Brown University Biologist Kenneth Miller on Science and Faith

He’s a Catholic, and he thinks that they’re compatible. He got in a very public Internet spat this past week with Jerry Coyne, an outspoken atheist biologist at the University of Chicago, over the subject of “accommodationism” between science and religion, and in the midst of a long response to some of Coyne’s recent writings (in the New Republic and on Coyne’s blog), Miller spoke (I thought) rather eloquently and pointedly about the limits of science, and the ongoing legitimacy of asking metaphysical questions:

Why does science work? Why is the world around us organized in a way that makes itself accessible to our powers of logic and intellect? The true vow of a scientist is to practice honest and open empiricism in every aspect of his scientific work. That vow does not preclude the scientist from stepping back, acknowledging the limitations of scientific knowledge, and asking the deeper questions of why we are here, and whether existence has a purpose. Those questions are genuine and important, even if they are not scientific ones, and I believe they are worth answering. To me, those answers lie in faith. Others find their answers elsewhere, but our science is the same.

Miller suggests that when it comes to scientific facts (such as that the earth is old and that plants and animals have changed over time) it is religion’s responsibility to accommodate to what science has discovered and to then figure out (theologically and philosophically) how to make faith fit the science. However, when it comes to ultimate metaphysical questions (like the ones that Miller raises above) science need not accomodate religion at all because science is not a tool for deciding those questions. Science is thus not compromised by faith positions concerning such matters. Science is compatible with both faith and atheism with regard to ultimate questions. As Miller puts it: “. . . our science is the same.” I think that this is a sane and sensible position. In the domain of science, religion must make certain accommodations. But in the domain of metaphysics, where science, as a tool, is ill-fitted to go, faith can function without compromising science.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Brown University Biologist Kenneth Miller on Science and Faith

  1. SM says:

    Science only measures “creation”, it can go no further than establishing cause and effect within the created universe. Unless ulimate reality is pantheistic, where all matter is in fact compositionally part of the creator, science can not prove anything outside the parameters of the universal laws under which it operatesie. God.

    Miller is assuming his faith is correct and will adjust it to fit the facts presented by science. However, if the creator is separate from his creation, science will never know anything beyond the confines of existential reality. Hence the necessity of the leap of faith.

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