NPR’s Science Friday hosted Ken Miller. Miller is promoting his new book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. And he’s doing a good job of it, too. A student called in asking about evolution being forced on children in school, and Miller rebutted that, saying that evolution is no more forced on students than algebra, English, or history. He brought up the point that in schools students should be exposed to the very best thinking on subjects, and not long-discredited objections to topics snuck in via political fiat.
Another caller asked Miller about what he termed as serious criticisms of evolution, such as the improbability of proteins forming by accident and “the fossil record”. He asked why evolution should be exempt from scrutiny. I expected Miller to hand the guy his arse on a platter, and I was not disappointed, though Miller’s arse-ectomies are, characteristically, done with such charm and verve that the victims simply may not feel much sting from it. Miller took the points in reverse order, and started by pointing out that evolution does not escape criticism, which the caller could confirm by attending any scientific conference touching upon evolution. Then Miller took up “the fossil record”, and noted that some of the best evidence for evolution comes from the fossil record, despite the antievolution fondness for saying that there are gaps. Miller recounted how antievolutionists have emphasized the transition from fish to amphibians as one large gap, but that recent evidence has given us about five instances of fossils from this transitional sequence, and the most remarkable of those being Tiktaalik, a fossil whose discoverers predicted where to find it. (Miller plugged Neil Shubin’s book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.) And then Miller took up the protein assembly objection, noting that nobody is proposing that proteins come to have the structure they do by accident, and that students learning this discredited notion would not be hearing about the phenomenal amount of work going on in molecular biology on this topic, all of which supports evolution.
Nice job, Ken, and good luck with the book tour.