In some recent comments, Bruce, a skeptical reader of the blog, pointed me to a talk by Kenneth Miller about Intelligent Design saying that it was a good starting point for finding out what is wrong with the theory of Intelligent Design. Kenneth Miller is a theistic evolutionist. Now, I don’t have a problem with theistic evolution, as such, and know many Christians who are theistic evolutionists. Thus, if he wants to accept that theory, I say that’s find in my view even while I disagree with him. Nevertheless, since Miller directly addresses ID in this talk, I decided to take Bruce up on watching it.
As of this writing, I have watched the first 30 minutes of the lecture and found 30 minutes of fluff and illogic. In the first 30 minutes, there was virtually no substance to what he said at all. Let me explain my observations.
1. The false dichotomy and the use of language: Right from the start he represented the ID people as "anti-science" while the groups he supports are "pro-science." It is a false dichotomy built into his discussion throughout. How do I know? Because I am in favor of science and am pro-ID. I have no problem with science engaging in scientific investigation. I have no problem with scientists proposing purely naturalistic theories that explains how things work or came to be. I have no problem with these theories being taught in schools. Exactly how am I anti-science? Am I anti-science because I think that the evolutionary theory is being oversold? If so, this is very curious because he makes the statement in his talk (to the delight of his sheep-like audience) that "Everything in science should be approached critically." So, in other words, science should be approached critically unless you happen to disagree with the evolutionary paradigm in which case you are "anti-science"?
2. The Guilt by Association argument: Miller then asks a legitimate question: if ID is not a religious theory, why it’s largely backed by religious people. His answer: because creationists have set up evolution as the basis for many of the ills of society. In making this claim, he goes to the website Answers in Genesis (AIG), a pro-creationist website that doesn’t support ID but rather supports creationism. Unlike ID, the creationism approach of AIG is that the book of Genesis gives the literal explanation of creation. As it says on its page regarding the "young earth" approach to explaining the origin of the universe
I want to make it VERY clear that we don’t want to be known primarily as 'young-Earth creationists.' AiG's main thrust is NOT 'young Earth' as such; our emphasis is on Biblical authority. Believing in a relatively 'young Earth' (i.e., only a few thousands of years old, which we accept) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator.
While I am not saying that Answers in Genesis is necessarily wrong in its approach, I don't find their arguments for a young earth convincing and so I chose to not link the Answers in Genesis site to the Christian CADRE's Intelligent Design and Evolutionism Page when I set it up. What is important is to recognize that ID takes an entirely different approach. ID starts with the evidence and theorizes based on the evidence -- like any other type of science.
So, what is the answer to his question as to why it is largely Christians like myself who support the ID movement? The answer, in my opinion, is that Christians are already prepared to accept the idea that there may be more involved in the process of origins than just naturalistic processes. As Christians, we are more open to finding and accepting evidence that there is something out there that participated in the process beyond time and chance. Evolutionists are not prepared to accept this evidence because they are invested in the idea that origins had to happen purely naturalistically.
3. The logical leap about more adequate explanations: Later in his talk, Miller talks about the Kansas school board's decision to change the language of its science standards that formerly defined science as seeking "natural explanations" and changed it to seeking "more adequate explanations." Miller asks "what's the opposite of natural" and concludes that it is supernatural. He then claims that changing the definition of science in this manner will allow astrology, alchemy and pyramid power into the science classrooms.
Miller’s attempt to equate "more adequate explanations" with "supernatural" is simply wrong. Part of ID’s claims is that evidence shows that evidence suggests that something or someone participated in the origins of life on earth. ID doesn't identify what that something or someone is (which is part of why AIG doesn’t support ID), and acknowledges that it doesn’t have the data to identify that something or someone that participated. In fact, the something or someone could be something or someone existing in our universe which isn’t supernatural at all. Thus, ID doesn't require that we seek out supernatural explanations for events in this universe, but rather that we recognize that such participation occurred if the evidence leads naturally to that conclusion.
Miller's dichotomy, if accepted, means that when you wash the dishes, you are engaging in a supernatural action. Why? Because the dishes weren't washed naturally; you, as an intelligent agent, interfered with the dishes in their natural state and washed them. Obviously, that's an absurd understanding of "supernatural" and, hence, it is an absurd understanding of "more adequate explanations."
4. The argument from ridicule: Throughout this discussion, Miller uses the argument from ridicule to portray the "anti-science" crowd with whom he disagrees. He equates those who question evolution with those who believe in a flat earth. He ridicules President Bush for suggesting that it’s appropriate to have both sides of the controversy taught. Thus, I think that most of his talk is not so much a discussion of what is wrong with intelligent design, but a cute rallying cry for the faithful in the audience about what hicks and grits those people are who don’t see things their way.
5. Teaching astrology in the classroom? Miller takes great pains to try to ridicule Michael Behe who, according to Miller, when asked in the courtroom whether the allowing ID into the classroom would welcome astrology into the classroom as a legitimate subject, agreed that in his view if ID is allowed into the courtroom under his view of science it would be broad enough to allow astrology into the classroom as well. Miller thinks this is very shocking. Of course, it seems that Miller is misrepresenting what Michael Behe actually said. What he said is clearly explained on Evolution News and Views:
Behe's testimony referenced his definition from a paper he authored in Philosophy and Biology:"Without getting into the difficult problem of trying to define science, I will just say that I think any explanation which rests wholly on empirical evidence and basic logic deserves the appellation 'scientific'.8"
[Footnote] "8 On the other hand, if an explanation depends critically on specific tenets of a particular faith, such as the Trinity or Incarnation, or on sacred texts, then that of course is not a scientific explanation."
(Behe M.J., "Reply to my critics: A response to reviews of Darwin's Black Box: The biochemical challenge to evolution," Biology and Philosophy, 16 (5): 685-709, Nov, 2001)
Plaintiffs' attorney tried to twist Behe's statements into making it appear that Behe believed that astrology was a scientific theory. Behe did say that 500 years or so ago, when people knew much much less about the world and were trying to explain things, they had an idea that things on earth might have been influenced by things on stars. This was a historical fact. But Behe made it clear that today, astrology is known to be incorrect. This is just like phlogiston theory of burning--people once thought it was true, and once thought it was an empirically-based scientific theory, but today it would not stand up to scientific scrutiny.
The problem with astrology is not that it could have fit the NAS or Behe's definition of science 500 years ago. The problem is that it is not supported by the evidence. That is why, unlike ID, no serious scientists are advocating astrology as a good theory which could be presented to students in science classrooms. Nor do serious academics reference the peer-reviewed scientific literature in support of astrology, as serious scientists do for ID.
5. Conclusion about the first thirty minutes. I will get back to watching Miller's talk some other time and see if it gets better. At the moment, however, I remain convinced that Miller has nothing to say against ID that is either substantive or new.