Miller’s Mixed Bag II: Providing an effective critique of elements within ID, but still underestimating it
This is part 5 of a five-part review of Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God.
Miller’s penchant for both effective critique and exaggeration is also visible in his treatment of Intelligent Design (ID). Miller devotes chapter 4 to this task (and revisits it again later as well). Problems?
The critics of evolution invoke design to replace evolution…A divine designer does not need a mechanism…(p. 92)
Properly written, it would look like this: “The critics of evolution invoke design to replace some claims of Evolution as history…A divine designer does not need a mechanism, but may use one regularly…”
It’s not logically tenable to allow that evolution could have produced some species but not others; therefore, the explanation of design must be invoked for the origin of every species… Like it or not, ID must face these data by arguing that each and every one of these species was designed from scratch….The story-tellers of ID assert that He could have done it just one way—by assembling every element, every interlocking bit and piece of tissue, cell, organ and genetic code in single flashes of creative intensity….[ID’ers] compel Him to descend from Heaven onto the factory floor by conscripting His labor into the design of each detail of each organism that graces the surface of our living planet. (p. 93, 95, 252, 268)
Huh? “Some but not others” Why not? “Each and every one”? Why? I’m not especially well-read in this area. But I’ve never seen this claim and I can’t imagine it—especially if Miller’s foils are the strategic geniuses he makes them out to be! (Similarly, Miller claims that Behe believes in the necessity of a “master cell” [p. 162]. Again, it’s difficult to imagine that Behe would insist on this.) In a word, why are ID’ers required to believe that all must be accomplished without evolution? It looks like a strawman has appeared in Miller’s argument—perhaps through a punctuated equilibrium of some sort.
…no explanation beyond the whim of the designer himself. That’s just the way he chose to do it. (p. 94)
That’s fine/true. But why does Miller see God’s intervention as a problem—since he allowed for that possibility earlier (through quantum physics)? And if God chose/chooses to intervene, would Miller require an explanation? Moreover, if God can/does intervene, what’s the difference between natural selection and intervention/“design” within NS—and how would one know the difference?Or to restate a point I made in an earlier post: For believers, Miller notes the ease with which Christians believe that God has intervened throughout human history, why not believe that He has intervened in biological history as well?
In chapter 8, Miller complains that such deception could “look natural”. But with modern physics, “natural-looking” should result in random &/or designed outcomes. So, again, why the complaint?Beyond the exaggeration, it’s odd that Miller embraces ID-like investigation elsewhere in his book. In discussing investigative work after a burglary (oddly, a common example in explanations about ID), he notes that:
…every one of his actions leaves something behind…The simple fact is that we can learn about the past by applying good, old-fashioned detective work to the clues that have been left behind (p. 22-23).
Sure, but what’s good for the Evolutionary goose should be good for the ID gander.
Instead, later Miller tries to claim that:
By definition, design cannot be tested, cannot be disproven, cannot even be investigated. The arguments for design are entirely negative in nature… (p. 126)
Miller also has makes odd, theological claims about God as an ID’er.
This designer has been busy! And what a stickler for repetitive work!...each of these species bears no relation to the next, except in the mind of that unnamed designer whose motivation and imagination are beyond our ability to fathom.” (p. 97)
Again, Miller is unnecessarily supposing innumerable interventions by the ID’er. Beyond that, Miller seems to lack imagination, especially in picturing the Creator as Creative—as an artist producing all sorts of things, independent of “motivation” and incomprehensible imagination. Perhaps this is why Miller refers to God as a magician more than a Creator?
Even if we suppose the Creator has intervened often—and has been relatively busy in creating special species—this is certainly not a problem theologically (aside from a propensity toward deism). And Miller’s numbers don’t help his own case. He says that the ID’er would need to create a new species of elephant every 230,000 years. OK, I think He can handle that. Millions of insect species. OK, that’s one a month. God can probably work that into His schedule, especially if He transcends time (as Miller argues elsewhere).
All this said, Miller is still effective in undermining ID as an explanation. Chapter 5 is devoted to Michael Behe’s work—and his claim that Irreducible Complexity (IC) cannot be produced by evolution. Miller shoots down some/many of Behe’s most prominent examples. Still, this only reduces the extent to which IC is compelling or plausible.
Oddly, Miller complains that ID’ers can harm science:
If you believed Michael Behe’s assertion that biochemical machines were IC, you might never have bothered to check; and this is the real scientific danger of his ideas. (p. 149)
Yet, Miller also notes the many scientific efforts that have been spurred by ID and IC claims, damaging Behe’s thesis. So, what’s the problem? Why the drama? Is this one more of Miller’s “strategies”?
On the positive said, Miller also provides some tentative explanations on the development of the eye—the best I’ve read (p. 135-136). He speaks to the possibilities on the evolution of human language (p. 176-178). Disappointingly, he says nothing about the evolution of what is commonly called soul and spirit—aside from the bizarre claim (at least for a theist) that “our origins as individuals come entirely from the materials of life” (p. 250). Maybe the noteworthy omission was another one of Miller’s “strategies”?
Miller has damaged ID but for better or worse, like Evolution, it will be difficult to knock it out completely. The dance between deity design and natural mechanism will continue. Although it has its weaknesses, Miller’s work is a net gain for understanding and empathy, a welcome addition to the literature, and a book interested parties should read.