Friday, September 08, 2006

Miller at KU part 1

As I stated in my previous post, Dr. Kenneth Miller made the trip to the University of Kansas here recently to give the opening talk of the "Difficult Dialogues" series hosted here. As a long time fan of Dr. Miller's I eagerly anticipated his talk and was not disappointed. Since Dr. Miller's presentation in the evening, as well as his Question and Answer session the next morning were so rich, I'm going to break this into 4 parts. The first will be his actual talk, the second his Q&A tha night, the third his colloquim the next morning, and last, my overall impressions.

I showed up nearly 30 minutes early to meet with many other members of the Society of Open Minded Atheists and Agnostics. After a brief introduction Dr. Miller came out. I ended up taking nearly 6 pages of notes (on a laptop) so I have a pretty detailed account of the speech. So here it is. (I apologize for bad image quality before hand, I was pretty far back)

Dr. Miller began the talk with an introduction to the ID phenomenon. Given that this was Kansas, he started by pointing out that Kansas isn't the only state dealing with this problem. His first illustration of this was the Cobb County case not too long ago in which the school board decided to put stickers on the textbook (of which he was the author) that read:
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
Shortly thereafter he was called by a reporter from Georgia looking for a comment. Miller, recognizing that she was trolling for a sound bite in order to write a headline along the lines of "Biologist Outraged At Stickers" or, "even better", as he put it "Northern Biologist Outraged!"

But instead of giving the reporter what she was looking for, Dr. Miller replied by saying he liked it, it just "didn't go far enough". As an illustration he pointed to atomic "theory" in which, dispite being called a theory, it doesn't suggest that we're not damn sure atoms are really there and that, one day, we'll start calling the class "Atomic fact". His point in this was that theories and facts are very different things, and that one never becomes another.

His main beef with the sticker came with the last sentence. Not because it was factually incorrect, but because, to a 14 year old seeing that sticker it would imply that the school was damned sure about everything in that book except evolution, which is far from the truth.

Thus, Dr. Miller volunteered to rewrite the sticker to be more accurate saying:
This textbook contains material on science. Science is built around theories, which are strongly supported by factual evidence. Everything in science should be approached with an open mind.
Personally, I think this is an excellent rewrite. Unfortunately, the Cobb County school board didn't agree and declined to its use.

From there, he mentioned several other states having problems with ID, but cautioned that it was not simply an American phenomenon. A US poll said 5/10 American support the teaching of ID or Creationism in schools, and a similar poll in the UK showed that 4/10 supported it across the pond.

This introduced the Dover trial in which he gave a brief run down of the leadup to the trial. However, while the Dover trial was preparing to get underway, this was the time in Kansas that the Kansas school board decided to change the definition of science from
Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.
to
Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.
As I'm sure most of you are well aware, the key change is that the new definition doesn't require explanations to be naturalistic. Dr. Miller noted that, although supernatural methods may be entirely correct, there's no way to test them, thus, by necessity, they must lie outside science.

His example for this was the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series (over my hometown Cardinals). No natural explantion for this happening is readily available, thus many people attribute it to God. For all we know, it could be right, but there's no way to test it, thut it can't be science.

This whole scenario, he explained, was a prologue to the Dover trial. The Kansas school board wanted to host a series of debates to decide what to do with ID (although it was most likely a foregone conclusion). Dr. Miller was invited, but when he asked why they wanted to fly him in from the East cost when there were hundreds of equally qualified scientists in Kansas, he was eventually told that they were having to fly ID proponents in from all over the country so they felt obligated to fly the real scientists in too.

This was the point at which Dr. Miller said he realized he wasn't being invited to an academic debate, but a political one. This was the realization that all scientists the school board contacted came to and thus, all withdrew. The Discovery Institute's repsonse? Call the scientists chicken and say they were afraid to publicly debate the ID proponents.
I therefore await the day when the hearings are not voluntary but involve subpoenas that compel evolutionists to be deposed and interrogated at length on their view. There are ways for this to happen, and the wheels are in motion. What I propose, then, is a strategy for interrogating the Darwinists to, as it were, squeeze the truth out of them.
-William Dembski
Ironically, Dembski's chance would not be far away as the Dover trial was ready to begin. The defense wanted to have 10 expert witnesses, William Dembski among them. To make the irony meter jump even higher, 7 of those 10 backed out. The three that stayed weren't paid by the Discovery Institute, thus making it look very much like the Discovery Institute saw a train wreck coming and jumped ship.

And boy what a train wreck it was.

Dr. Miller drew two lessons from the Dover trial.
1. It demonstrated the complete collapse of ID as a scientific theory.
2. It exposed how ID is religion masquerading as science.

To illustrate the first point, Dr. Miller pointed out several arguments that the ID proponents used in court. The first was the claim that there is no evidence in the fossil record.

This was directly contradicted by a quote from the National Academy of Sciences, saying
So many intermediate forms have been discovered between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and mammals, and along the primate lines of descent that it often is difficult to identify categorically when the transition occurs from one to another particular species.
Additionally, Dr. Miller pointed to the specific example of the development of whales which were long believed to have evolved from land mammals. To truly test this hypothesis, numerous intermediate forms would be needed in the fossil record.

At the outset, critics of evolution laughed, claiming that it was impossible because creatures with half developed legs would not be good at swimming nor good at land movement. However, they stopped when precisely such forms were discovered in the fossil record.

But, as Dr. Miller pointed out, science is enormously self critical and went further. To truly develop, there would need to be a restructuring of the inner ear from a setup good for hearing in air, to being good in a liquid medium. By looking into the preserved skulls, just such a transition was revealed.

His second point on the issue was that genetic evidence also strongly supported evolution. Humans have 46 chromosomes while all other great apes have 48. Since the loss of 2 whole chromosomes would be fatal, the only reasonable explation was that two of the ones from our ancestor must have fused. This should be detectable and if it wasn't, the whole concept of sharing a common ancestor would be falsified. However, in looking at the human genome, a fused pair was found thus vidicating the theory even further.

Yet this cannot be expained through Intelligent Design unless the designer were intentionally trying to decieve us. As Dr. Miller said "I don't reject that on scientific grounds, I reject it on philosophical ones" as he chooses not to believe in a deceptive creator.

Next, Dr. Miller described how the "icons of ID" were shown to be false, namely the bacterial flagellum and the blood clotting mechanism. The flagellum was argued to be "irreducibly complex" but was demonstrated to reduce to the Type III Secretory system. The argument for blood clotting was the same, by fiat of course.

In a book published in, I believe Dr. Miller said 1987, Behe said:
As scientists, we yearn to understand how this magnificent mechanism came to be, but the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustration. Sisyphus himself would pity us.
In short, Behe claimed that it was impossible and not to even waste time trying. But being that Dr. Behe is apparently out of touch with how science functions, the real scientists tried anyway, and succeeded in breaking down the system of blood clotting.

To illustrate how out of touch Behe was,Dr. Miller referred to a point during the Dover trial in which Dr. Behe was asked if he still stood by his earlier words. He agreed that he did and was summarily presented with 57 papers, 9 books, and several textbook chapters on the development of the blood clotting system. Behe, being a rather short fellow, was buried beneath the evidence piled before him and eventually said to the judge, "Your honor, can I move the evidence to one side?"

This very well sums up the ID crowd in which, when the evidence becomes too much (ie, any), they move it to one side and play with fluffy theological arguments.

Thus ID, Dr. Miller stated, was shown to not be science. However, the Dover trial also demonstrated that it was religion.

In Behe's own words, he claimed that it is "implausible that the designer is a natural entity." Another expert witness for the defense, Minnich, said that ID would have to change the definition of science to be considered one (precisely what was done in Kansas) and the last expert witness (Fuller) said this was the whole goal of ID.

Dr. Miller then posed the question of what would happen if ID were considered good science. The first thing he pointed out is that, to adopt a loose enough definition (as Kansas did for a time), would make astrology a science. This was confirmed by Behe under oath.

Additionally, ID was shown to be religion by a look at the earlier copies of the ID textbook the Dover school had obtained: "Of Panas and People". The definition of Intelligent Design in it was:
Intelligent design means that the various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, etc.
However, all drafts preceeding 1987 were creationist texts with the [i]exact[/i] same definition, only having Intelligent Design substituted for Creationism and Designer replacing God.

So what happened in 1987? That's when the supreme court struck down Creationism as being unconstitutional od course.

The next question Dr. Miller adressed is "Why is evolution under attack?"

His conclusion was that it was not because it was shaky science as creationists always claim. Quite the contrary. Answers in Genesis asserts that it's the rock solid of everything wrong with society today from divorse to homosexuality.

The problem is that many for some reason see a split between science and religion. To illustrate how quickly people try to pit religion and science against one another, Dr. Miller showed a clip from when we was on the Colbert Report and noted that religion was the second question he was asked.

This pitting of science and religion against one another is one that was directly addressed and outlined in the infamous Wedge Document.

But is science inherently atheistic?

Dr. Miller's argument was that it isn't. Dispite several prominent scientists like Richard Dawkins trying to use science to support their philosophical positions, science cannot be used to either confirm or refute what it cannot test.

Thus, Dr. Miller suggested that ID proponents and Creationists were scared by this attack on their faith using science, and instead of meeting the challange directly, they've skipped the actual head on fight, and instead are trying to destroy science in the hopes that arguments stemming from it will just go away.

What those assaulting science must therefore do, he asserts, is get the battle out of science where it has no place, and back into the theological realm where it belongs. Thus, Dr. Miller urged theists to "attack" the "anti-theists" instead of attacking science.

He then pointed to several instance demonstrating that science and religion need not be at odds. His first was St. Augustine, who said:
Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens … the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics: and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation in which people show up vast ignorance in Christianity.
A later follower of St. Augustine, known as Gregor Mendel was also deeply religious and was the founder of the entire field of genetics. Dobzhansky, the leader of the human genome project and Nobel laurate, was also religious dispite being a scientist, and had no problem working side by side with an atheist even though he described himself as a "creationist and an evolutionist."

Additionally, the current Pope has supported science saying,
True contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence...A world in evolution does not follow a strict plan bit is nonetheless given is being, value, and meaning by God’s vision for it. The God of evolution does not fix things in advance, nor hoard selfishly the joy of creating. Instead God shares with all creatures their own openness to an indeterminate future
Miller's last point of his talk was to bring up this quote:
I think there is grandeur in this view of life; with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few form or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most wonderful and most beautiful have been, and are being evolved.
-Charles Darwin
With this as his final thought, Miller then proceeded to the Q&A session which I'll detail in my next post.

9 comments:

Paul Decelles said...

Good post! I'll put a link to it on my blog and alert Panda's Thumb where Jack Krebs has also commented on the talk.

They call me a troll said...

Over at Kansas Citizens for Science, the truth about what the atheists really think is coming out.

Brady, Les Lane and the whole swarm are critzing MIllER.

That had me wavering a while back, but after they banned me and then KEPT talking about me, I realized that there could in the long run be no accomodation.

The atheists are trying to co opt sience for athesism.

They MAY give some lip service to accomodation but that won't last one they get control of all the schools.

Paul Decelles said...

Troll,

The reaction to Miller's talk has been quite interesting to watch...and it looks like maybe he has succeeded in shifting the focus from evolution to whether or not evolution naturally leads to what he called anti-theistic. I just hope that once we get beyond the name calling stuff we get a reasoned exchange of viewpoints.

You have to admit that evolution is not going away, that ID is sterile, and that if you think logically that the fact that evolution upsets people and even might lead to atheism is no reason to reject evolution. Evolution is how the biological world works.

What you say about Atheists might just as well apply to certain Christians who want simple answers and THE TRUTH.

I am a theist of sorts, and reading Darwin's God and listening to his speech I find myself thinking that he is trying to find a niche where religious people can feel comfortable with evolution and maintain how they like to relate subjectively to the Universe. And reading Dennett-Darwin's dangerous ideas I get the sense that he is thinking the same thing but from the atheist perspective how can people best forge connections with each other and the universe.

A Catholic may augment their understanding of science with the mystery of transubstantiation, or maybe sacred music; Dawkins seems to get his connection through evolution itself. I doubt there is one way to relate forge that sort of deep connection is seems we crave.

But crave it we do.

Galactic Chet said...

Unfortunately, there isn't any god! I certainly would not be an Atheist if there was one or many of them. All are/were created and imagined by our species--no other known species on Earth has "religion".
If you would just read ancient mythologies and histories. The ancients (Greeks, Romans, Eqyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hebrews, native tribes) had religious faith in various gods/goddesses/spirits/demigods which they worshipped, built temples to, created sacred- rituals, -rites, holy-days, etc.)
Religious thinking, Homo sapiens created, have been around for, maybe, forty thousand years or so. Religious monotheism is about 3,800 years old beginning Pharoah Akhenaten to the Hebrews to the Christians/Catholics to Islam (all desert tribal religions).
Scientific thinking has only been around for 400 years.
Earth is not the only planet in Universe!

Steve said...

That video of him on the Colbert Report is hilarious.

Venkat said...

There is one commonality that both ID and evolution guys share.

The commonality: There is a grand BEGINNING.

So evolution believers believe in BIG BANG theory, whereas ID guys believe in GOD and His intelligent design, to create the world.

What if there is not any BEGINNING?

Dont get impressed by great mathematical formulae that physicists churn to defend BIG BANG Theory. For that some Nobel prizes too!!.

Everything depends on your assumptions behind your search. If you believed there is evolution and looking for its evidence, you will land up in great theories justifying it.

Newtonian mechanics as a scientific theory is fine. But not the theories on cosmology and creation as scientific ones. This is because you cant demonstrate them.

At the most we can build logical theories which are not scientific!!

I think, the fad about being scientific has to come down to respect truths that we cant handle beyond the scope of rational thinking.

On other side, believing in God shall not be in compliance with any organized religion.

The whole idea of God is limited to the way we see ourselves. If we think, we are bodily beings, then there are those who think God is also a bodily being. So the invention of so many deities.

That one God that some religions preach, can be right. But an understanding of Him / it as a phenomenon of energy, is not clear to them. If its such a phenomenon, how does it interact with you and the other phenomena.

I love Gregory Bateson's view: you cant think without making assumptions. Thats is the limitation that we have. If we break your assumptions because of some new theory, then you have new assumptions coming along with the new theory. Then what about all those irrational assumptions that sneak with a new scientific theory!!

How often we are taught the irrational assumptions behind scientific theories?

Let us look into evolution itself. What if there has been limited evolution, going in cycles.

We have not yet seen organic matter being created from non-organic matter. Then why do we expect out of blues in the course of evolotion, we have got biological life from inorganic matter!!.

Jon Voisey said...

venkat: While the big bang is a beginning of sorts, there is nothing that says that nothing existed before this. I addressed this point (and others), in my post on common misconceptions of the big bang.

You also carry some misconception of science that it has to be able to reproduce things. This is not correct. It just has to be able to test things and repeat those tests. We obviously can't recreate the formation of solar systems in our labs, but we don't have to for our theories of planetary formation to be scientific. Nature does performs the actual experiment and we make tests through observations.

Similarly, nature did the big bang for us, and we can perform our experiments through observations of its effects. Thus, it is very much scientific.

In regards to the origins of life, you're making another common error that evolution need explain where the first organism came from. This is incorrect. Evolution need not explain this any more than the theory of gravity needing to explain where mass comes from.

The theory required to explain life's origins is abiogenesis, and while we haven't been able to get every step along the way yet, we have gotten self replicating amino-acids, which, given the amount of time we've seen it happen in compared to the nearly 1 billion years nature had, is a pretty convincing argument that it's possible, given enough time.

Venkat said...

There is one commonality that both ID and evolution guys share.

The commonality: There is a grand BEGINNING.

So evolution believers believe in BIG BANG theory, whereas ID guys believe in GOD and His intelligent design, to create the world.

What if there is not any BEGINNING?

Dont get impressed by great mathematical formulae that physicists churn to defend BIG BANG Theory. For that some Nobel prizes too!!.

Everything depends on your assumptions behind your search. If you believed there is evolution and looking for its evidence, you will land up in great theories justifying it.

Newtonian mechanics as a scientific theory is fine. But not the theories on cosmology and creation as scientific ones. This is because you cant demonstrate them.

At the most we can build logical theories which are not scientific!!

I think, the fad about being scientific has to come down to respect truths that we cant handle beyond the scope of rational thinking.

On other side, believing in God shall not be in compliance with any organized religion.

The whole idea of God is limited to the way we see ourselves. If we think, we are bodily beings, then there are those who think God is also a bodily being. So the invention of so many deities.

That one God that some religions preach, can be right. But an understanding of Him / it as a phenomenon of energy, is not clear to them. If its such a phenomenon, how does it interact with you and the other phenomena.

I love Gregory Bateson's view: you cant think without making assumptions. Thats is the limitation that we have. If we break your assumptions because of some new theory, then you have new assumptions coming along with the new theory. Then what about all those irrational assumptions that sneak with a new scientific theory!!

How often we are taught the irrational assumptions behind scientific theories?

Let us look into evolution itself. What if there has been limited evolution, going in cycles.

We have not yet seen organic matter being created from non-organic matter. Then why do we expect out of blues in the course of evolotion, we have got biological life from inorganic matter!!.

Paul Decelles said...

Troll,

The reaction to Miller's talk has been quite interesting to watch...and it looks like maybe he has succeeded in shifting the focus from evolution to whether or not evolution naturally leads to what he called anti-theistic. I just hope that once we get beyond the name calling stuff we get a reasoned exchange of viewpoints.

You have to admit that evolution is not going away, that ID is sterile, and that if you think logically that the fact that evolution upsets people and even might lead to atheism is no reason to reject evolution. Evolution is how the biological world works.

What you say about Atheists might just as well apply to certain Christians who want simple answers and THE TRUTH.

I am a theist of sorts, and reading Darwin's God and listening to his speech I find myself thinking that he is trying to find a niche where religious people can feel comfortable with evolution and maintain how they like to relate subjectively to the Universe. And reading Dennett-Darwin's dangerous ideas I get the sense that he is thinking the same thing but from the atheist perspective how can people best forge connections with each other and the universe.

A Catholic may augment their understanding of science with the mystery of transubstantiation, or maybe sacred music; Dawkins seems to get his connection through evolution itself. I doubt there is one way to relate forge that sort of deep connection is seems we crave.

But crave it we do.