Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Book review: Finding Darwin's God, by Kenneth R. Miller

Miller's book is an attack on Creationism, but not creation. He believes in God, but not a God of the gaps or an Intelligent Designer (qua Behe/Irreducible Complexity). ...Indeed, Miller gives several examples of claimed irreducibly complex organisms, the kind Intelligent Design advocates use and shows very convincingly that they are actually reducible. He actually did the same thing in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, demonstrating the reducibility of the Bacterial Flagellum, Michael Behe's favorite demonstrative organism for claimed Irreducible Complexity.

Miller actually defends God not through scripture, but ironically through Darwin's evolution. He attempts to show that one can be both an evolutionist and a theist. His purpose is not only to defend God, but evolution too (I guess he could just as easily reversed the star status and called his book "Finding God's Darwin").

My favorite chapter in this book has to be "The Road Back Home" - I would happily give this book five stars for this chapter alone. For the none scientific amongst us, including me, this gives an excellent layman, rudimentary understanding of quantum action. I never understood Einstein's comment "God doesn't play dice" until I read this chapter. This is not the purpose of the chapter though (the purpose is to find room for God). It goes something like this: A light beam is a wave which is deterministic as a wave, ...thus, a light wave hits a mirror and one can determine that the light will be reflected. However, light waves consist of particles called quanta. Because these particles act at the quantum level they do something rather strange. A percentage of the particles aren't reflected, but actually pass through the mirror. It has been shown that this quantum behavior is non-deterministic, in that the actual particles which pass through the mirror can never be predicted. Thus, at the quantum level "God does play dice".

This is where Miller gets very clever, he points out that creationists are so anti-evolution because it is completely deterministic and thus as a scientific theory can be reduced to fundamentals and so, leaves no room for God. Miller demonstrates that this is not so. At the level of genes where genetic random mutations take place, we approach the very small. ...At this level quantum behavior takes over and it is this quantum behavior that allows for random non-predictable mutations (which are of course, what Darwin's natural selection acts upon).

He also goes on to say that the creationists are shrinking the need for God, because the shadows of unknown mysteries that they could use as an attack on science are shrinking. What Miller does is to say they are looking for God in the wrong place. Miller believes he has found a place for God, not a God of the gaps as claimed by creationists such as those found in the fossil record. But a god of the gaps at the quantum level.

Unlike Ken Miller I am an atheist, however ...though I cannot find room for a supernatural God that can perform miracles that would defy the laws of physics. I can look at the quantum level and at the very least, agnostically think of the possibility of a quantum intelligence. Indeed, is that how our consciousness works at the quantum level. From that thought I can extrapolate at least the possibility of advanced conscious beings that would seem God like to us, but would have evolved through the same evolutionary processes as us. Would such evolved individuals be "gods" (they of course would be incapable of miracles and would have to obey the laws of physics, just as we do) of the universe and would their consciousness be found in gaps at the quantum level ...or rather, would the "fossil record" of conscious intervention, be found at this level. It has been hypothesized by individuals, that the universe has been set up as a cosmic quantum computer by advanced conscious beings. The only reason we cannot yet access this quantum computer is that we are technologically primitive and lack the energy source to do so.

I would say following on from this: If quantum actions did not take place, then surely evolution could not take place either, because randomness would not be possible. We would have to be a different kind of species that was not evolved as part of a random process. By definition, we would be in a deterministic universe, with no room for random maneuvers. The very maneuverability which is absolutely necessary for biological evolutionary random chance mutations.

In writing this book, Ken Miller has done a very clever thing. He has bridged the gap between evolution and religion, the very thing writers like Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett seem incapable of. If I were to personally attempt a book on this subject, I have to say it would perhaps come out more Dawkinsian than Millerian. Nevertheless, I think Miller has done a very good thing.

I didn't really need this book. I was already convinced of the facts of evolution. Sadly the individuals who need this book most are the least likely to read it, the creationists.

I recently listened to an online radio archive of an interview with Richard Dawkins and Kenneth Miller happened to phone in. Dawkins said in praise of Miller's book, something like "You have convinced me professor Miller that you are a very clever man". Well, I have to agree; Kenneth Miller is indeed, a very clever man.

I said earlier that I did not need convincing of the facts of evolution. Indeed, no conversion has ever been necessary. I have pretty much accepted it as a scientific fact as far back as I can remember. I also said for the same reason, I didn't really need this book. However, this is not the same as saying this book does not have value if your already a Darwinian convert. This book works on another level too, to those who love Darwin's theory, this book should be read just for the love of it. It can only raise your appreciation of this stunning scientific theory.

Whatever the ultimate answers, I can only call Ken Miller's book a brilliant achievement.

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