Posted by: Brian Robinette | February 11, 2009

Finding Darwin’s God

finding-darwins-godThis year marks the 200 year anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday. And it seems reasonable to say that we are only beginning to absorb “Darwin’s dangerous idea,” which Daniel Dennett summarizes as follows:

Let me lay my cards on the table. If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I’d give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, p. 21.)

It is dangerous, says Dennett, because it fundamentally reorients how we think about the purpose (or purposelessness) of life. For both Dennett and Richard Dawkins, whose The God Delusion we have just finished reading, Darwin’s dangerous idea does not just invite the possibility of atheism; atheism is its only logical conclusion. “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin,” says Dawkins in his The Blind Watchmaker, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (p. 6).

This is, in essence, the critical question or objection put to theists: either reject the theory of natural selection as sufficient for producing life as we know it, or accept it. If the former, you are a “creationist” or an advocate of some variant of “intelligent design,” both of which constitute willfull ignorance, junk science and a “God of the gaps” theology (which is critizable on both scientific and theological grounds.) If the latter, you must accept the only possible conclusion: atheism.

It seems simple enough, but is this way of framing the issue adequate? Has Dawkins, for example, presented a case for natural selection that leads ineluctably to this choice? Kenneth R. Miller doesn’t think so.

For those of you interested in pursuing this line of inquiry in our study of the New Atheism, Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God provides a helpful resource. (I’ll post on some others soon.) Some of you saw Miller give a presentation here at SLU a few semesters ago. In fact, he’s been pretty busy giving interviews, appearing on radio, television, and touring high schools and college campuses across the country to discuss these questions. So, in the spirit of Miller’s spirited work on the dialogue between evolutionary science and faith, I will provide you here some initial leads for engaging Miller.

First, here is a link to Miller’s homepage. It has an array of helpful materials related to evolutionary theory and science, including references to his work in cell biology at Brown University, links to debates (including one with Christopher Hitchens), lectures, and his trenchant critique of Intelligent Design theory — a theory he criticizes on both scientific and religious grounds.

Second, here is a lengthy lecture he gave at Case Western University on evolution and Intelligent Design theory.

And, because I love The Colbert Report so much, I can’t resist providing here two appearances by Miller. Embedded below is his first appearance. Here is a link to his second appearance.

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