Miller in the BAM
To start off our round-up of recent magazine articles on evolution, consider this profile of Ken Miller from the Brown Alumni Magazine. Much of it will be old news to devotees of the evolution\ID fracas. But the article also conatins some interesting nuggets:
Although Miller, a cell biologist, has been defending evolution in public forums for most of his adult life, in 1997 he become a national figure. That year he appeared with three other evolutionists on Firing Line to debate [William F.] Buckley and three anti-evolutionists. His host sensed Miller was something special. “Young man,” Buckley told a startled Miller after the show, “that was the most astonishing performance I’ve ever seen. That was absolutely remarkable.” The admiration was mutual. “I would place him as one of the four or five smartest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Miller says. “But he doesn’t know science. That’s why he was completely out of his depth. Like many brilliant people, he is also capable of profound self-delusion.”
Miller's co-panelists in that debate were Barry Lynn (of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State), Philosopher Michael Ruse, and NCSE leader Eugenie Scott. All fought well, but there is no question that Miller stole the show. The reaosn is not hard to find. Miller was the sole practicing scientist in the group. It was effortless for Miller to spot the flaws in the ID arguments, because he knows from years of quotidian scientific work that they are nonsense. And since he makes his living partly from presenting the basic facts of biology to bored undergraduates, he is very skillful in presenting the facts.
Much of the article deals with Miller's well-known religious faith:
Although Miller jokes that he’s never been spoken to by a burning bush, he is no stranger to the religious impulses that prompt so many to distrust evolution. A cradle Catholic who has “had personal experiences of God,” he is also a Darwinian for whom the world unfolds “enormously rich with life and with evolutionary possibilities,” he says. “To me the idea of God, the idea of a supreme being, is the intellectual peg that holds everything else together. That enables my existence, the world, the diversity of life, the magnificence of the universe to be put into a context in which they make sense.”
See, this is why I'll never understand religious people. I think this is precisely backward. To me the world makes sense when I can view it as the end result of a few simple scientific principles. To the ancients eclipses were mysterious and frightening things. Then came physics to show us that they are purely natural phenomena, predictable to the second centuries in advance. Eclipses make sense.
Throw God into the mix and nothing makes sense anymore. Eclipses happen only because it amuses God to make them happen? Why should he bother? This all-powerful being created an entire universe just so a handful of vastly inferior beings would worship Him? Does that make sense? For that matter, how does an eternal, all-powerful being keep from getting bored?
In viewing anything in nature as being the handiwork of God you are only replacing one mystery with a vastly greater mystery. If it is difficult to explain where the universe came from, how much more difficult is it to explain where God came from? If the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of life is viewed as so inexplicable that only a supernatural entity could be responsible for them, then how much more inexplicable is the existence of a being capable of fiddling with those constants.
Now, I can certainly imagine things I might observe that would so fly in the face of anything natural causes could explain that I would begrudgingly concede the existence of God, or something like Him. But, ID protestations notwithstanding, we have nothing like that. That is why evolution is viewed as such a threat to religious belief. Not because there is some fundamental incompatility between evolution and religion, but because if a mystery as huge as the origin of species can be explained solely in terms of natural causes, it's hard to imagine what, exactly, God is needed to explain. And if God is not needed to explain some aspect of the natural world, then what reason is there for believing in Him.
I don't know what experiences of the divine Miller is referring to here, but I suspect the God hypothesis is not the most parsimonious explanation of them.
Or consider this:
“Darwin’s God,” Miller believes, presides over a world in which things are exactly as scientists observe them to be: “dynamic, flexible, and logically complete.” It is a world of free will and possibility, in which evolution is one of the mechanisms of realizing that possibility. Alluding to creationists, Miller writes, “Certainty of outcome means that control and predictability come at the price of independence. By being always in control, the Creator would deny His creatures any real opportunity to know and worship Him. Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation.” That freedom, Miller concludes, “is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature.”
I'm sorry to be harsh, but that paragraph strikes me as total nonsense. There is no logical connection at all between God's desire to create beings capable of worship on the one hand with his desire to grant those beings freedom and independence on the other. There is no reason why God couldn't be in complete control during the creation of the world, while relinquishing some of that control when the creation was complete.
And even if we concede for some reason that some sort of evolutionary process is necessary to produce true human freedom, there is no reason at all why God had to choose the violent, amoral, bloody process of natural selection for its mechanism. An omnipotent being could surely have developed a more civilized evolutionary process than that.
There is one other excerpt I think deserves comment:
As a cell biologist who spends much of his time using electron microscopy to study membranes in cells, Miller never intended to embark on a second career as a stand-in for Charles Darwin. But in 1981, during Miller’s first spring teaching at Brown, a student Christian group arranged to bring the creationist Henry Morris, of San Diego’s Institute for Creation Research (ICR), to campus. Morris challenged any Brown biology or geology professor to a debate on evolution. Students asked one professor after another to participate, but none accepted, including Miller.
“No. Get lost,” he told them.
The students wanted to know why.
“Because I don’t know anything about evolution,” Miller replied.
I can just see ID proponents pouncing on that last line. How could someone who recently completed a PhD program in biology not know anything about evolution? So much for evolution being the centerpiece of modern biology!
The answer, of course, is that Miller actually knew a great deal about evolution when his students approached him. But he was also aware that compared to someone specializing in evolutionary biology, he did not know very much. Knowing a lot about a subject and knowing enough to be confident discussing it on stage are two different things.
Anyway, the article is rather long and has quite a few interesting passages. I recommend reading the whole thing.