I’m going to be a bit distracted for a while, with some upcoming travel and various other bits of busy work, but I was listening to this lecture by Ken Miller (in which Carl Zimmer was in attendance, too) as I was puttering away on a lecture of my own . It’s pretty much the same talk he gave in Kansas, sans talk of shooting at new targets and other obnoxious language, but I still find myself disagreeing with his conclusions. I had to take just a minute to bring up my objections.
He wants to argue that evolution is compatible with, even strengthens his faith, but his god is remarkably aloof from his creation. There’s no evidence for him, and even in the Q&A Miller distances himself from any attempt to pin a god down to a discrete intervention. So his god is a hypothesis that is indistinguishable from the hypothesis that there is no god, and he postulates no possibility of a test to support his idea. It’s simply not parsimonious. Shouldn’t every nerve in a scientist’s body be itching at the inclusion of an unnecessary and inaccessible and overbearingly complex yet utterly needless entity in a hypothesis? Why isn’t Miller dissatisfied?
- Two discordant notes: Miller cites and praises St. Augustine’s insistence that a good Christian should not be insisting that doctrinal matters are factually true when they clearly contradict the observable world, and that such unthinking acceptance of contradictions is apparent to, and objectionable to, unbelievers. That’s not a problem; I’ve used ol’ Augustine myself. But then he goes on to praise Francis Collins’ recent book as a wonderful example of reconciling science and religion.
Somehow, the creationist wars are going to be resolved by turning the whole debate to the issue of the existence of god rather than evolution. Nah, I don’t believe it, not for one minute. This conflict isn’t about some rarefied abstraction, it’s about deeply ingrained doctrinal issues: evolution contradicts biblical literalism, and that’s a fundamental tenet of many of the religions in this country. It’s like expecting Southern Baptists to happily go along with the suggestion to start attending Unitarian Universalist services instead of the fire-and-brimstone raging preaching they’re used to…isn’t that far more naive and stretching the imagination than any atheist proudly stating his or her beliefs, and expecting not to get lynched?
I think what he’s really saying here is that he’d rather argue with the Richard Dawkins of the world—they’re certainly smarter and better informed—than with patently foolish ID creationists. I think he’s assuming, though, that such a debate would go well for him, and he’s only right that the audience that now favors Ken Ham and Kent Hovind and Paul Nelson would certainly side with Ken Miller against Richard Dawkins. I don’t think that’s a point in favor of his position.
I’ve read Collins’ book, and the religious part is the most appalling, facile, illogical gobbledygook. This unbeliever sees Collins’ faulty reason as testimony against Christianity, because clearly his faith has made him willing to accept the most astonishingly foolish nonsense. You have to be fully indoctrinated into Christian dogma to be unable to see through that crap about waterfalls and the Trinity and the unquestioning acceptance of C.S. Lewis’s equally goofy theology.
Most importantly, I still think his attempt at reconciling science and theology is ultimately anti-scientific. We’re supposed to question and test everything, a point Miller made very strongly at the beginning of the talk, but at the end he’s essentially left holding a flabby bag labeled “faith”, and insisting that we can’t really question whether it’s empty or not, because his god is a supremely cunning and evasive god who made the bag to look empty. That’s unconvincing and unscientific. It undermines that whole issue of being good questioners that science should reinforce.