The author of the book under review, Kenneth Miller, and the reviewer, PZ Myers, have both gained something of a reputation for their different ways of defending evolutionary theory. Myers is an outspoken atheist who regularly slates Intelligent Design and Creationism in his blog Pharyngula. Miller affirms both Roman Catholicism and evolutionary theory and has made an impact in legal and educational contexts for celebrating "the power of evolutionary theory to explain our existence".
Theistic Evolution: a dream or a nightmare?
Myers adopts the strategy of conflating ID and Creationism by using the term "intelligent design creationism". However, most informed people, when they read this phrase, realise that polemics has come to the fore. The specific issues mentioned (the status of evolutionary theory, Behe's empirical argument for the inability of genetic mutations to build complexity, Dembski's rationale for making design inferences about structures exhibiting complex specified information) make it clear that Myers is giving Intelligent Design advocates the label "the enemies of science".
Rather than explore Miller's references to ID arguments, Myers merely waves a flag: Miller succeeds in "refuting the errors". But Myers does not even concede that the "errors" are worth refuting: he describes ID arguments as a "political attack on the nature of science". This is again a strategy frequently used by Myers - if ID arguments are political, a scientific response is superfluous.
A major part of the review considers the way Miller analyses the appeal of ID thinking to US minds: "The popularity of creationism in the United States is ascribed to independence and rebelliousness rather than religiosity." The implication is that skepticism about evolutionary theory has nothing to do with science! Myers and Miller are allies in seeking to interpret the ID phenomenon in sociological and religious terms. However, the bond between these two is only skin deep, as Myers finds fault with Miller's theistic view of evolution: "his own religious leanings blind him to conflict between faith and science."
There is one part of the alliance that is suggested to be "rock solid" and this concerns the philosophy of science. Here are the relevant quotes:
Miller - "To the intelligent design movement, the rationalism of the Age of Enlightenment, which gave rise to science as we know it, is the true enemy - science will be first redefined, and then the 'bankrupt ideologies' of scientific rationalism can be overthrown once and for all."
Myers - [They] "aim to revise what science means, discarding rationalism, naturalism, materialism and other Enlightenment values to incorporate the supernatural and loosen the rigour of all sciences."
There is both truth and error here. Historically, both are in error, as it was not rationalism that gave rise to science, but Christian Theism (which upholds rationality but not rationalism). The validity of design inferences within science is the point at issue. ID is entirely rational about making these inferences: conclusions are based on evidence and the assessment of probabilities. Rationalism, on the other hand, blocks design inferences being made about the natural world. Consequently, rationalism can become the enemy of truth. It can be an alien influence in science because it closes up legitimate avenues of enquiry: ruling out options on ideological grounds.
Whilst the allies demonstrate agreement regarding rationalism, the underlying rock is not so solid when it comes to naturalism and materialism. It is Myers who slips in comments about these ideologies. His comments are demonstratably false as naturalism and materialism had no contribution to make during the time known as the Scientific Revolution. The ideological basis of science changed with the centuries: Theism hardened to Deism (in the Enlightenment) and then morphed into Naturalism. It appears that Myers wants to ditch the Theism and the Deism and claim that Naturalism is the essence of science. However, the move to Deism and then to Naturalism has not been in the interests of scientific enterprise. What we are seeing today is science being slowly strangled by these ideologies (for a recent comment on this, go here). In the hands of the ideologues, science has become a tool for promoting and enforcing atheism. Kenneth Miller - with allies like this, who needs enemies!
The creationist controversy
Nature 454, 581-582 (31 July 2008) | doi:10.1038/454581a
BOOK REVIEWED - Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller, Viking: 2008. 256 pp.
First sentence: The United States has a big problem: although we maintain a strong scientific establishment, competitive with the rest of the world in many fields, we also have some of the most backwards proponents of superstitious nonsense in both our electorate and at the highest levels of politics.
Plantinga, Alvin. Evolution vs. Naturalism. Why they are like oil and water, (Books and Culture, July/August 2008)
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