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Science historian on Darwinist Ken Miller’s new book, The Human Instinct: Asserting consensus in the midst of growing conflict

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From science historian Michael Flannery at ENST, a review of Brown University’s Ken Miller’s The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will

Miller is one of those “settled science” bullies. Here he sets his sights on essayist Marilynne Robinson’s 1998 collection, The Death of Adam. According to Miller, Robinson is wrong in asserting the demeaning and destructive influence of Darwinism. For Robinson, the reductionist materialism of the Darwinian paradigm has left humanity bereft of meaning and value, corroding the moral and ethical foundations on which Western civilization was built. Miller, a Darwinian theist, insists that Robinson is completely mistaken:

Let me be clear that I do not believe that the scientific core of [Darwinian] evolution negates human belief and conviction as mere byproducts of our struggle to survive. I don’t believe that it tells us that our behavior is predetermined or that we lack free will. I don’t believe that it reduces us to mere animals, mindless matter, or accidents of nature. Nor does it tell us that our lives are purposeless or pointless.

What reasons does Miller give for his optimism?

Sips from the Glass

He insists that Robinson simply doesn’t understand the “science” nor does she appreciate how secure the neo-Darwinian paradigm is in biology. Darwin’s world is “out there, real and genuine.” If Robinson would just “try hanging around for drinks in the evening after a few provocative talks at a scientific meeting” then she might “be surprised at the breadth of such discussions and how often they address exactly the points she feels so neglected.” (226) But it wouldn’t take many sips from the glass for her to realize that this glimpse behind the kudzu curtain reveals nothing like the consensus of “settled science.” Instead, a very real and serious questioning of all the Darwinian certainties Miller holds so dear would become apparent. Nowhere was this revealed with more clarity than when the journal Quarterly Review of Biology recently reviewed biologist J. J. Scott Turner’s book, Purpose and Desire:What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It.

This exposes a problem throughout Miller’s book. The problem is his insistence that virtually all aspects of Darwinian evolution are either matters of universal consensus or questions that can be safely reserved for later payment on a neo-Darwinian promissory note. More.

We might expect Miller’s book to be like that. Defending Darwinism as compatible with a traditional Worldview today does not mean developing a thought-out philosophy to defend it. It means throwing enough vague reassurances at readers – reassurances contradicted by systematic Darwinian thinkers like Daniel Dennett – that readers who sense the steep price of dissent will go away satisfied that they can avoid further conflict by not thinking about the problem anymore. After all, they have read Miller’s book, and that is all that can reasonably be expected of them.

There is a market for that approach. See also, for example, “Evolution News slams “sloppy” IV book chapter on intelligent design by BioLogos advisor.” The chapter contains key factual errors but, in truth, the target audience for that sort of thing probably doesn’t really care. Facts are rapidly coming to be seen as a form of oppression. Raising them, even in one’s own defense makes one an oppressor.

See also: Michael Flannery on Ken Miller’s podcast at Scientific American: “More nonsense” Wethinks you can barbecue your dinner over Flannery’s forthcoming review. 😉 Note: Flannery’s review turned out to be more analytical than we’d thought but that is probably more useful to readers.

Is the term Darwinism a “scientific slur”? (Ken Miller has claimed so.)

and

Physics needs Darwin? Ken Miller should hear this

2 Replies to “Science historian on Darwinist Ken Miller’s new book, The Human Instinct: Asserting consensus in the midst of growing conflict

  1. 1

    “There is a market for that approach.”

    Indeed, but that market is not as large or influential as it once was. Thanks, in part, to websites like UD.

  2. 2
    hnorman5 says:

    A couple of notes on this book’s take on consciousness.

    On pages 145-146, Miller quotes E. O. Wilson as saying that we’ve never found a place in the brain where we can find a nonphysical mind. I think Miller concurs here and says “So much for the ghost in the machine.” – though he may just be paraphasing Wilson’s conclusion.

    On page 180 he references the same quote and appears to see the flaw in Wilson’s reasoning. If it could be found, it would be physical in every sense.

    Between those two pages, he gives some interesting observations on consciousness. He discusses the easy problem versus the hard problem and sees the especially difficult nature of the latter.

    Unfortunately, he starts to conflate the two. In the podcast, he throws out the hard problem completely. He predicts that science will solve the problem of consciousness, but his commentary sounds like he’s referring to the easy problem to me.

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