Monday, 17 February 2014

Responding to Miller, Staying with Father Murphy's God, part 1

1) New blog on the kid : Responding to Miller, Staying with Father Murphy's God, part 1, 2) part 2, 3) Correspondence of Hans-Georg Lundahl : Staying with Father Murphy's God, part 3 - Correspondence with Ken Miller, 4) Correspondence with Ken Miller (part 4 of Staying with Father Murphy's God)

I wanted to review Kenneth Miller - famous from Kitzmiller vs Dover trial - from the epitome given in next part. I wrote him and he kindly - in that respect - gave me a link with an extract, namely all of the last chapter. This first part includes some extracts from that extract - with my responses. In the beginning of it, he speaks of when he was being prepared to receive First Communion, and of Father Murphy, the Catholic priest who prepared him.

These extracts prove in fact that unlike what Miller may have perhaps claimed at the Kitzmiller versus Dover trial, he is not in his scientific view of where to seek or not to seek God very representative of the Catholic Church. One sentence begins:

Our pastor's error, common and widely repeated ...

Then the position he describes as erroneous is also very common and widely repeated among Catholics. And since he - erroneously so - identifies Creationism with "God of the gaps", a God which has to give way to other alternative explanations as soon as science provides them credibly, he is really indirectly conceding that Creationism is a common position of the Catholic Church, traditionally speaking, back in the generation of Father Murphy at least. But let us now get to the fuller quotes with my comments:

Where Father Murphy was exactly right:
Putting the finishing touches on a year of preparation for the sacrament, Father Murphy sought to impress us with the reality of God's power in the world. He pointed to the altar railing, its polished marble gleaming in sunlight, and firmly assured us that God himself had fashioned it. "Yeah, right," whispered the kid next to me. Worried that there might be the son or daughter of a stonecutter in the crowd, the good Father retreated a bit. "Now, he didn't carve the railing or bring it here or cement it in place. . . but God himself made the marble, long ago, and left it for someone to find and make into part of our church."

My comment:
Exactly what my mother told me and what I still believe.

There are manmade things, which are produced by man's work, like knitted sweaters or cups of hot chocolate, both ceramics part and liquid content. Man made those, but not from nothing, but from preexisting material. Birdsnests are a bit like that too. There is all the rest there is - including the raw materials for these things. We, all animals, all plants, all bacteria, all water, air, minerals and fire, all natural process, all ... everything else. And God made all of it.

Using a natural process to create one of these things, like procreation to create a man or an animal, is very much not the same thing on God's side as having arranged the process once upon a time before the Big Bang and then just watching it, which is what Miller seems to think is the case.

Where Father Murphy was slightly off, perhaps:
"Look at the beauty of a flower," he began. "The Bible tells us that even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed as one of these. And do you know what? Not a single person in the world can tell us what makes a flower bloom. All those scientists in their laboratories, the ones who can split the atom and build jet planes and televisions, well, not one of them can tell you how a plant makes flowers." And why should they be able to? "Flowers, just like you, are the work of God."

The four principal parts of a flower - sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils - are actually modified leaves. ... Plants can produce new flowers anywhere they can grow new leaves. Somehow, however, the plant must find a way to "tell" an ordinary cluster of leaves that they should develop into floral parts. That's where Meyerowitz's lab took over.

Several years of patient genetic study had isolated a set of mutants that could only form two or three of the four parts. By crossing the various mutants, his team was able to identify four genes that had to be turned on or off in a specific pattern to produce a normal flower. Each of these genes, in turn, sets off a series of signals that "tell" the cells of a brand new bud to develop as sepals or petals rather than ordinary leaves. The details are remarkable, and the interactions between the genes are fascinating. To me, sitting in the crowd thirty-seven years after my first communion, the scientific details were just the icing on the cake. The real message was "Father Murphy, you were wrong." God doesn't make a flower. The floral induction genes do.

My Comment
As said, if God uses these precise four genes it does not mean He let them develop as a lucky outcome of His having once billions of years earlier made a few parameters in matter such that life, plants and these four genes in the plants could develop. It means He is acting through the four genes, exactly as a pianist is acting through a piano or as the one cutting and polishing the marble was acting through chisel and sandpaper.

Miller was right back then wrong to think he had proven Father Murphy wrong on the essential of His theology. However, Father Murphy was a bit unlucky in wording. He made the non-knowledge of how plants make flowers (a real non-knowledge on part of the community back when he made his studies, since the corresponding knowledge was, as Miller just admitted, only gained later) sound like an essential part in his argument for all of the natural world being in God's hands. It is not.

If we assume Heliocentrism is wrong - I do so anyway, it is my convictions since ten years back at least - and Geocentrism is right, this does not mean we do not know how God makes day and night, it means we have two alternatives for it.

Alternative one, God each day using His almighty power turns the universe around from East to West a bit more than full circle. He put the sun in the hands of one angel whose movement backwards, from West to East, reduces the solar movement along with heaven to only an exact full circle per day (this is the circle which day-and-night, νυχθημερον, is measured by), and moon in the hands of yet another angel who by getting backward with greater angular speed, but less total speed, since far closer to us, reduces the movement along with Heaven even more to getting on a full circle in about one νυχθημερον plus 5/6 * 1/24 of a νυχθημερον (24 h 50 min).

Alternative two, God orders each angel to go from East to West, and those of the stars to go a little faster than the one of the sun, the one of the moon a little less fast than it. But look what a great choreography he makes of it. And if God has total power over any part of the Universe He wants to, an angel has power over as much matter - like a heavenly body in some cases - as God grants the angel.

The proof that all of this is in God's hands has nothing to do with any kind of mysteriousness in the process he uses. St Thomas could expound the first alternative very well, and was probably open to the second one. And if you had asked him "what mechanism does God use for this" he would have answered "what do you mean, what mechanism?" and then explained that mechanism is said of a kind of manipulation of the laws of nature, whereby what ordinarily does not serve one's purpose in a respect comes to do that, while God and under God spirits ruling all or some matter is in itself the most basic law of all natural laws. No mechanism needed.

So, ignorance of the "exact mechanism" is inessential to belief in this idea of God. I find it regrettable that Miller got such an idea from Father Murphy's words, even though they do not strictly imply it.

Where Miller is wrong, very wrong, here:
The real message was "Father Murphy, you were wrong." God doesn't make a flower. The floral induction genes do.

Our pastor's error, common and widely repeated, was to seek God in what science has not yet explained.
My Comment
The floral induction genes work only under God. And though God's working is hidden from eyes, it is not remotely mysterious in the main aspect we are discussing, namely that all of the process is in God's hands. Whether we know the details or not. The floral induction genes are a secondary cause for the flowers, God is their primary cause - not by what He did billions of years before in making the settings of matter such that such genes or similar ones were likely to develop, but because of what He is making right now when the flowers blossom, through those genes.

A very young Tolkien - well before his mother even converted or even before his father died - might have enjoyed making a self-contained rhythm with rhymes, without any words in it:

ta TA ta TAW, ting TA, ta TIGHT
ta TA ta TAW, ting TA, ta TIGHT
ta FA ta TED, ta FLAY ta TED
ta TRA ta TAR, ta BLAY ta TIGHT

But when he was older - and here we no longer deal with mere probabilities - he preferred expressing meaningful words in that same rythm and rhyme scheme:

The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread;
The trees like torches blazed with light.

The rhythmic scheme and the rhyme scheme are no longer self contained, if ever at a very early age he did enjoy such a thing. They are totally expressed with meaningful words and these not even disconnected but telling in a very connected and wellwritten narrative (even apart from the metre). And very obviously he did not get that by leaving "ta TA ta TAW, ting TA, ta TIGHT" to itself and letting it develop spontaneously into "The pines were roaring on the height," but he did that using each and every word very much on purpose. Though no single word steps out of the ryhtm or the rhyme scheme (I marked added optionals too for this example) no single word is out of place (unless you mind the inversion "it flaming spread" too much) in the connected and meaningful narrative.

One problem with my position?
Is then the making of plastic also in God's hands?

My Comment
It is as much in God's hands as the making of cheese or the baking of bread. Man can provoke processes that depend on conditions meeting that normally do not meet. But this does not make man the maker of the process. When a farmer plants a wheat grain or a vineplant, it is God who gives, if at all, the growth. Or withholds it.

Science can indeed show a regular dependence of this growth on regularly known factors such as sunshine rain and the quality of the earth, not forgetting the variety of the plant, not forgetting the attacks or lack of such of parasites.

But these factors are not themselves produced or created by man, who can only manipulate what is already there.

A man making wine controls more about his process than a man growing the grapes does. Yet even there he is not in complete control. For one thing he has to deal with the grapes that come from a process he was not involved in as winemaker but himself or someone else as vineyard owner.

And a man making plastic has even more control over his process than a man making wine, but he too is only bringing about a favourable condition for a process to start with material he did not create. He did not make the crude oil. The man who separated the diverse carbohydrates in it - heavier from lighter - only separated them and did not create them. The man who adds such an acid at such a temperature to such a kind of fraction of the crude oil and lets it cool under conditions favourable to such and such a speed, depending on whether he wants a thread of nylon or a sheet of plastic food wrappers or a solid plastic bucket with a spade for children to play with at the beach is also not the prime origin of the plastic object. He is only exploiting one possibility which God put into His creation from the start, at least remotely : you see, the crude oil may be from the Flood (some two millennia after the creation), but the processes we do to it would not work if God had not foreseen and wanted them in the very beginning of creation. Nor would they be there now, if God was not right now keeping His creation going.

When a potter makes a pot, he applies rotation, but God provides malleability under such and such conditions (which the potter may have provided by adding water or by drying), but God decides - with a consistency some take for a necessity absolutely in the clay itself rather than put there by God - how much such and such a touch on the clay will change it.

And the same is true for the making of plastic. A chemist cannot use zilch or water instead of petrol to make plastic. He can make a kind of nylon of of wood, it is called rayon, but he could not make a kind of nylon of pure water and call it hydron. A chemist is bound to use the conditions God's creation offers, or not to use it, but he cannot get beyond it.

Even the four genes the lab found do not in themselves constitute a sufficient ultimate cause of the flowers. For instance, they only work in the context of a plant genome. For instance, they are not there since all eternity. Saying "God doesn't make a flower. The floral induction genes do," is a mistake. The floral induction genes cannot be the ultimate cause since they are not ultimately existent, but only dependently existent.

They do exist in such a manner as to be real causes, where they are naturally, under the natural circumstances ... so are any subhuman secondary causes, while angels and men also can will what they shall cause (within the possibilities of causation granted them), even though they also are only secondary causes. Every physical effect has for its ultimate cause the first cause which is God.

Is Father Murphy preaching a God of the Gaps? Miller thinks so:
Our pastor's error, common and widely repeated, was to seek God in what science has not yet explained. His assumption was that God is best found in territory unknown, in the corners of darkness that have not yet seen the light of understanding. These, as it turns out, are exactly the wrong places to look.

My Comment
As said, it was unfortunate if young Miller got the impression that God is only cause of the flower because the exact process is unknown and only as long as the exact process is unknown. This is pretty certainly not what Father Miller meant by saying "God made it", only an accidental illustration of the fact, though one he found impressing.

Miller's self assurance goes on:
By pointing to the process of making a flower as proof of the reality of God, Father Murphy was embracing the idea that God finds it necessary to cripple nature. In his view, the blooming of a daffodil requires not a self-sufficient material universe, but direct intervention by God. We can find God, therefore, in the things around us that lack material, scientific explanations. In nature, elusive and unexplored, we will find the Creator at work.

The creationist opponents of evolution make similar arguments. They claim that the existence of life, the appearance of new species, and, most especially, the origins of mankind have not and cannot be explained by evolution or any other natural process. By denying the self-sufficiency of nature, they look for God (or at least a "designer") in the deficiencies of science. The trouble is that science, given enough time, generally explains even the most baffling things. As a matter of strategy, creationists would be well-advised to avoid telling scientists what they will never be able to figure out. History is against them. In a general way, we really do understand how nature works.

My comment:
I thought I had understood how the Solar system worked (and therefore why Geocentrism was wrong) when I was in High School. Earth has in each moment a certain speed in a certain direction which is to the next moment as initial speed/direction (actually the concept of "velocity" covers both and any change of direction is a kind of "acceleration", even if the "miles per hour" aspect of velocity, as in speed, remains the same). And in each moment Earth is acted on by the gravitation of the Sun (actually the Sun is supposed to be acted on also by the gravitation of the Earth, but less so, since Earth has less mass, indeed very much less, so much as to be insignificant). The "initial velocity" being always tangential and the gravitation being always inward create a balance between the forces translatable as the actual orbit. It is of less significance (at least to the believers in this model) that Earth is only one of the planets so that the said is only an abstraction, so that the totale movement of the Sun is in response to gravitational pull from different planets with different velocities and (more important than velocity for gravitational pull) come from different directions around the Sun, and that the planets also are supposedly, though it is less stated, pulling on each other. Even so, the two (!) forces eternally balance out, exactly as a stone on a string (with the string construed as a force rather than an obstacle!) will make circles as long as you keep it all in movement. For 4 and a half billion such rotations neither has earth dropped into the sun nor has it gone off at a tangent leaving it. Good quality of the string around the stone, especially as there is no string.

Recently however it has been tested to do a closer parallel, no string but instead a kind of "gravitation" - electric attraction also being a force of attraction. Look at this video: : [ISS] Don Petit, Science Off The Sphere - Water Droplets Orbiting Charged Knitting Needle

I did not see any drop that could go four billion times around the knitting needle, I counted about fifteen orbits per drop, before it fell onto the surface of the knitting needle. Now, of course, the drop is doing this in the air inside the space station. Which gives friction. But Galileo posited that the planets' movements around the sun do not slow down because there is no friction, because we are dealing with empty space. First of all, I do not think that accounts for a stopping of the movement after only 10 - 20 turns as compared to endless continuity or at least one of four hundred and fifty times ten thousand times ten thousand turns. Second, according to recent changes in cosmology space is not empty. There is a kind of redness of the spectrum not accounted for by redshift, and redhift itself could be rather a rotating universe (what Geocentrics believe) than an expanding one (what Big Bangers believe) just as well as the other way round. But the redshift which is not accounted for by either is since 1930's attributed to interstellar matter. This would not cause a great deal of friction, since its density is - according to modern cosmology at least, which here presupposes the universe is thousands or millions or billions of lightyears big - much smaller than that of air, but it would certainly cause some friction, though at any given moment insignificant. But would the net result remain insignificant over 4 and a half billion (or, as others call them, milliards) of orbits? Fourth, there is on top of this the difference furthermore that Galileo thought the Sun was absolutely still and the absolute centre of the universe, but modern cosmology thinks its stillness is only relative to the solar system, which in its turn is supposed to turn round the galaxy at a very high absolute speed, though the angular speed in comparison to galaxy is insignificant. This added factor, is it still certain that not even that would normally tend to disrupt the balance of two forces previously alluded to, initial velocity and gravitational pull? Fifth, Newton never gave any proof that his explanation was the right one by any experiment refuting the obvious alternative one. And in Newton's day the obvious alternative explanation to mechanic "equilibrium of two forces" was God's and angels' activity on the matters concerned. When it came to analysing light, he did an experiment to exclude the alternative explanation. When it came to his (and with further elaboration Laplace's) celestial mechanics, he gave no such experiment. A Popper could rationalise this by saying the divine and angelic explanation cannot be disproven and thus cannot be scientific. And must therefore be left out of the scientific protocol. But Newton had no Popper to reckon with, only a bit less sophisticated logicians to whom it would have been clear and was clear that not only did there exist an alternative explanation, as per logical possibilities, but this alternative explanation had not been tried and found wanting.

I think the knitting needle is on the contrary pretty good evidence that Newton's explanation has just very recently been tried and found wanting.
A few highlights from previous quote:
Father Murphy was embracing the idea that God finds it necessary to cripple nature.
My comment:
A violin is not crippled because it needs a violinist to work. Miller believes in a God who constructs and winds up a music box and then listens to the music without intervening or at least without intervening without a good reason. A Creationist in the sense of Father Murphy believes in a God who first built a violin in seven days and then has been playing it for seven thousand years without getting tired. A music box would indeed be crippled if it could not work a single moment without intervention of the one who wound it up. But a violin is not crippled because it needs to be constanty moved by the one playing it.
In his view, the blooming of a daffodil requires not a self-sufficient material universe, but direct intervention by God.
My comment:
As to the faultiness of the biassed term "intervention" (which presupposes a normality of non-involvement, which we cannot accept as correct if we think of the universe as God's violin rather than as his music box), a created universe is per definition not self sufficient since it is created. And a self sufficient purely material universe would not be producing either life in the sense even of flowers, nor minds able to explore its puirely material self-sufficiency.
We can find God, therefore, in the things around us that lack material, scientific explanations.
My comment:
No. A corporeal explanation does not exclude a higher one, precisely as the metric explanation for "the fire was red, it flaming spread" as reflecting an underlying "ta FA ta TED, ta FA ta TED" (FA instead of TA for the alliteration on F, TED instead of TA for the rhyme on ED) does not exclude a higher explanation like one John Ronald Reuel Tolkien writing the words "the fire was red, it flaming spread" and his intending thereby to state something about a forest fire kindled by an evil dragon.

Conversely, these higher explanations do not exclude the fact that the words in fact do form purely metrically speaking a statement like "ta FA ta TED, ta FA ta TED". But the regularity of such rhythmic and rhyming, assonantic, alliterating features does not mean they write themselves, they only exist within the poem concretely made of meaningful words. The parallel to this parable would be that in the created universe matter as such or body as such is never at all self sufficient, at least not when moving, but in such a case always expressing either an angelic or a human act or the act of a beast which itself is not without an angel.

My quotes so far have been from the last chapter of the book, given as a free excerpt in the following link:

Brown Alumni Magazine : November 1999 : Finding Darwin's God

Presently I am continuing the response on part 2.


  1. Be it noted that "Father Murphy" here cannot refer to the abusive Father Lawrence Murphy, since he was stationed in Milwaukee.

    Ken Miller grew up in New Jersey.

  2. It also cannot refer, for chronological reasons, to a much nobler Father Murphy ...

    Dubliners - Boulavogue
    lreland1 : 1.IX.2007

    God grant you glory, brave Father Murphy
    And open Heaven to all your men
    For the cause that called you may call tomorrow
    In another fight for the Green again