Finding Darwin's God
A Scientist's Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution
Kenneth R. Miller; Hardcover: 338 pages;
Publisher: Cliff Street Books; (1999)
Reviewed by Henry E. Neufeld
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I awaited this book with considerable anticipation because I believe in God and also see the evidence for evolution as very strong. I had also heard Kenneth Miller on the "Firing Line" show and thought his contribution to the debate outstanding. I was not disappointed.
Miller argues the evidence for evolutionary theory forcefully and effectively. He first lays out the issues involved, then gives us a grounding in what evolutionary theory is and what it isn't. He takes issue with those who see evolution as a threat to religion and morality, whether they come from the theistic or atheistic side of the issue. He objects as strongly to Dawkins use of evolution in support of atheism as he does to the creationists' claim that evolution will destroy religion. (He does regard Dawkins's science as much better, however!)
In the third chapter, titled GOD THE CHARLATAN, he demolishes the arguments of the young earth creationists. If you are looking for a short response to the basic claims of those who believe the earth is only 6,000 or so years old, this chapter is for you. He also makes clear that flood geology is a notion without foundation in science.
The fourth chapter is given to the basic tenets of old earth creationists. I think that while Miller substantially answers the arguments of the old earth group, there remains the rather difficult question of where God might intervene in a long process of creation and what the evidence might mean.
He summarizes this position by suggesting that there are two possible approaches to such divine intervention-either God would have to create new species instantly, or he would have to manage a slow process of change. In the first case, the theory does not match the evidence found in the fossil record. In the second, we have to imagine God not merely creating new species, but doing so in such a way that anyone who studied the process would assume that evolution had taken place.
In either case, it would appear that God creates incompetently, because most species that have existed on earth are now extinct. His passage on the evolution of the elephant (94-99) and its relation to design is a masterpiece.
The only problem I see here is simply that a variety of views can be covered under the heading of this chapter. The level of divine intervention posited by various authors differs. I see a spectrum of views from more or less pure evolution, including a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, and extending through a sort of staged creation in which God's intervention is the driving mechanism. There is some logic, however, to Miller's expectation that if we require God to design some species, we must logically expect His design in all. I think one might suppose that God intervened at the genus or family level, for example, without assuming that each individual species required such intervention, but to the best of my knowledge no old earth creationist has proposed anything of this sort. (Note that "old earth creationist" is my term and not Miller's.)
Miller then turns to intelligent design. Again he shows that the pace of scientific progress is rapidly making arguments for intelligent design moot as various systems once given as examples for irreducible complexity are explained. He begins in this chapter to point out the dangers of finding a place for God in the gaps or shadows of our knowledge. One never knows when the gap will be filled in or when light will drive away the shadow.
Those using evolutionary science as a prop for atheism next come in for their share of criticism. Miller complains that those who complain of the use of scientific discoveries to support spirituality should not themselves use science to oppose spirituality. After quoting a number of writers, including Dawkins, Gould and Wilson, Miller notes: "All of these writers have gone well beyond any reasonable scientific conclusions that might emerge from evolutionary biology." (185) He maintains that evolution is not about "belief, power, and social control" (190), but it is about science.
In drawing his own conclusions about science and religious belief Miller maintains that certainly science much work in a naturalistic way. It is not the task of science to determine non-material things. But he sees room for the activity of God within the laws and events of nature. I will not go into the discussions from quantum physics (chapter 7), except to note that Miller does not postulate a fully mechanistic universe, but rather sees some unpredictability in the nature of reality. He argues that religious people seem to have no problem with the notion that God has a plan for their lives, yet accepting that random factors were part of their own conception, so why should one feel that having random and mechanistic factors involved in our origin as a species?
He also does not expect that God needed to plan specifically for humans as the first intelligent form of life on earth. In answer to the question of how God could ensure that the right creatures would appear, he answers:
My answer, in every case, is that God need not have. Evolution is not rigged, and religious belief does not require one to postulate a God who fixes the game, bribes the referees, or tricks natural selection. The reality of natural history, like the reality of human history, is more interesting and more exiting. (238)
In essence, the God Miller believes in is a God who loves freedom enough to create a material universe separate from his moment by moment control, which allows real choice to His creatures at every stage of the game. The freedom is not a trick; it's real. The God Miller believes in is not truncated or limited; he believes in the traditional God of Christianity.
I do find myself uncomfortable with one stage of Miller's argument. He argues in favor of a very traditional view of God, in particular a personal God, the God Christians pray to. He's interested in His "actions, intentions, and existence." (220, 221) He dismisses many less traditional views of God saying that they "aren't God at all. . . ." Well, perhaps not to him, but to some people they are. There are more or less personal views of God which may not be traditional but may nonetheless be of value and have a claim to serious consideration. I don't expect an author to defend every kind of God, and Miller's view of God is clearly traditional, but this dismissal struck me as rather intense.
I strongly recommend that those interested in the issues of God as creator and of the creation/evolution controversies read this book.