Moran on Miller

That last post notwithstanding, I do think Larry Moran deserves criticism for one thing. He has been very unfair to Ken Milller.

For example, in this post Moran writes:

The Neville Chamberlain Atheists object when Behe talks about intelligent design but mum’s the word when Ken Miller talks about how God tweaks mutations to get what He wants. Hypocrisy is a strange thing to be proud of.

And in this post we find:

Young Earth Creationsts (YEC’s) and Intelligent Design Creationists (IDiots) are anti-science because they propose explanations of the natural world that conflict with science. But they’re not alone in doing that. Many of the so-called Theistic Evolutionists also promote a version of evolution that Darwin wouldn’t recognize. They are more “theist” than “evolutionist.”

For some reason the Neville Chamberlain team is willing to attack the bad science of a Michael Denton or a Michael Behe but not the equally–and mostly indistinguishable–bad science of leading Theistic Evolutionists. Isn’t that strange?

Ken Miller is one of those leading Theistic Evolutionists.

I am not aware of any instance where Miller argued that God tweaks mutations to get what He wants. In fact, it seems to me that Miller’s view of evolution is almost indistinguishable from that of Richard Dawkins. For example, in Finding Darwin’s God Miller has nothing but praise for Dawkins’ description of evolution in The Blind Watchmaker.

It is likewise absurd to say that Miller’s view of evolution is nearly indistinguishable from Behe’s. Miller believes that God set up the initial conditions for making evolution possible, but then natural forces took over. He is quite clear in his book that the course of evolution was not foreordained by anything God did. This fact is crucial to Miller’s view of Christian theology. He argues that a world in which God constantly intervenes, or one in which the course of evolution was foreordained by God, would also be a world that could not be viewed as truly separate from God Himself. Miller also believes that scientists are right to adhere to methodological naturalism in thier work.

Behe, of course, rejects all of these views.

I would go even further. I don’t know how Miller describes himself, but I would not refer to him as a theistic evolutionist. He is an evolutionist, period. He also believes in God. I have seen no evidence of him mixing science and religion. He claims only that there is no inconsistency between scientific findings and a meaningful Christianity. He does not claim that science provides evidence for religious belief.

I think even these more modest claims are wrong and worthy of criticism. But they do not merit the angry and ill-considered condemnation Moran heaps upon them.


  1. #1 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    November 29, 2006

    Well. I saw Dr. Miller recently and I will says that I felt like he made a few leaps or rather ignored gaps between his staunch defense of evolution (might I say very well defended) and his theism.

    He was quick to attack Dawkins and other atheist “evolutionists” and still give a pass to the religious supernatural beliefs of many of the theistic evolutionists that, IMHO, don’t jive with the things he had previously defended.

    It’s not that Miller is injecting any “god did it” into his science as much as excusing the supernatural beliefs of others that may influence Natural explanations. I’ll admit I am short on examples, being it was a few weeks ago, but this is the overall feeling I left with.

    Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Miller did a great honor to my family by coming to speak in honor of my Grandfather at NCSU and I thought he did a fantastic job. But I did leave questioning what I thought about the second half of his lecture.

  2. #2 coturnix
    November 29, 2006

    I felt the same at the same talk at NCSU.

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    November 29, 2006

    Ken Miller is an exceptional scientist and an impeccably effective advocate for science education, I would never deny that. I think that, as a theist, he is wrong. But in general I think it would be wise to avoid comparing him to Behe and other ID-folk.

    However, putting aside Moran’s admittedly unfair characterization of Miller’s views, I do think that scientists should take a more active role in scrutinizing prevalent religious beliefs. They already feel quite comfortable doing the same to New Age beliefs and medical quackery, so I consider it rather hypocritical of scientists to engage in abject NOMA rationalizations for religion when the latter is no more plausible. This is likely a place where Miller and I would vehemently disagree.

    In any case, the idea that this causes us to fail to meet the need for some sort of ideological purity is silly. One can advocate for good science education while being critical of inconsistency and intellectual dishonesty within one’s own ranks. Otherwise science will ultimately just end up being the caricature already in many anti-scientists minds: an ideology rather than a pursuit of truth.

  4. #4 gengar
    November 30, 2006

    I think Ken Miller is possibly the archetypal example of a theist who adheres to the non-overlapping magisteria concept – unlike the large majority of his brethren.

    To say his beliefs are wrong is not strictly correct, I feel. They are unneccesary, but very difficult to definitively refute.

  5. #5 John Farrell
    November 30, 2006

    He claims only that there is no inconsistency between scientific findings and a meaningful Christianity. He does not claim that science provides evidence for religious belief.

    Indeed. And boy, was your conciseness missed these past few weeks!


  6. #6 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 30, 2006


    Thanks for the kind words! I must say that conciseness is not something iget accused of very often. 🙂

  7. #7 trrll
    November 30, 2006

    I think Ken Miller is possibly the archetypal example of a theist who adheres to the non-overlapping magisteria concept – unlike the large majority of his brethren.

    I presume that by his “brethren” you mean theists. Views similar to Miller’s are fairly common among practicing scientists.

  8. #8 Russell Blackford
    November 30, 2006

    For reasons that I don’t have time to elaborate here, the NOMA doctrine is wrong. Briefly, the sphere assigned to religion is much too wide in one sense (since it is assigned the entirety of moral thinking) and much too narrow in another (since religions have always been encyclopedic systems of explanation of the universe and our place in it; which means that they make claims that are open to systematic investigation by science).

    At the same time, not every scientist has to renounce religious faith to be a good scientist. Whatever the theoretical situation, in practice some highly abstract religious doctrines are so well-insulated from empirical investigation that no clash is possible for the foreseeable future. That is the grain of truth in the otherwise-meretricious NOMA doctrine. If scientists who have some kind of religious faith are able to get on actually doing science, with its step-by-step processes of investigation, then we should all let them do it and not expect them to renounce their religious faith. As long as they don’t misrepresent the current state of scientific research, they are doing nothing wrong. We can disagree with them, but there is no need to criticise them as somehow acting badly.

    Of course, some other scientists (like some non-scientists) may take the view that religious faith as such is pernicious. That is stepping away from the actual process of scientific investigation and taking a more synoptic view of things – in other words, when scientists do that they are putting on their philosophers’ hats. There’s nothing wrong with that at all: not all philosophy has to be done by professional philsophers, and working scientists like Richard Dawkins may have insights to offer. As long as they are not misrepresenting the current state of scientific theory and research, I don’t see how they can be criticised. Again, someone might disagree with them, but I don’t see how they can be said to be acting badly.

    People are too quick to lay moral blame when what is required is merely a courteous statement of disagreement. The only people who deserve moral blame are those who deliberately or negligently distort science to try to win public opinion.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    December 1, 2006

    For completeness’s sake, here is Dr. Blackford’s essay on NOMA, first published in Quadrant back in 2000. I particularly like this part:

    Gould makes the historical claim that ethical discussion, including the search for meaning, has centered upon the institution of religion. Therefore, it is appropriate to use the word “religion” to denote this kind of discussion. Parfit would agree with the historical claim but add that ethical discussion has been the worse for exactly that reason. Several points need to be made here.

    First, Rocks of Ages claims to be a book about the compatibility of religion and science. It is no use Gould putting an argument that something quite different from the normal concept of religion can justifiably be called “religion”, and then arguing that this is compatible with science. What a let down! Secondly, the argument for using the word “religion” in this way is appallingly weak. We might as well use the word “autocracy” to describe the study of government on the ground that, historically, most governments have been autocratic. The fact is that modern ethical philosophy is often non-religious or anti-religious, and it is insulting to thinkers such as Parfit or Peter Singer to adopt terminology that suggests they are really playing the religion game.

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