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A full lecture hall attends Professor Kenneth Miller's lecture on "God Darwin, and Design: Faith and Certainty in the Scientific World" on Tuesday evening in the Sciences Lecture Hall on campus.

Prominent biology professor defends evolution, criticizes intelligent design

Lecturer describes issue as "war about culture," not scientific debate

By: Chintan Desai

Posted: 4/5/07

While most guests on the television show "The Colbert Report" become visibly unnerved by the pressure of the commentator's sharp questions and largely self-aggrandizing style, Kenneth R. Miller didn't flinch.

Appearing on the show in January of 2006, the professor of biology at Brown University offered a rebuke of intelligent design and its proponents.

"I have a higher opinion of God than the people who favor intelligent design," he said. "This is a guy who was so clever that he set a process in motion that gave rise to everything on this planet, and you, and me, and maybe even Bill O'Reilly."

In front of a large audience of community members and students Apr. 3, Miller gave a lecture titled "God, Darwin and Design" at the UC Davis Sciences Lecture Hall. The lecture was part of the Storer Life Sciences Major Issues in Biology series and was co-sponsored by the UC Davis Newman Center, a Catholic community.

Focusing on the social ramifications on the evolution versus intelligent design debate, the prominent defender of evolution themed his presentation "We live in interesting times."

In particular, Miller characterized the issue as a national one, citing several court cases and state school board elections in which the teaching of intelligent design in public schools gained considerable attention.

The Board of Education in Cobb County, Ga., for example, voted in 2002 to place a sticker in all science textbooks providing a disclaimer to students stating, "Evolution is a theory, not a fact," and that the material in the book should "be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

Miller, the author of the biology book in question, initially expressed little disappointment in the stickers during the lecture, agreeing that evolution is indeed a theory.

"Theories in science never become facts," Miller said to the crowd. "Theories in science explain facts."

However, he said he was perplexed as to why evolution was singled out by the board members. Miller said he offered to rewrite the Cobb County disclaimer to state that "all science should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

Instead, the issue eventually went to court in 2004 with parents of Cobb County children filing a lawsuit against the board, and a judge ruled the stickers unconstitutional.

Miller also discussed the reason why he believes evolution as a scientific theory is singled out by its opponents.

"It's a war about culture. It's a war about values," he said, insisting that creationists' critique of evolution stems not from their belief that it is a "shaky scientific theory," but from an attempt to create a largely religious society. Doing so requires portraying evolution as hostile to faith and inherently anti-God, he said.

Speaking on what specifically the scientific community could do to fight this, Miller said it must change its attitude, particularly paying attention to public issues such as that in Cobb County and helping to educate the general public.

"Frankly, we suck at popularizing science," he said.

Additionally, in teaching the science of evolution, science educators do not need to pretend there is a controversy, because previous court cases established intelligent design as a religious doctrine, not a scientific theory, he said.

Clark Goecker, director of the Newman Center, said the purpose of the event was to show students that education and faith are not in conflict with each other, especially considering the perception that members of the religious community are antiscientific.

Goecker considered the lecture "an exceptional presentation," and said he was very pleased with both the turnout and response.

Members of the audience often burst into laughter during the lecture.

Amanda Starzak, a junior anthropology major, said she heard about the event that day from her Evolution 100 professor and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Having always been told by a high school teacher that fusing science and religion was a matter of choice, Starzak said she had never been able to do so "as eloquently and well thought-out as he did."

Catelyn Singh, a sophomore biochemistry and molecular biology major, said she found the event worthwhile, but was disappointed that Miller didn't go further into the role of the spirit in evolution, especially since part of the professor's presentation was to introduce passages from the Bible to help defend evolution.

"He didn't really explain where the soul would come in evolutionary theory," she said. "Even if that isn't a part of science, I would still have liked to have heard ideas on it."

CHINTAN DESAI can be reached at science@californiaaggie.com.
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