Tag Archives: Ken Miller

Religion in the public square

Or do I mean irreligion in the public square? Same thing really.

I refer to the open discussion of religious ideas in the “public square.” That means ideas can be put up for consideration and subjected to open support or criticism. The same as our ideas on politics and sport. I am using the dictionary, not literal, definition of “public square” as “relating to or concerning the people at large or all members of a community.”

Don’t we already do that? Yes, I agree. But some people are unhappy about it. There is an idea around that religion doesn’t get a fair go. That it should be able to promote its claims and ideas without being subjected to criticism. The United Nations has passed a resolution against the “defamation of religion”. Ireland has reintroduced a blasphemy law. You get the picture.

militant atheists

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What is theistic evolution?

I have just finished reading Ken Miller’s new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. Some intelligent design proponents reacted angrily to the publication of this book a few months ago (see Holy war!). Have a look at how upset Bill Dembski was in his Uncommon Descent post Theistic Evolutionists Close Ranks — Let the Bloodletting Begin! But I didn’t find anything in Miller’s book about theistic evolution.

First, let me say that Only a Theory is an excellent book. Ken Miller is a cell biologist well known for his biology text books and for his very effective role in defending evolutionary science against intelligent design (ID)/creationist attacks. He was an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover (2004-05) trial in Pennsylvania, USA which found attempts by the Dover School board to introduce ID in science classes illegal. Miller is also a devout Catholic and author of the book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. His writing is just as clear and enthusiastic as his lectures are.

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Holy war!

Bill DembskiI have often commented that the contoversy over evolution is not scientific but religious. Further evidence for this is the reaction of intelligent design (ID) guru, Bill Dembski (right) to the publication of Kenneth Miller’s new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul.

Ken Miller (left) is a cell biologist well known for his biology text books and for his role in defending evolutionary science against ID/creationist attacks. He was an expert witness for the plaintifs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover (2004-05) trial in Pennsylvania, USA which found illegal the attempts by the Dover School board to introduce ID in science classes. Miller is also a devout Catholic and author of the book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution.

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Driving the wedge into Christianity

Back in 1999 Phillip E. Johnson, the godfather of intelligent design (ID), declared a strategy of labeling evolutionary science, and therefore by implication all of science, as atheistic.

“The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs evolution to the existence of God vs the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.'”

In essence this is the same strategy as that outlined in the Wedge Strategy document.

Darwin SteinID spokespeople have constantly pushed this argument. Recently their efforts have become more extreme. For example, the message in ‘that silly movie’ Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed that “Darwinism” led directly to Nazism and the holocaust. And these spokespeople have become more open in widening their attacks from “Darwinism” to all of science.

Ben Stein declared during a recent TV interview that “science leads to killing people.” David Berlinski in The Scientific Embrace of Atheism also attacks science in a manner John Derbyshire shows to be ridiculous (see Getting It Wrong about Atheism and Science). Denys O’Leary has written in similar nasty way with her references to “Darwinist” thugs (see Expelled: “Denormalizing” the Darwin thugs and Expelled: “Denormalizing” the Darwin thugs 2 – PZ Myers and friends).

Anti-science message aimed at Christians

Of course, none of these are really attacks on atheism (few atheists would object to being associated with scientific knowledge). It is an attempt to convince fellow Christians that science is somehow harmful. Scientific knowledge shouldn’t be accepted by Christians – it should be seen as unreliable. And scientists themselves are somehow evil.

In effect these attacks undermine Christianity because Christianity divorced from scientific knowledge will retreat to superstitious beliefs and be discredited. These anti-science messages are aimed at driving a wedge between conservative, fundamentalist Christians and pro-science Christians. The latter will be associated with atheism and evil. And Chrsitianity itself then becomes identified with the conservative, fundamentalist groups.

This tactic is obvious in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed which covers up the fact that many Christians accept evolutionary science and that many evolutionary scientists are in fact Christians. (See, for example, Why Ken Miller isn’t in Expelled, Why Christian scientists Were Expelled from “Pro-Religion” Expelled! Film and Ken Miller: Expelled from Expelled for his religious views).

Concern about anti-science messages

Such hostile and malicious attacks have no place in scientific debate. In fact they only promote a dogmatism which is completely alien to scientific inquiry. So scientists are rightly concerned. This is indicated by the recent statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It says in part:

“For more than a decade, the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has been working to build a constructive bridge between scientific and religious communities through its Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion and other programs. There also have been many efforts by religious leaders to accomplish the same goal. For example, more than 11,000 clergy have signed an open letter supporting the view that faith and science should be seen as complementary, not competing. The leadership of the United Church of Christ recently sent out a pastoral letter expressing a similar position.

We were therefore especially disappointed to learn that the producers of an intelligent design propaganda movie called “Expelled” are inappropriately pitting science against religion. This production badly misrepresents the scientific community as intolerant of dissent, when, in fact, respectful disagreement and questioning based on physical evidence represent the core of the scientific process. AAAS further decries the profound dishonesty and lack of civility demonstrated by this effort. The movie includes interviews with scientists who report that they were deceived into appearing as part of such a production, and advance segments broadly depict those who accept evolution as racist and sympathetic to Nazis. Such generalized insults are untrue and grossly unfair to millions of scientists in the United States and worldwide who are working to cure disease, solve hunger, improve national security, and otherwise advance science to improve the quality of human life.”

See also:
Plagiarize? You’ll Get EXPELLED!
Roundtable Discussion with Mark Mathis
Science Talk Podcast: Expelled Explained
Ken Miller’s Evolution Resources
Framing in action in Expelled
Trouble ahead for science – Ken Miller’s review of Expelled.

Related articles:
Expelled – no integrity exhibited
Expelled Bingo
Should Dawkins have been Expelled?
So what does Dawkins think of “Expelled”?
Intelligent design/creationism and climate change
Expelled – the movies

A respectable man with a dangerous theory

Darwin DayThis Tuesday, February 12, marks the 199th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. The 149th anniversary of the publication of his book The Origin of Species also occurs this year. In this book Darwin laid out his theory of natural selection which is still accepted today as an integral part of modern revolutionary theory.

The anniversary is being marked throughout the world as Darwin day – commemorating the major contribution Darwin made to science, particularly biology. The occasion is of course being celebrated by scientific organisations and activities also include discussion by the New York State Legislative Assembly of a resolution marking the day.

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Religious opposition to “intelligent design”

In a previous post referring to the attack of intelligent design (ID) on society and religion (see Intelligent Design and the Threat to Christianity) I suggested that Christians “too often stand aside as if the conflict is not their problem.” This was a bit unfair. While there is a tendency to see ID as a problem for science rather than religion many Christians do fight back. A worthwhile example is the Clergy Letter Project. This is a open letter signed by American Christian clergy of different denominations rejecting creationism, with specific reference to points raised by intelligent design proponents. Begun in 2004 it currently has 11,130 signatories supporting this statement:

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

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Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity

Intelligent design (ID) is not a scientific discipline. It’s a political, social and religious movement – and this is sometimes admitted by their spokespersons. For example, Phillip Johnson said in 1996: “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science . . . It’s about religion and philosophy.” As such ID/creationism is more of an issue for Christianity than it is for science.

The attacks made by ID/creationism on evolutionary theory are often interpreted as arising from a conflict between religion and science. A conflict arising from a discrepancy between scientific knowledge and religious beliefs. But that is too simpleminded as many Christians don’t see a conflict between their beliefs and scientific knowledge.

These attacks on science are really attacks on pro-science Christianity. The rise of modern science in Europe several hundred years ago was paralleled by the rise of a pro-science theology within Christianity. This was a theological acceptance of a god-created universe which is ordered and “law-abiding.” Further, it accepted that humanity was able to investigate and understand reality. Of course, this conflicted, and still does, with theological ideas which deny a “law-abiding” universe, which uses supernatural explanations and denies the possibility of humanity ever understanding important aspects of reality.

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