Ken Miller talk

Last night I went back to my old campus to attend the Dr. Robert Rabb Lecture by Ken Miller. The Stewart Theater was packed. I saw a lof of old friends, but, as it was crowded, only got to spend some time talking to a couple of them.

Oh, there were bloggers there, too, of course. I first met up with Reed and Professor Steve Steve. Steve Steve is omnipresent (today in Raleigh, NC, yesterday in Vancouver, before that in Australia), omniscient and omnipotent (knew how and then fixed the computer and projector for the speaker) and benevolent (endless patience getting his picture taken with everyone - will post once available). Mr R was also there with his wife, but had to leave during the break between the lecture and the panel discussion, so we met for only a few seconds.

Rev.BigDumbChimp is Dr.Rabb's grandson. He drove up from South Carolina for the occasion. Reed and I were worried how we were going to find him in the crowd. I suggested we get up to the microphone and ask for Big Dumb Chimp and hope he'd raise his hand and yell "It's me". I do not recall now why we decided not to pursue this strategy. Anyway, he walked in with the rest of the Rabb family and we immediatelly recognized each other (having a picture on one's blog is sometimes a good idea) and got to chat a little bit. Hopefully, he'll come to the Science Blogging Conference in January so we can have more time to talk.

Ken Miller is a very polished and energetic speaker. I had to remind myself that I was an unusually well-informed person in the audience of academics there - I actually knew the details of the Dover trial and have read big chunks of Judge Jones' decision, I have recognized the authors of all quotes before he revealed them (including the quote from the Pope), and I new all the examples of evolutionary findings he used (whale evolution, Tiktaalik, immune system evolution, bacterial flagellum evolution). But I read science blogs all the time, including the Panda's Thumb. Scientists do not - they read scientific papers all the time and are not as well informed about the creationist shenannigans, so much was probably new to them last night. In any case, it was fun, and getting a little bit of internal information from the courtroom proceedings was great.

But then, in the last part of the talk, he started on his apologetics for theistic evolution, slamming Dawkins for being "pessimistic" and totally misunderstanding the Darwin quote (the last paragraph in the Origin):

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

This does not mean there is a God making the world wondrous, it means that there is no need for the God hypothesis to see the grandeour. Actually, the God hypothesis impoverishes one's sense and prevents one from being able to see the full scope of the grandeur of the Universe.

The panel afterwards was worse, with six "liberal" clergy-members on it: Miller is Catholic, there was a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a guy leading the Campus Crusade for Christ, a Moslem and a Reform Rabbi (the only one I knew from before - Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or, the only woman on the panel). There was no representative of atheism on the panel, so these six people were free to preach "love", and the power of prayer, and the Non-overlapping Magisteria without being challenged. I was sitting there watching them and thinking - hey, of all the hundreds of smart people in the auditorium, they picked the six with emotional problems to tell us all how to think?! OK, they were not the worse - there was also a local Creationist (YEC) group there, too scared to ask questions in public so they tried their hand afterwards, with Ken Miller enjoying himself visibly while rebuffing all their claims.

A few years ago, I was of the mind that something like theistic evolution is a good idea to spread the message that evolution is not evil. I thought that people like Ken Miller are great messengers to soften up the people (step 1) and prepare them for eventual compIete abandonment of the Creator (step 2). And even those who never get to Step 2 are less dangerous than straight-out creationists.

I certainly have no problems with anyone personally believing whatever they want. But I am more and more moving to the opinion that this is not a good strategy. It is just providing the apologia for the believers who have a problem with being perceived as medieval, and allowing them to, then, provide apologia for their more extreme brethren. They - the moderates and the fundies - flock together when the going gets tough and it really counts - the political battles between 15th and 21st centuries.

The moderates are no friends of reason when it counts the most, outside of comfortable chats on panels on campuses. Evolution battle is not a battle of science, it is a battle of mindsets and worldviews: medieval vs. modern. Giving a helping hand to those who give their helping hand to the medieval bigots and authoritarians is not a good strategy. They need to be made uncomfortable - Dawkins-style - and forced to choose and come clear with which side they are on. Otherwise, they'll play nice with us when it does not matter, and stick their fingers in their ears and sing "la-la-la" when real action is required.

Note: the links to bloggers are now links to their own commentaries on the talk.

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Nice to meet you last night. I'm going to have to agree with you on the lecture. The first half was informative and outlined the evolution / creation "battle" pretty well especially his section on the Dover trial. The second half was mostly theological apologetics like you say.

I actually some what enjoyed the panel although I didn't agree with almost anything that was said. I've met the one Baptist Rev. (spoke at my grandfather's funeral) and I know the type of Church he runs (affirms gay and lesbian partnerships etc..) so it was nice to see his views on other topics. However I had a hard time with the fact that most of the panel failed to stay directly on target with some going way of topic (Campus Crusade for Christ leader in particular).

I should have access to a video of the Lecture and Panel soon, but I'll need to confirm how It can be used.

I wish I had been able to stay and listen to the creatinoist horde that decended on Dr. Miller after the lecture and panel was over but alas I had family obligations to attend to.

I'll plan on catching up in January for a few beers at SciBlog conf (although I am anything but a Science Blogger).

"They - the moderates and the fundies - flock together when the going gets tough and it really counts - the political battles between 15th and 21st centuries."

Is this actually the case, though?

Giving a helping hand to those who give their helping hand to the medieval bigots and authoritarians is not a good strategy. They need to be made uncomfortable - Dawkins-style - and forced to choose and come clear with which side they are on.

Succinct. Thanks for the write-up. How cool that you and the Chimp could meet. I wish to run into many bloggers including you someday.

Have you read Miller's book and would you recommend it?

The SciBlog conference sounds awesome but I must save $$/vacation time for the Galapagos this May! :)