"Suppose that it was common knowledge that if you were a righteous person and of great faith and prayed deeply, all of a sudden, your limb would grow back," he says. "That would reduce God to a kind of supranatural force . . . and by pushing the button labeled 'prayer,' you could accomplish anything you wanted. What would that do to moral independence?"

But for the New Atheists, Miller's focus on quantum indeterminacy sounds a lot like a classic ID formulation — a "God of the gaps" argument suggesting that anything not explained by science is proof of God's existence; an argument that grows increasingly tenuous as science expands its explanatory power and believers shrink into smaller and ever more ornate gaps.

Miller insists there is a difference: he is not saying that indeterminacy is proof of God's existence, but rather that it allows for God's existence. It is, naturally, a distinction that carries little weight with his opponents. But the New Atheists say there are bigger problems, too, with the arguments put forth by Miller.

"By discussing science and religion together and asserting that science more or less points you to evidence for God, he blurs the boundaries between science and faith," says Coyne, "boundaries which I think have to be absolutely maintained if we're going to have a rational country and we're going to judge things based on evidence rather than superstition."

And here, Coyne gets at the larger significance of the debate. His critique is not merely a philosophical one, it is a tactical one; the New Atheists maintain that only a pure science, untainted by attempts at religious reconciliation, can prevail in the long battle for a rational order in this country.

That such a war is underway is hard to deny. Just 48 percent of Americans believe Darwin's theory is the best explanation for the origins of human life, according to a 2007 poll from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

And in a recent survey of 34 Western countries, the United States ranked 33rd — besting Turkey, alone — in its acceptance of evolution.

Moreover, despite a consistent stream of legal blows to creationism and intelligent design, conservative policymakers continue to push the theories on the nation's public schools.

Texas' powerful State Board of Education approved language last year that could allow creationism to seep into state-approved textbooks. And in Louisiana, the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has approved a policy allowing teachers to use materials outside the curriculum for the teaching of "controversial" scientific theories like evolution.

Add to these local flare-ups conservatives' persistent denial of climate change and widespread concern about everything from vaccinations to fluoridated water and you have a very real challenge to what Miller calls "America's scientific soul."

To Miller's critics, his blurring of the lines between science and religion is providing dangerous comfort to those who would use superstition to settle important public policy questions.

But Miller rejects any suggestion that the science in his work suffers when he brings in the spiritual. And he argues that the New Atheists, in their forceful rejection of God, are doing damage, in their own right, to a scientific brand already under assault.

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