Thursday, September 24, 2015

Paul Nelson vs Kenneth Miller - Science, Religion, and Intelligent Design 2005

This debate ( audio | video | 1:20m ) took place around the end of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trials about teaching Intelligent Design in Kansas high school biology classrooms. The topic was teaching Intelligent Design (ID) and what ID was all about, and featured Paul Nelson, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, an ID think tank, vs Kenneth Miller, a cellular biologist and writer of high school and college level textbooks on intro biology.

4.25 Stars: Though one-sided, this is a great debate that allows one to get a feel of the most current Creationist objections to Modern Evolutionary Theory and how vacuous they are. What's keeping this from a perfect score is that Nelson isn't a strong debater and nothing compared to Miller who's been doing this since the early 80s.

Nelson begins with a cogent though content-sparse opening 20 minutes. He gives a vague discussion of what ID proposes and complains that academic freedom is essentially being suppressed not only in the scientific community but also in high school-level classrooms.

For example, Nelson asks us to consider a high school student who after reading a biology article wants to use it in a class discussion about current concerns in evolution. If the teacher allows this then she might lose her job because it goes against the dogma of evolution and thus any sort of critical inquiry of the theories we force upon our young scholars is suppressed and not encouraged.

This is a common argument from the ID crowd and indeed Miller got the same argument three years earlier from Steven Meyer. At first I'd say its disingenuous for Nelson to still use this argument because it has a perfectly cromulent answer but then I realized that I overlooked the beauty of bringing the argument up again and again. Bear with me here...

The education system in the US is a mess. Our country has regions that are comprised of states that are in turn are comprised of districts. Education curricula change from region to region, state to state, district to district and even within districts themselves. Kids who live in Shermer, IL but go to school A or school B could be getting two completely different educations.

It might be that among each different district, there is one that would take offense to a student talking about a 'controversial' article. I doubt it, but like I said, the school districts are a mess.

Well when Meyer brought this argument up against Miller in 2002, they were talking about a different school district than the one Nelson and Miller are debating here. If Miller is honest, which he is, then he can't use the EXACT same defense he used earlier because the Dover schools might have a different standard. Dover might have more vague language or something that Nelson could exploit if Miller isn't careful. 

And that's the beauty of such an argument: new school district = new context to rehash it over and over again.

Kenneth Miller gives his presentation and it flies by comparatively. Miller is a very charming and well-spoken promoter of science. He makes a living, among other ways, writing books for people with little background understanding of science which give an accessible description of science.

Like I mentioned earlier, he's also been doing this since the 1980s. Another debate I will eventually review from 1981 features Miller DEVASTATING Henry Morris, one of the leading figures in Creationism. Almost 20 years ago Miller rocked Buckley, Dembski, Johnson, and Behe in a Firing Line episode on ID, too. So Miller knows how to do this thing.

He's also actually a cellular biologist who regularly contributes to the field. And he's also a practicing Roman Catholic.

Anyways, Miller notes that ID have only half-assed described what ID actually contends but because they don't want to alienate all the people who support their case they often fail to really get into the science of the matter. For example, even simple questions like how old is the Earth are mostly dodged, given lame excuses, or offered up meekly. This is because if they say 6000yo then they're obviously going against the scientific consensus, and not even the consensus of a field dependent upon evolution. If they say the established age, which is 4.5 Gya, then they have some 'splainin' to do to the more conservative folks that fund their think tanks. This issue comes to a head beautifully in the discussion that follows the openings.

Miller also presents several examples which show contrary evidence to the claims of the ID poster scientist Michael Behe and reminds us that Behe essentially said that the same criteria that establishes ID as a scientific theory would also have to call Astrology a scientific theory. Finally, Miller demonstrates that ID is really just Creationism find and replace by showing the Creation missing link, Cdesign proponentsists.

After his opening both guys did a bit of back and forth and then the audience asked a lot of questions. It was clear that Nelson was in Indian Country here as even the moderator kinda cracked a few jokes about how smart Nelson must be and how weird it is that he still thinks that evolution is a bogus theory despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Overall a friendly and lively discussion. Nelson wasn't too formidable and Miller was just too good of a debater to let Nelson get away with anything.


  1. I talked to you about 2 years ago on youtube and you told me about your debate blog. Great collection of debates. I'll contact you soon.

    1. Hey thanks! Since discovering Google Hangouts I have been doing some of my own debating and I'm worried about not giving this blog the love it deserves.


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