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Then What is Ken Miller Talking About?: Miller Passes the Blame, Promotes a Straw Man

Casey Luskin

William Dembski reports that Ken Miller responded to the BBC Documentary and my recent claim that he misrepresented Dembski’s work. In short, Miller now claims he wasn’t talking about Dembski and passes the blame on to the BBC for misleading editing and blames “Discovery Institute” for believing what the documentary plainly said. Most of Miller’s response blames the BBC documentary’s editors for making it appear as if he were talking about Dembski by sandwiching Miller’s comments between narrator’s comments stating Miller is rebutting Dembski, and interspersing Miller’s comments with numerous shots of Dembski. Directly after Miller’s comments, the narrator said, “For Miller, Dembski’s math did not add up.” But does Miller’s explanation of the situation now “add up”? Readers can decide for themselves after considering these points:

(1) Miller admits he has a hazy memory of what happened:
Miller writes, “I do not remember the exact question that prompted my response.” He claims he doesn’t remember the question he was asked, but he claims he does remember he wasn’t talking about Dembski. Miller’s admission of a fading memory on this matter does not inspire confidence for the things he claims he does remember. After all, in the documentary Miller clearly states he is critiquing the “mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design,” and Dembski is widely recognized as the leading mathematical theorist in the ID movement. Dembski seems a likely target for Miller’s comments.

(2) Miller has a history of misrepresenting intelligent design arguments:
Miller attempts to pass the blame to Discovery Institute, saying we “should know better,” implying we should not think he would misrepresent Dembski. This reminds us how, in 2003, Dembski told Miller that Miller “should know better” than to claim that ID necessarily requires “the direct and active involvement of an outside designer.” Yet in this very BBC documentary, Miller repeats the same false claim, saying, “By the terms of the advocates of intelligent design themselves, the designer creates outside of nature, supernaturally…” (time index 39:25) Shouldn’t Miller “know better” than to make such claims? Based upon this example and many others, we “know” that Miller at times misrepresents the arguments of ID-theorists.

(3) Miller admits that the documentary makes it look like he’s talking about Dembski:
Miller admits that the documentary “does mislead the viewer” to think he’s talking about Dembski. After all, just before the statements of Miller that I quoted, the narrator states: “Also on his [Miller’s] hit list, Dembski’s criticism of evolution.” Miller then speaks, giving his misrepresentations, while the video simultaneously shows numerous shots of Dembski himself. As noted, directly afterw Miller is done speaking the narrator says, “For Miller, Dembski’s math did not add up.” Clearly, the BBC Documentary gives every indication that Miller was talking about Dembski. If the editors were fair, then one would presume that the question Miller was asked referred to Dembski, which is why they felt justified in framing this section as a response from Miller to Dembski. But Miller claims (despite a bad memory) that he was not talking about Dembski. If we assume Miller’s explanation of the situation is true, then according to Miller’s admission that the documentary “does mislead the viewer,” then I did nothing wrong. I simply watched the video and took away the message any reasonable viewer would take: the context strongly indicates that Miller was talking about Dembski.

But even if Miller’s account is true, this does not let him off the hook:

(4) If Miller wasn’t talking about Dembski, he’s still promoting a straw man view:
Assuming Miller wasn’t talking about Dembski, the question remains: Then what is Ken Miller talking about? We know what Miller did say, but no ID-proponent argues that mere improbability is enough to infer design nor do they argue that some inconsequential but unlikely event (like a hand dealt in a game of cards) is enough to falsify neo-Darwinian evolution. Design theorists acknowledge that improbable events happen all the time. When inferring design, they always couple improbability with some specification. One commenter on Dembski’s blog, “gpuccio,” explained this point clearly:

As far as I know, nobody in the ID field has ever made the silly argument that Miller criticizes. Everybody, instead, in the ID field, constantly mentions the CSI argument due to Dembski, and so clearly and beautifully explained in many of his writing.

Dembski skeptically replied to Miller, “Apologies are therefore in order. Miller, far from blatantly misrepresenting me, was merely setting up a strawman.”

Perhaps the BBC’s misleading narration and editing is to blame for part of this problem, but that does not let Miller off the hook. Regardless of whether Miller intended to bring Dembski into this, Miller’s rebuttal doesn’t address the types of arguments that ID proponents make, especially when it comes to the math behind the theory of ID. If Miller’s explanation is correct, the he seems to misrepresent the arguments of not just William Dembski, but ID in general.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Ken Miller