Scientist Takes on the Creationists
By George Pyle
On his deathbed, Henry David Thoreau was supposedly asked, “Have you made your peace with God?” To which the great American philosopher replied, “We have never quarreled.”
Kenneth R. Miller has no quarrel with God. But this leading scientist has a serious beef with the so-called intelligent design movement. And his new book “Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul,” is a concise and convincing destruction of any claim that this latest evolution of creationist dogma has to challenge Darwin’s theory for a spot in the classroom or as an explanation of how the world works.
The ID movement, he demonstrates, is not only inaccurate, it is downright dangerous to the practice of science, and all learning, in America.
Miller is a Darwinist, but he is no atheist. While defending evolution against its religiously motivated critics, the Brown University professor also laments the dismissive, if not downright cruel, view that not only creationism, but all religious belief, is the refuge of the ignorant. The need for each side in this debate to totally vanquish the other strikes Miller as pointless, with neither scientific nor religious foundation.
Miller takes ID apart the only way a proper scientist can, by seeking first to understand it, then to hold it up to the light of inquiry and determine whether it succeeds or fails in the duty of any scientific theory — to explain the universe. His skill in this task is well practiced. He was, for example, the lead expert witness for the successful lawsuit that forced the school board in Dover, Pa., to abandon efforts to replace evolution with thinly disguised creationist pseudo-science.
The book’s title echoes efforts to dismiss evolution as “only” a theory. That expression flows from a mistaken, or false, belief that the word means no more than a guess, when, to science, the true meaning of the word is a detailed and tested explanation for any natural phenomenon.
Miller walks the reader through the evidence that evolution’s status as the theory of biological science is fully deserved. It can be thick stuff, even in the hands of an expert teacher. And that’s sort of the point, as complex details such as how blood clots or how one-celled creatures move about aren’t as popular as the simpler idea of special creation.
But if science changes from a rigorous examination of nature to a forced belief in explanations that make some people feel better, then our chances of understanding the world as it really is disappear. And so will our ability to make scientific discoveries or rational decisions about everything from climate change to stem cells.
What do we give up if we embrace the truth of evolution? Our very humanity, argues the ID movement. If we are no more than just another animal, having crawled only a little bit further out of the primordial ooze, then why behave morally or humanely? But, Miller shows, accepting the truth of evolution gains us the understanding that we are very much one with the universe, and with whatever transcendent truths may be behind it. We are a way, maybe the only way, for the universe to comprehend itself.
We may be related to the apes and the lemurs. But, as Walt Whitman said, even “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey- work of the stars.”
George Pyle is a News editorial writer.
Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul
By Kenneth R. Miller
221 pages, $25.95
Originally published by NEWS BOOK REVIEWER.
(c) 2008 Buffalo News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.