual claims in the Bible interpreted literally (such as the 6-day creation) are false. But that is not quite the same as saying that science refutes religion, and Ruse as a philosopher ought to know better than to suggest that it does.