NOVA Online: Odyssey of Life (see bottom of page for navigation)
see bottom of page for navigation

How Did We Get Here?

Letter 7
Kenneth R. Miller, December 6, 1996

Dear Phillip,

In your last installment you revealed the real reasons for our disagreements, and I hope every reader noticed. You clearly stated what I have suspected all along. Your objections to evolution aren't scientific. They are religious.

You wrote that a successful mechanism for evolution would "get the Creator out of the picture," and that is why the mountain of scientific evidence on my side of this debate is irrelevant to you. Phillip, as a religious person myself, I would love to have a thousand words to explain why one does not have to reject evolution to believe in God, but that would shift our debate into theology. However, I am truly grateful you revealed the real source of your objections to evolution.

Now back to science. You have, of course, used Eldredge out of context. He was arguing in favor of one pattern of evolutionary change against another, and you made it seem as though he was arguing against evolution per se. He was not. A clever trick, but not good science. You continue this sad pattern when you argue that hominid (human-like) fossils may be just "variant apes." Can you possibly be serious about this? We have a rich and growing fossil record of human ancestors, detailed last month in the Times article that you (wisely) did not dispute. No person skilled in primate anatomy would fail to recognize the fact that these are distinct species that predate us and include our ancestors.

Remember when you challenged me for "intermediate steps" in the evolution of whales? Well, I produced them. But now you say that didn't matter unless I can explain the mechanism of that change. OK. The mechanism was natural selection, acting on developmental mutations and variation, adapting these land-dwellers to new opportunities - shallow tidal inlets loaded with fish. As I explained last time, there are a whole series of well-understand mutational mechanisms that can produce the changes in body structure this would require. So a plausible mechanism is no mystery, no matter how hard you try to pretend that it is.

Finally, Phillip, your mention of "materialist philosophy" entirely misses the point of how science works. You imply that if we do not understand the exact mechanism of a process (like evolution) we must allow for intervention by the "Creator." Sorry, but science doesn't work that way. Consider what happens when a living cell divides and its chromosomes move apart. We do not, in fact, know exactly what produces the force that moves chromosomes. Do I make a "materialist" assumption when I say that the force is probably generated by biochemical mechanisms? Of course not. But your logic would claim there is no mechanism, and the Creator Himself has to push every chromosome around. C'mon.

Phillip, I truly believe that God gave us our abilities to learn as much as we could about nature. And that one of our greatest discoveries is the very one you seek to deny - the process of evolution.

Best Wishes,

(go to next letter)
(go to previous letter)
(go to Debate contents)

Odyssey Home | How? | Morphing | Lens
Timing | Creepy Crawlies | Table of Contents

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site

NOVA Home | WGBH Home | PBS Home
Search | Feedback | Shop
© 1996 WGBH