Panda’s Thumb called my attention to an interview of biochemist, author, ID opponent, and theistic evolutionist Kenneth Miller from Brown University. Miller once described himself to me as an “observant Catholic.” Here he has a 33-minute conversation with Samuel Varg (see below), who asks him several penetrating questions about God and evolution.
Panda’s Thumb author Matt Young notes:
While searching for the source of this cartoon, I ran across the website of Samuel Varg, a Swedish magician and skeptic. Mr. Varg has posted an interview with Kenneth Miller on YouTube and promises interviews with Candida Moss and John Safran.
Mr. Varg and his colleague Anders Hesselbom were unusually well prepared. Professor Miller, in turn, was an excellent spokesperson for theistic evolution, though I had to take issue with his claim that the universe is “overflowing” with the possibility for life. His position seems to me to be very close to deism, but you can listen to the interview and decide for yourself.
Here Miller espouses theistic evolution, making some arguments that I find dubious, especially for someone who, as he says, is an exponent of science and reason. (Miller also talks about the Dover trial, in which he played a large role in keeping Intelligent Design out of American public schools.) It’s well worth listening to all 33 minutes of this:
Miller speaks well, and it’s interesting to hear how an intelligent and eloquent scientist manages to justify theistic evolution. Miller begins by citing—unfortunately—Aquinas and Augustine on the issue of how “natural phenomena don’t take god out of the picture.” (If you’ve read them, you’ll know that’s not exactly true, for those theologians firmly believed in supernatural phenomena like Paradise, Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, and inherited original sin.)
He then goes on to make a sort of god-of-the-gaps argument, asking, “Why do we live in a universe that is simply overflowing with evolutionary possibilities for life?” Miller’s answer is that “We live in a world that was fashioned by an intelligent creator who intended to have a process of evolution that would give rise to the beauty and the diversity of life—our own species included.” In other words, he’s making a virtue of necessity, for he admits that many religious people dislike evolution because it tells us we’re nothing special (and we’re not!). The interpretation of a naturalistic process as reflecting God’s plan is Miller’s form of theistic evolution. But there are some exceptions: Miller has stated (as he does in this video) that the universe appears fine-tuned for life, and in his first book he suggested that God worked directly in evolution by His undetectable quantum-mechanical manipulation of particles.
It is telling, though, that Miller’s own Sophisticated Theology™ is completely at odds with other Sophisticated Theologians™ who constantly tell me that everybody who truly understands God sees Him as a Ground of Being, whose presence is essential for sustaining all things. Miller appears to reject this. He explains that, though he’s a theist, he doesn’t see God as having to do any sustaining: he says a real God would have created a universe like ours that works without his intervention, and “sustains itself.” But the universe sustains itself, as Miller says it does by simply following natural (though God-decreed) law, then God cannot be a Ground of Being without whom the universe couldn’t exist.
Miller also broaches God as the answer to why Earth was able to evolve “reflective, self-aware, intelligent life,” another common argument for God by science-friendly theists. I deal with this question in my book: was the evolution of such life really inevitable? My answer is “We don’t know, but I doubt it.”
At about 9:30 in, Miller implies that the book of Genesis is wrong, and is seen literally only by fundamentalists and atheists (who decry the fundamentalists but attack religion as if all of it were based on pure literalism). Yet Miller’s own Catholic Church insists that Adam and Eve were real people who were the ancestors of all human beings. I’d love to ask him if he thinks that Adam and Eve are fictional characters.
At about 23 minutes in, Miller admits that he has had some doubts about God, based on the problem of evil in the world, and adds that he changed his mind several times about religion but, in the end, always came back to God. I’d like to hear his own take on the existence of “natural” evils like childhood cancers and deaths from natural disasters.
At 29 minutes in, Miller is asked whether he thinks Jesus walked on water and turned water into wine. He waffles a bit, saying he “does not know,” but adds that the Bible might simply include fictional tales concocted to highlight Jesus’s teachings. As a Christian, Miller says that, to him, “It doesn’t matter.” Miller adds that he sees Jesus as divine and as “saviour of the world.” That being the case, Varg should immediately have asked him if he thought Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I don’t think Miller would have been on as firm a ground if he had said that that, too, might just have been just a story to underscore Jeus’s “teachings”. For if Miller really thought that, he would be flying in the face of very important Church dogma, and in fact could hardly call himself a Catholic. (If Jesus wasn’t crucified and resurrected, on what grounds do we consider him saviour of the world? And isn’t a denial of the Resurrection a heresy?)
At any rate, the interview shows a religious scientist walking the fine line between theism and deism. This line was depicted by reader Pliny the In Between at his website Pictoral Theology: