ScienceSkepticism

Why I agree with Behe over Miller

Today I am going to commit an act of ultimate heresy. I fully expect to be burnt at the stake by the evil Darwinian Inquisition for stepping out of line – but for the sake of the truth, this is the way it has to be. I am going to support Michael Behe, famed IDist and Dover bungler over Kenneth Miller, theistic evolutionist and star of the Dover trial.

First, let me point out that Miller is fully free to believe that his god set evolution in motion and that evolution somehow leads one closer to god. I am also free to argue that his position is inconsistent as best and completely muddled at worst. Often, theistic evolutionists claim that evolution is compatible with religion without realizing that their view crumbles once you get into the finer details of it. As for those who have successfully compartmentalized science and religions belief so that they do not conflict, I have the utmost pity at the amount of wrangling they would have to have done to arrive at their position..

The scientific theory of evolution itself (like the theory of gravitation) does not posit that there is no god. However, my view is that the fact of evolution cannot be reconciled with traditional theistic beliefs unless some serious compartmentalization or redefinition of terms are brought into the picture.

Back to the Behe vs Miller debate: At Behe’s Amazon blog, where comments are obviously disabled, he (again) admits that the Designer is the Christian god. Old news, folks. However, the point that I agree with is this:

Ironically, Miller is an intelligent design proponent when it comes to cosmology, but is contemptuous of people who see design extending further into nature than he does.

Behe is actually right on target for this one. If you have read Finding Darwin’s God, I am sure you would have noticed that Miller is inconsistent in his rejection of the argument from design. In the first part of the book, he offers a brilliant smack-down of the usual ID arguments, but in the second half of the book, he weirdly turns around and claims that the universe was fine-tuned to allow evolution and this restated design argument somehow points to the existence of a god. He first claims that we should not look for god in the ‘gaps’ of our understanding of evolution, but somehow claims to see god in the ‘gaps’ in our understanding of cosmology. This was the first contradiction I noticed when I read his book, and I am surprised that not many theistic evolutionists seemed to have called him out on it.

In Chapter 6 of Finding Darwin’s God, Miller goes as far as to argue that since we do not know exactly how certain aspects of human nature such as language and consciousness evolved, this somehow points to the existence of a god, or at the very least, a way of disproving atheism. The leap from Chapter 5 where he dismantles Behe’s ramblings about irreducible complexity to Chapter 6 where is restates the god-of-the-gaps argument in scientific sounding language was a jarring shock when I read the book. This goes to show that religion can, and often does warp rational and scientific thinking no matter how hard someone tries to compartmentalize them.

In Chapter 8, he goes on and on about how the universe seems fine-tuned for life, and how the chances of certain physical constants ending up the way there are is slim enough to be near impossible, and that since we can be certain that the current explanations are the correct one, we might as well take the other side of the coin and believe that God did it.

Here is a direct quote from page 232:

The traditional alternative, of course, is God. Even as we use experimental science and mathematical logic to reveal the laws and structure of the universe, a series of important questions will always remain, including the source of those laws and the reason for there being a universe in the first place.

Why on earth does Miller think that science would not be able to give an answer to those questions? By closing off these avenues of scientific inquiry and claiming that they have to be in the realm of religion, Miller is doing what every ID creationist does: Claiming that since science does not have a definite answer for X right away, X will never be solved by science, and therefore X shows us that god the designer exists. Behe has hit the nail on the head – when it comes to cosmology, Miller’s view is indistinguishable from the views of the IDists.

Nonetheless, if we once thought we had been dealt nothing more than a typical cosmic hand, a selection of cards with arbitrary values, determined at random in the dust and chaos of the big bang, then we have some serious explaining to do.

Well, that is exactly what science is supposed to be doing and is doing – explaining the natural world. What Miller spent this chapter doing is telling us about how impossible the odds of the universe existing with the current set of physical constants is, science does not have an answer to this yet, and for some reason never will, and so there is a god. Doesn’t this sound exactly like what Behe and Dembski claim about the bacterial flagellum?

On page 251, Miller continues to sound exactly like an IDist:

Once He had fixed the physical nature of the universe, once He had ensured that the constants of nature would create a chemistry and physics that allowed for life, God would then have gone about the process of producing creatures….

A god tinkering with the physical constants, intelligently designing the universe to sustain life, creating the whole universe with humans, on this tiny insignificant planet on the grand scheme of things to worship him….something does not sound right here. Why do I feel like I am reading one of Dembski’s god-saturated ID books all of a sudden? Behe has been shown to be right once again – Miller is an ID creationist (at least by the look of what he has written in his own book) when it comes to fields apart from his own. When it involves evolutionary biology, he soundly and rightfully criticizes the ID proponents and exposes their nonsensical arguments for what they are. However, Miller is a typical ID creationist when it comes to cosmology.

Although I would readily admit that Miller has contributed a lot in helping some Christians embrace evolution, these glaring inconsistencies have to be addressed, especially when they are so blatantly clear to those on the ID proponent side of the fence and even more so when the theistic evolutionist side seems to be strangely silent.

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Shalini

Shalini

8 Comments

  1. Sander
    October 30, 2008 at 6:34 pm —

    You’re not the only one: Jason Rosenhouse made similar comments as well.

    In the end, I think this boils down to the fact that fundamentalism is more likely to be internally consistent.
    Still I’d rather see people educated by the inconsistent but reasonably pro-science types.

  2. October 30, 2008 at 8:51 pm —

    Nobody expects the Darwinian Inquisition!

    Our chief weapon is natural selection and sexual selection, no our two chief weapons are natural selection, sexual selection, and random mutations… no our…

  3. October 30, 2008 at 11:45 pm —

    Pointing out weakness in other people’s arguments is not heresy. And you did a fine job out of it. Besides, I bet we agree on at least one thing with every people we disagree with. So, if the Darwinian inquisition comes after you, I will rush in and take the bullets for you. 🙂

  4. FFFearlesss
    October 31, 2008 at 10:17 am —

    I don’t think you need to pity we folk who believe in science and yet still cling to faith in God. Yes, it does require some finagling in our brains to reconcile the two. But we do it gladly, if sometimes with a certain degree of nervousness and aggravation because we see, understand and love the way science is always finding new answers to things that were previously mysteries, but we also have had experiences in our lives that simply make us unable to believe that there isn’t Somebody bigger behind the scenes. It doesn’t stop us from seeking the truth and accepting new evidence that would fly in the face of our very tenets. We just go with the flow, trusting that the “gaps” that weren’t solved by science in our lifetime will make sense eventually… and if it turns out we’re wrong about our faith, well it’s not like it cost us all that much while we were here. Don’t pity us. We’re doing just fine, thanks. 🙂

  5. October 31, 2008 at 1:31 pm —

    Miller is apparently a dingbat. And dingbat Behe has pointed that out. (Blind chicken and corn moment.) But it’s not like you agree with anything else Behe says, in fact, looking just at this article, you agree with a lot more of that Miller writes than what Behe says, which makes the heading an attention seeking lie. 😉

  6. October 31, 2008 at 6:39 pm —

    “From two bad people, you have to pick the less bad one.” In order to be a theistic evolutionist, you have to pretty much know the line between God and Evolution; and looks like Miller doesn’t.

  7. Pseudonym
    November 1, 2008 at 1:40 am —

    Looks like I’m going to have to speak for the evil Darwinian Inquisition here.

    First off, you’re safe from the stake, as you have not committed not the ultimate act of heresy. There exist people (e.g. Jason Rosenhouse, Sam Harris) who more or less agree with you. Nonetheless, so long as you realise that you are in the minority, and that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, you’ll be okay.

    Secondly, I disagree with Ken Miller on many things, however, he is not a “dingbat” (as Bjornar put it). It’s not like he’s a walking mass of logical inconsistencies and is just too dumb to see it. Or, at least, it’s no more true of him than it is of the rest of us.

    Thirdly, you (though, perhaps more obviously, Sander) are grossly overestimating the consistency of fundamentalism, creationism and IDiocy. Ken Miller may be, in your view, inconsistent, but that doesn’t imply that Behe is more consistent overall. Ken Miller’s views, for example, have the property that they are consistent with observed reality. Michael Behe’s views, on the other hand, are not consistent with pretty much every mainstream theologian’s views of the Bible.

    Fourthly, and perhaps most crucially, most modern theology, like the rest of the humanities, is not a field based on logical deduction. What a scientifically minded person sees as inconsistency would be seen by most other people as essential flexibility. It’s kind of like those situational ethics questions. No, I don’t believe in murder, but it might be okay to be involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler.

    Lastly, a few points on the way that the discussion seems to be going.

    Shalini is specifically talking about inconsistencies in Ken Miller’s book. Even if accurate, these are not arguments against theistic evolution in general. For completeness, you’d have to cover the myriad beliefs of the 50% or so of all biologists who believe in a personal deity.

    There are also a few common logical fallacies which come up in such discussions that people should be careful to avoid.

    The most common is some combination of the straw man and “no true Scotsman” fallacies. You know what I mean: No true Christian could possibly believe X. Arguing over who is and isn’t a Real Christian(tm) is an argument that fundies do. Just don’t go there.

    The second most common is the argument from personal incredulity. “I don’t see how Ken Miller could possibly consistently believe X.” Well, he does, he’s a smart guy, and he doesn’t have a problem with it.

    The third most common problem, though not technically a logical fallacy, is to ignore the wide variety of theistic and religious belief in the world. Most Christians in the world, for example, have no problem with evolution, but if you’d never been outside the Bible Belt of the United States, you’d get a very warped impression of this.

    (I’m an Australian, BTW. Ken Ham had to leave Australia because he couldn’t find enough people here to take him seriously.)

    Next, be very, very wary of accepting any premise posited by fundamentalists, because they’re usually flawed. For example, never assume that the Bible must be read literally, or must have been intended to be read literally. It’s usually not true.

    A final thought: Finding Darwin’s God is, quite simply, not written for people like us. It’s written for those Christians in the US who are nervous or hostile towards evolution and need some reassurance. That’s very different from the situation that most people here are in. If Dr. Miller were here, I’m sure that he’d use different arguments and explanations that were more relevant to us.

  8. Pseudonym
    November 1, 2008 at 2:25 am —

    Oh, and one last thing: Any time you find an argument that seems to agree with your personal prejudices, that’s when you need to be extra-skeptical. It’s easy to question something that you don’t buy.

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