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Ken Miller’s Double Standard: Improves His Own Arguments But Won’t Let Michael Behe Do the Same (Updated)

In a recent post, I noted that Ken Miller misrepresented Michael Behe’s arguments on the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade in his book, Only a Theory. When I blogged at the end of last year about Miller’s similar mistakes at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Dr. Miller responded by making me aware of something I did not previously remember: apparently Michael Behe wrote the section in Of Pandas and People on blood clotting. The treatment of the blood clotting cascade in Pandas (1993) could possibly be subject to Miller’s arguments, but as I showed, Behe’s treatment of the topic in Darwin’s Black Box (1996) would not be refuted in any way by Miller’s arguments.

To summarize and review, Pandas argues that all of the components both before and after the fork in the blood clotting cascade are irreducibly complex, but in Darwin’s Black Box Behe only argues that the components after the fork comprise an irreducibly complex system. Since Miller’s arguments only pertained to elements before the fork, from the intrinsic pathway in the blood clotting cascade, they did not refute Behe’s discussion in Darwin’s Black Box.

I contacted Behe about the differences between the two works, and he informed me that the differences between the treatment of blood clotting in Pandas (1993) and Darwin’s Black Box (1996) were the result of his refining, tightening, improving, and revising his arguments before publishing Darwin’s Black Box. There’s nothing wrong with Behe updating and improving his arguments. Unfortunately, Ken Miller seems intent on critiquing the earlier treatment of the subject in Pandas, and not critiquing Behe’s updated, revised, and much stronger treatment in Darwin’s Black Box. But what if we were to hold Miller to this unfair and inappropriate standard of scholarship? Miller would have to protest, because he has revised and improved his own arguments many times over the years. Here are a couple of notable examples where Dr. Miller has updated and improved some bad arguments:

Miller’s Removal of “Evolution is random and undirected” Textbook Language.
No fewer than five editions of Miller’s leading high school textbook Biology (elephant version) infamously stated, “Evolution is random and undirected.” At the Dover trial, Miller immediately retracted the use of that language, admitting during cross-examination that this statement would “requir[e] a conclusion about meaning and purpose that I think is beyond the realm of science.” Miller’s later biology textbooks (like the lion series or the dragonfly series) don’t have these words, so it seems that he feels he should have the freedom to update and revise his arguments.

At court, Miller used a two-pronged strategy to deflect the presence of this language in his textbooks.

First, he claimed the language was only found in the third edition of the Biology and was immediately removed, although in fact the statement may be found in all five editions (1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2000) of the textbook. (For documentation, see Ken Miller’s “Random and Undirected” Testimony and the update.)

Next, Miller tried to blame the “evolution is random and undirected” line on his co-author, Joseph Levine. This sounds plausible, but Miller’s own book Finding Darwin’s God (where there’s no co-author) frequently uses that same language to describe neo-Darwinian evolution:

  • “[the] random, undirected process of mutation had produced the ‘right’ kind of variation for natural selection to act upon” (p. 51)
  • “a random, undirected process like evolution” (p. 102)
  • “[Richard Dawkins successfully explained how] blind, random, undirected evolution [could] have produced such an intricate set of structures and organs, so brilliantly dedicated to a single purpose” (p. 137)
  • “the random, undirected processes of mutation and natural selection” (p. 145)
  • “Evolution is a natural process, and natural processes are undirected” (p. 244)

In light of this evidence, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to accept Dr. Miller’s claim that the language “Evolution is random and undirected” in his textbooks was solely endorsed by his co-author Joseph Levine. Whatever the case may be, Miller now disavows the use of this language, and to Miller’s credit he doesn’t use it in his most recent textbooks. Clearly Dr. Miller feels he should have the right to update and revise his arguments.

Miller’s Removal of Haeckel’s Drawings and Recapitulation Theory from Textbooks
Some of Miller’s earliest textbooks, such as Biology: Discovering Life, used Haeckel’s embryo drawings and even promoted the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. As seen at The Textbooks Don’t Lie: Haeckel’s Faked Drawings Have Been Used to Promote Evolution: Miller & Levine (1994) (Part I), Miller later not only (to his credit) removed all of these from his textbooks, but even tried (poorly, since his own textbooks show otherwise) to deny that these had been promoted by biologists in recent years.

Dr. Miller is, again, to be commended for removing these inaccurate drawings and outdated ideas from his textbooks, but the point is that clearly he feels it is permissible to update, improve, and revise arguments when appropriate. Yet when he critiques Michael Behe, Miller insists upon critiquing Behe’s earlier treatments of the irreducibility of the blood clotting cascade in Pandas, and not Behe’s updated and revised arguments in Darwin’s Black Box.

Miller wrongly tries to paint me as advocating that Pandas should be used in high school biology classrooms–something that I have never advocated. Nor would I recommend that public schools use highly inaccurate editions of Miller’s textbook Biology: Discovering Life. All that aside, authors — including Ken Miller — should be allowed to update and revise their arguments. But when they make appropriate revisions, critics should address their updated arguments, not ignore them and only discuss weaker, previous forms of the argument.