Another Look at Evolution and ID

James Sullivan

Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Kenneth R. Miller (New York: Viking, 2008, ISBN 9870670018833) 244 pp. Cloth $29.95.


The debate between evolution and intelligent design (ID) is again joined in Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul by Kenneth R. Miller. The author is, admittedly, a proponent of evolution, but he argues fairly for each cause.

ID believers posit that “scientifically” only an intelligent designer could have made humans. Of course, they merely claim a “designer,” not specifically God. But this ID movement evolved from the earlier creationist movement, which credits God with all origination.

The ID folks base their “scientific” case on “irreducible complexity” in humans. In other words, if, by their lights, a component of a human is so complex that it could only have been “designed” and not evolved, then that is proof positive for their side.

The flagellum, the ID crowd suggests, is a case in point. It is a reversible, motorlike, biological machine that propels bacteria, such as E. coli, in the stomach. And flagella seemingly are an irreducible human element.

What, through evolution, has become the flagellum, however, was originally built from parts initially used by the organism for other purposes. Then, through the very means of evolution, these parts were then joined together to perform their current purpose. In short, the flagellum is not an irreducible mechanism. The same can be said of the blood-clotting mechanism in humans, mentioned in this volume as another of ID’s irreducible complexities.

The author dips often into the evolution-ID court cases in Georgia, Kansas, and Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2005, among others.

The book’s title, Only a Theory, alludes to the fact that ID folks tend to use that phrase about evolution to explain it away. But that only indicates that they don’t understand science at all. A theory in science is not just a guess or a supposition but a frequently and rigorously tested concept that holds up to scrutiny. Further proof of misunderstanding is that ID believers refuse to use the scientific method to prove intelligent design, even though they’ve employed the word science in their quest. ID doesn’t stand up to scientific rigor, yet supporters continue to believe. Miller writes:

Evolution is not just a better story, a drama with more plot twists and cliffhangers than design could ever imagine, but it has the added advantage of actually being true. It’s more than a clever turn of phrase or a crafty way of looking for gaps in understanding into which we can plug a “designer.” Evolution is a powerful and expanding theory that unites knowledge from every branch of the life sciences. Paleontologists now sit down with geneticists and developmental biologists to compare notes, and they find that changes over geologic time can be explained by the very genes that regulate development and growth today. Evolution draws all of biology into a single science. And that’s one heck of a story.

A professor at Brown University, Kenneth R. Miller has written for Cell, Nature, and Scientific American magazines. He’s also coauthored high-school and college biology textbooks.

James Sullivan

James Sullivan is a freelance magazine writer and lives in South Bend, Indiana.


Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Kenneth R. Miller (New York: Viking, 2008, ISBN 9870670018833) 244 pp. Cloth $29.95. The debate between evolution and intelligent design (ID) is again joined in Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul by Kenneth R. Miller. The author is, admittedly, a …

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