The recent debates about accommodating scientific with religious views have been scattered across several websites. The whole megillah began with a post on Chris Mooney’s site, arguing that the atheist attack on accommodationism was inimical to our joint interest in promoting the understanding of evolution. Mooney also characterized anti-accommodationists as “uncivil.” Since then, the arguments have bounced between this site and those of Mooney, Jason Rosenhouse, Russell Blackford, “Erratic Synapse,” and others; I’ve assembled the posts in chronological order here.
In his last post, Mooney called my attention to a recent posting by Kenneth Miller at Brown University responding to my critiques of accommodationism and especially my piece in The New Republic discussing two books, one by Miller and the other by Karl Giberson. I have promised to respond to Miller, although both P. Z. Myers and Jason Rosenhouse have already published critiques of Miller’s posting. Indeed, they did such a good job of refuting Miller’s claims that I’m not sure I have much to add. However, I promised to respond and so I will, though with an increasing sense of languor and futility.
Miller’s piece is in six parts: an introduction and five sections, each of the latter having a bold heading. I propose to respond to each section in turn. Today I’ll make a few introductory comments, and will tackle Miller’s own introduction tomorrow. Bear with me: this will take a few days, and I have a day job.
Revisiting Miler’s prose from his first book, Finding Darwin’s God, through his most recent posting, I observe what others like P.Z. have noticed: Miller is increasingly backing off from the theism he previously espoused. (Indeed, P.Z.’s response is called “Theistic evolution beats a hasty retreat.”)
My theses are these:
1. While science and theism (i.e., the view that God acts to change things in the material world) are compatible in the trivial sense that some people adhere to both, they are incompatible in the philosophical sense of being harmonious world views. I’ve argued this ad nauseum (as in the New Republic piece) and so won’t go into all the details again.
2. Miller, as a scientist and a theist, is guilty of diluting (indeed, distorting) science by claiming that God interferes in nature in certain specified ways, and that these ways are in principle detectable. Some of his assertions, such as that of the inevitability of humanoid evolution, are scientifically insupportable.
3. Miller denies #2, but the evidence is against him. In particular, he has suggested a). that God might tweak nature through events on the quantum level; b). that God arranged things so that evolution would arrive at certain “inevitable” ends (e.g., the evolution of our own species), a view that cannot be defended as scientific; c). that the physical constants of the world were constructed by God, or “fine tuned,” to permit life to exist in the Universe; and d.) the fact that there are “laws” (regularities, really) in the Universe can be understood only as an act of God. The last claim is in fact a God-of-the-gaps argument, since it asserts that the best answer to the question, “Why are there scientific laws at all?” is “God made them.” Here Miller merely swaps ignorance for “God,” just as creationist Michael Behe swaps ignorance of biochemical evolution for God.
4. When confronted with #3, Miller says that he is only suggesting these as possibilities. I counter that this claim is disingenuous, and that Miller either believes these things himself, or is offering them for serious consideration by fellow theists. I further argue that since Miller has made his theism a centerpiece of this debate, he must do more than obliquely suggest “possibilities” for the theist. He must state publicly what he actually believes vis-a-vis #3, and tell us what reasons he has for his beliefs. It is my opinion that his failure to ever have done this reflects more than a desire for privacy of faith — after all, Miller is the one who wrote a book called Finding Darwin’s God and has made much of his own reconciliation of Catholicism with science. I believe it also reflects an understanding that if he publicly revealed what he believed, he would lose stature, for his beliefs would be seen as not only unscientific, but embarrassingly superstitious.
5. The behavior seen in #4 constitutes what I call “wink wink nudge nudge” theism. Without ever defending his beliefs — or indeed, telling us what they are — Miller nevertheless offers a kind of coded succor to his fellow theists. This is manifest in his recent string of lectures, in which he repeatedly emphasizes that the universe shows “design,” but then backs off, claiming that “I didn’t really mean, folks, that God actually did anything.” Let me repeat — I think this is disingenuous, and that Miller knows exactly what he’s doing. I suggest that such behavior promotes public confusion about what science does and does not tell us about the universe. Miller’s “suggestions” for fellow theists involve pointing out ways that nature attests to God. And, in the end, this is nothing more than a form of creationism.
I have stated many times before that I have enormous admiration for Miller’s accomplishments: he has not only written several excellent biology textbooks (no mean feat, believe me!), but has vociferously defended evolution in the classroom, the courtroom, and other public venues. I gladly join him in opposing those creationists who want to take good science out of the classroom and replace it with medieval theology. But we differ in how we view this battle. Ultimately, I don’t think it will be won until religion’s hold on America loosens. As a theist, he obviously feels otherwise.
Now that the throat is cleared, more discussion tomorrow.