Biologist says evolution, religion can coexist

“In the final analysis (God) used evolution to set us free.”

Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller used this quote from his book “Finding Darwin’s God” as a central point in his speech about simultaneously believing in evolution and religion.

Miller spoke to more than 500 people Thursday evening in the Kansas Union Ballroom.

He testified for the pro-evolution side in the recent lawsuit against the Dover, Pa., school district, where a federal judge ruled against the district’s teaching of intelligent design in biology classrooms. He said it was creationism in disguise.

Conservatives on the Kansas State Board of Education approved science standards last year that criticized evolution, but after the August primary election, it appears moderates will regain control of the board and eventually reinstate the former standards.

Miller gained several laughs from the audience during his speech as he described the Dover trial, including a scene when intelligent design proponent Michael Behe asked the judge if he could “move the evidence to the side.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Rothschild had stacked 58 scientific papers, nine books and other textbook chapters on evolutionary evidence supporting development of the human immune system in front of Behe on the witness stand.

Miller said religion and evolution are too often played as opposing forces and incorrectly identified as mutually exclusive. At Brown, a student once told him he could not worship at the university chapel and cited a book that places evolution as the fruit in the serpent’s mouth or a “tool of Satan.”

But Miller said the root of the portrayal of religion and evolution as opposites may come from scientists who have an “anti-theistic interpretation of evolution,” a stance he disagrees with.

“People of faith are shooting at the wrong target. They should not be shooting at evolution itself,” he said.

Miller, a Catholic, said evolution has been remarkably robust in answering criticism through fossil records, the fusing of human chromosomes and other examples.

Instead of attacking evolutionary theory, the argument should be against the anti-theistic interpretation of evolution, he said.

He quoted several scientists, philosophers and religious leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, who has written: “Even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation.”

“By understanding the mechanics of this world, what one is really doing is praising and glorifying God,” Miller said.

Miller will answer questions from the public at 10 a.m. today at the Hall Center for the Humanities.

The lecture was the first in the “Difficult Dialogues” series on “Knowledge: Faith & Reason,” presented by the Hall Center and the Biodiversity Institute.

Federal Judge John E. Jones III, who ruled in favor of the Dover plaintiffs, will speak Sept. 26.