Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul

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What does the challenge to Darwin's theory of evolution in America today mean for our future? To Kenneth R. Miller, award-winning professor of biology at Brown University, the rise of "Intelligent Design" is symptomatic of a much greater struggle: one involving a broad assault on the very reason and skepticism that have fueled our stunning scientific advances. A truly comprehensive book, Only a Theory does more than show why ID collapses as a scientific movement-it passionately lays out a prescription for how we can save the "Scientific soul" to which America owes so much.

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Editorial Reviews

Francis Collins
In this powerfully argued and timely book, Ken Miller takes on the fundamental core of the Intelligent Design movement, and shows with compelling examples and devastating logic that ID is not only bad science but is potentially threatening in other deeper ways to America's future. But make no mistake, this is not some atheistic screed — Prof. Miller's perspective as a devout believer will allow his case to resonate with believers and non-believers alike. (Francis Collins, Director, the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief)
Sean B. Carroll
Only A Theory is an original and perceptive examination of the causes and effects of the ongoing civil war over evolution in America. A wise and tested veteran of its front lines, Ken Miller makes the compelling case that there is much more at stake in this conflict than one scientific theory - the fate of America's hard-earned scientific prowess is in the balance. Readers are sure to be inspired by this passionate appeal to defend and nourish one of our most important institutions. (Sean B. Carroll, author of The Making of the Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful)
Edward J. Larson
Ever since the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species 150 years ago, the public controversy over creation and evolution has been fought largely in books. For the past two decades, Ken Miller has been a prominent participant in that debate with his books and lectures. In Only a Theory, Miller takes up the cudgels again in a lively new book that persuasively argues for the theory of evolution, penetratingly critiques the claims for intelligent design, and explains why this dispute should matter to everyone. It may be only a book, but it's a good one. I highly recommend it. (Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory)
Michael Ruse
Ken Miller's new book, Only a Theory, is everything we have come to expect from him— informed, witty, and above all deeply serious about matters of concern to us all. He takes so-called intelligent design theory apart, piece by piece, showing it for the sham that it is. In its stead, Miller makes a very strong argument for the truth and beauty of evolutionary thinking and begs that we not keep this wonderful science from our children. Highly recommended! (Michael Ruse, author of Darwinism and Its Discontents)
Publishers Weekly

Thoroughly enjoyable and informative, this new book by Miller (Finding Darwin's God), a Brown University biologist and leading proponent of evolution, dismantles the scientific basis of intelligent design piece by piece. He does this by taking seriously the claims of intelligent design (though with tongue often in cheek), such as irreducible complexity, and looking at the biological facts and the dubious conclusions ID concepts would lead to. He turns to the peer-reviewed scientific literature to demonstrate that the two biological phenomena ID proponents say could not have evolved-blood-clotting proteins and bacterial flagella-are now well-enough understood to fully rebut intelligent design. Looking at the underlying philosophical issues, Miller explains that ID's proponents want to replace modern science with "A 'theistic science'... that would use the Divine not as ultimate cause, but as scientific explanation." Miller effectively explores the devastating consequences such a change would have on both science and society. In a measured, well-reasoned book, Miller explains why evolution does not deny us our humanity or our unique place in the universe. Illus. Colbert Report appearance on June 16. (June 16)

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Library Journal

At the beginning of the 21st century, America is still conflicted about the theory of evolution, just as it was at the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. One significant difference today is that critics of evolution contradict Darwin with the pseudoscientific concept of intelligent design (ID). Miller (biology, Brown Univ.), an expert witness in the 2005 evolution trial in Dover, PA, brings his same penetrating arguments against intelligent design to this book. Going beyond a mere evolution vs. ID argument, Miller examines America's role as a scientific leader in the world and how we are slipping from that position. Attempts to attack science and derail its importance lower America's standing throughout the world. Instead of painting a pessimistic view of our future, Miller shows how it is exactly the nature of America-from its beginnings as a group of revolutionary colonies-that also holds the greatest hope for ultimately retaining our position as a world leader in science. That hope will depend upon gaining public support and understanding of science, for which Miller provides a formula for achieving. Much of this book is rather technical and scientifically advanced, but it offers a unique perspective on this topic. Recommended for larger academic and public libraries.
—Gloria Maxwell

Kirkus Reviews
Balanced account of the evolution vs. intelligent design debate. Cellular biologist Miller (Biology/Brown Univ.; Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, 1999) analyzes the theory and importance of intelligent design in a civil, open-minded manner. While clearly on the side of evolution, he decides "to take intelligent design seriously" and analyze it dispassionately. In doing so, he finds a variety of flaws but also fully understands its appeal. Moreover, he realizes that traditional science is often lacking in its attempt to explain the universe around us and within us. Miller begins by empathizing with those who simply cannot believe that the intricacies of life, let alone the universe, could be the effects of chance. He counters, however, that science is not based on random chance at all: "There is indeed a grand design to life, and it's the very one first glimpsed more than a century ago by a fellow named Charles Darwin." The epochal history of the universe, culminating on Earth with the amazing processes of evolution, provides us with proof that the original design had meaning. And that, Miller argues, is where the scientific community often stumbles, by not answering or even considering the question of whether life has meaning. It does, he replies, and belief in that meaning is indeed compatible with belief in evolution. The author warns that the thrust of intelligent design poses dangers for science as a whole. Having adopted the language of relativism-an ironic development in and of itself-intelligent-design proponents argue that science cannot possibly hold a monopoly on truth, an argument that has the potential to undo the Americanscientific framework. This may seem like a Chicken Little warning to those not steeped in the issue, but Miller is convinced. One of the better books on this emotionally charged subject.
From the Publisher
" Demolishes the assertions of advocates of Intelligent Design."
-The Baltimore Sun

" A grass-roots defense of good science education . . . a useful overview of a perilous political attack on the nature of science."
-P. Z. Myers, Nature

" Powerfully argued . . . Miller's perspective as a devout believer will allow his case to resonate with believers and non-believers alike."
-Francis Collins, Director, the Human Genome Project

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670018833
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/12/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth R. Miller is Professor of Biology at Brown University. His research work on cell membrane structure and function has produced more than 50 scientific papers and reviews in leading journals, including CELL, Nature, and Scientific American. Miller is coauthor, with Joseph S. Levine, of four different high school and college biology textbooks which are used by millions of students nationwide. He has received 5 major teaching awards. In 2007 he was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and received the Exploratorium's Outstanding Educator Award. He lectures widely and has appeared on NPR’s Science Friday and The Colbert Report.

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Table of Contents

1 Only a Theory 1

2 Eden's Draftsmen 17

3 Embracing Design 44

4 Darwin's Genome 88

5 Life's Grand Design 111

6 The World That Knew We Were Coming 135

7 Closing the American Scientific Mind 165

8 Devil in the Details 192

Notes 223

Index 236

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Provocative, Insightful, Refreshing

    Science writing for the non-scientific. Miller is able to distill complex scientific ideas into prose that anyone can understand. His insight into the impact of the "theory" of evolution on modern education and scientific thought in America is compelling. I would LOVE to take his introductory Biology clas....

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 7, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Bravo! A Valuable Addition to Any Library

    This is a marvelously- engaging effort by Mr. Miller. Reading Only a Theory is akin to watching a captivating movie filled with intriguing special effects, robust characters, and a suspenseful plot. For years I have been grappling with the question: Which came first, the chicken or the proverbial egg? <BR/><BR/>You can not imagine my delight when I read Only a Theory, a book about Intelligent Design (ID) Theory versus Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and the ultimate question for scientific and religious scholars: How did my Persian cat and the rest of mankind get here? <BR/><BR/>My original game-plan in writing reviews was to adhere to a philosophy that stayed far, far away from politics, and religion. In spite of my past convictions, I find myself writing a review on a book that manages to make sport of politics, and religion! However, everyone from students to scholars, will enjoy this informative read from Kenneth Miller. <BR/><BR/>If you like imaginative courtroom drama, Perry Mason can't hold a candle to the final closing arguments in a trial which is a focal point in the book. It takes place in the quaint town of Dover, Pennsylvania. Biology Professor, Kenneth Miller, (Brown University) was one of the expert witnesses at the trial. He had the jury, judge, and me, intrigued by his take-no-prisoners testimony. <BR/><BR/>My favorite section is when testimonies from both sides explore the bio chemical systems produced by the body. These machine-like marvels control thousands of functions in perfect harmony, and precision (they are called bacterial flagellum). If you liked the movies featuring The Terminators and The Transformers, you will be enthralled by these beauties. <BR/><BR/>In the end both sides won some points. However, there are still gaps in both theories in which proponents say: Trust me. Only a Theory should be a valuable addition to any library. You will love it. Trust me! <BR/>Reggie Johnson, Success-Tapes.Com

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2008

    A reviewer

    It¿s a question that I have pondered before, 'How can America be one of the most scientifically advanced nations when such a scientific idea as evolution is so widely doubted compared to other countries?' But for the more economically thoughtful among us the answer is probably more obvious than not. The incredible -- and ironically rather Darwinistic -- powers and capabilities of competitive capitalism lie at the heart of America¿s soul. Consequentially, business is not the only place where such factors are present in the United States, for science is home to them as well. The result, then, is that just as good and bad products come and go before really great ones succeed in the niche of popular demand, scientific ideas 'even so called ones' are in a manner of speaking subject to the same experience. But there's a little bit of problem here, as Kenneth Miller elaborates on in his new book 'Only a Theory'. While the more competitive nature of science in the States has given fertile ground to great ideas, the arbiters of what constitutes good scientific ideas worth being taught in the curriculum have too often not been scientists! Rather political ideologues have attempted to interject what is somewhere between poor science and not-science to be either taught along with genuine science (at best...) if not to its detriment (at worst). With these concerns as the foundation of his book, Miller describes the problems that could confront America's scientific eminence if such aforementioned political forces were to gain further power. To fulfill his duty to ensure that more people become educated, and therefore hopefully able to make better decisions when it comes to the scientific education of our children, Miller, for three chapters, engages in a powerful but honest assault on the 'so-called' alternative scientific ideas that were argued over in the 2005 Dover trial. This is probably the best part of the book and undoubtedly the reason why many, if not most, will read it. Much of this portion of the book reads like a version 2.0 of his previous book 'Finding Darwin's God'. Miller takes on once again the claims surrounding the sacred icon of the recent 'Intelligent Design' movement: the bacterial flagellum. He also again addresses the argument of irreducible complexity as it relates to the blood-clotting cascade. Beyond this, Miller references a couple of examples of observed evolution-in-action with regards to synthetic compounds, and looks at our genetic relationship with the chimps. Suffice it to say Miller does, as we've come to expect, an excellent job dealing with the science and making his case. Michael Behe's newer work 'The Edge of Evolution' even gets a little addressing. It is perhaps a bit misguided to think that this book is all but a screed of scientific arguments. In fact, although it contains the scientific arguments, it¿s also more than that. Miller explores how the educational system is, in fact, facilitating the 'closing of the American mind', referencing Allan Bloom¿s criticisms of America's academic approach, and citing relativism as a culprit in the successes the ID movement has had on the PR front. Miller also says some words regarding God and faith, which I found enjoyable. Ultimately, while this book is not quite the powerhouse of scientific arguments that 'Finding Darwin's God' was 'after all, we¿ve been there done that', it is another admirable and timely book 'I¿ve been anticipating Miller's next book' that excellently addresses the current issues of the debate.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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