Ken Miller's Talk on Intelligent Design on YouTube

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.


Siamang said…
You haven't watched the entire video and yet you review it. Perhaps instead of writing up that whole long partial critique you could have used that time to... I don't know... watch the ENTIRE thing?!?!

What did you think about the science offered?

You seem to really like the word "ridicule". He didn't ridicule the president. He brought up the issue where the president weighed in on the question. If mentioning the president's position on ID is ridiculing him, I guess I'm doing that now.

Watch. The. Whole. Thing.

Respond. To. The. Scientific. Arguments.

Stop having a hissy fit and recoiling at every percieved dig (not at God, or Jesus, as Miller is a Christian) but digs at Behe, who is by NO MEANS a holy prophet.

Dig in here, BK. Buck up. Stop looking to be peeved.

It's a user-friendly talk. It has jokes. It has wheat and chaff. Just suck it up and stop looking for slights and insults. Look at the core scientific material he's bringing to light.

Apply your grey matter and try to understand it. It's not hard. I promise you if you open yourself up just a smidge, stop being an apologetic for Behe and get back to being one for Christ, you may find it just a bit more worth your time.
BK said…

First, don't worry, I'll watch the whole thing. But you don't find it interesting that during the first 30 minutes of his talk (which is approximately 40 percent of the entire thing) he says nothing of substance? Instead, he is simply belittling, throwing out logical fallacies and (apparently) misrepresenting what the other side is saying. I will watch it, but if the first thirty minutes is an indication of what's left, then it's just more of the same that I usually read from the pro-evolution side against ID -- nonsubstantive.
BK said…
P.S. In the first 30 minutes there is not one scientific argument made.
Siamang said…
The portion you call "fluff and illogic" is a historical recapping of the public controversy. It's establishing the history, ideas, themes and players in this drama. It's informing people on the textbook controversy, the various stickers and disclaimers, the establishment of the Dover trial. This isn't fluff nor illogic, it's a description, a very entertaining and engaging one, I might add, of the nature of the conflict up to that point.

Dude, it's almost two hours long: 117 minutes. You watched one-quarter.

What about tilomeres and centromeres? What about his entire discussion of the evolution of the blood-clotting cascade? What about his discussion of the bacterial flagellum? What about his discussion of transitional fossils?

"Nothing to say that is either substantive or new"?!?!? Many if not most of the biologists in attendance didn't know about the fusion of the human chromosome #2!

I interact with a number of christians on a different website and none of them who watched this said anything negative or commented in any way about the things that you apparantly found insulting.

And the President Bush thing? Your take on that is just bizarre and sounds paranoid. What does he say that "ridicules" the president and a "rallying cry" to make fun of the "hicks"?

It's roughly eleven minutes into the talk, for your reference. Here's the quote:

"Now as it turns out, our President has tried to be helpful on this particular point. And many of you may know that President Bush was asked about this and he said 'I think students should be exposed to both sides of the issue'. By which he meant evolution and also intelligent design."

He then talks about how Time magazine ran an image where President Bush's face was superimposed over a picture of Miller's biology textbook, and he shows the image which we don't see, but which elicits a laugh, but I don't think that he's making any point other than the point that such an image lends fame and notoriety to his book, which might improve its sales numbers.

He continues:

"But I have been asked about what I think about President Bush's opinion on the issue. And I think my response probably should be that I like all other science educators are delighted that the President has taken an interest in science education. We hope he continues to be interested in it and we also hope very much that President Bush will listen to his science advisor, John Marburger. Who's a fine scientist, and who was picked by President Bush to give him advice on science. Um, he was asked by Russell Durbin from Ohio State University what he thought about evolution. And Dr. Marburger said evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology and he pointed out a lot of work we do at NIH depends upon evolution. And he was very quick to say that President Bush has supported large increase for NIH funding. Um, and he was also asked at the National Association of Science Writers he said 'look, Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory.' And as if to ram the point home, he continued 'I don't regard Intelligent Design as a scientific topic.' And again, I think if the President listens to his science advisor, he'll be in very good shape."

During this whole portion, Miller speaks thoughout with respect and decorum, referring to him as "The President" or "President Bush." Never 'Bush'. He also never makes any jokes at the President's expense. He doesn't roll his eyes, or take any shots about Bush's politics or any digs belittling his intellect or even his understanding of the underlying issues.

Hey, everyone here at Cadre... let's get more sets of eyes on this. Everyone fast forward to just after the ten minute mark and answer the question: Is Miller ridiculing the president here? Is it really 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."?
BK said…
1. It isn't a historical recapping to misrepresent and ridicule.

2. You're right. I watched 30 minutes of fluff which is closer to one-quarter.

3. There is nothing in the first 30 minutes about tilomeres and centromeres, the blood-clotting cascade, the bacterial flagellum or transitional fossils. I assume those come up in the next 30 minutes and so I'll respond then.

4. The ridicule is in what isn't shown. Obviously, he shows the cover on his biology textbook with the picture of President Bush superimposed on the cover. He suggests that the publisher should do the same thing and the audience all laughs about. (Interestingly) the video doesn't show what they all found so interesting.

I am surprised that no one has been critical about the introduction among the people whom you have shown it to. The errors I point out are real. I'd expect that you'd care more and not dismiss it as simply entertaining since you are so interested in truth.
Siamang said…
You seem to be deciding to hate it before you watch the whole thing. I think you're imagining offenses, like the Bush thing. Calling the audience "sheep-like" and imagining they're laughing at the "hicks", well that seems to be the reaction you decided on before hand.

So there's obviously nothing I can say there. Thanks for putting the link up on your site, perhaps someone here might find it more enlightening than you did.
Jason Pratt said…
Fwiw, I'm finding merit and evasion/misrepresentation on _both_ sides of what I'm reading here. I wish I had more time today to go watch the thing myself and write up my own notes. {sigh} (Unfortunately I'm going to be swamped at 'work' work today; and possibly over the weekend, too. Kind of a good thing, since we need the business {g}, but problematic for doing commentary.)

Anyway, I thank _both_ of you for the efforts you've both made so far.
BK said…

That's a interesting point of view. I will be interested to hear what you think I have done that constitutes evasion/misrepresentation.
BK said…

I don't know what you were expecting. The guy starts off within the first couple minutes of his talk making the blanket assertion that people who aren't in favor of evolution are anti-science and I'm supposed to sit there and say "gosh, what a clever fellow?" I think ID makes sense, and so I started watching the video, but I never said I wasn't going to evaluate it critically.

I have made my observations. So far, even if I were to give you that I overstepped the bounds on the Bush thing (which I don't think I have), I see no reason to back down from my observations nor have you given me any reason to do so.
Layman said…

If your goal is to get more people to watch this you are failing miserably. Your non-defense defense of the first third of the video is an extended whine about how BK should watch the reste of the video. He has already said that he will do so and write more. Just wait.

BK is likely reluctant to do this, but if all you continue to do is attack him in the same nasty tone for what he has not said about what he has not watched, I'll consider deleting your comments.
Jason Pratt said…
Part of the problem of not having time to spare on such things, is that I also end up sending something I didn't exactly mean. The editing part of my head caught the potential problem, but being in a rush I forgot I hadn't done anything about it. The moral of which is: if I'm in too much of a rush to say anything, I'm probably in too much of a rush to say anything coherent, either, AND SO SHOULDN'T TRY!

What I actually meant was more along this line: as things stand it _looks_ like some amount of evasion and misrepresentation on both sides, _BUT_ I can't be sure only from what I'm seeing here, _THEREFORE_ (being curious) I would like to watch the recording myself, (_but_ I don't have the time to do so yet.)

What's worse, I remember writing "I'm seeing" (with that thought in mind above) at first, but then before I posted I actually edited it to "finding". Somehow in my head, at the moment, that constituted a more careful verb. I remember the intent, but GAAHH!!--did the result turn out way different than what I intended. {slapping forehead viciously!}

On looking it over again, I think I see why I changed it to finding--in my head I was emphasizing "finding merit... on _both_ sides of what I'm reading", because I wanted that portion to be emphasized more than the negative _impression_ the material (as given) was giving me. (For the same reason, I thanked both Bill and Bruce for the efforts they've both made so far.)

Anyway, I'm the only person to blame for _that_ resulting misunderstanding {ironic grimace}; and I certainly don't blame anyone for thinking (since it can only _look_ that way) that by "finding evasion/misrepresentation on both sides" I actually meant find. It's certainly what I typed, and certainly how the grammatic logic reads out, even though it wasn't at all what I meant.

To Bill and Bruce both, then, I most sincerely say "I'm sorry", and I accept all responsibility for any hurt I caused thereby.
Siamang said…
To Bill and Bruce both, then, I most sincerely say "I'm sorry", and I accept all responsibility for any hurt I caused thereby

Oh, don't worry about it, Jason. I appreciate that you're trying to dialogue here openly and honestly. No hurt caused.
Siamang said…
Layman wrote:

If your goal is to get more people to watch this you are failing miserably.

The people who are curious will watch it no matter what I say, the people who don't, won't. I'm not responsible for what material they pursue and how open or not open they are to different material. I'm not jumping up and down and going "oh, goody, I got some Christians to watch a video made by another Christian so I can get 5 whole people to perhaps change their mind on an esoteric issue about biology!"

I really don't care what you do with it. Watch it, don't watch it. I do think it's an interesting part of the conversation, though. And I find all of your reactions to be an interesting and enlightening part of the conversation as well, BK's especially so.

Your non-defense defense of the first third of the video is an extended whine about how BK should watch the rest of the video.

I'm not here to defend it, as I didn't make the video. I'm here to take part in a conversation. If people here have questions or objections, I'm here to learn about them and perhaps point out my impressions of the same material to further the dialogue. My goal in reacting strongly to BK's lengthy review of the first quarter of the video was my honest reaction to the rather silly notion that someone would review a partial viewing of the talk. I am very, very interested in getting other people's reactions to the talk, as I am surprised by BK's response. This video elicited quite a different response among Christians who are non ID supporters. They were quite heartened, in fact, to hear from a leading scientist who was a Christian, and who has written extensively on the intersection of his faith and his work.

But even if nobody else watches the video at all (which I really don't expect), that too is part of the conversation, and increases my understanding.

He has already said that he will do so and write more. Just wait.

I merely responded to each subsequent comment by BK. If that is not allowed here, I'll demure.
Layman said…

Very little of what you said seemed intended to promote a "conversation" as you claim you are interested in. Most of what you did came across as foot stomping and whining.

If you have something to say about BK's points, say it. Don't whine about what BK has not said about what he has not watched. He said he'll post when he's watched more but pointed out several problems with the introduction. If you only want to talk about the science discussed later, why not wait until BK discusses the science later? You seem to demand that all "conversation" take place on your terms on your subjects. Grow up. Stop whining. Engage what was said and wait patiently for what will be said.
Siamang said…
Anyway, just curious.

Did anyone here watch the entire video? I'm interested if any person commenting here did.

Layman, did you watch it? Jayson? Anyone else here?

I'm not whining. I'm not even making any point at all.

Just taking a survey for my future understanding.

Any comments or insights or impressions?
BK said…
I have watched the next 30 minutes. Unfortunately, writing up long responses to what he says takes time -- time that is being taken by arguing in other places on this blog (another reason I stop responding to comments at time -- I want to move on not plow my head into a wall going over the same things over and over). There really is nothing new, and I will write my response to the next 30 minutes sometime in the future.
Siamang said…
Oh, and I'm really trying to being patient. I haven't posted in almost 2 weeks. Please excuse me if I'm not patent enough. I thought I'd give it more time, but this post scrolled off the main page and I was concerned that it might get lost or forgotten.
Siamang said…
I guess you answered my question, then BK. Or rather my meta question of if you want to pursue this.

I'll bow out of conversing with you on your posts if you want. I see no point in following up.
BK said…
Patience is a virtue. :)

But you do what you like. I am just saying that I have only a limited time each day to write and the time I take responding to comments takes away that time (like right now). Thus, please don't assume that I back away out of the fact I can't answer. Usually, it is more a lack of time and a desire to move on.

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