"There is a narrative that is alive and well — and you see it in climate debates, you see it in debates about embryonic stem cell research, and you certainly see it in debates how and whether evolution should be taught in the schools — that basically wishes to tell young people, 'Be careful about science, the scientific community is inherently left-wing, atheistic, closed-minded,' " Miller says.

"The arguments that are made by people like Jerry Coyne and, to an extent, a philosopher like Daniel Dennett, or a pundit like Christopher Hitchens, reinforce that narrative — because they would say, 'How dare you say evolutionary science is compatible with religion? It's not.' "

Indeed, Miller argues that the creationists and New Atheists are in an odd sort of symbiosis — reinforcing each others' extreme views of the incompatibility of science and religion.

Winning over the faithful, he suggests, will require a more respectful approach to the religion. And that view, it seems, is winning the day in scientific circles. Organizations like the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Center for Science Education go out of their way to suggest that science and religion need not be in conflict.

And Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociology professor at Rice University who has done in-depth research on the religious views of elite scientists, says she has found little sympathy for the New Atheists arguments.

"Many a scientist has said to me, 'I'm no fan of Richard Dawkins,'" Ecklund says. "It's almost a mantra."

Some of that may be rooted in religious devotion. But the real motivation is more practical, Ecklund says: scientists know that aggressively anti-religious views could threaten public support for scientific research.

THE DIVIDE
If Miller's overtures and those of the NAS can stave off a taxpayer rebellion against scientific research, though, it is not clear that they can do much to address the root problem: a widespread distrust of science.

In Finding Darwin's God, Miller recalls running into Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, the morning after a debate over evolution in Tampa, Florida. Sitting down to breakfast he asked Morris, "Do you actually believe all this stuff?," half-expecting a wink and a nod. But he got no such thing.

"Ken, you're intelligent, you're well-meaning, and you're energetic," Morris said, in Miller's recollection. "But you are also young, and you don't realize what's at stake. In a question of such importance, scientific data aren't the ultimate authority."

The moment was something of an epiphany for Miller.

"I might be able to lay out graphs and charts and diagrams," he wrote, "to cite laboratory experiments and field observations, to describe the details of one evolutionary sequence after another, but to the true believers of creationism, these would all be sound and fury, signifying nothing. The truth would always be somewhere else."

And here, Miller suggests the limits on his own project. His books are, at their core, "graphs and charts and experiments" rendered in highly readable prose. Quantum indeterminacy with a heavy dash of theology.

Miller does his level best to explain, to the religious, that the graphs and charts and experiments need not be a threat to their most deeply held beliefs. And his logic, no doubt, has an appeal to some significant churchgoing segment that has already discarded Noah's Ark.

But for the millions who believe the world is less than 10,000 years old — to the creationist bloc that poses the most substantial threat to our scientific soul — logic does not apply.

David Scharfenberg can be reached atdscharfenberg@phx.com.

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