Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review: Only a Theory

Subtitle: "Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul."
Author: Brown University Biology Professor, Kenneth R. Miller.
Publisher: Viking, in 2008.
Available at: Amazon
The stakes in the evolution debates are higher than I had imagined. Miller gives a very sobering analysis of the potential ultimate damage possible if the Intelligent Design movement wins the day. Every Christian interested in the I.D. verses Evolution controversy should read this book! My review follows ...

Will I.D. Undo American Leadership in Science?

... for that is precisely what it threatens to do. Ken Miller sets into clear focus all that is at stake in the Intelligent Design verses Evolution controversy. (Miller is a committed Christian, and one of the leading evolutionary biologists in America today.)

If this were merely a science question, if the debate were taking place in laboratories and peer-reviewed science journals, evolution would be winning hands-down. This, Miller contends, was clearly demonstrated at the
2005 Dover, Pennsylvania trial. And Miller devotes several chapters to scientifically dismantling the contentions of Intelligent Design theorists, building a strong case for the overwhelming superiority of Evolution over I.D. However, Miller shows us how the debate has been deftly shifted out of the realms of laboratory, field stations, data, and evidence, and into the realms of philosophy, religious dogma, and the very soul of America.

There is more at stake in the evolution wars then a mere testing of Darwin’s theory. Darwinists, like Miller, have always welcomed challenges to evolution. But I.D. fails miserably as a science. Recognizing this failure, the founder of the I.D. movement, Phillip Johnson, has proposed a strategy that has little to do with defeating evolution scientifically. Rather, he outlined a new set of goals in his
Wedge Document, which is an appeal for a new approach to unseating evolution in the American classroom. Apparently concluding that evolution cannot be defeated on scientific grounds, Johnson suggests the battle be engaged in the courtrooms of public opinion, at the ballot box, and by rallying social conservative evangelicals.

While many Christians might applaud this approach, and while it may be effective, this is not the historically proven methodology for arriving at scientific conclusions. If the Copernican controversy had been settled in the courtroom of public opinion, we might be confirmed
Geocentrists to this day. No, the scientific method which has served America so well, and thrust us into world leadership on so many fronts, does not settle its questions through public relations, get-out-the-vote drives, or political action committees.

Miller laments that if I.D. is successful in turning the question of origins from a scientific quest into a philosophical debate, the loser will not just be evolution, but our entire scientific enterprise, and our place of leadership in the world. Science, and evolution, will live on in the rest of the industrialized world with or without America’s leadership. (This is a distinctly American issue. Miller points out that America lags far behind the rest of the industrialized world when it come to public acceptance of evolutionary science.) The proponents of I.D. seem content with that prospect. Miller is not.

Written in a readable, and at times entertaining style,
Only a Theory deserves more attention within the Christian community. I recommend it to my readers, especially those who take a favorable view of I.D.

One of the most fascinating discussions in the book for me comes in Chapter 8, the last chapter. Here, Miller discusses the paradoxical alignment of anti-evolution dogma and political conservatism. True economic conservatism is based in the teachings of Adam Smith. Smith proposed that the larger economic system is best served by the somewhat chaotic interplay of self-interested capitalists. The economic freedoms of unfettered capitalism result in greater innovations, and growth and development benefiting the entire economic system. Charles Darwin credited Adam Smith with helping him to see how the same principles led to innovation, growth and development in our evolutionary past. Thus, Miller draws the bold conclusion that support for evolutionary science is a more natural fit for economic conservatism than the anti-evolution stance we typically observer in those quarters. Hopefully, our scientific future will continue to lead us into innovation, growth and development, unfettered by the restraints of a philosophical movement, Intelligent Design.


Angel Armstead said...

I've heard of this book. I haven't gotten around to reading it. Once I catch up in my book reading for my book reviews I'll look his up.

Cliff Martin said...

Hi Angel,

Welcome to OutsideTheBox! (At least, I think your two comments today are the first for you?) I have appreciated your comments on other sites, and have enjoyed my occasional visits to Biologos.

Yes, I do recommend you get Ken Miller's book. It is very timely and important.

Angel Armstead said...

Thanks. Those were the first two comments I've ever made here. I'm glad you've enjoyed your visits to my site.

Soon I'll be running out of science related books so I was looking for something that might be worthwhile.

Isaac Gouy said...


I'd be interested in hearing what you think of "Evolution and Christian Faith".

"Here we'll look at actual biblical passages and you can see for yourself whether any conflict exists with evolutionary biology." p5

Cliff Martin said...


I read the 14 page online preview of the book, and found substantial agreement with the author. I appreciate the following excerpt from page 12:

I don't think we need more evidence for evolution. I think the presentation of evolution in our schools needs to respect the spiritual yearning of people that compels them to overlook the evidence we already have. I believe scientists need more sympathy and willingness to accommodate people of faith, to offer space for seeing a Christian vision of the world within evolutionary biology ..."

To view the section where the author lines up evolution with "actual biblical passages" (per the quote in your comment), I presume one must purchase the book.

Isaac Gouy said...

cliff > To view the section where the author lines up evolution with "actual biblical passages" (per the quote in your comment), I presume one must purchase the book.

I make good use of public lending libraries.

Sometimes the limit in Google book preview is the number of pages that have been viewed, so if you clear the browser cache and cookies you may be able to follow the argument "You can think of random mutations as mustard seeds of DNA." p45-46

Isaac Gouy said...

"(Matt.13:23)... You can think of random mutations as mustard seeds of DNA. If the soil is conducive to the seed's growth, if the body is receptive to the mutated gene, then the body grows and produces fruit a hundredfold. In the parable, God doesn't direct the seeds individually to good soil, nor does Jesus direct his teachings only to ears that can hear. The mustard seeds are broadcast, and the teachings spread, to all places and people, and then we discover what happens from there. The same is true of mutation. A variety of differences from the original are generated during the copying process, and then we see what natural breeding does. The mutations that agree with the body they find themselves in wind up reproducing themselves a hundredfold as the body containing them yields abundant fruit." p46

Isaac Gouy said...

"Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul" reviewed by Jerry Coyne professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.