Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, has written a new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, in which he defends Darwinism, attacks intelligent design, and makes a case for theistic evolution (defined as something like “God used Darwinian evolution to make life”). In all this, it’s pretty much a re-run of his previous book published over a decade ago,Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution. So if you read that book, you’ll have a very good idea of what 90% of the new book concerns. For people who think that a mousetrap is not irreducibly complex because parts of it can be used as a paperweight or tie clip, and so would be easy to evolve by chance, Miller is their man. Despite the doubts of many — perhaps most — evolutionary biologists of the power of the Darwinian mechanism, to Miller’s easy imagination evolving any complex system by chance plus selection is a piece of cake, and intermediates are to be found behind every door. A purer devotee of Darwinian wishful thinking would be hard to find.
A few events of the last ten years seem to have caught his attention. He discussesThe Edge of Evolution for several pages, reprising his superficial review forNature that I critiqued on this site last year. At a number of points he lovingly quotes Dover trial Judge John Jones, either not recognizing or purposely ignoring the fact that Jones’ opinion was pretty much copied word for word from a document given to him by the plaintiff’s attorneys; there’s no evidence that Jones comprehended any of the expert testimony at the trial — even Miller’s own testimony. Miller even quotes the passage from “Jones”’ opinion which blatantly mischaracterized my testimony, placing in my mouth words that the plaintiff’s attorney had actually spoken. But even that has been gone over many times; if you read the newspaper and some blogs, all this is very old hat.
The theistic evolution is the same too. (I have nothing against theistic evolution — I used to agree with it — except now I think it doesn’t fit the data.) We live in a finely tuned universe, so that points to God. Miller pointedly denies that that is a scientific argument, but it’s hard to see why not. How many other theological or philosophical arguments depend on the exact values of physical constants — to many significant figures — such as the charge on the electron, the strength of gravity, and so on? Reasoning based on quantitative, precise measurements of nature is science. Ironically, Miller is an intelligent design proponent when it comes to cosmology, but is contemptuous of people who see design extending further into nature than he does.
The only “new” argument in the book is Miller’s complaint that his intellectual opponents are threatening America and civilization, and so must be stopped for the good of the country. (Now, how many times have you heard a politician or special pleader use that line?) America is a science-based society, you see, so we should all bow when the National Academy of Sciences speaks — anything less is un-American.
Well, it seems to me that a country which places control of the military in civilian hands is a country which recognizes that experts, like other people, can be blinded by their biases. If control of the military is too important to be left to the experts, control of education is, too. Even to experts who are as sure of themselves as Kenneth Miller is.