Pharyngula

I’m not the only one talking about Miller!

Surely you can’t be tired of dissecting Ken Miller yet, can you? Perhaps you’re tired of me going over it, though. In that case, Jon Voisey discusses his talk and the Q & A afterwards (don’t worry, he’s less vicious than I am, despite being an angry astronomer), and Mark Perakh points us to Amiel Rossow’s review of Finding Darwin’s God. Personally, I find it a strange book: pages 1-164 are excellent, among the best and plainest and most direct critiques of Intelligent Design creationism you’ll find; pages 165-292, eh, not so much. It’s like mild-mannered, sensible Dr Miller wrote the first half, then he drank the potion that turned him into the wartily odious Mr Theologian, with his temporal lobe unshackled and the mystical caudate nucleus unleashed, and we get page after page of unearthly prolix rationalizations for superstition. Oh, well…165 pages of first rate biology makes the book worth buying, and you can always read the rest as an exercise in facing down religious apologists.

Comments

  1. #1 Tatarize
    September 11, 2006

    I heard of a great panel with Dawkins and Miller on it.

    http://www.discover.com/issues/sep-05/features/darwins-rottweiler/?page=2

    “I regard Genesis as the spiritual truth,” Miller said. “And I also think that Genesis was written in a language that would explain God that was relevant to the people living at the time. I cannot imagine–cannot imagine–Moses coming down from the Mount and talking about DNA, RNA, punctuated equilibrium. I don’t think he would have gotten very far.” Nonetheless, he reiterated his belief that the biblical stories of the world’s creation “are true in the spiritual sense and that they are written by human beings in the language of the time.”

    Dawkins, at the far end of the table, almost levitated out of his seat with indignation. “But what does that mean?” he demanded, voice rising. The audience rewarded his indignation with combustive applause. “Is it a caricature for me to ask you, since you are a Roman Catholic, do you believe Jesus had an earthly father?”

    “Ah, this is the famous Richard Dawkins question,” Miller replied, sounding a little defensive.

    “No, don’t ridicule it!” Dawkins shouted, relentless.

    “If I can just get a fragment of the body of Jesus,” Miller continued, “I could do DNA fingerprinting! I could figure out who gave Mary that Y chromosome!”

    “That’s a facetious answer!” Dawkins cried out, his face flushed with conviction, shaking his finger at Miller. “That’s a facetious answer!” The heat was so palpable that, as Margaret Wertheim, the moderator, said later, “At least now we know that Richard actually believes this. Before, I wasn’t sure if it was just a performance.”

  2. #2 Michael Kremer
    September 11, 2006

    Steve Labonne: I think you’ve misunderstood Miller. He was being sarcastic. He is quite clear in his book that he accepts the virgin birth, calling it a “key doctrine of my own faith.” He states that God is capable of miracles and that miracles are events beyond scientific or natural explanation.

    Here is a full quote: “The Christian God isn’t a deist one; neither is Allah, or the God of Abraham. Any God worthy of the name has to be capable of miracles, and each of the
    great Western religions attributes a number of very specific miracles to their conception of God. What can science say about a miracle? Nothing. By definition, the miraculous is beyond explanation, beyond our understanding, beyond science. This does not mean that miracles do not occur. A key doctrine in my own faith is that Jesus was born of a virgin, even though it makes no scientific sense-there is the matter of Jesus’s Y-chromosome to account for. But that is the point. Miracles, by definition, do not have to make scientific sense. They are specific acts of God, designed in most cases to get a message across. Their very rarity is what makes them remarkable.” (pp. 239-40)

    Given this context, I think you should understand his reply to Dawkins somewhat like this: how are you going to prove the Virgin Birth didn’t happen? You’re going to produce a piece of Jesus’s body and subject it to a DNA test? And then produce a bit of the father’s body and so prove paternity?

  3. #3 Steve LaBonne
    September 11, 2006

    Michael, at some level you, like Miller, must know that this is meaningless doubletalk of the most asinine kind. That’s what made Dawkins angry and makes many of us angry. For the hundredth time, if “God” can arbitrarily do things that are completely against the laws of nature then we can just give up doing science because we can never be confident that the phenomena we observe are the products of lawlike regularities in the universe rather than of “miracles”. Christianity in anything more than an extremely watered-down Unitarian version is incompatible with the scientific view of the universe. Period. This was the case even in the 4th century CE (when Christianity was snuffing out the last embers of Greek rationality) and is a thousand times moreso today. And kudos to Dawkins for not accepting evasion and bluffing on this point.

    And by the way if Miller was actually challenging Dawkins to prove the negative of a ridiculous proposition, that reflects even more discredit on him. He knows better than that.

  4. #4 JJP
    September 11, 2006

    Miller is an odious dick; stop listening to his BS! Viva Dawkins :)

  5. #5 George
    September 11, 2006

    … if Mary were a hermaphrodite, she could have self impregnated … .

    Moses talking DNA to a bunch of shepherds, Mary self-impregnating… the Bible is starting to sound interesting again.

    Seriously, if the best way to get fundies to accept evolution is to have scientists who speak god-talk tell them it is okay, we are in deep trouble.

    Come on! Miller’s beliefs only make fundies more unwilling to give up their dumb religious notions. Virgin birth? Heaven? Miracle? They can point to another prominent scientist and say, see, he believes it, so it must be okay.

    I’ll take Dawkins the mocking meanie any day. I don’t want to live in a world where faith and reason peacefully co-exist and where everyone compartmentalizes them in their heads and in their books. It’s b.s. We need more holism than that.

  6. #6 plunge
    September 11, 2006

    “As Sam Harris has written, the refusal of the wishy-washies like Miller to honestly confront such issues is one of the factors that makes the continued strength of the fundies possible.”

    I know this is fast becoming a key claim, but Harris is all wet on this. Religious moderates aren’t doing much of anything. The continued strength of the fundies is because they care and very loud, and work hard and donate lots of money, and so on. Harris wants us to believe that Grandama Jones who glances at her rosary every morning before watching the Price is Right is the true threat to civilization. And that’s just batty. Dobson is the threat.

    “Michael, at some level you, like Miller, must know that this is meaningless doubletalk of the most asinine kind. That’s what made Dawkins angry and makes many of us angry. For the hundredth time, if “God” can arbitrarily do things that are completely against the laws of nature then we can just give up doing science because we can never be confident that the phenomena we observe are the products of lawlike regularities in the universe rather than of “miracles”.”

    If the universe in general operates in a lawlike fashion, then I don’t see the problem. When you hit an occasional and generally very rare miracle, you’ll have an unanswered/unanswerable question. Science is already full of those regardless of whether there are miracles or not.

    “And by the way if Miller was actually challenging Dawkins to prove the negative of a ridiculous proposition, that reflects even more discredit on him. He knows better than that.”

    If he’s not demanding that Dawkins accept his beliefs (I don’t think he was) why is the burden on him? He admits pretty openly in his book that his beliefs are what shape his arguments, and his arguments about things like quantum hiding or libertarian theology are to other believers, not atheists. If he doesn’t insist that Dawkins believe the virgin birth, then he only needs to demonstrate that he has a plausible way to rebut the claim that it is wrong or impossible in order to justify himself believing it. Hence, the proving a negative.

    The real problem he creates for himself is not with atheists, but with Catholics. Because he runs far too close to the Protestant line in talking about belief and faith and possibility such. The Catholic Church is committed to the proposition that reason alone can demonstrate the existence of God.

  7. #7 Scott Hatfield
    September 11, 2006

    In that same Discovery article, Dr. Dawkins, somewhat ruefully, mused that he might not always be the best public messenger for what he believes. As someone who Conway-Morris once described as ‘England’s most pious atheist’, he’s got more than a little emotional investment in his positions, and his encounter with Miller shows that.

    And, as far as the miraculous goes, science can say nothing about it one way or the other. We exclude it, and we are not allowed as scientists to appeal to it. Even if we had the body of Jesus in our possession, no amount of experimentation would avail either Dr. Miller or Dr. Dawkins. ‘True believers’ on either side would simply refuse to accept the authenticity of the corpse, for their own reasons. There is nothing facetious about that observation.

    Scott

  8. #8 Sastra
    September 11, 2006

    The threat is not so much from the Grandma Joneses themselves, but from a culture which endorses, values, fosters, approves of, and fawns all over the basic idea of “having faith” in supernatural forces. It is so, so important to be spiritual, and believe in higher powers guiding or underpinning the world. It is absolutely vital to living a full, meaningful life, to becoming a well-rounded person of mind, body, and spirit.

    But don’t get carried away, say the moderates. Draw a line somewhere — using science, preferably. But don’t use science too much. Don’t let it apply to any spiritual facts.

  9. #9 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 11, 2006

    “By definition, the miraculous is beyond explanation, beyond our understanding, beyond science. This does not mean that miracles do not occur.”

    As Dawkins asked “But what does that mean”? Miller’s miracles are observable in principle, yet we don’t observe them. Show me the money … uh, miracles.

    plunge:
    “He admits pretty openly in his book that his beliefs are what shape his arguments, and his arguments about things like quantum hiding or libertarian theology are to other believers, not atheists.”

    You assume that he doesn’t misrepresent science. He does – read Rossow’s review.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!