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Michael J. Behe A (R)evolutionary Biologist

Kenneth R. Miller and the Problem of Evil, Part 2


(This is the second of three posts on Kenneth Miller and the problem of evil.)

Let me emphasize the last point of my previous post: Miller and I are only quibbling over the extent of design in the universe. Thefact of design, the principle of design, we agree on.

Now, let’s look a little closer at where Ken Miller draws the limits of design (the edge of evolution, one might say). Although they are clearly necessary, is there reason to suppose that the bare laws and constants of the universe — even if properly tuned — are sufficient to assure life occurs in our universe, as Miller supposes? The answer is no — many other features than just the bare laws of the universe have to be gotten right. I discuss this at considerable length in the last chapter of the book. But don’t just take my word for it. The prominent bioinformatician Eugene Koonin recently published a paper entitled “The cosmological model of eternal inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life”, (Biol Direct., 2007, 2:15). The gist of the paper is that — even given fine tuned laws and constants — the origin of life in our universe is so unlikely, that the non-theist Koonin invokes an infinite multiverse to assure that life happens somewhere.

I criticize such a multiverse view in the last chapter of The Edge of Evolution. But right here I want to contrast Koonin’s view with Miller’s. Koonin thinks that the bare laws and constants of the universe — fine tuned as they are — are still far from sufficient to assure an origin of life in our universe. Miller, however, without an argument, insinuates that they are. What does Miller know about the origin of life that Koonin doesn’t? Little, I’ll wager. So suppose Koonin is right that fine tuning the laws of the universe is far from sufficient to assure life. In that case, switching to Miller’s scenario, God would have set up a generic universe whose laws and constants were necessary for life, but not sufficient. Since many other conditions are required for life, Miller’s God likely made a fine tuned universe for naught. It would likely be a finely tuned universe that’s nonetheless barren of life.

In The Edge of Evolution I agree with Miller (and other “theistic evolutionists”) that the laws and constants of our universe are fine tuned, but argue that “fine-tuning” extends much more deeply into nature than previously supposed, and actually extends into life itself, at least down to the level of vertebrate class. I cleverly call this view “extended fine-tuning.” In the book I argue that any person who accepts a theistic evolutionary view, such as Miller does, should have no trouble in principle with the extended fine tuning view. It is, after all, just a matter of degree. In either case the designer fine tuned enough details of our universe to get intelligent life to arise.

But Miller viscerally opposes such an extended fine tuning view. His opposition strikes me as much stronger than the differences in our scientific positions should justify. I think the reason for his deep disdain of a relatively minor difference in our positions is not scientific. Rather, it’s theological.

Michael J. Behe

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael J. Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. Behe's current research involves delineation of design and natural selection in protein structures. In his career he has authored over 40 technical papers and three books, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, which argue that living system at the molecular level are best explained as being the result of deliberate intelligent design.