Friday, March 14, 2014

Finding Darwin's God--a structural summary

Kenneth R. Miller has been a hero of mine ever since I heard one of his rebuttal's of Michael Behe's example of a mousetrap for Intelligent Design. The idea is, a mousetrap has five parts. Take any one away and it doesn't work. This is evidence that all five parts had to be made and put together simultaneously, or you would never have a mousetrap. By analogy to biochemistry, an eye has lots of parts needed to see. Take away one part, and the eye can't detect light correctly, and you won't be able to see. None of these parts do anything else, so it's unbelievably improbable that they were created and assembled into an eye through the processes of Natural Selection or other evolutionary mechanisms.

Ken Miller's very visual response to the debate tactics of the mousetrap imagery is to start taking apart the mousetrap. First he shows how you can make a functioning mousetrap with only 4 parts. Then with 3 parts. Then he starts using the parts for different things, like a tie clip or a paperweight. In the end, he has used every piece, and shown how they might have come about for different reasons than just being put in a mousetrap. I loved it.

You see, I first encountered Michael Behe through his book, Darwin's Black Box. It was on deep discount in the textbook section of the BYU bookstore (now, I wonder what class it was for and am a little bothered by it), it was about Evolution and God, and I had no idea what Intelligent Design was, so I picked it up. I never finished it. I didn't have a good response for it at the time, but somehow it didn't sit well with me. This wasn't my God. Eventually, Ken Miller and others like him gave me words for my impressions, and that's how he became one of my heroes.

I don't really know who Ken Miller is. I know he's a Nobel Prize winning biologist, an award winning teacher at Brown University, and a believing Christian of some mainstream denomination. I don't know what his scientific claim to fame is, but I share his love of both science and faith.

I recently borrowed Ken Miller's book, Finding Darwin's God: a scientist's search for common ground between God and Evolution. I'm not reading it in detail, because so little of it is new to me. His style is engaging, so I've read parts I thought would be really boring, anyway. I recommend the book highly for anyone just entering into this debate on Evolution and faith in God. Here I want to lay out the structure of his arguments so that I have it to refer back to in the future.

  1. Darwin's Apple: How the author found out about the conflict between Evolution and religion.
  2. Eden's Children: What the Theory of Evolution is and a number of striking evidences supporting it.
  3. God the Charlatan: Young Earth Creationism
    • Young Earth Creationists make God a charlatan. Not only must they reject the evidences for evolution of species, but fundamental methods and discoveries of geology, physics, and astronomy. The entire scientific process must be doubted to the point of near uselessness.
    • Various observations from radioisotope dating are the primary evidence used in Ken Miller's response.
  4. God the Magician: Some critics of evolution look for evidences of problems or incompleteness within scientific explanations.
    • Punctuated equilibrium becomes evidence that God must be making the sudden changes in species.
    • This is really about casting doubt on the conclusions of scientists to allow room for a particular conception of an interventionist God (I believe in a different kind of interventionist God).
    • Response: rapid evolutionary change has now been measured both in the lab and in the field. Scientific discovery continuously reduces the incompleteness and resolves the problems. 
    • "In the final analysis, God is not a magician who works cheap tricks. Rather, His magic lies in the fabric of the universe itself. The fossil record is not a series of sequential tricks fabricated for no purpose other than to mislead. The fossil record represents, with all of its imperfections, an epic of evolutionary change, the history of life on this planet grand in its range and diversity and magnificent in its detail. It is the record of the historical process that led to us. It is the real thing, and so are we.
  5. God the Mechanic: God's handiwork is pushed back to one of the distant, hard problems of life, like putting together a vast array of complex cells and biochemical structures. Evolution can happen now that those exist, but a designer must have put together the basic parts.
    • "irreducible complexity" is a biochemical repackaging of the 19th century "argument from design". Complexity is evidence of design.
    • Miller refers to a powerful example against irreducible complexity found in Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker. Echolocation in bats.
    • cilium taken apart by reference to 'incomplete', but functioning cilia found in nature.
    • combinatorial, random mutation used to 'design' proteins.
    • evolution of new germs through enforced changes in environment.
    • evolution of different isocitrate dehydrogenase enzymes has been successfully explained.
    • evolution of antifreeze proteins has been explained
    • evolution of cytochrome c oxidase proton pump has been explained with evolutionary mechanisms
    • Kreb's cycle machinery shown to have individual, independent functions.
    • etc.
  6. The Gods of Disbelief: In presenting Evolution as antithetical to religious worldviews, scientists and the scientific establishment are in part responsible for creating the backlash against acceptance of Evolution and the scepticism regarding scientific evidence and reasoning.
    • Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, William Provine, Daniel Dennett, E. O. Wilson quoted espousing views that science is antithetical to God. That life is inherently meaningless.
    •  Academia can deal with religion in many ways. It can't deal with belief.
    • Stephen Jay Gould has produced a Harvard PhD who is now a young earth creationist, because of the bleak picture of life that some scientists have espoused.
    • This polarization is beyond science, is a problem, and Miller thinks it is also wrong.
  7.  Beyond Materialism
    • ". . . . The Western Deity, God of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims, has always been regarded more as the architect of the universe than the magician of nature. . .
    • "This very Western idea of God as supreme lawgiver and cosmic planner helped to give the scientific enterprise its start. . . . [the Westerner could not avoid the] feeling that the workings of nature might reflect the glories of the Lord. . . . and this is one of the reasons we can say . . . that true, empirical, experimental science developed first in the West. . . . Western scholars, inspired by the one true God of Moses and Muhammad, developed algebra, calculated the movements of the stars, and explained the cycle of the seasons.
    • "In the past, the idea that nature was a complete, functional, self-sufficient system was seldom thought to be an argument against the existence of God. Quite the contrary, it was regarded as proof of the wisdom and skill and care of that great architect."
    • Nature is fundamentally non-determisist. This is the reality shown by quantum mechanical experiments.
    • Schoedinger 
      • argued that our bodies must be so big to insulate us from the unpredictability of atomic-level events.
      • predicted an aperiodic crystal (DNA) 'code-script' that would maintain the fidelity of the genetic code.
      • predicted that atomic-level unpredictability would cause mutation in this script, despite its relative stability
    • Science only incompletely describes nature--and seemingly will always remain in this state.
    • "the science-versus-religion argument has been framed within the classical view of physics that shaped such dialogues in the last century. Such misunderstandings persist because the field of biology has not yet fully reacted to the revolution in modern physics. It hasn't had to, because nearly all experimental biology takes place in a realm where quantum effects are averaged out into statistical laws."
    • indeterminate is not a synonym for random.
    • strict, predictable determinism is the only alternative to unpredictability.
    • "What matters is the straightforward, factual, strictly scientific recognition that matter in the universe behaves in such a way that we can never achieve complete knowledge of any fragment of it, and that life itsel is structured in a way that allows biological history to pivot directly on these uncertainties."
    • If one believes God can do anything now, and we can also understand the events in materialistic ways, why would that believer insist God work in a non-materialistic way in the past?
    • Scientific materialism is pervasively self-limiting.
    • "It could be just a puzzling, curious fact about the nature of the universe. Or it could be the clue that allows us to bind everything, including evolution, into a worldview in which science and religion are partners, not rivals, in extending human understanding a step beyond the bounds of mere materialism."
  8. The Road Back Home
    • "When I tell my students I believe in God, they suppose that I couldn't possibly mean anything traditional, but rather something smart, modern, and sophisticated. Something subtle. Maybe I mean that God is love, or God is the universe itself, or, being a scientist, maybe I mean that God is the laws of nature.
    • "Well, I don't. Such views, however carefully stated, dilute religion to the point of meaninglessness."
    • Three common beliefs:
      • the primacy of God in the universe
      • we exist as the direct result of God's will
      • God has revealed Himself to us
    • "Any God worthy of the name has to be capable of miracles. . ."
    • "God has fashioned a self-consistent reality in nature, and He allows us to work within it."
    • "Ian Barbour claims that human freedom would be impossible without God's willingness to limit His actions."
    • And more
  9. Finding Darwin's God
    •  "Over the years I have struggled to come up with a simple but precise answer to [the question 'what kind of God do you believe in']. Eventually I found it. . . 
    • [from On the Origin of Species] "'There is a grandeur in this view of life; with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms 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 beautifil have been, and are being evolved.' What kind of God do I believe in? The answer is in those words. I believe in Darwin's God."
Miller has many good things to say, and many helpful ways to understand how God and Nature can seamlessly fit together. I like many of them. I don't think some of them are helpful, because I don't believe in all of the same characteristics of God as the Christian creeds. I gave up on trying to summarize his points, because with chapter 7 they start ranging far and wide. In the final analysis, I believe in the God of Evolution, too. I believe in the God who is present in our lives and present in all we see around us, who organized and governs it, who lets it all act with agency. I believe in Darwin's God.

No comments:

Post a Comment