Ken Miller, Deism, and Providence

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Ken Miller gave a talk tonight at Le Moyne College, where I teach. I'll probably put together the thoughts I recorded as I listened to him in a separate post later, but I wanted to comment on one issue that I've written about before. I think I was wrong about him here (which I repeated here). He gave an criticism of intelligent design arguments that ID requires believing in a God who is actually a bad designer. From the way he gave that argument, it seemed to me that he couldn't really endorse what he was saying unless he thought there was no sense in which God is a designer. Basically he'd have to hold the view that God didn't design the evolutionary process with all its dead-ends but that it came about through a long evolutionary process that God didn't oversee in any way, because then that would make God responsible for the bits that are failures.

But apparently that's not his view. I still need to continue my conversation with him over email, because I'm not sure of some of the details of his view on divine providence, but he was very clear in rejecting the view I was assuming he held. 

At the very end of his talk, he gave his stance on God's role in creation. While it wasn't in-depth enough to satisfy me, and I'm not sure yet that he's answered about every question I'd like to nail him down on to understand what the above argument is saying, I think my conclusions about him from his argument on Stephen Colbert were wrong. I'm not sure yet that I was being unreasonable in drawing that inference given what he said, and I'm not satisfied yet that I understand the details of his view, but the view I thought he must hold turns out not to be his view.

He quoted the current pope as accepting the following two claims (and he said he agreed):

1. Evolution as a radically contingent materialistic process.
2. True contingency in the created order is not incompatible with God's providential plan for creation.

If he means contingency the way Aquinas or a modern compatibilist might, then I'd agree. But I'm not sure if Miller agrees with that. How does God's design through evolution work? Is it by building it into the laws of nature? But if it's radically contingent, the laws of nature couldn't assure any outcome, right? The only way it can be contingent in a way that can ensure the outcome is if it's compatibilist contingency, where God really does control all the details of what happens at least by deliberate allowance, and I don't think that's what he was saying.

Miller insists that he's not a deist. He says God is active in the world and in our lives but not in what he calls empirical way. God does it in a way that doesn't interfere with our free will. If God intervened constantly, it would undermine human freedom. We'd cease to rely on moral  choice, so God has to withdraw to allow us to be ourselves. The Holocaust is humanity's work. God allows us to do the most horrible things to each other but also to do wonderful things, including sacrificing to resist evil. Deism is about the personality of God as a creator, and he doesn't accept that approach. Miller believes God answers prayers and believes in actual miracles around him in his life. There might be a perfectly natural explanation for any miracle, but that doesn't rule out God's role.

I talked to him afterward about his problem of waste argument. I was able to get him to agree that the argument didn't apply to every ID position that there might be (although he thinks it does apply to Behe, but I'm not as sure it does even for the reasons he gave, but that occurred to me only later). I wasn't able to get all of the details that I think I need to know to be sure what his view of providence really is. Some of how this argument works depends on that, so I'll hold off on concluding anything further about the argument itself. But he clearly does not hold the view that there is no sense in which God designed the world. The evolutionary process is part of God's design, and the parts of that process that led to evolutionary dead-ends are part of the process God used, which includes death and dead-end species, because it's a process that uses natural causes, which will do that.

I want to pursue this with him over email, because we didn't have time to finish the conversation, and I think I need to know more before I take a definitive stance on his argument. But I wanted to record my re-classification of his views. In my classifications in this post, I have to revise my judgment that he would hold to 1 and 6 and not 2 and 8. He might hold 1 if that just means that the best scientific arguments assume no God. But he would accept 2, and he told me that he's even open to 3, as long as it's clear that he doesn't think we have any scientific evidence of 3. It might nonetheless be true.

He would deny 6. I'm not sure if he would accept 7, although it's probably the closest in the second list to his view. He does think the evolutionary process is a more glorious process for God to have used than special creation would have been, and that might be an indication that he does think the natural world has marks of design, but he's clear that he doesn't think the best scientific conclusion from such things is that there's a designer. I don't think he accepts 8, but I haven't seen him comment on that specifically. He certainly denies 9 and below.

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