Saturday, January 17, 2009

Miller: Finding Darwin’s God—An Overview

For anyone who is interested in learning about evolution and the debate over Evolution, I would heartily recommend Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God. (Hat tip to Dr. Lang for persisting in encouraging me to read it.) Miller’s prose is easily accessible; his description of the science is clear and seems accurate (although I could be duped relatively easily!); and his insights into the worldviews at play in this debate are quite useful.

That said, Miller also over-estimates and under-estimates various parts of the debates. And since Miller doesn’t seem to have an ideological ax to grind, I want to wrestle with why that might be the case (as he does with whom he disagrees).

In a word, I want to tell you what I got from Miller’s book and how things look to me—for the various interested parties—after learning from it.

In the preface, Miller opens with a summary of the conflict:

Evolution remains the focal point, the organizing principle, the logical center of every discipline in biology today. Yet evolution also remains a point of concern and controversy, because it deals with the greatest of all mysteries, our own origins, and our human place in nature. (p. xi)

From there, Miller provides a call to pursue both science and religion—provocatively, from the end of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:

To conclude, therefore, let no man…think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well-studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men for endless progress or proficiency in both. (p. xii)

I wonder how many people who view Darwin as a hero are keen to follow his advice on that mix! In any case, Miller echoes a similar call immediately afterwards:

The common assumption…is that Darwinism is a fatal poison to traditional religious belief…All too many traditional believers accept this view, not realizing that it is based more on a humanistic culture of disbelief than on any finding of evolutionary science. In a curious way, this allows each side to validate the extremes of the other. (p. xii)

In a nutshell, Miller wants to argue against those extremes and bring people back to a healthy middle ground which both respects evolution and embraces belief in a personal God.

Two house-keeping items to address before I begin in earnest:

1.) I’m not sure what Miller’s religious beliefs are. He is a theist but not a deist. He believes that God moves in the world and relates to us personally. He’s not eager to share his faith, but relishes the opportunity to share when asked. That said, he doesn’t seem like a conservative evangelical—in style or with a few little clues he leaves laying around. (On the latter, in his dedication to “Jody”, he chooses a phrase usually reserved for God [p. xiii]. And he seems far too eager to see (all of?!) Genesis as a myth to be discarded [p. 56].) In any case, this mixture presumably makes him more credible to both sides of the debate: He’s not at all allergic to God and he clearly respects Evolution.

2.) There is one irritating thing in Miller’s presentation. Handling the efforts of those with whom he disagrees, he often portrays their arguments as “strategies”—in a somewhat admiring but pejorative sense. I can live with that. The problem: he doesn’t seem to his own efforts as “strategies” as well—for example, when he’s trying to downplay the impact of Punctuated Equilibrium (p. 112-115) or in his attempt to equate contemporary ID as equivalent (rather than similar) to William Paley’s argument from design (p. 135).

I’m going to divide my review into four parts—in four other posts:

I. Miller’s Clear Contribution I: Blowing up both of the extremes in the debate (chapters 3, 6)

II. Miller’s Clear Contribution II: Providing a positive case/evidence for a personal God (chapters 7-9)

III. Miller’s Mixed Bag I: Making evolution more impressive than I thought, but still seems to overestimate Evolution (chapters 1, 2, 4)

IV. Miller’s Mixed Bag II: Providing a good critique of elements within ID, but still seems to underestimate it (chapters 4-5)

I hope you enjoy my review and the book!


At January 17, 2009 at 4:41 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

>I’m not sure what Miller’s religious beliefs are.

He's Roman Catholic.


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