Research Paper: Only a Theory Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller

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Miller Evolution

Miller's Theory of Evolution

Perhaps most significantly among thinkers on the subject of 'natural selection', Darwin's seminal works touched inherently upon so many disciplines as to bear applicable interpretations in nearly any context. His update of the evolutionary principles which preceded him brought to the fore of academic discourse a widespread reconsideration of the nature of life. Particularly, "his famous synthesis of the observations made during the voyage of the Beagle forms the pillar on which our modern view of biology is formed." (Balaram, 1191) Still, from yet another angle of consideration regarding Darwin's view, the assumed sanctity of human life was here coming under speculation, with his philosophy offering the interpretable notion that war, aggression and other factors which tend to impose upon patterns of natural selection are inevitable facts of the evolutionary process. There are many who have worked tirelessly to refute this inevitability, with the vast majority of Americans aligned against the theory of evolution being those in religious groups, conservative political movements and moral watchdog.

This has helped to define the work and literature of Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University whose career has been as significantly driven by his defense of the evolutionary theory as it has been based on his teaching on the subject. Indeed, his position in the 2008 text Only a Theory is made quite explicit, with the author describing himself as both a supporter of theory of evolution and as one who is unwilling to lend credence to such competing theories Creationism or Intelligent Design. It is Miller's position both here and on the numerous panels and courtroom settings to which he has been called based on his expertise that evolution is a fact of science which is central to the principles of biological and the natural sciences. He has historically and for the purposes of this text made the argument that it is necessary to teach the theory of evolution and irresponsible to teach that there are other theories which may also be accurate. Particularly, the absence of scientific grounding for the so-called competing theories crafted largely by Christian and right-wing organizations renders their teaching in public institutions both impractical and irrational. In Only a Theory, Miller makes this case by reviewing some of his experiences in contending with the righteous indignation of school boards, the grilling of courtrooms and blind fervor of the religious multitudes that have aggressively taken aim at evolution. To Miller's perspective, this is irrational because, as a Roman Catholic, he has found ways to reconcile his acceptance of the theory of evolution with his belief in God. The feasibility of this balance is a driving point of his text.

Chapter 1: Only a Theory

In the first chapter of his text, Miller introduces his combatants in the courtroom setting. Here, he had been called before the court to discuss the implications of a sticker that had been placed on a textbook which he had co-authored. The sticker indicated that evolution is 'only a theory' and not proven fact, and further noted that students should be expected and entitled to keep an open mind with respect to this theory. The court case would ultimately resolve the issue by determining that the placement of this sticker in the textbook constituted a violation of the First Amendment allowing Miller to publish information on the theory without intervention and prior restraint.

More important than the outcome of the actual case though would be the perspective demonstrated by Miller, who is clearly and deeply troubled by the determination and misplaced passion of those who oppose evolution on the grounds of its incompatibility with God. As Miller reports, "I had a great deal to say about the wording of the sticker during my testimony, but what most impressed me at the trial was the passion of those who defended it. That passion inspired a civic movement -- not just in Georgia, but all across the country -- and led a majority of Americans to state that they rejected an idea at the very heart of biology, the theory of evolution. To them, what was at issue was a question of the heart and soul." (Miller, 3)

This final assertion is particularly important to our understanding of the Miller text, as it provides a compelling distinction between the participants in this battle. On Miller's side of the debate were scientists, physicians and educators with a firm grounding in the subjects that produced a general consensus on the validity of Charles Darwin's theory. This is to say that rationality, logic and empiricism had driven this side to a place of relative certainty. By contrast, the certainty derived for other side of the debate would be primarily drawn from these perceptions of protecting America's soul from an act of academic blasphemy. In this first chapter, Miller frames the debate as one not waged between different theories or schools of thought, but as between two entirely different human impulses. It is here that he points to one of the core weaknesses in the logical of his opposition, which derives such impulses from a gut level emotion experienced by the countless Americans drawn into the debate.

Chapter 2: Eden's Draftsmen

The second chapter is driven by Miller's explanation of the competing theories which have been promoted by opponents of evolution. He deconstructs Creationism and its various offshoots according to the philosophies of William Paley and Michael Behe, both of whom he regards as ideologues with little grounding in the actual scientific realities of the evolution debate. He also addresses such variations as the concepts of Irreducible Complexity and Complex Specified Information, sparing no personality in refuting them as both unfounded and irrelevant with respect to the discussion of human evolution. Indeed, even the title of the chapter takes on something of a facetious tone, referring to those who have constructed revisionist theories of human development as those dispatched by God to intervene with science.

Chapter 3: Embracing Design

This perception is strengthened by the arguments posed in Chapter 3, which begin to address the modern legal track pushing forward the theory of Intelligent Design. This is a competing theory which argues that there is more likely to be some 'intelligent' force, which we may presume is God, which is responsible for the course of human development and change. The idea also refers disparagingly to natural selection as an 'undirected' process. Miller takes direct issue with these treatments of evolution, particularly as the more recent adoption of Intelligent Design theory shows a willingness on the part of Christians to coalesce to any theory which could be said to counter the theory of evolution. In Miller's perspective, this adaptability is extremely revealing of the scientific malleability in the religious argument, which has as many political imperatives as ideological ones. The remarkable intensity which the religious right has succeeded in mustering to the support of an essentially new theory illustrates a certain susceptibility of the anti-evolution movements followers to manipulation and rationalization.

Chapter 4: Darwin's Genome

The concept of evolution is particularly driven by the understanding that there is a close correlation between sufficient fossil evidence, anthropological records and the theory which Darwin proposed. In this chapter, Miller explores the nature of debate waged between scientists on both sides of the debate. He relates a particular incident in which fossil evidence depicted in Darwin's the Origin of the Species was presented to creationists, who were then asked to identify it. The prehuman fossil appeared to flummox creationist supporters, who were unable to reconcile the species without betraying a fundamental weakness in their ideology. Miller relates that in the 2001 incident, "some of the evolution critics said that the fossils were clearly apes, while others flatly stated that they were human. Which group of creationists is right? I don't really know and that's the point. In fact, I'm tempted to say they both are. What better proof could one offer of the transitional nature of the human fossil record than the profound lack of agreement of antievolutionists as to how to classify these fossils? Ironically, validation of our common ancestry with other primates comes from those who are most critical of the idea." (Miller, 95) Miller's language and content demonstrate that he takes a certain pleasure in the various holes in logic and rationale in the arguments made against evolution. The degree to which creationists force scrutiny on the ideas of evolution is likewise the degree to which evidence continues to be forthcoming to its support. Miller demonstrates that the same cannot be said for the ideas of creationists, which have gained little in the way of scientific endorsement in the last decade of intensified debate.

Chapter 5: Life's Grand Design

The fifth chapter proceeds from the understanding the evolution is a demonstrated and supported theory, with the fundamental design of life underscoring its inherency. The idea that some particular and special planning has been dedicated to the creation of human life has no support… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Only a Theory Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller.  (2009, October 1).  Retrieved May 24, 2019, from

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"Only a Theory Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller."  1 October 2009.  Web.  24 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Only a Theory Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller."  October 1, 2009.  Accessed May 24, 2019.