The other day, I got a request for an interview: a reporter was writing a story about Ken Miller. I was happy to do so — this was clearly going to be a friendly piece about Miller, and I thought it was good that he get some more press. I talked on the phone with this fellow for 20 minutes or so, and I told him what I thought: Miller is a smart guy, a great speaker, a hardworking asset to the people opposing creationism, and I also said that his efforts to squeeze religion into science were ill-founded and badly argued. I said, “It’s an effort to reconcile a legitimate discipline with foolishness.”
Guess what the only quote to make it into the article was?
Yeah, it turned out to be a crappy atheist-bashing article. It wasn’t enough to talk about Miller’s good work and the respect he gets from others — no, it had to be turned into a fight, with poor Miller unable to win because he’s being “attacked by Darwin-hating fundies and leftie atheists alike,” and the New Atheists are the primary villains of the piece. The more complex story I tried to tell got discarded, and only one short sentence made it to the final result. I must have been a major disappointment to the reporter, since I didn’t give him much in the way of vicious attack-dog quotes.
He also got a little bit from Jerry Coyne. Again, it’s clear but temperate stuff. The story really does not have anything to justify the claim that we’re out to get Miller, or that the New Atheists are somehow in symbiosis with fundagelical loons.
“By discussing science and religion together and asserting that science more or less points you to evidence for God, he blurs the boundaries between science and faith,” says Coyne, “boundaries which I think have to be absolutely maintained if we’re going to have a rational country and we’re going to judge things based on evidence rather than superstition.”
I agree completely with that — Miller does blur the lines in very silly ways. The article even reiterates Miller’s notorious explanation from his book, Finding Darwin’s God, and obliviously confirms Coyne’s point by approvingly citing the way Miller mingles nonsense with science.
But the cell biologist also makes explicitly scientific arguments: maintaining, for instance, that quantum indeterminacy — the ultimately unpredictable outcome of physical events — could allow God to intervene in subtle, undetectable ways.
This sort of sly intervention, he argues, is vital to the Creator’s project: if God were to re-grow limbs for amputees, for instance — if God were to perform the sort of miracles demanded by atheists as proof of his existence — the consequences would be disastrous.
“Suppose that it was common knowledge that if you were a righteous person and of great faith and prayed deeply, all of a sudden, your limb would grow back,” he says. “That would reduce God to a kind of supranatural force . . . and by pushing the button labeled ‘prayer,’ you could accomplish anything you wanted. What would that do to moral independence?”
That is not a scientific argument in any way—I guess the reporter was fooled by the flinging about of “quantum”. All that is is tired old post hoc theological apologetics without a hint of evidence to back it up.
Nowhere anywhere in the article is any reasonable support for the notion of a god, nor especially of any peculiarly Catholic deity. Of course there isn’t, because he doesn’t have any.
What he does do, again, is try to throw atheists under the bus. It’s more bullshit about how science has to compromise with the public’s version of spiritual superstition, rather than remaining true to the evidence.
But Miller rejects any suggestion that the science in his work suffers when he brings in the spiritual. And he argues that the New Atheists, in their forceful rejection of God, are doing damage, in their own right, to a scientific brand already under assault.
Indeed, Miller argues that the creationists and New Atheists are in an odd sort of symbiosis — reinforcing each others’ extreme views of the incompatibility of science and religion.
Well, fuck that noise.
The New Atheists are as much a force in opposition to creationism as is Ken Miller; more so, I would argue, because we don’t make fuzzy, muddled compromises with absurd medieval humbug. Even if he disagrees on that last point, his constant efforts to belittle the atheists on his side in this struggle, to repeatedly argue that they are a detriment to science education, is getting tiresome. Miller wants to turn the pro-evolution movement into a stalking horse for Catholicism, while his godless colleagues have repeatedly stated that we want no endorsement of religion or atheism in science education. The only one doing damage to the “brand of science” is the guy with pitiful idea that god is noodling about at the quantum level in ways that are completely undetectable — he wants to claim that he has an invisible dragon in his garage, and what’s more, that that claim is scientific.
Remind me, next time I’m asked about Ken Miller, that I shouldn’t bother to say anything appreciative. It will be ignored and won’t be reciprocated. And I’m not going to endorse his crusade to taint science with supernaturalism.