Friday, April 04, 2008

Dr. Kenneth Miller @ UT Austin: "God, Darwin, and Design: Lessons from the Dover Monkey Trial"

Kenneth Miller, one of the witnesses for the plaintiffs in the Dover ID trial, gave an engaging SRO talk at UT Austin tonight. The webcast is already up, if you click on the title above. You'll need to download the Envivo plugin (and you need to have the most recent media player for your system) to view the webcast.

As the room filled up, I contrasted this event with the recent stealth screenings of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed -- where the Expelled audience was carefully vetted and screened to keep out undesirables, the "God, Darwin, and Design" talk was widely advertised and extra room was made for the overflow. (The room held 400 - 500, and they directed people to the classroom next door where they set up the webcast for viewing.) All were welcome, and the webcast had an international audience -- groups were set up all over for viewing, including Monterrey, Mexico and the UK.

The target audience for this talk (actually a series of outreach talks sponsored by UT's Environmental Sciences Institute) is K - 12 educators, and this comes at an opportune time for Texas since out SBOE is doing biology text reviews this year. During the Q & A period at the end, I asked if anyone had invited the TX SBOE, which got a laugh -- Miller said that he understood people could be fired for forwarding emails about talks on evolution. (I had actually meant to send the information about the talk on to my SBOE representative, Ken Mercer, and suggest that he attend, but I didn't get around to it.) Later I did see Chris Comer in the audience (the former Science Director for our state who actually was fired after she forwarded an "FYI" email announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest, another Dover ID witness.)

The contrasts with the ID crowd (if it can be said they have enough for a crowd) continued with Miller's points about how science deals with a new claim (1. research, 2. peer review, conferences, publishing, thrashing it out, which leads to 3. scientific consensus and then finally 4. the claims are included in classrooms and textbooks.) and what the IDers are demanding (going directly from the new claim to the classroom and textbooks without all the intervening steps that scientists take.)

Miller talked a bit about his experiences in the Dover trial -- I'll gloss over that, except for the fact that former PA Sentator Rick Santorum had nominated Judge Jones to his position (how did I not know that?!) The IDers must have felt that the fix was in when they drew Judge Jones.

He also gave some examples of evolutionary theory pwning ID/creationism/irreducible complexity. I've heard him talk about these in more detail in this video from a talk he gave at Case Western: It's 2 hours long, but he presents some very powerful evolutionary explanations and predictions. (bacterial flagellum, fused human chromosome #2, the dishonest presentation of the fish-to-amphibian fossil record in the ID/creationist book "Of Panda's and People", etc.

Tonight's talk was a little over an hour and fifteen minutes, but Miller is a very funny, engaging speaker. "Didn't these guys learn anything from the Nixon administration?!" (referring to the documents presented by the "Of Pandas and People" text creators to the Dover plaintiffs which were the nail in the coffin on the idea that ID is creationism and hence is religious teaching, not science.)

His view of Expelled is that the IDers need an explanation of why their ideas haven't caught on in the scientific community, and about the last straw they have is to conflate "Darwinism" to Nazism and other social ills. He said that we have to confront those errors with the facts every time we hear them. He also talked about reviewing Behe's new book -- twice -- and reports that Behe accepts the common ancestry of all beings, including humans, which is sure to be a disappointment to many IDers.

Another couple of funny anecdotes -- when he was on the Colbert Report, the only contact he had with Colbert was right before the show when Colbert said to him as he walked by, "Are you Miller? I'm gonna get you -- you're going DOWN!" Also, during the cold war, Miller was at a conference (either in E. Germany or someplace with some E. German scientists) -- I swear, the beginning of this anecdote was the only time my mind wandered -- and when one of the Germans left to go to the rest room, Miller turned to the other scientists and said, "Um, you know, that guy really isn't very smart," and the other Germans said, "Oh, him? His not a SCIENTIST -- he's Stasi!" (apparently, that's the only way the E. Germans would let their scientists hang with our scientists.)

And of course, because Miller is a theist -- Catholic to be exact -- he discussed how one can be a believer and accept evolutionary theory, and how accepting evolution does not necessarily lead to atheism. True enough, although in the case of this writer, accepting evolutionary theory did make it possible for me to be a non-believer, and it would be dishonest of me to say that this aspect of my education didn't have an effect on my beliefs. Of course, every aspect of my education eventually led me to non-belief, so I don't think the IDers should just pick on biology!

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