Ken Miller manages to analyze America’s rejection of evolution without mentioning religion

There are none so blind as those who will not see—or who are so blinkered by faith that they refuse to see that faith itself is the root cause of American creationism.  It’s called “creationism” for a reason, remember, and there’s plenty of evidence that America’s strong rejection of evolution, unique among First World countries, is due to America’s strong religiosity. There are tons of data showing, for example, that the most religious Americans are the most resistant to evolution, and that religious belief is correlated with lack of science literacy (see here, here and here, for instance).  And, for crying out loud, all you have to do is look around you to see that every drop of evolution-denial comes from religious spigots.

But Kenneth Miller, pious Catholic that he is, refuses to recognize that.  In his new Darwin-Day piece for HuffPo, “America’s Darwin Problem,” he blames the rejection of evolution on the perception by many Americans that science is a special-interest group whose values diverge from theirs.  The word religion isn’t mentioned, or religion alluded to, in the entire piece. It’s a masterpiece of avoiding the real issue.

Refusing to recognize the religious basis of evolution-denial is not new to Miller.  In my review of one of his (and one of Karl Giberson’s) books in The New Republic, “Seeing and believing“, I quoted Miller blaming evolution-denial on America’s ornery character, born of our historical penchant for refusing to accept authority:

Is there something in the American character that bore the seeds of this conflict [evolution versus creationism] and provided fertile ground in which it could flourish? I think there is, and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, I’m downright proud of it…. America is the greatest scientific nation in the world…. Disrespect–that’s the key. It’s the reason that our country has embraced science so thoroughly, and why America has served as a beacon to scientists from all over the world. A healthy disrespect for authority is part of the American character, and it permeates our institutions, including the institutions of science. Scientists in this country, whether American by birth or choice, have been allowed to dream of revolutionary discoveries, and those dreams have come true more often in this country than in any other.

If rebellion and disrespect are indeed part of the American talent for science, then what should we make of the anti-evolution movement? One part of the analysis is clear. The willingness of Americans to reject established authority has played a major role in the way that local activists have managed to push ideas such as scientific creationism and intelligent design into local schools.

Except, of course, that pushing creationism into schools is a direct result of respecting authority—the authority of religion and the Biblical account of creation.

Miller also pinned creationism on atheists.  As I wrote in “Seeing and believing”:

The facts are these: you may find religion without creationism, but you will never find creationism without religion. Miller and Giberson shy away from this simple observation. Their neglect of the real source of creationism is inexcusable but understandable: a book aiming to reconcile evolution and religion can hardly blame the faithful.

Yet it is acceptable, it seems, to blame the faithless. For Giberson and Miller, the main aggressors in the “science wars” are the atheists. Books by the “new atheists,” they contend, have inflamed religious moderates who might otherwise be sympathetic to evolution, driving them into the creationist corner. In Finding Darwin’s God, Miller explained that “I believe much of the problem lies with atheists in the scientific community who routinely enlist the material findings of evolutionary biology in support [sic] their own philosophical pronouncements.”

Now Miller has a new explanation.  His HuffPo piece blames the public perception of science as a “special interest group”:

Whether conservative or liberal, fundamentalist or agnostic, the more students learn of biology, the more they accept evolution. So, why does public acceptance matter if the students who actually go into science see the evidence for evolution so clearly?

This is the heart of our Darwin problem. Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust. Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke to this view when he claimed that “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It’s personal greed. Scientists cheat “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry is hardly alone in his effort to depict scientists as greedy outsiders, “scamming the American people right and left” in the words of one Fox News commentator.

In American today, anti-evolutionism matters because it has become the vanguard of a genuine anti-science movement. To be sure, opposition to evolution isn’t new. State laws against the teaching of evolution actually go back nearly a century, and the famous Scopes trial took place 87 years ago. However, if you thought such things were behind us, guess again. Laws designed to encourage the teaching of non-scientific “alternative” theories to evolution were introduced in 11 state legislatures last year. This year, Darwin’s 203rd birthday, on February 12th, will see an anti-evolution bill, already passed by the Indiana State House of Representatives, awaiting action in the State Senate. Its fate there is uncertain, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.

Our Darwin problem is really a science problem. The easier it becomes to depict the scientific enterprise as a special interest immersed in the culture wars, the easier it becomes to reject scientific findings.

The question, of course, is why evolution, rather than, say, cancer research, developmental biology, or genome sequencing aren’t “in the vanguard of the anti-science movement”?  Why is it cosmology (e.g., divine “fine-tuning”) and evolution that are always in the fore? Why does America have “a Darwin problem” rather than a “genomics problem”? Can there be any explanation other than religion?

Miller goes on to wring his hands about how the denial of evolution and science has dire consequences: America will lose its scientific preeminence in the world (frankly, I don’t care much about this—the enterprise of science is universal, and if China or India erodes our status, it can only mean that good science is being done in other countries), and we’ll lose the wonderful view of life bequeathed by Darwin (I do care more about this).  But he offers no cure for the problem.  The implicit solution would be for scientists to somehow integrate themselves into mainstream American life, so that we’re not seen as some kind of Science PAC.  And implicit within that is that the problem is of our own making.  Now I’m not sure whether Miller believes that, but the message seems to be that the onus is on us to change how we’re perceived by Americans.  In other words, science and evolution denial is our fault.

This sort of analysis ticks me off, for it not only misses the elephant in the room: it denies that there’s one there.  The reason, of course, is that Miller (and his confrère Giberson) are religious, and can’t bring themselves to admit that the root cause of creationism is faith.  Miller knows better—after all, he testified against Michael Behe’s ID creationism in the Dover trial, and he knows where Intelligent Design comes from.  Behe, like Miller, is a Catholic. This venting of frustrations on the wrong target is known in animal behavior as displacement activity, as when a bird, rather than fight with another individual, pecks at a leaf instead.

I give Miller plaudits for his continuing fight against creationism, not only in his Dover trial, but in his book and many public presentations of why evolution is a scientific fact.  But he gets no plaudits for deliberately refusing to identify why Americans dislike evolution.  It’s religion, pure and simple, and many statistics buttress that fact. Miller offers no statistics of his own, only anecdotes about Rick Perry.  He mentions anti-evolution bills, but doesn’t admit that they’re a product of religion.

Why does Miller neglect the obvious here? Because he’s a Catholic, of course, and although opposition to evolution comes largely from Protestant sects, a substantial number of American Catholics (27%, to be exact) adhere to the Biblical account of creation.  We’ve long learned that “mainstream” religions are loath to criticize each other for their doctrine, for they perceive that they must stand together on the crucial issue of God.  Religion poisons everything, and different religions aid each other in the poisoning.

76 Comments

  1. Posted February 13, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    His analysis, I think, has a lot to it; but yes, his dodging the actual root cause is fairly typical of theist thinking: solid right up to where it comes close to their own views, at which point there’s a sudden and otherwise-inexplicable left turn into magical fairy unicorn crack land.

  2. GBJames
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    (sub)

  3. Mark
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    “and why America has served as a beacon to scientists from all over the world.”

    I work for an environmental agency. About half of our scientists are immigrates. I suspect that without immigration, America would not have been on the forefront of so much scientific innovation.

    • TJR
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Certainly the Apache were never at the forefront of scientific advance.

      • Posted February 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        But the Apache today have not been “without immigration”. Who knows what they might have achieved if the Europeans had remained in Europe and made civilized contact with them as visitors to their country rather than conquerers?

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      It’s about the same in my wife’s lab. About half of the scientists and graduate students are Asian or European. At times it’s been much higher non-US origin, but right now it’s close to even.

  4. Anthony Paul
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    My guess is that people like Rick Perry need to be anti-science in order to ignore the science relating to global climate change. They need to justify not only a lack of useful action to slow it down, but their support for business as usual and for new initiatives that will only make it worse. If they can pick up (or retain) the anti-evolution voting bloc along the way, so much the better for them.

  5. Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I just lost all respect for Miller.

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Welcome to the club. I did that a long time ago…

  6. Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Kenneth Miller, unlike Rick Perry, is not running for public office. However, he is Rick Santorum in a lab coat. Miller is an embarrassment to people who have rejected Catholicism and its chains.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      I am upset at Miller but I still think that is unfair.

      • Posted February 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        “Unfair”! What’s unfair about my criticism (above)of Ken Miller?

        In fact, my statement above is not strong enough. When the Catholic faithful support the Catholic Church by attending services and by giving money to the church, they are aiding and abetting the RCC’s criminal activities.

        Please read this article and follow the links for an example of how duplicitous members of the RCC hierarchy are:

        http://tinyurl.com/7aadt43

        • GBJames
          Posted February 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          I’m with you, Veronica. I find it incredible that otherwise decent people support an international criminal organization, hiding behind platitudes like “the real church are the believers, not the hierarchy”. Drives me crazy. If you voluntarily remain a member of the you are supporting the crimes and helping hide the criminals.

  7. Ray Moscow
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    What availeth a man to oppose Intelligent Design and yet not oppose – nay, promote! – the very root of Creationism?

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      There are “none so blind as those who cannot see.”

      • DV
        Posted February 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        ..who *will* not see.

        those who *cannot* see are merely blind by definition. but those who *will* not see are blinding themselves intentionally.

  8. Alektorophile
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    As a non-American who knows the US pretty well, I am always struck by how ignorant of science in general and evolution in particular creationists are, yet how firm they are in their opposition. Case in point my in-laws out in the rural West, who, having me years back ‘caught’ reading Janet Browne’s bio of Darwin, tried to convince me of the evils of evolution. Ten minutes into the discussion I was asked, and I quote, “what is evolution anyway?”. Their opposition was purely religious and uninformed, fed by what lies they heard at their church. Needless to say, creationist pamphlets started arriving by mail a few weeks later at our home.

    • Christian
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      Indeed, the religious dimension of this “anti-evolutionism” in the US becomes even more apparent if you compare it to the situation in other western countries.
      In Europe you also have enough people who deny evolution or who don’t know anything about it but it is not such a hot button issue as in the US.

      Here in Europe that topic almost never comes up and there is practically no opposition to teaching it in schools and universities.
      So even though the ignorance wrt evolution may not be much lower than in the US, there is one significant difference: it hasn’t been so thoroughly badmouthed by religious institutions as in the US (and here people are also less likely to listen to the maunderings of these institutions) that your average Joe doesn’t even dare to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

  9. Christian
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    If Miller thinks the public perceives science as a “special interest group” then how does he explain the fact that there’s practically no broad attack on science in general but only on certain narrow fields, for instance anything that has to do with evolution and in recent years with climate research?

    Actually you never see creationists attack science itself. They usually claim to love science and many try to come across as sciency as possible. It’s just that they deny that the aforementioned fields are real science.

    So if Miller’s hypothesis is correct, why don’t they attack science in general and not just those fields that threaten their religious conviction resp. their comfy way of life?

    • Shaggy Maniac
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Godless atomimism, e.g.?

      • Shaggy Maniac
        Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Gah, atomism.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      Pretty much what JAC was saying, I think…

  10. Jim Thomerson
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Creationists attack all fields of science. I think they hit at evolution because it directly conflicts with their religious beliefs, and most people have heard of it and think it important to be for or against. I don’t think there is much traction in attacking quantum mechanics, or atomic theory to the average person on the street.

    I think there is a strong anti intellectual anti educated elite streak in present day American thinking which goes beyond religious belief.

    • Christian
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      They sure do but for the creationists everything is “evolution” that contradicts their interpretation of Genesis.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Creationists attack all fields of science.

      Yep. Creationists attack cosmology on issues of the age of the universe. Ditto for astrophysics, and some aspects of physics itself. And of course paleontology is suspect. And there are some initial skirmishes with neuroscience regarding human behaviour and issues of the soul.

      Not to get all Niemöller, but no science is safe from creationism.

  11. Sidd
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    In my morning reading I came across a couple things which reminded me
    of Ken Miller.

    The first was Rosenhouse’s The Trouble With Theistic Evolution which is an excellent takedown of TE.

    The second was the latest Biologos piece which says

    …Nor do Christians, using scientific tools, need to buy into Satan’s lie that a universe that appears to function in an orderly, natural way came into being and functions as it does all by itself. We Christians know better.

    Satan’s lie? Really? This seems to go against Miller’s own view espoused in “Finding Darwin’s God”,

    If you deny evolution, then the sort of God you have in mind is a bit like a pool player who can sink 15 balls in a row…by taking 15 separate shots. My God plays the game a little differently. He walks up to the table, takes just one shot, and sinks all the balls. I ask you which pool player, which God, is more worthy of praise and worship. (p283-284)

    Biologos should inform Miller that he’s dangerously close to spreading Satan’s lie.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I ask you which pool player, which God, is more worthy of praise and worship.

      As if “worthiness” determines truth. It’s like saying that Natalie Portman must be into geeky doughy men who play D&D and post on evolution discussion boards because that means she’s more likely to sleep with you. Wishing doesn’t make it so. (Alas…)

    • Kevin
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      More to the point, which is more likely to be real, and which merely a figment of someone’s imagination.

  12. Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Evolution means radical religionists have to reject all the security and cohesiveness of their church-family community. In this fearful world, belief in evolution is not important to them because the benefits of science are selectively available no matter what they believe or disbelieve. You can have your cake and eat it too without admitting to a belief in evolution. Being a part of the anti-evolution gang is admired by friends and praised by religious leaders, with no penalty.

    • Occam
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      the benefits of science are selectively available no matter what they believe or disbelieve. You can have your cake and eat it too without admitting to a belief in evolution.

      Brilliant!

      There is no perceived penalty for irrationality, as long as a rational minority keeps the machine going.
      Scientists are the real Atlas, and this Atlas won’t (can’t?) shrug.

  13. Knuckle Pushups
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    “If rebellion and disrespect are indeed part of the American talent for science, then what should we make of the anti-evolution movement? One part of the analysis is clear. The willingness of Americans to reject established authority has played a major role in the way that local activists have managed to push ideas such as scientific creationism and intelligent design into local schools.”

    Damn, almost makes me wanna river dance …

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      “The willingness of Americans to reject established authority . . .”

      If Americans are willing to reject established authority, why are they not rejecting Christianity and especially Catholicism? These institutions are established authorities.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

        Precisely!

  14. a different phil
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    “… a substantial number of American Catholics (27%, to be exact) adhere to the Biblical account of creation.”

    There’s that Crazification Factor again.

    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2005/10/lunch-discussions-145-crazification.html

  15. Knuckle Pushups
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It’s personal greed. Scientists cheat “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry is hardly alone in his effort to depict scientists as greedy outsiders, “scamming the American people right and left” in the words of one Fox News commentator.”

    I hear this all the time down here in the Lone Star State … The belief that scientists are a “special interest group” which does “scary research” to “frighten the public” so that they, the scientists, can “keep their government jobs”. That’s the typical line, but sometimes they’re called communists, socialists, liars, etc.

    Preachers preach it in the pulpits every Sunday.

    Personally, I think this also arises out of traditional intellectual laziness and emotional immaturity prevalent here in Texas.

    • microraptor
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      It’s hardly something that’s limited to Texas, I’m sorry to say. I see it all the time in Oregon.

  16. Veroxitatis
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I have said something similar to the following previously and have been knocked down. So, I expect that will happen again.
    One thing which has always struck me about schoolchildren in the US as opposed to the UK is the confidence they show when expressing ideas. This ability to articulate what is often nonsense in a confident manner carries on into later life.
    The articulate ignorant just don’t seem to exist in such numbers in other countries; at least not in the UK.

    • TJR
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      In Britain that sort of thing is mostly limited to middle class public school types.

      • Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        Yeah. The Sun and Daily Mail readers are full of political certainty, cut’n’pasted from the editorials. Very like Fox News viewers.

        • Veroxitatis
          Posted February 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but the point I am trying to make is that Sun and Daily Mail readers’ opinions tend to be expressed in simple sloganeering language on subjects such as immigration, the EC & hanging. There simply isn’t a large group of people who are sufficiently confident and articulate as to engage in actual debate on complex matters. That takes an attitude which to my mind seems to exist more in the US than in the UK.

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted February 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        Who, of course, are proportionately few.

        • TJR
          Posted February 14, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

          Exactly.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps reflecting a stronger heritage of class-consciousness on the part of the UK, vs. Americans’ total buy-into of the myth of equal opportunity…

      • third chimp
        Posted February 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

        I beg to differ about the class consciousness – I think the problem is religion but in a more indirect way. A recent poll commissioned by the RDFRS (Dawkins Foundation) that looked at actual beliefs of people identifying as Christian in the 2011 UK census found 49% of them did NOT think Jesus was the “Son of God™”. There is a heavy strain of scepticism in British culture that serves as something of an antidote to gullibility across a broad spectrum from religion, politics and even humor.
        The Horatio Alger mentality you refer to, Reagan’s sunny America triumphing over Jummy Carter’s “gird yourself prognosis” were and are delusions. Sometimes the delusions can lead to great outcomes, but mostly it validates P.T.Barnum’s observations about his countrymen – “There’s a sucker born every minute”.
        The way I see religion playing into this is that is VALIDATES gullibility – instead of being embarrassed at being taken for a ride, a sufficient display of faith (regardless of the warning signs) is something to be emulated.
        The most telling part of Miller’s analysis for me is the readiness with which an audience will believe that scientists in selected fields are in on a scam of global proportions to enrich themselves. A quick review of the salary of Biological or Climate scientists should be all that it takes to knock that idea on its head – but I suspect the religious upbringing of many Americans essentially trains them to accept complete (and easily verified) nonsense in support of a cherished narrative.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 14, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          Can’t disagree with anything you say. I was responding to Veroxitatus’s remark about school children tho, not to Miller’s article.

  17. Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    When my religious friends claim the nutters aren’t “true Christians” I challenge them to argue against them. If they don’t think these nuts are the real thing, why aren’t they more outspoken about it? To borrow Dubya’s language, their religion is being hijacked by the extremists and they’re letting it happen. This is another case of that.

    I would also point out that part of the anti-science movement is left-wing hippie nuttery. The anti-vaccine movement and the hysteria about genetically modified foods, for example.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I, too, challenge my religious friends, but in a slightly different way. I want them to explain why their version of the one-true-religion is actually the valid one. I think they need to own up to their co-religionist bond with the nutters.

      And I agree about the anti-vaxers, GMO hysterics, and such, with the minor quibble that this kind of nut-jobbery is found across the traditional political spectrum, not just among “left-wing hippie” types.

  18. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I find it remarkable that Miller can bring himself to do this, and the comparison to Giberson to be a bit unfair to the latter. I don’t think Giberson would ever write a long column about public denial of evolution without noting the importance of mistaken religious perspectives.

    The notion that we must not implicate faith goes deep and wide. You see it a lot in discussion of the oppression of women in Islamic states, where “tradition” stands in. See, for example, this. Not a word in the post, not a word in the comments.

  19. Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I like Ken Miller a lot! And we godless Old-Earth Evolutionists owe Ken Miller a lot — he was the first unequivocally effective debater of the ICR’s Henry Morris and one of the most effective ever (along with Ken Saladin) debater of the Duane Gish, and Miller continues as a most effective critic of so-called biological “irreducible complexity,” and of [supernatural] Intelligent Design as science, and he remains today a potent ally in the ongoing battle to promote evolution education in American public science education and to keep all versions of “Goddidit”(including hifalutin versions like supernatural ID) out of the empirical science enterprise.

    I grant that, Miller being personally a devout practicing Catholic Christian, Miller is not effective at publicly excoriating religion’s role in promoting anti-science (and thus Miller does misaddress the true root of the problem of widespread anti-science)– but because Miller is a practicing Catholic Christian as a matter of his personal belief and conscience, I cut him some slack and do not expect him to wax publicly critical of the claims of religion the way a gnu atheist would — we who are gnu atheists can pick-up that slack without holding that slack against Miller…can’t we?

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      I don’t agree. Miller may be a religious person who accepts evolution, and good for him, but when he’s analyzing the problem of evolution denial in America, it’s incumbent on him to give a balanced analysis and not ignore the truth. The fact is that religion often renders people immune to (or dismissive of) claims about evolution, and it’s time for EVERYONE to admit that. That’s the first step in really addressing the problem. You don’t solve the problem by blaming it on fictional causes.

      Miller’s a scientist, even if he’s a religious one, and it’s the job of scientists (and rational folks) to admit the truth, even if it has uncomfortable implications. He’s just misleading everyone in the HuffPo article with his analysis. So yes, I do hold this against Miller.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        I’m with you on this. Miller didn’t just deny the elephant was in the room, he denied the existence of elephants.

        • S A GOULD
          Posted February 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          +1

      • Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        That, but even longer…

        Shorter my old post that was eaten:

        Just because you did something good for me once, doesn’t mean I have to accept you doing wrong to me from then on out.

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      I fucking hate WordPress. Ate my entire rebuttle.

      • Chris Granger
        Posted February 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Try Ctrl-Z. Sometimes your posts can be retrieved. (I’m not sure if it works at WordPress or not.)

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Frank may be right, but that still doesn’t make Miller’s writing any less dishonest or misleading. Maligned as we are I am forced to think we gnus are the only ones giving a damn about the TRUTH.

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      You could have said exactly the same about John Haught until the day his intellectual dishonesty came flaming out at full strength. Intellectual theism – sophisticated theology – is a skyscraper painstakingly constructed on quicksand.

  20. FastLane
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Someone email a link to The Authoritarians to K. Miller, ASAP! Seriously, he spouts his thoughts, but with no evidence, and considering the actual studies seem to be opposite of what he’s saying, well, it’s almost like he’s spouting religion. (See what I did there?)

    I cut him some slack and do not expect him to wax publicly critical of the claims of religion the way a gnu atheist would — we who are gnu atheists can pick-up that slack without holding that slack against Miller…can’t we?

    It also doesn’t mean that we can’t point out sloppy thinking, compartmentalization, and denial, regardless of whose ‘side’ he’s on. We don’t argue that there’s a problem, but we will, and should, argue about the cause. Any ‘fixes’ based on Miller’s evidence free assertions are bound to fail, since they don’t actually address the real issue, and instead address a fake issue specifically intended to avoid the real issue of religious indoctrination.

  21. S A GOULD
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Religion in America is the template used to DENY anything one wishes: evolution, gays, women rights. Anything.

    It is also the vehicle racists, bigots and survivalists use to justify their actions.

  22. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I guess I’d agree that religion is the vehicle that people use to arrive at the argument. My only extra comment is that the strength of the argument arises from the emotional reaction to the idea that people are not particularly special, and there is no Great Chain of Being for them to be near the top of. The Theory of Evolution (personalised as ‘Darwinism’) upsets the emotional comfort provided by religion.

    Similarly the notion of AGW is emotionally resisted because if it were true people would have to give up their fuel guzzling ways, cut back on the A/C, eat smaller portions of food, and not waste so much.

    For people dependant on religion for comfort, ‘Darwinism’ and AGW are unsettling and therefore *cannot* be true.

    • Alektorophile
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I wonder how much of the right’s rank-and-file opposition to AGW stems from a biblical worldview in which humans are to “subdue the earth and rule over fish, etc.” (somewhere at the start of genesis, I believe), i.e. nature is there to be used by humankind, never mind conservation or future generations (the rapture is imminent anyway, as many of them believe). From their point of view scientists are not to be believed, regardless of the evidence, because that might lead to stricter environmental regulations, and regulations would mean unnecessary sacrifices as far as their biblical outlook is concerned.

  23. Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Sadly this great nation which has grown so fast and achiedved so much is likely to lose much by believing ‘That God is on our side’. When you believe that you have no need to try too hard. Then you have an inevitable route to the dark ages.

    • Occam
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Substitute ‘God’ with ‘Joe DiMaggio’ in your phrase, and you obtain a Nietzschean argument of universal intelligibility.

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted February 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        …our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, coo coo ca choo.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

          :D

  24. Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Let’s look at first causes then. Why must religion oppose the notion of descent from other animals? This is really the conflict point?

    It appears to be that the main sales point in magical beliefs include:
    – Humans are a different kind of life form
    – Being special means they have magical powers; they are tied into the sources of magical powers, a god/s, animism, nature, etc.

    It’s not, then evolution, per se that challenges the false promises of religion but the specific fact of descent from other ALL other life forms.

  25. Posted February 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    $

  26. Scientismist
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Ken Miller is right:

    I believe much of the problem lies with atheists in the scientific community who routinely enlist the material findings of evolutionary biology in support [sic] their own philosophical pronouncements.

    Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust.

    Our Darwin problem is really a science problem.

    He is right that mainstream American values are at odds with the values of science and scientists. And he and Giberson are right that many Americans — even many atheist Americans — resent the fact that evolution, and all of science, support the theory of material naturalism. They see naturalism as a mere philosophy or methodology, that may work in the laboratory, but which must be rejected in the wider world, because it is at odds with moral and political American exceptionalism:

    We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

    — Ron Suskind describing a conversation with a senior adviser to President Bush in the Summer of 2002,

    The fact that “a substantial number of American Catholics (27%, to be exact) adhere to the Biblical account of creation” is not the problem. The problem is the number of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Scientologists, New Agers, and all others of any religious persuasion, (or even none), who subscribe to the ethic that truth matters less than belief.

    Science is an ethic, holding (in Jacob Bronowski’s words) that we should act in such a way that what is true might come to be verified as true. The dominant American ethic has become that personal and political action must support the moral imperatives of the group. When those moral imperatives include repression of sexual minorities, subjugation of women, exclusion of those perceived as foreign, promotion of war, concentration of wealth, and promotion of business as usual at the expense of the common environment, then what you get is the sad spectacle of the ongoing race for the honor of representing Gods Own Party in the 2012 elections.

    What America is suffering from is an ethical collapse into a moral climate that promotes a culture of (at best) self-deception, but most often of conscious hypocrisy and transparent lies. Should we care? Jerry says he doesn’t care much if America loses its scientific preeminence; and in this, he sounds a lot like Bronowski, who saw the seeds of the collapse 50 years ago, and pointed out that “civilization has a right to change its color.”

    But Bronowski cared, and I care. Like him, I will be greatly saddened if our Western scientific civilization becomes a footnote to history. And the answer is not what Miller suggests, that we tone down the criticism. The ethical response to lies is to tell the truth ever more plainly, as best we can understand it. The answer is to stop apologizing for science, and state plainly that the truth lies in the direction of material naturalism. And if that be scientism, then make the most of it!

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Well said.

  27. Posted February 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Your criticism of Miller’s Huffington Post article is valid; IMO, Miller should have included the fact that a particular kind of religious belief is a huge factor in anti-science thinking here in the U.S.

    Miller might have had several reasons for omitting that reason from the essay. You probably correctly identified one of his reasons. In any case, I join you in doubting that his reasons justified ignoring the elephant in the room.

    Nonetheless, I think Miller would agree that religious motivation is an important reason why anti-evolution and anti-AGW movements have such appeal among such a large portion of the U.S. population. For example, in his book “Only a Theory” on p. 158 he writes concerning his experience in the Dover case:

    “The trial was highly publicized, and naturally it provoked strong reactions on both sides of the issue. Over the next few days plenty of people who took issue with my two days of testimony let me know exactly how they felt, in letters, in e-mails, and even by telephone. Hostile reaction is to be expected whenever one takes a public stand on a controversial issue, and quite frankly, I’m used to it. What struck me about the reaction to Dover, however, was the religious character of almost every hostile comment. In addition to being told where I would likely spend eternity (no need for warm clothes, one e-mail assured me), I was repeatedly lectured about the disrespect that I and other scientists had shown for the Almighty.”

    Miller then goes on to refer readers to his other book, “Finding Darwin’s God,” for more discussion of the theological issues, followed by:

    “Nonetheless, the conviction that evolution is anti-God is so widespread that at least a few words of comment are required.” Miller then summarizes his arguments for why evolution is not, in fact, anti-God. Of course, Miller’s argument is not considered convincing here, and neither Miller nor anyone else is going to change that, I suspect. My simple point is that Miller clearly knows, and has elsewhere acknowledged, that religious belief (a particular kind of religious belief) is behind the popularity of anti-evolutionism in the United State.

    • Duane Tiemann
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      >IMO, Miller should have included the fact that a particular kind of religious belief is a huge factor in anti-science thinking here in the U.S.

      Yes. The kind that is religious.

  28. Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Remember, recent poll data show that more Americans are accepting evolution. This blog has mentioned it (for example, at
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/more-cause-for-celebration-evolution-acceptance-on-the-uptick/ )

    I realize that the statistics are controversial, so there might not be an answer to the following question, but:

    Is the overall increase in evolution acceptance due more to an increase in the number of non-theists, or is it due to a decrease, among those who are still theists, in their percentage of anti-evolutionists?

    This is simply an honest question (I don’t know the answer, but perhaps it’s available and someone does know).

  29. dunstar
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    From my discussions with the religious who differ in their acceptance of evolution, when push comes to shove they all essentially retreat to the vaguest notion of god. This really is where they all come to some sort of common ground with one another. They can’t let go of their sky fairy.

  30. Posted February 14, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    In Millers defense (I do like to play devils avocado as Fry puts it) he actually does often mention religion as one of the causes of rejection of evolution. Especially in the hour+ long video talks on you tube.

    Take the talk “Ken Miller on Intelligent Design” around 7 minutes, he talks about the people who in his words “were in the business of telling people exactly where you would spend eternity if you supported Charles Darwin”.

    Then on at 8 minutes into the talk he shows the cartoons for the creationists which show evolution as the base foundation for a castle of misery, sin, homosexuality, abortion and more. While creationism the foundation for love, marriage and peace… with pictures of Satan included. He also hammers “answers in genesis” in the talks.

    All of this is also covered in his book “Only a Theory?” which I read recently.

    He also often mentions often in these talks the group “Americans united for separation of Church and state” and recommends supporting them strongly.

    While he might be able to mention the problem of religion more often, I wonder if it is required. We have people doing that already, like your good self and your good friends Myers and Dawkins.

    I think the strength of the movements against religion and creationism at this time is the variety of voices and noises being made against them. If we all lined up and made the same noises and points we would be the weaker for it I feel.

    So I think it is good to have this multi pronged attack. Yours and Myers voice are good in some ways against religion and cretionism, Miller is a good voice too which hammers creationism hard but managed to cross the divide between atheists and theists. He is also a very astoundingly good and engaging speaker.

    In short, I think the one think we should celebrate in the fight against creationism is the diversity of voices engaged in it and the diversity of points they focus on. We should not be focused TOO much on what each of the voices do not say, but what they all say in total together.

    I think it also worth mentioning that if every theist in the world was like Kenneth Miller I doubt there would even BE an atheist movement, an AAI, or an Atheist Ireland of which I am a founding member. If I could press a button and turn all the theists in the world into theists of Millers type, I would stab that button over and over till it broke.

  31. Posted February 16, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Jerry – Let me make this very clear. You misread my HuffPost column, and then, perhaps because of that misreading, you misrepresented it to your readers. Here’s why:

    Your blog post claimed that I had blamed “the rejection of evolution on the perception by many Americans that science is a special-interest group whose values differ from theirs.” The reason I did this, you wrote, was that I’m “blinded” because I’m a “pious Catholic,” and people like me “can’t bring themselves to admit that the root cause of creationism is faith.”

    You’ve got to be kidding me. OF COURSE THE ROOT CAUSE OF CREATIOINISM IS FAITH! I’ve made that clear over and over again, as several of your own readers have pointed out in comments to your blog. But you misled your readers by claiming that my column was intended to pinpoint the “blame” for the rejection of evolution. Obviously, had I intended to do that, religious faith would have been culprit #1, to the exclusion of just about any other factor.

    But my column wasn’t about blame for anti-evolutionism – it was about the effect of anti-evolutionism. I took it as a given that a huge slice of the American population (about 40%) rejects evolution. I also noted that even among fundamentalists, acceptance of evolution increases with increasing education (that’s a good thing), and wondered if that were the case, why worry about those who reject evolution. The point of my column was that decades of unchecked anti-evolutionism have produced something even more corrosive that the religion-inspired rejection of the central theory of the biological sciences. That something is a widespread attitude that any scientific finding one doesn’t like can be brushed away by branding the scientific enterprise itself as a narrow-minded special interest group out for its own gain and advancement. That makes it easy to dismiss the data on climate change, as so many politicians have this year, as just a “fraud” or “hoax” or a scheme to get grant money. And, unlike you, I really do care if American science suffers as a result.

    Should I have blamed the current political anti-science sentiment entirely on religious faith? That’s clearly your point of view, but it would be flat-out wrong. If I were to blame the inane anti-evolution and anti-climate science rhetoric of Rick Santorum on his Catholicism, then how do I account for Joe Biden’s pro-science stance on the same issues? After all, he’s a Catholic, too, and a majority of American Catholics say that they do accept evolution. And how do we explain the fact that the most pro-science of all the Republican candidates was John Huntsman, despite the fact that Mormons reject evolution even more soundly than evangelicals do? When people of faith are clearly on both sides of an issue, it becomes nonsensical to say it’s only “faith” that’s the problem.

    I know that you like to blame religion for just about everything that’s wrong in society, and today’s faithful have given you plenty of examples to make that case. But while you’re busy saying that I’m “blinded” by my faith, keep something in mind. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my writing and public speaking has, in fact, been to explain to religious people how terribly wrong it is to reject the findings of science with respect to evolution, not to mention cosmology, climate change, vaccination, and a host of other issues. Would I be doing that, would I be seeking out speaking engagements at religious gatherings and institutions if I was “blinded” to the causative role that religion plays in the anti-science movement? Of course not. It is precisely because I see religious faith as the prime mover in evolution denial that I have tried to make the case for science over and over again to people of faith. Needless to say, they don’t all like to hear that, and I get more than my share of flak from the religious community.

    So, do me a favor. I know very well that you’d like to see religion vanish at a flash, and that you’re certain we’d all be the better for it. Fair enough. That’s the core of your argument, and I understand it. But don’t accuse me of “neglecting the obvious” with respect to the role of faith in anti-science. Rather, it is because I recognize all too well the role of faith in science rejection that I’ve addressed my arguments directly to such people over and over again. And I’m going to keep on doing it.

    With Best Wishes,

    Ken Miller

    • Posted February 16, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Ken,

      Thanks for weighing in here, and, as I said, I have admired your work in selling evolution to the public and saying that religious people shouldn’t reject it, though, as you know, I think that sometimes you shade into a kind of teleology: that a humanlike creature, capable of apprehending and worshiping God, MUST have had to arise during evolution. I think you say that not because the science tells us this, because it doesn’t, but because that stems from your religious faith: God created us in his image, so we MUST have had to evolve.

      But that aside, I do disagree with your contention that the piece you wrote was meant only to talk about the corrosive effects of evolution denial. (By the way, I did mention at least one of those deleterious effects you wrote about: the loss of America’s scientific superiority, something I don’t care about as much as you do.

      Rereading the piece, it’s clear to me that you also meant to explain why America denies evolution more than other first-world countries. As I’ve mentioned in my review of your book Only a Theory, you always downplay religion, and in the HuffPo article you didn’t mention it at all. I would have been much happier had you admitted there what you do here: the problem is religion. Why don’t you say this in public? Contrary to what what you say above, your column certainly DOES analyze the causes of antievolutionism, to wit:

      You might think that since Americans are a practical, pragmatic people, this is an issue that would turn on the weight of the evidence. It’s not. In an age of molecular genomics, it is ever more apparent that the fingerprints of evolution are pressed deeply into human DNA, just as they are into the genomes of every other organism. Biologists understand this, and so do students who study the science of life. Whether conservative or liberal, fundamentalist or agnostic, the more students learn of biology, the more they accept evolution. So, why does public acceptance matter if the students who actually go into science see the evidence for evolution so clearly?

      This is the heart of our Darwin problem. Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust. Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke to this view when he claimed that “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It’s personal greed. Scientists cheat “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry is hardly alone in his effort to depict scientists as greedy outsiders, “scamming the American people right and left” in the words of one Fox News commentator. . .

      Our Darwin problem is really a science problem. The easier it becomes to depict the scientific enterprise as a special interest immersed in the culture wars, the easier it becomes to reject scientific findings. We see this everywhere in American culture and politics today, from the anti-vaccine movement to the repeated assertion that global warming is a deliberate “hoax” rather than a straightforward conclusion driven by reams of scientific data. Sometimes this is done for deliberate political reasons, to secure advantage for a particular industry or financial group, but just as often it is motivated by fear of the implications of what science has discovered or might discover in the future.

      Really, how can you say that without mentioning what you did above: that the corrosion of scientific credibility is connected with faith? Why did you leave that out? If we didn’t have religion, the U.S. would be like Scandinavia, with 80% of the people accepting evolution.

      Since you’ve admitted here that the root cause of anti-evolutionism in America is religion, I won’t accuse you of not recognizing the obvious. All I’ll fault you for is deliberately neglecting that recognition when you write about antievolutionism for the public (not just in HuffPo piece, but in the book mentioned above). And it’s my theory (“only a theory”!) that that is because you don’t want to diss religion, which is an unpopular thing to do in America as well as something that may make you personally uncomfortable.

      I am indeed your ally in fighting against creationism. Where we diverge is in my views on the harmfulness of faith. You think the best way to bring Americans to evoution is to educate them and show them that it’s not contrary to their religion. (By the way 27% of Catholics still adhere to Biblical creationism ex nihilo rather than following the Church’s offical stance). I think that’s a futile endeavor, as evidence by the failure of BioLogos to move evangelicals toward Darwin. And I think the best way to bring America to evolution is to weaken religion’s grip on our country. That has the advantage of not only eliminating scripturally-based opposition to evolution (as you know, the root cause of creationism), but producing all kinds of other salutary effects.

      I believe that your own faith, Catholicism, has been responsible for many of the world’s evils, not only in its stand on birth control and AIDS, but its coverup of clergy child abuse (yes, I think that coverup can be said to be an offical policy of the Vatican), in the horrible guilt it instills in divorced people, children, and those who enjoy sex. Now you may not subscribe to these official policies of Catholicism, but that’s what your church says and does. And I’ll continue to oppose that, too, as well as any version of theistic evolution that comes down the pike, including that which asserts that the appearance of humanlike creatures was inevitable.

      best,
      Jerry


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  1. [...] well-respected biologist — Jerry Coyne — posted a response to Miller’s essay on his blog.  Coyne is a preeminent evolutionary biologist and the author [...]

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