Catholic biologist Ken Miller talks about God and evolution

July 19, 2014 • 10:28 am

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:

Toon Source.054


115 thoughts on “Catholic biologist Ken Miller talks about God and evolution

  1. I think the difference between Sophisticated Theologians and Sophisticated Christians (both scarcastically trademarkable) is that Sophisticated Theologians are, effectively, playing a game of “hide the turd,” in which they’re trying to disguise where their arguments go wrong. Sophisticated Christians, on the other hand, are simply demonstrating–and often stating, as Miller does explicitly here–how little of Christianity that they actually care about the truth of. It isn’t about hiding the places where Christianity goes wrong; it’s about not considering those matters important.

    Of course, the same person can wear both (silly) hats, so these aren’t mutually exclusive categories of sophisticates.

    1. I’m reminded of some math puzzles (I think Lewis Carroll authored a number of these) I did in high school that deliberately contained false premises and were therefore able to “prove” things such as the ability to trisect an angle.

      The object of the exercise was of course finding the false premise.

      Unlike the authors of these amusing and instructive exercises, Ken Miller is not honest enough to admit that what he is indulging in is post hoc rationalizations of dearly held irrational beliefs and he further sullies his reputation by dis-ingeniously using the imprimatur of science to add a veneer of respectability to his views.

      In this sense he is no different from that scientific god botherer Francis Collins who perverts his position as a scientist and director of the NIH to advance his religious views.

    2. Such tedious apologetics from the lay public is one thing but to put up with such intellectual stupidity from a professor is actually painful to witness. We’ve heard the same level of credulity from one eyed Bob down in Kentucky.

  2. I’d love to see a Jerry Coyne – Ken Miller discussion/debate on stage sometime, sort of like the debate with John Haught some time back.

    1. What it would end up looking like after Jerry wins that one, is that he is fighting with someone that has worked very hard to keep evolution taught in public schools. He won’t win even if he will easily win.
      I would love to see this also, but not at the cost.
      I wish Ken Miller would simply clarify how he can reconcile the dogma he must believe about Adam and Eve.

      1. Fighting? Since when is the public exchange of ideas as important as this something to be avoided? You might as easily say that posting arguments against theo-science on web pages must be avoided in the interest of not appearing to fight!

        That is a classic accommodationist argument, sacrificing honest argument in the interest of some sort of tactical make-believe. (Nothing to see here, folks… Just move along…)

    2. Maybe a forum including Jerry, Sean Carroll, Ken Miller, Haught, Hart, Feser and William Lane Craig would be even more interesting.

      They could all present proof about their worldviews based on science. Then Miller could show his evidence about why God isn’t necessary but still there and the others could demonstrate why God is necessary, extant and utterly undetectable. Kind of like the IQ2 debate featuring Shermer and Krauss against Dinesh d’Souza awhile back but instead demonstrating the incoherence and irreconcilable differences between theologians.

      1. Too many people. It gets cacophonous.

        And besides, William Lane Craig is too odious to wish onto a stage with anyone. 😉

  3. I too have trouble understanding how a trained scientist can reconcile the scientific outlook with his or her religious beliefs. There has to be some kind of compartmentalization going on in their brains: “Warning! This area off limits to reason and evidence!” I haven’t watched the video interview yet, though; perhaps he addresses the question.

    1. What makes the inevitable cognitive dissonance all the more mystifying is that Dr. Miller is a highly intelligent, trained scientist.

      I wonder what Miller has to say about Catholic transubstantiation. Although, in my experience, many Catholics tend to disregard much of their church’s doctrine to a greater degree than do most Protestants. For example, many are not averse to divorce, the use of contraceptives, etc.

      1. I’d actually say the disregarding of official doctrine many Catholics engage in is part of the cognitive dissonance they must experience. Many Catholics I know disregard doctrine in a practical sense, yet claim to be good, observant Catholics. ???

        1. Well I’d say it’s time to point out to these many Catholics that it’s well past time to become good, observant human beings by ceasing to provide moral and financial support to their odious criminal organization.

          I personally find it reprehensible that they will aid and abet known paedophiles, homophobes, misogynists and just plain murderous genocidal criminals so that little Billy can be confirmed or Sally can be married in a Catholic sanctioned ceremony.

          This is just plain bad behaviour on the part of those many Catholics who reject the more obviously disgusting and odious policies of the catholic church but continue to support these evil fucks because it provides them with some form of comfort.

        2. As humans we are capable of telling ourselves things about ourselves that have very little relation to reality. That is why I encourage people to reflect on their beliefs. “I am a good Catholic.” “If you say so. I’m wondering what you think about [a particular doctrine]. I only ask because it seems you’ve said some things that some would say goes against it. [examples]” And so on. . . .

  4. More evidence for Orphic cosmogony. If “overflowing life” must be attributed to divinity, might as well be consistent. Golden-winged hermaphroditic deities micromanaging metabolic processes, up in here.

  5. Listening now.

    His fine-tuning/abundance of life argument reminds me of a thread on this site.

    Besides from not giving any reasons whatsoever why it should be the Christian version of god that’s true, it is special pleading from the viewpoint of ( human ) life.

    The universe seems finely tuned for atoms, but alas the Greek got there before the Christians so that ain’t kosher.

    1. Actually, it seems “finely tuned” for gravitational fields, if there are any such things really – if the theories are correct, they are literally everywhere.

      1. Aye, and to jump to the final conclusion one might as well argue that the only thing our universe looks finely-tuned for is itself.

        Or in other words, everything that exists.

        The fine-tuning argument is nonsensical from the get-go. 🙂

  6. Theistic evolution paints the image of God sprinkling fish food on the shore, “They will never reach it, but it’s funny watching them try.”

  7. “In matters of God’s non existence, the high-school-educated atheist is more lucid than the deeply religious scientists.” We can adjust this wording by introducing “Sophisticated Theologians” or “Sophisticated Christians” as follows: In matters of God’s non existence, the high-school-educated atheist is more lucid than the sophisticated theologian/Christian. Sophistication might bring classiness, style, fine-tuning to the argument, but not empirical strength. Science is the instrument that debunks the extra credit, the reverence, given to the flare. [But, yes, scientific truth combined with refinement should always get an A+]. Intelligent Design was debunked in court by a team of scholars, in diverse fields (a few deeply religious and eloquent), advised by excellent lawyers. But the credentials that a scientist has are in science; however the public can be led to belief that if a prominent researcher is a theist, then God must exist, or believing in “it” is, somehow, warranted. And this is a practical, cost-effective position for some scholars, e.g. Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Francisco Ayala, all fabulous biologists, but unfounded in their arguments for theistic evolution, evolutionary creation, BioLogos, or distant creationism (= God the maker of the natural laws).

    1. “Science is the instrument that debunks the extra credit.” Nice line.

      And after listening to that interview, I still don’t understand why Miller is NOT a deist. This “set in motion” idea of his (not his exact words) smells like deism to me!

      1. This is probably simple. Deists aren’t welcome in the RCC and he wants to be in the RCC for some reason (history, family, a taste for cathedrals, something…). That’s usually how these things go.

  8. It doesn’t really seem to me that Miller is mmaking a God of the Gaps argument with his overflowing with life talk. I think that Matt Young has it right when he says that “his position seems to me to be very close to deism.” As Hitchens put it at the beginning some debates. to get from where he is to Catholism (or Christianity generally) he has “all of his work before him.”

  9. “The interpretation of a naturalistic process as reflecting God’s plan is Miller’s form of theistic evolution.”

    Was it God’s plan to create a brain-eating amoeba? “The beautiful diversity of life” my arse!

    9-year-old girl dies from brain-eating amoeba in water


    1. “God worked directly in evolution by His undetectable quantum-mechanical manipulation of particles.”

      Was that an attempt at a scientific explanation ? “undetectable quantum-mechanical manipulation of particles”???

      It’s unbelievable that someone can hold such a ridiculous belief.

    2. My avatar shows a pterosaur fossil. From the paleobiology website the photo was taken from:

      “Notice the frayed plant leaf wedged firmly between the lower jaws. Presumably this animal mistook the leaf for a fish and as it swooped to catch it the pointed leaf penetrated the pterosaur’s throat pouch. Unable to reach the leaf with its fingers the animal was incapable of extracting it. This prevented it from closing its mouth and catching fish: presumably it starved to death. The frayed ends of the leaf attest to the pterosaur’s futile attempts to rid itself of the leaf by rubbing it against the ground. ”

      Ah, nature. Such a beautiful plan.

  10. With respect to Miller’s very lame final remarks in which he says that ‘it doesn’t really matter whether the writers of the gospels embellished when they wrote of Jesus turning water into wine of walking on water it is just his message that counts’, my wife analogized: ‘it doesn’t really matter whether Santa Claus comes down all those chimneys or keeps lists of whether you’re naughty or nice, it’s the presents that matter.’

    1. And what a present: salvation!

      Jesus being regarded as the saviour of the world is a deepity with enormous staying power. Is he the saviour of roaches? Volcanic rock? Of that cheesecake I let spoil decades ago? Of black holes?

      If the word ‘world’ is replaced instead with ‘humans who are made to feel guilty for not being perfect’, that catchy statement becomes banal and species-based, nothing very worldly or universal about that. The Catholic Church needs to catch up with the latest neuroscience research regarding the importance of the full emotional palette evolution gave us. Mindfulness can help regulate pesky emotions, including guilt, without grovelling on our knees while filling up the collection plate.

      Moi? I just want that cheesecake back! 🙂

  11. “Miller has stated (as he does in this video) that the universe appears fine-tuned for life”

    He needs to wake up and smell the coffee because most of the stuff in our universe is absolutely deadly radiation.

    1. Well, it is a gradiation of hot radiation and bottomless cold. In there are tiny habitable zones which sometimes have rocky planets that are not too hot or too cold for life.
      Of course with life there are viruses which do nothing but gorge on life. So obviously the universe is fine-tuned for viruses.

  12. I think he’s on very thin ice when discussing whether he thinks Jesus walked on water and turned water into wine; saying basically he wasn’t there to collect the evidence, and so scientifically he cannot decide which is true. It seems to be a sort of naive empiricism that opens the door to all sorts of nonsense. In fact isn’t this exactly the same reasoning that Ken Ham uses?

    It would have been interesting if the interviewer had asked him, following on from that question, why Ham isn’t just as scientifically justified in arguing that because “you weren’t there”, it is just as reasonable to be a young-earther as it is to accept evolution.

    1. The Jesus walking on water, or turning water into wine is not dogma for the catholic to believe. A literal Adam and Eve as progenitors of us is a dogma.

      1. It is not relevant whether he feels compelled to believe it or not. My point was that his argument left the door open for all sorts of nonsense, including the YEC that he opposes.

    2. The move of using empiricism (proper) and positivism to hide religiousity is not new -Pierre Duhem and Cardinal Bellarmine are two prominent historical examples. I get the impression that Bas van Fraassen in our own day is similar, but that’s gossip.

  13. But we are special. In the sense that we are the only beings that have begun to understand and explain the world we live in. It’s awe inspiringly magnificent that we know of black holes and quasars and understand what they are while we sit on this speck of dust and they are trillions upon trillions of kms away. All the discoveries of science are equally magnificent and make us worthy of being special.

    1. “… we are the only beings that have begun to understand and explain the world we live in.”

      We don’t know this. There are a lot of places we haven’t looked.

      1. Of course there’s the possibility of advanced aliens. But that just makes us one of the special beings! It doesn’t make us “nothing special”.

        1. Of course, you might also argue that everything is special.

          I thought the animals who can digest cellulose were he special ones. Or was it animals who can fly who are special? Or is it the ones who can crawl through the earth without legs? That’s pretty special if you ask me.

          The whole idea of being “special” is kind of incoherent.

          1. I defined special as those beings that can understand and explain the world around them. Animals who can digest cellulose are not special. Everything is not special.

              1. Because we’re the only ones doing it. That makes us special because we’re unique. (Until we know of aliens)

              2. No we’re not.

                What makes you think other animals doesn’t understand their environment?

            1. “I defined special as those beings that can understand and explain the world around them.”

              But we can’t. Not completely, anyways, until we get a theory unifying relativity and quantum mechanics. And most of this ability to do that is quite new – for the vast majority of human history, we had no idea how to explain the world except by magic. So is our being special something that only arose in the last few decades despite the species existing for a couple hundred thousand years?

              I get the sense that you want to preserve the idea that humans are more important, more “special” in some real, objective sense than other life forms. We aren’t. Our intelligence and sociability are traits little different from a cheetah’s speed – we’re the best at those things, sure, but the moment that you claim those things more important than speed you have abandoned objectivity for a subjective value judgment. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but you have to be aware that’s what you’re doing – as far as evolution’s concerned, smarts and a social nature keep the genes flowing pretty well, but so do six legs, exoskeletons and a hive full of essentially automatons.

              Also, if our sociability and intelligence end up backfiring and we kill each other off through nukes or what-have-you, then they were no different from an evolutionary perspective than a virus being a bit too virulent and killing its hosts off before it can spread. Our genes may have won us some battles for domination of the Earth, but the Earth ain’t over yet, and neither is the war of evolutionary competition.

              1. Of course we became special only very recently, with the birth of philosophy and science. Before this and going back to our split from the common ancestor with the chimps – yes we were nothing special.

              1. Jerry said we’re nothing special. And some here agree with that. But why are we “nothing special” ? I’m saying we are special because we have the ability to understand reality. That counts as being special. Science changed everything.

              2. Jerry’s point is particularly directed at the religious idea that what makes humanity “special” is that somehow we’re the product of a divine direction of evolution. That idea is bogus. It is bogus because the definition of “special” is entirely arbitrary. And the arbitrariness of it is exactly why we’ve been pushing back at you.

                Sure, you can define humanity as “special” because… (fill in with your favorite attribute). But so what? Your “special” is no more authoritative than defining “specialness” as a function of the ability to grow feathers.

              3. Aha! Being special is tainted by having had a long religious association. Or mysticism. Of course that idea is bogus. But I’m not afraid of being special because I’m not arguing from that standpoint.

                One thing really makes us different from other animals, one attribute that makes us special. And that is one that I have been saying from the first : our ability to understand and explain this universe in which we live. It is a different attribute from all other attributes that we could have used as an example in the past to say that we’re special and not like the other animals. Like those mentioned by Pali.

                But science is amazing. It’s the best idea to have come to a human brain. Here I’m using science to mean the method to understand and explain. It’s the root of our success.

              4. “Special” is a relative word not an absolute one – something is special to something else. You get into the realms of meaningless drivel when you start using words that only work relationally as if they had some cosmic significance.

              5. “It is a different attribute from all other attributes…”

                But it’s not. We simply are a bit more intelligent than our other ape cousins, just as the cheetah’s a bit faster than other land animals. The only difference is that you place a greater value on intelligence – or rather, on science, which seems to be what you actually consider special, rather than the beings capable of practicing it, considering that AFAIK there’s no good reason to think we’re smarter now than we were a few thousand years ago. Are the majority of humans, who lack anything resembling a proper scientific understanding of the world, NOT special by your meaning?

              6. Right, rococo.

                If the point of saying “we’re special” is to say “I like science because it is soooo cool”, well, fine. But then just say “Science is cool” and don’t pretend there is some cosmic significance involved.

                Mosquitoes are special. Did you ever look at their amazing feeding apparatus?

              7. If “our ability to understand and explain this universe in which we live” makes “us” special… then most of us, and arguably all of us, aren’t actually special at all. Nobody’s born special, in that sense. Our understanding and explanations are incomplete at best, and in most cases very limited or easily refuted. We’re relatively smart animals with a culture based on written language and mathematics. I think that’s pretty important too, but there’s no Rubicon, no magic aura of humanity that sets us all apart from every other species.

            2. Bees can use “interpretive dance’ to explain to other bees where the flowers are and where their next home will be.

              The thing that I think is special about human beings is that we understand how we evolved and so we can imagine a similar process happening on other planets. We are the only organism on our planet who can do this… and it’s interesting to wonder if there are other beings on other planets that can wonder if other life like them exists (life that understands there can be other life on other planets).

              But that’s not divine, of course– just evolution of a particular kind of evolved consciousness.

              1. This might sound a bit crude, but by what standards are understanding of evolution what makes us special?

                Wouldn’t that imply that those members of our species that doesn’t believe in or know of evolution aren’t special?

                And exactly how muck knowledge about evolution is required to be considered special?

              2. Excuse me, JBP & GB, but I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill–in this case a casual remark.

                Also, “special” can have different connotations, one of which would certainly include our vastly greater repertoire of science & technology compared to other earthly species.

                (Though if the OP was indeed implying a religious meaning, I totally disagree with him/her.)

              3. Could be.

                Although I’m still curious at what point in human evolution we became unique compared to other animals.

              4. I don’t think so, Diane G. “Specialness” for humans is at the heart of Abrahamic religions AND at the heart of a common misunderstanding about evolution. In the latter case, it is common for people to think that evolution is goal oriented, and that we sit atop a pinnacle of some sort. We don’t, we sit as a leaf on a very bushy tree. Sure, this leaf is different from all the others. But “special” implies something more than “different”.

      2. There are a lot of places we haven’t looked.

        We’re the only species even remotely capable of looking in those places.

        Our technology gives us adaptive power no other species has; the vast uninhabited spaces of the universe contain niches only we can exploit. If, a million years from now, there is life on Mars, the moons of Jupiter, the Kuiper Belt, and beyond, it will be our descendants who put it there.

        That kind of specialness isn’t arbitrary; it’s the kind endorsed by natural selection.

        1. We’re the only species even remotely capable of looking in those places.

          And we know this how? In a universe of umpteen billion galaxies we have zero knowledge about (in terms of life), this sort of comment makes no sense.

            1. An Earth-only perspective when waxing philosophical about the special uniqueness of human characteristics strikes me as rather provincial. I can see no purpose beyond a sort of self-congratulation that disregards the near infinite number of other equally unique adaptations and the probability that our “special tricks” have evolved elsewhere, too.

            1. Let’s ignore that for a sec, then.

              I guess I’m a bit puzzled at why our tool use makes us special. Sure, we’re better at it ( from our pov )than others, but it’s not special to our species.

              Is it the particular ability to travel farther than any of our relatives that makes us special, or is it the ability to consider human travel as special that makes us special?

              Imo, one might as well argue that it is religion that made/makes us special. After all, we’re the only ones doing it ’round here as far as we know.

              But the ability to play and manipulate with your surroundings in order to accomplish a goal is not unique to homo sapiens sapiens.

              We just think we’re better at it.

              1. Why is the ability to put things further up into the air or to stitch wounds what makes us special?

                Isn’t a bat’s ability to fly, hunt and maneuvre in the dark just as special as your ability to build a plane? ( which btw isn’t even close in regards to maneuverability for the time being. )

                And at what point in human evolution did we become special compared to other species?

    2. Coal is “special” to coal miners.

      In reality we are deterministic machines instantiating an evolutionary process that has no other goal than a temporary local reduction of entropy.

    3. We are so special, we are beginning to understand and explain our world? How can it be said we understand our world if we are destroying it, causing mass extinction? Or is it that you are saying some of us, the understanding ones, are special and most of us, those indifferent to the destruction we cause, are not?

  14. So it’s the fine tuning argument… yawn. If anything is fine tuned it is Miller’s god: How did he get those superpowers needed to create the supposedly fine tuned (but in actuality somewhat random) universe in the first place? And why should pushing the problem one step back be a solution to anything?

    It shows such a paucity of imagination to propose that the only solution is some entity, a bit like one’s dad, that exists in an intellectual vacuum outside of reality. There isn’t one iota of evidence to support such an absurd hypothesis. The fact that someone as intelligent as Miller can retain such guff, no doubt instilled in his childhood, makes one doubt that humanity can ever develop the rationality to deal with global problems.

  15. What a pity that he pollutes his mind with this stuff. Doesn’t it annoy him as well that besides all the nice and rigorously scrutinized science with all the high standards of argumentation and aim for clear thinking, he has this huge muddy mass of wishful thinking and equovocation floating around in his head, as if he had topped off a fine single malt with cheap schnaps just to have a full glass?

  16. “Miller is asked whether he thinks Jesus walked on water and turned water into wine. He waffles”

    Why would someone accept the resurrection, or any other miracle in the Bible, but waffle on turning water into wine or walking on water? Once you introduce magic, it’s all the same. The magic needed to raise someone from the dead is no more or less than the magic needed to walk on water, and that is no more or less than the magic needed to fit all the animals into the Ark, or to make it float, or to stop the earth from turning for Joshua, or for Jonah to live in the belly of some great fish (or whale) for three days, or for snakes and donkeys to talk, or for fire to rain down from heaven at Elijah’s call in a true scientific test of who has the right religion, and on and on…

    Now, perhaps he rejects all miracles and is only pretending to be a Catholic. But once you accept one bit of magic, why get finicky about the others?

    1. I think Miller would say that a miracle like the flood would have had measurable consequences that we could see right now and there is evidence that it didn’t happen. The small scale miracles would be one-offs, not anything we can say didn’t happen based on evidence we can collect now.

      You’re right, of course, its all magic. I can’t comprehend how a scientist is willing to grant that isolated miracles could occur while retaining any credibility. If I imagine that I am trying to stand in Miller’s shoes and defend his position, my answer would be something along the lines of, “I don’t know for sure that those miracles didn’t occur, but I doubt they did. They aren’t important; it is Jesus’s message for us that is important … yadda, yadda, yadda … Jesus didn’t have to perform any miracles like the ones you’ve singled out, it is his limitless love that is the real miracle … yadda, yadda, yadda … (gag).

  17. Miller came to Cornell. I talked with him after his talk. He was clear in his mind: he said he was no expert on religion or evolutionary biology. Everything he told us was told without any real knowledge of our field or religion.

  18. Besides doing a disservice to science Ken Miller aids and abets an international criminal organization that is complicit in an active program of genocide in sub Saharan Africa through it’s opposition to birth control and sexual prophylaxis, discriminates against and actively seeks to dehumanize woman and homosexuals and offers comfort and protection to an internal caste of child abusers.

    I would ask Ken Miller carefully consider the actions of the undoubtedly good catholic scientists who were complicit in the diphtheria vaccine drug trials conducted in the 1930s in Catholic church run Irish orphanages and comment on how their rationalizations for their behaviour were any different than his own.

    1. +1. Surely a well educated and articulate writer and speaker like Dr. Miller can see the bloody hands of the operatives of his faith? Does he spend all his goddy time thinking only about the purely academic ideas of Catholicism in some ivory tower?

      1. The past is ignored/romanticised/fabricated as the present horrific crimes are just a few bad apples swept under the rug. Pick a cult – the faithful and their shruggies appear to have little empathy for the victims of doG’s luv.

        Four years after we were married by a Presby minister, I was flipping through one of the religion friendly newspapers and discovered the man of christian values was spelunking three boys for years.

        The only thing that seemed quote worthy from his flock was ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’.

  19. Miller’s Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, I thought was a darn good book — well, until he launched in to papal decrees and Aquinas and Augustine — AquinAug. And his role in Dover is to be admired. But I have a rule now that anyone who invokes AquinAug is automatically disqualified from further serious consideration. Pathetic stuff, as Prof. C. Cat has illustrated. 15 minutes reading about the proof of characteristics of angels should convince anyone of Aquinas’s irrelevance. Augie is just dull. Still, Miller had 2/3 of a good book there.

  20. Ken Miller’s position would actually be defeated in court just like Intelligent Design: for violating the rules of science by “invoking and permitting supernatural causation” in matters of evolution, and for “failing to gain acceptance in the scientific community.” Exactly the same ruling applies here, and if brought to the courts, Miller’s and Collin’s and Ayala’s God-mediated evolution would be confronted by the Dover ruling of 2005. In addition, a non-theistic philosopher, like Rob Lovering (God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers, 2013), would skillfully and quite easily defeat the theistic aspects of Miller’s rationale for God’s existence, from a “philosophical” perspective. One of the issues here is that ID was debunked in Dover by a team of scholars (one of them was Ken Miller, who testified as a biologist) and lawyers who used scientific arguments to challenge ID’s postulates of “irreducible complexity,” or “common design,” or “need for an “Intelligent Agent” (the Designer) who was supposed to be ultimately responsible for “generating complexity in molecular structures and biological processes.” But raw Theistic Evolution, Creation Science, Evolutionary Creation, BioLogos, were never in court, nor were their disciples who, nonetheless, attacked ID for being not scientific, or for relying on false claims, pseudoscience to discredit evolution. Unfortunately, and by default, it can appear to the public eye that these “alternative doctrines” are valid or more so, in comparison to ID, when, in reality, they are creationism in principle and practice. And for that, these proposals, and their proponents, must be rejected.

    1. Exactly. Brilliant observation. Which is why his book is so weird. Suddenly the Pope and AquinAug become authorities beating down all the learning Miller had demonstrated convincingly in the first part of his book. Sad to see schizophrenia so apparent.

    2. Yep, it’s all creationism varying in timeline and level of deistic involvement. Goddidit no matter with how much sophistication you slice it.

  21. I have begged catholics against evolution to read Ken Miller.
    I really would like Ken Miller to explain how he gets around the dogma of a literal Adam and Eve. He avoids this at all costs.

  22. How can he view Adam and Eve as our literal progenitors? Is he ignoring the dogma? Is that how he makes it work?

  23. Ken Miller is baffling. He has a first rate mind in every respect, defends evolution brilliantly, takes down Michael Behe’s ID BS as well as anyone, yet like a software bug, can’t seem to eradicate the religious nonsense from his head.

    1. MR said:
      “[Ken Miller] can’t seem to eradicate the religious nonsense from his head.”

      When someone builds their entire reason for existing around religious fantasies, they are obviously *VERY* reluctant to abandon the religion. I have had numerous Christians tell me that I should just kill myself since I don’t believe in their god, because I can’t possibly have any reason for living otherwise. That is how they have shoehorned themselves into a box with no exit (as well as demonstrating their quite severe projection problems). I have also noticed that they are quite immune to irony; even after you point it out to them, they will steadfastly claim to not see it.

    2. Totally agree. Ken Miller and Francis Collins are strange chimeras that one would think cannot exist, and yet exist they do. I suppose the human mind has a sensus delusionus that manages to deceive even a few bright people, or rather to get them to deceive themselves.

      1. Michael Shermer provided the best brief explanation as to how such a thing can exist:

        “Smart people believe weird things because they are better at rationalizing beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart (psychological and emotional) reasons” )Science Friction, page 23).

  24. I feel like Ken Miller should really understand how consciousness is a product of an evolved brain. All such complexity is clearly bottom up– just like galaxies, life, ecosystems, languages, cities, technology– they are built upon what came before and they’re emerging systems. It takes time and energy to organize matter into better matter organizers. A cell is the building block of life– not immaterial divine stuff that it is indistinguishable from imaginary stuff.

    Consciousness evolved in organisms which better survived and reproduced due to the kind of consciousness they had! Pain, pleasure, urges, fears are all aspects of consciousness that help an organism survive and pass on genes. A god isn’t made of cells– in doesn’t need to survive or reproduce… ergo it doesn’t need consciousness. Moreover, consciousness without a material brain (and sensory input)doesn’t map to anything real… it’s like sound in a vacuum or an immaterial penguin. I don’t mind when people call the hypothetical uncaused cause of the universe “god”– but why would anyone think it is conscious or loving or has a plan or “cares” whether people to “believe” in it? Even more crazy– why would they think it has a son (whatever that means) or authored a book?

    I just cannot make sense of a top down designer made of nothing that somehow fiddles around with life on planet earth as part of some plan. I really like Ken Miller, but as a person raised Catholic myself, I suspect he believes in a god because he’s sort of afraid not to (Pascal’s wager)– not because it really makes any sense at all. If he thinks brainless beings like gods and ghosts can be conscious, why not assume rocks and water and all other purported immaterial beings (fairies) are conscious too?

    1. Being that the uncaused cause of the Universe would appear to be unnecessary at best and incoherent at worst, yes let’s call this God. Poof, and in a puff of logic he disappears…

      1. Exactly.

        I want to ask Ken Miller what distinguishes his god from an imaginary god.

        Believers often accuse atheists of believing that the universe came from nothing… but isn’t the scientific theist claiming that a god MADE OF NOTHING poofed everything into existence –as part of some plan! And then they imagine they can know something about this plan!

        As a biologist Ken Miller must certainly be aware that living things are made of cells and, as such, consciousness is the product of an evolved brain also made of cells. Rocks don’t have it… Fire doesn’t have it… and mythological beings don’t have it. He must also be aware that just because science cannot disprove god (whatever the heck it is), that is hardly a good reason to believe there is one.

        Theists lose me when they go beyond the hypothetical uncaused cause (whatever that is)– I don’t even try to make sense of purported original sin, divine impregnation of virgins, and resurrections because the idea of an immaterial being– whether god, demon, or spirit… makes no sense at all with biology. How can god be a “he” or have a plan when it has no brain… or body… or any measurable properties that distinguish it from a non-existant being?

        What do believers imagine their god is? And how do they get from that god to the 3-in-1 zombie savior of Christianity?

        1. On the one end, we have the First Cause Argument, which naturally leads to the question, “what caused God?” The more sophisticated arguments introduce necessary and contingent beings and declare God to be necessary and the Universe contingent. It doesn’t really address the first question about God’s cause other than to simply assert that he’s necessary and, being the only necessary being, it isn’t special pleading. But, none of this has any evidence and it introduces a second unfounded premise: that the Universe is contigent. To me, the less sophisticated version is better simply by virtue of having fewer unsupported claims.

          The thing with Miller is that he isn’t even making either of the cause arguments. In a closed range from unnecessary to incoherent, he’s got the whole thing covered.

  25. I’ve often wondered what the big deal is about resurfuckingrection. Even now one occasionally reads of someone, certified as dead by competent doctors, coming to life again. has many historical examples including one from 1994.

  26. I don’t agree with Ken Miller on the origins of science, but I don’t wholly agree with Jerry Coyne’s critique of his theology either.

    On the first, It’s perfectly true that early modern science was molded by Christians such as Isaac Newton who believed that the world behaved in a uniform way due to the existence of God. Newton and Locke’s Christian beliefs did indeed motivate their contributions to both modern science and modern formulations of scientific method.
    However, the ancient Greeks and medieval Muslims made significant contributions to the rise of scientific method, and lots of early Christian theologians viewed scientific endeavor as vain and worldly.
    Furthermore Newton and Locke and Bacon wrote during a time in which Christian culture had a hegemony on Western Europe.

    It was polytheists like Pythagoras who perfected geometry as well.

    As for Miller’s theology, there are many Christians who combine belief in God as a Ground of Being with God as a active nurturer of human well-being a sort of GofB-plus, and others who see God as usually letting the universe run under its own laws. In the latter view, God is sort of the consistent power-supply to creation, but God still lets creation run by its own internal logic and design. I don’t think this view is inconsistent, I just don’t have any particularly good reason to believe it is true. And as Jerry Coyne said, the problem of suffering is a major stumbling-block to theology.

    1. I don’t see that as much of a critique (of Jerry’s position). It isn’t exactly stop-the-presses news that people can hold two logically incompatible views in their minds at the same time. Happens all the time.

      1. Well, I think we’re looking at an inconsistency between what different folks mean by God as a Ground of Being. It’s a very flexible concept which is at least rubbery and possibly goes into the realm of silly putty.

        But if the universe is something like the Matrix in the Keanu Reeves movies, one can consistently both think of something undergirding and sustaining it, while letting it also run under it’s own laws.

        1. But the Christian god is *not* something that maintains a computer simulation.

          I might add also that both Locke and Newton would have self-identified Christian but would have been regarded as heretics then (and at least Newton, now).

  27. Monogenism is not Catholic dogma. Theological consensus for at least a half-century holds that “Revelation and Dogma say nothing directly concerning Monogenism or Polygenism, neither in favour nor against them. Besides, these scientific hypotheses are per se outside the field of Revelation.” The doctrine of original sin (i.e., an understanding of the actual capacity for doing evil that is inherent in every generation, in consequence of humankind setting itself apart from the justice intended by the Creator) does not depend on monogenism.

    Miller’s comments are not “completely at odds” with the metaphysical proposition that for anything to be, God must be. Miller simply makes the point that the universe operates according to the physical laws and properties that God provided, without the need for God’s “constant intervention” (Miller’s words). It is rather clear from the overall context that Miller does not imply that it is possible for the universe to continue to exist without God.

    There’s nothing in this particular interview that, say, a Joseph Ratzinger would find objectionable. Of course, Ratzinger is a supremely sophisticated theologian.

    1. You’re wrong:

      “We believe that in Adam all have sinned, which means that the original offence committed by him caused human nature, common to all men to fall to a state in which it bears the consequence of that offence, and which is not the state in which it was at first in our first parents, established as they were in holiness and justice, and in which man knew neither evil nor death. It is human nature so fallen, stripped of the grace that clothed it, injured in its own natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death, that is transmitted to all men, and it is in this sense that every man is born in sin. We therefore maintain, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, ‘not by imitation, but by propagation’ and that it is thus ‘proper to everyone’…. We believe in one baptism instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Paul VI

      When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism [our descent from ancestors beyond Adam and Eve], the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own. (Pope Pius on Adam and Eve Pius XII, 1950, para. 37).

      “Regardless of how differently the Garden of Eden may have been conceived from ancient times through the medieval period to more recent days, and no matter the differences in computations of the creation date of the earth, the idea that every member of the human race is descended from the Biblical Adam has been a standard doctrine in Islamic, Jewish and Christian thought. In this respect, if in no other, the catechisms of the seventeenth century Westminster divines that “all mankind” descended from Adam “by ordinary generation.” People’s sense of themselves, their understanding of their place in he divinely ordered scheme of things, their very identity as human beings created in the image of God, thus rested on a conception of human origins that assumed the literal truth of the biblical narrative and traced the varieties of the human race proximately to the three sons of Noah and ultimately to Adam and Eve.” (David Livingstone on Adam and Eve: Livingstone 2011, p. 5)

      Don’t talk to me about theological consensus. Go argue this stuff over on some Catholic site.

    2. A supremely sophisticated theologian? Who cares what he finds objectionable if we can find a preeminently, immanently, ultra supremely sophisticated theologian to contradict him? Theological consensus for the last half century, as always, comes about from concern about what science has done to dogmatic beliefs. “Official dogma” are weasel words that apologists use to dance around legitimate objections or problems. Not being official doesn’t mean it is widely accepted or even widely taught and promoted. Making up yet another unevidenced proposition that only allegedly revealed truths are dogma doesn’t just make everything else go away with hand waiving and deepities.

  28. “Why do we live in a universe that is simply overflowing with evolutionary possibilities for life?” This statement and many other are at best sophomoric. Miller later goes on to say what makes him question his theism is human cruelty. But to accept biological evolution you have to accept the competition between predator and prey and host and parasite. These games are incredibly cruel to both beast and man. The bible tries to fix the cruel nature of ‘creation’ with rosy prognostications of the “lion lying down with the lamb” after the sin of mankind has been lifted, but there is no aspect of evolution that indicates it will stop. Evolution is a necessary function in systems of organisms.

  29. I don’t know Ken Miller personally, but I have been part of the Christian subculture for a long time. There are lots and lots of scientifically literate Christians, as you are well aware and are baffled by. One thing that makes it possible to hold contradictory views (such as “evolution is true” and “Adam and Eve were actual people”) is the social cost involved in admitting that they can’t both be true. Some simply reject “evolution is true”, and others like Miller seem to hold both views. Rarely, someone actually decides to be honest at all costs. Somewhere in my brain there was a switch labelled “faith” and when it switched off, I could see how irrational so many things I held to were.
    But the social cost is enormous. The risk of incurring that cost, and of alienating oneself from a very large proportion of one’s closest friends and family, is large.
    The good news is that it was reason and critical thinking that opened my eyes. Don’t give up.
    Sorry if what I am saying is obvious and I am preaching to the choir. Doubtless many here have been through what I am going through now. I just noticed the numerous posts expressing amazement at how Ken Miller can hold such obviously contradictory views with a straight face. One of my reasons was the social cost. I finally decided being intellectually honest was worth it.

    1. Thanks for sharing and bloody well done in overcoming the challenges and being honest with yourself.

      There are several ex-believers around here, but it is always great to hear how people reached their conclusions and the thoughts occurring during the process. So by all means, share, I for one enjoy the stories. 🙂

        1. Thanks to both for the kind words. Here’s a quick summary of the steps that led from there to here… Watched Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate – Decided to actually read about evolution – Committed to use critical thinking wherever it might lead – Read a number of books (including Coyne’s ‘Why Evolution is True’ and Miller’s ‘Finding Darwin’s God’) – Read lots of information on the internet on various sides of the evolution (non)debate – Began to question if God exists – Applied critical thinking to the Bible – Stopped believing in Biblical inerrancy – resigned from being an elder in my church – Coming to terms with the fact that I don’t believe anymore what I believed so strongly for so long – Still going through the emotional and relational upheavals resulting from the above – Still haunted by ‘What if I’m wrong?’ but know that God, were God to exist, probably wouldn’t want me to pretend to believe anyway.
          The last two items are difficult, but the relief of being free from cognitive dissonance makes up for it.
          Thanks for letting me ramble.

          1. Very gratifying to hear the sketch of your history. Congratulations on having the courage to make your break. It can be very difficult for some people.

          2. Wow, that’s actually a really quick change if it started with the Nye/Ham debate! I was a theistic evolutionist growing up (we never used that term, of course), so I’ve never had any trouble with evolution (just keep moving God further back in the story, no problem). I never even had problems with the miracles of the Bible, since I thought I could feel God’s presence and direction in my own life.

            My own move away from Christianity has been facilitated by lots of disconnected matters: the growing awareness of how hateful and damaging Church teachings on sex, sexual identity, and gender roles really are; the almost infinite variations of God’s Truth(tm) that exist out there; how similar the allegedly ideal relationship between a good Christian and God is to the relationship between a victim and an abuser; the infinitesimal role humans play in the universe; and others. Nothing really collapsed for me, although I did have an incredibly liberating day when my own experiences made much more sense as a collection of human/natural events with no over-arching guide.

            I strongly identify with your last two items. Also, I haven’t shared my experiences or thoughts with my family, so I definitely know what you mean by social cost.

            1. One of the biggest risks in that regard is the view on eternal life. This one life we know we have is the most important thing there is. From a family’s perspective, they may view the proposed afterlife as infinitely more important (which is actually a rational stance if an infinitely long afterlife existed). I know for a fact my parents have this perspective. Thus, having a frank conversation runs the severe risk of having the remainder of our lives dominated by conversion attempts rather than enjoying each other’s company.

              1. Of course, that throws into question the meaning of “enjoying each other’s company”.

              2. Yes, indeed it does. Oddly enough in my case, I rarely discuss religion with my family, despite the fact that they are very religious. Thus, on the whole, we do enjoy each other’s company. I’ve noticed a dynamic where multiple people in my family simply avoid contentious issues such as religion and politics. If anything, it’s taught me to raise my kids in a more open environment where I hope that they will feel comfortable sharing anything.

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