Sad news: I was not able to make it to Miller’s talk at St. Catherine’s last night. We’re down to one car right now, and the choice was between me indulging myself with a long drive and a Ken Miller talk at the end of it, or my wife could have the vehicle so she could do the responsible thing and go to work. She won.
However, I have received some email about it (maybe I’ll get permission to post some of it), and there is one account on the web. It sounds like it was about what I expected: almost entirely good stuff, with a few wacky bits around the edges about his weird cult’s beliefs. He did have the advantage of one creationist in the Q&A throwing him one of their softball questions…usually, the creationists don’t bother to come in the door at my talks, so I’m a little jealous.
If anyone else managed to make it, tell us about it.
Here’s one anonymous account:
It was like watching the Titanic movie. You knew that in the end, the ship was going to hit an iceberg and sink. The Theory of Evolution is one of the best supported theories in science, BUT…
I had the privilege of attending Dr. Kenneth Miller’s presentation at St Catherine University in St Paul on “Finding Darwin’s God” on Wednesday night. The auditorium was packed and I’d estimate that at least 250 people or more were in attendance. It started out pleasant, with Dr. Miller talking about who he was, a brief examination of the Theory of Evolution, what the ID movement is and his influential role in the positive outcome of the trial in Dover. He effectively used slides and videos to cover a few examples of how evolution is supported by current scientific understanding. He talked about Neil Shubin’s Tiktaalik fish, the fusion of Chimpanzee Chromosome 13 and a few other accessible examples. I thought it was a great presentation. He even effectively shot down some wing nut in the back of the room who posed the tired Creationist argument “Give me an example of a genetic mutation adding information?” with numerous examples. Now that was exciting!
And then he started talking about how Genesis wasn’t a science book, and that the relevance of the Bible was the message of Jesus and of Salvation. That lasted for less than two to three minutes, and I knew it was coming, but it still soured me on the whole talk. Dr. Miller claims that he is neither a Creationist, nor a believer in Intelligent Design… but he does believe that a creator with quantifiable intelligence designed the evolutionary process and put it in motion. To me that sounds a lot like the basic arguments of Creationists and ID proponents. As a non-biologist, I cannot really throw my understanding of evolution into the ring with his, but I feel that I can comfortably question his assertion that evolution is compatible with Christian mythology. How can you tear out Chapter 1 of Genesis and say that God did not create humans and all the other animals in their present day form, but leave in the chapter where Jesus is crucified, dies and was resurrected from the dead for our salvation? How is one just an allegory and the other literal truth?
I stayed after and tried asking this and other questions but I didn’t get anywhere. I felt that he was in effect saying “this is what I believe and I don’t really have any testable evidence for believing what I believe, but it’s what I believe”. I think he got sick of me (I feel that I’m generally respectful and polite) and told me he had a plane to catch (which was probably the truth).
He left me with a lot of unanswered questions. First off… I’d like to know more about his view of what evolution is. He claims it was created by God or is somehow under the control of God. What I’d like to know is if it’s something that he thinks God created and just let run loose, not knowing what the final outcome might be or is it something that God knew exactly what it would produce. Either answer has a number of interesting follow-up questions. After the talk, I overheard him conversing with a bunch of other audience members and I thought I heard him suggest the later… that God didn’t know the exact outcome of his “Evolution 1.0″ simulation program and that variability is a key concept to how evolution works. I MUST have misheard him or something because that doesn’t make any sense coming from someone of the Roman Catholic faith. God had to wait roughly 4.5 billion years for an animal with a sophisticated enough linguistic ability before he could tell his story and lay down a set of laws? Well… I guess. It’s not like the dimwitted dinosaurs would have been able to understand all of the “THOU SHALTS” and “THOU SHALT NOTS”.
The other question I wanted to ask was if evolution was guided or unguided. Did God just hit the compile and execute commands on his “Evolution 1.0″ simulation program and then sit back with a coffee and a donut for 4.5 billion years watching with mild interest (or maybe he read a few blogs, as I sometimes do when waiting for a program to finish running or compiling) or does he tinker with the code and add new modules or tweak variables, possibly at the request of a support ticket (prayer)?
I don’t know… I hope to get some of these questions answered from the two books by Dr. Miller that I purchased tonight (Finding Darwin’s God and Only a Theory). I really look forward to reading them, but in the back of my mind I’m a bit unsettled by his insistence that the story of the Bible is compatible with the Theory of Evolution.