3/05/2010

MYERS MIFFED, MILLER MOCKED

An article over at PZ Mwahaha's details his disappointment with another bout of one-dimensional reportage (featuring Ken Miller) allegedly at the expense of the godless.

I can't blame him for feeling that way, after being gulled by the makers of 'Expelled.' When are we science communicators going to learn to insist upon complete copies of all the raw footage and binding agreements not to misrepresent their views with creative editing before signing up for these affairs?

Anyway, I think this mess is overblown, with the perception of intellectual dishonesty such articles promote being more odious than the very real differences in worldviews between Dr. Myers and Dr. Miller.

Look. Based on several years of observation, Ken Miller is hands down the best pro-evolution debater in North America. It really isn't even close.

At the same time, based on several years of observation, PZ is for my money the most entertaining and trenchant critic of creationists in North America.*

Both are invaluable resources for me personally, and I value them for different reasons. It's a shame that we keep having this tactical debate with respect to how atheists should comport themselves.

I personally think that Ken Miller has no business complaining about the godless's desire not to be marginalized, ignored or pilloried unfairly. I'm a theist, but it is no sweat off my back if some atheists happen to be vocal in their non-belief. I don't see how it helps the scientific enterprise one bit to discourage constitutionally-protected speech.

On the flip side, I also think that many of of the commenters at Pharyngula are clueless when they attempt to argue that Miller is intellectually dishonest simply because he doesn't share some of their premises. Guys and gals, seriously. The Ken Miller I know is not your enemy, because he would never attempt to put his version of 'Darwin's God' into the public schools.

By the way, it is likely every year more people read what Miller and his colleague Joe Levine have written about evolution than any other author, living or dead---and there is nothing in their texts at all about religion one way or the other.

*****UPDATE******

Jerry Coyne was similarly a casualty of the same one-dimensional reportage. He writes thoughtfully about the whole affair here. I find myself pretty much in agreement with him the whole way, including his criticism of an argument Miller makes regarding amputees included in the original article. While I am not an atheist, I don't think a concern for 'free will' trumps human suffering. The problem of evil (theodicy) is dicier than that, and I think Miller's views as presented in the article are wanting. They are certainly going to provide more fodder for Miller's critics.

*(Sorry, Abby, but you finish a close second with your version of bitter LOLspeak)

4 comments:

coffeeandsci said...

Hi there,

Is there something like Ken Miller's "intellectual dishonesty"?
Just from the interview with Scharfenberg, according to Miller:
a) God don't answer prayers to preserve the "moral independence" of people, the very same people which morals should conform to the ten commandments.
b) Bringing the spiritual in science can't cause prejudice, say as when Behe in front of the bacterial flagellum sit back satisfied with the explanation that such an irreducible complexity can't be other than an "intelligent designer's" creation. At least Miller think that this is not the case about his work. He is a biologist and he place his "intelligent designer" beyond the Big Bang horizon were he fine tuned the universe, and beyond the quantum mechanics vellum from were he intervene; biology is affected (think teleology of evolution), but Miller doesn't seem prompt to acknowledge that.
The questions are: Is Miller so much stupid that he don't see the contradictions in his stance? Or, is Miller intellectually dishonest?
Maybe you will find some other way to ask the question.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

I can't speak to Miller's inner motivations and conflicts, obviously.

I can, however, tell you what I think of your points a) and b) for myself.

As far as a) is concerned, I really do think that the views presented in the Scharfenberg article seem muddled. Theodicy is not that easy to dismiss, and if this is the sum total of Miller's thought in this area, he's not thinking all that deeply. One could imagine a world in which there was solid evidentiary basis for the effectiveness of prayer in which the role of God is not diminished as he describes. As someone once said, 'What God wants, God gets.'

As far as b) goes, however, I see an important difference where Behe is concerned. Behe and his cohorts are actively trying to push 'intelligent design' as science, and not just to the scientific community, but in many cases in the public schools, where it amounts to a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Ken Miller is not doing that. He is not pushing a QM redoubt for the Almighty as science, and he is most certainly not pushing religion in any fora where it is illegal or inappropriate. Saying a few words about one's faith in a trade paperback is not unconstitutional, nor does it jeopardize the integrity of the scientific enterprise.

Besides, Miller's critique of Behe turns on the scientific necessity of Behe's concept of 'irreducible complexity', which in turn is proposed to account for the apparent design in nature...for which we have much data.

Miller's thought experiment involving QM, on the other hand, is supposed to explain...what? The absence of data, ultimately. Contra Behe, it is not directed as an alternative explanation for any particular scientific finding. Behe has written two books and many articles attempting to develop the case for that alternative explanation. For Miller to be in a comparable position, he would need to write at length about the possibility of a QM redoubt, and how that possibility serves as an alternative explanation for the data.

Thanks for commenting!

coffeeandsci said...

Scott,

Thank you for your answer despite that I don't find them on focus. I wasn't expecting you to answer on behalf of Miller, but you are the one shielding, in your post, Miller from "intellectual dishonesty".

For a): anything I read from Miller is muddled and contradictory, often opposing the eagerness of the Vatican for confirmed miracles leading to beatification/sainthood (poor JP2 seems to have problems with that). My point is that Miller's stance about "moral independence" is ridiculous when one think about the ten commandments. Nothing about theodicity here.

For b): Bring the spiritual in science and you have to justify it someway. Miller position himself as teleologist. He do give a particular flavor to evolution, not the same as Behe & Co certainly, but one as much teleological.
Miller don't have to write himself about the different aspects. The JTF have other people working on that: d'Espagnat and Collins worked to make and make popular respectively the QM vellum. Simon-Conway's to make evolutionary convergence interpreted as God's way to get to humans, justifying teleology in biological evolution. There is a team on work.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

I raised 'theodicy' because of Miller's comment about amputees that appeared in the Scharfenberg article that seemed to suggest that, in order to preserve freedom of action for both man and God, one must allow human suffering.

I don't think much of that idea, as I mentioned. The problem of theodicy remains. I regret if my previous response didn't make clear the connection I saw.

b) Teleological language doesn't always demonstrate teleological intent, just sloppiness. I do agree that Miller's approach allows for teleology, in that the Creator not only sets up the system, but (presumably) can game the system to get the desired outcome. That is certainly a form of Design being postulated.

I must demur on your take on the JTF. You seem to think that its various fellow travelers are cooking up various treats that are supposed to compliment each other. Having attended a JTF-sponsored event, I saw quite the opposite. There was disagreement between panelists, friction between different speakers and the audience, and so forth. There did not appear to be much in the way of 'group speak', and a well-known creationist in attendance got much the worst of it in a one-sided 'debate' that concluded the affair.

Even among those Templeton fellows clement towards religion there seems to be significant disagreement. I doubt very much that Paul Davies would sign on for the uncritical version of 'fine tuning' that Miller alludes to, for example. If there is 'a team on work', as you suggest, there must be quite a bit of discord within the clubhouse.

And, again, thanks for commenting.