This week Glenn Altschuler, professor of American Studies at Cornell, reviewed (among other books) Ken Miller’s Only a Theory for the Baltimore Sun. See “A Counterattack for Evolution.”
Three quick observations.
First, Altschuler amazingly makes a historical reference to the French revolution, noting that the great chemist Lavoisier was beheaded at a judge’s order. He then tells us, “Although scientists fared much better in the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of people remain uneasy with or hostile to them.” Yet this frame of reference loses all its historical content. It was not the religious or the anti-evolution crowd that led the French revolution but rather a materialist ideology of man and his place in the world stemming from Rousseau and other thinkers. Thus Altschuler gets it exactly backwards. Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, judges haven’t exactly been on our side lately either.
Altschuler seems to agree with the sentiments of Spiritual Evolution that “[s]pirituality enhances empathy and trust. Religion promotes mistrust and division.” It is striking that a scholar would nonchalantly accept such sweepingly broad generalizations. That is one thing. But it’s another to accept such statements when they run in the face of nearly all available social science.
Third and last, perhaps Altschuler is not familiar with Ken Miller’s previous work, Finding Darwin’s God, for if he is, it is amazing that he could let this statement pass unchecked:
Extending an olive branch to religious Americans, Miller suggests that evolution and faith aren’t really in conflict because all of nature is part of God’s providential plan. In this sense, he believes, the conviction that “the universe had us in mind from the very beginning” is a “perfectly valid metaphor.”
This is quite different than Miller’s previous views. As he writes in Finding Darwin’s God, “Evolution is a natural process…and natural processes are undirected.” Miller agrees with Stephen Jay Gould’s opinion “that mankind’s appearance on this planet was not preordained, that we are here not as the products of an inevitable procession of evolutionary success, but as an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.” (Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, Harper Collins, 1999, 244)
Now, it is difficult to see how we could at once be an accident of history and yet the universe had us in mind from the very beginning. Even metaphors cannot be contradictory if they are to have meaning.
I have not yet seen Only a Theory. I wonder whether Miller has actually changed his mind and now believes that humanity was intended or whether this is merely a new rhetorical strategy. To me, the “metaphor” seems little more than a placebo to blunt the trauma of ontological demotion.
For those who have not seen, Michael Behe has a few comments on Only a Theory at his Amazon blog here.