Miller tackles intelligent design

Kenneth Miller’s “Only a Theory” is a book that tackles a difficult and controversial topic in our culture: the evolution vs. intelligent design debate. Miller set out to write an unbiased breakdown of intelligent design — what it is and why it’s compelling — and then evaluate it based on its own merit. The title comes from an alarmingly misinformed woman he overheard at the trial in Kansas over whether evolution would be taught in schools.

Miller’s book shines when he acquiesces to the demands of intelligent design proponents that it be treated as a scientific theory. He dissects claims and examines evidence in the clinical manner scientists examine new theories. He refuses to respond emotionally and instead pays intelligent design the respect and attention it is so often denied in the scientific community.

Unfortunately for intelligent design’s creators, it does not hold up to his scrutiny. Scientific examination debunks each piece of evidence for intelligent design as inconsistent and illogical.

The second half of Miller’s book relates to his central thesis in writing it, that America has a “scientific soul” that is endangered by the continued debate over the validity of evolution. To this effect, Miller produces several chapters’ worth of compelling evidence and interesting rhetoric.

A larger percentage of the American population disbelieves evolution than that of any developed nation other than Turkey. Miller succinctly and clearly defines terms like “scientific theory” and has a flattering view of American disobedience to authority that makes his beliefs palatable and easy to understand.

Miller’s writing style is sophisticated but easily readable, with touches of humor that make “Only a Theory” a cut above most scientific texts. His ideas and his language are accessible to readers without compromising his image as a highly intelligent, doctorate-possessing individual. His arguments are largely unflawed and his tone is friendly and likable. It’s easy to imagine having a nice dinner with Miller after reading his book.

What sets Miller apart from most critics of intelligent design is his faith. Far from being an acerbic atheist who muddies the water of science and religion’s compatibility with his alienating claims, Miller is a devout Catholic who finds great meaning in his religious beliefs. He treats religion and its believers with respect and admiration in his writing but differentiates between Christians and proponents of intelligent design.

He insists that not only are evolution and religion compatible, but intelligent design is poor theology and makes Christians and Americans look bad. A God of the gaps, Miller offers, is a God whose role necessarily shrinks as we learn new information about our surroundings, and belief in such a deity places religion at a dangerous antagonism with rationality and progress.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable book, although it tends to drag a bit in the later chapters. Kenneth Miller presents an intriguing argument and crusades for it without becoming one of those obnoxious people with a cause, and his book is the better for it.

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