A Militant Dilettante in Judgment of Science
a lawyer (Phillip Johnson) disproves
First posted August 12,
1999. Updated in September 2000.
Johnson as the leader of design proponents
Johnson's qualifications as a nemesis of Darwinism
Johnson sinks a battleship
Johnson opens minds. Or does he?
How a dilettante discusses information
Mr. Johnson prosecutes Darwin
The wedge of arrogance
Phillip E. Johnson is one of the most prolific writers and debaters
vigorously promoting the intelligent design "theory." Whereas there are several variations of that view, Johnson suggests an
approach wherein the question of who is the designer is left out. Also, Johnson avoids a discussion of the Bible's literal inerrancy,
aiming at uniting all species and subspecies of anti-Darwinism under one banner.
Johnson's writings include a number of books [1, 2, 3, 4] and papers in various periodicals and collections (for example,
On page 14 of his book  Johnson proclaims his goal and outlines
his attitude in the pursuit of that goal. He writes: "My purpose is to examine
the scientific evidence on its own terms, being careful to distinguish evidence
itself from any religious or philosophical bias that might distort our
interpretation of that evidence."
Of course, such an attitude can only be greeted with complete
approval. Unfortunately, having
proclaimed an attitude and actually applying it are two different things. A few sentences down the road Johnson says something that at
once creates doubts in regard to his being serious in adhering to strict
impartiality and a complete separation of his discussion from his religious and
philosophical preferences. He writes: "Given the emphatic endorsement of
naturalistic evolution by the scientific community, can outsiders even
contemplate the possibility that this officially established doctrine might be
false? Well, come along and see."
The words "officially
established" in that sentence betray Johnson's bias. He surreptitiously squeezes into his sentence, seemingly aimed at laying
the foundation for an impartial review of evidence, a ready-made conclusion that
the prevailing view in the scientific community has been somehow "officially
established." This assertion
pictures the scientific community as a kind of an Orwellian organization, such
as existed in the former USSR. Within
the framework of the monstrous Soviet system the validity of scientific theories
was officially determined by decree of the ruling party. Even within that system, scores of scientists managed to preserve their
scientific integrity and achieve important results in science. To do so, they sometimes had to risk their freedom and even life, not to
mention their academic positions.
Of course, the
actual situation in the world scientific community has nothing in common with
the caricature painted by Johnson. Nothing
has been "officially established" in science and no scientific theory has
been protected from criticisms, be it quantum mechanics or the theory of
evolution. When mentioning the
"emphatic endorsement" of naturalistic evolution by the scientific
community, if he has indeed detected such, Johnson should have better paused and
analyzed without prejudice, why that endorsement has been given, rather than
attributing it to an alleged "official establishment."
On page 14 of Johnson's book Darwin on Trial we also read:
"I am a philosophical theist and a Christian. I believe that God exists who
could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to
work through a natural evolutionary process instead. I am not a defender of
creation-science and in fact I am not concerned in this book with addressing any
conflicts between the Biblical accounts and the scientific evidence." This statement meets no major objections (a critical comment regarding
the logic in the quoted sentence will be discussed a little later). If Johnson
proclaims a certain belief, it is fine as long as he has no intention to impose his
belief on others by force. Likewise, I may proclaim my belief that, say, Earth
is flat, and it is nobody's business if I adhere to that belief.
course, there are both similarities and differences between Johnson's belief, as he has proclaimed it, and my supposed
belief that Earth is flat. The
similarity is that neither of the two beliefs can be proven by means of
convincing evidence. The difference is that the belief in a flat Earth can be
easily rebuffed by showing convincing evidence that Earth is not flat. Johnson's
belief in the existence of God cannot be refuted because there is no convincing
evidence available which would prove otherwise.
there is no convincing evidence available which would prove God's existence. Therefore Johnson may exercise his absolute right to believe in God's
existence without providing rational reasons for that belief, whereas an atheist
has the same right to adhere to the belief, equally lacking rational basis, that
there is no God.
Unfortunately, Johnson's books and papers reveal that his
innocently sounding claim is actually not so innocent. We learn from Johnson's writings that in reality he views himself as a
kind of crusader against
materialistic science and specifically against one of its most perfidious
offspring, the Darwinian theory of evolution.
Johnson's crusade is not just against philosophical
(ontological) naturalism. The
latter denotes the idea that nature is all there is, leaving no place for any
supernatural causes. In other words, philosophical naturalism, to all intents
and purposes, is just another term for atheism. However, Johnson's jihad is also directed against methodological naturalism, which, in his view, inevitably leads to the
naturalism (which Johnson denotes by a slightly misleading term
"methodological atheism") is the concept, according to which science is not
concerned with the "uncaused First cause," but limits itself only to the
study of natural "secondary causes," leaving
the question of existence or non-existence of the supernatural First cause to
philosophy or theology.
It is easy to see how detrimental the rejection of the methodological
naturalism could be for the development of science. Recall the infamous case of
some American parents, who belonged to an extremely fundamentalist sect and
refused doctors access to their ill child. Deprived of medical help, the child died. According to the beliefs of
those parents, the death of their
child was just by the will of God. These benighted people simply followed the
denial of methodological naturalism in medicine, attributing every event to the
direct consequence of the First Cause, i.e. of God. Medical science is not dealing with the question of God's will. Its methods, resulting in saving lives and alleviating pain, deal only
with natural causes, leaving the question of the possible deep underlying First
Cause beyond consideration. I guess that Johnson himself, if he ever falls ill,
turns to his doctor rather than to God, which, of course, in no way affects his
agenda were to win the day, it could mean the collapse of science.
2. Johnson as the leader of design proponents
Johnson is often referred to as the most prominent representative of the
intelligent design movement. On page 14 of Johnson's book The Wedge of
Truth  we read: "The Wedge of my title is an informal movement of
like-minded thinkers in which I have taken a leading role."
a paper  by Nancy R. Pearcey in the collection Mere Creation  we
read on page 89: "It would appear that the latter-day design theorists have
caught on. The movement has capable leadership such as that provided by
Similar statements can be found in books and papers of other proponents
of intelligent design and opponents
of Darwinism. We see that Johnson
has proclaimed himself the leader of the anti-naturalist assault force, and has
been acknowledged as such by others.
In order to form an opinion regarding Johnson's qualifications
to be a leader of a movement whose proclaimed goal is to prove intelligent
design by purely scientific arguments, it may be useful to look at a story
Johnson tells in his book  Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. On page 10 of that book Johnson tells about a conversation he
had with a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley. According to Johnson, he remarked to his colleague "that the scientific
community was baffled at its failure to convince the general public to believe
in evolution." The colleague
replied that "the people don't understand the theory." To that, as Johnson tells us, he "blurted: 'Oh, no. The people
understand the theory better than the scientists do.'"
This story seems to be a telltale evidence as to what Johnson's
real attitude to science is. In
Johnson's view, people who are uneducated in science, laymen, understand
scientific problems better than the scientists who are experts in the field. This unexpectedly frank statement is in contrast to
Johnson's multiple assertions of his respect for science as long as it is
based on evidence. No, Mr. Prosecutor, you don't respect science. It seems
more likely that you hate it because it asserts many things which are or seem to
be contrary to your heartfelt beliefs.
The contempt for scientists, who, in Johnson's view, do not understand
their own fields of knowledge, is, I am sorry to say, actually typical of
ignoramuses. Johnson's attitude,
which he inadvertently revealed in the above story, reminds me of Grant Jeffrey,
whose writings are reviewed at The Signature of an Ignoramus. Johnson is better educated, and
more clever than Jeffrey. However,
Jeffrey at least does not pretend to be anything but a preacher, whereas Johnson
wants his opuses to be accepted as a scientific discourse and professes his
respect for science while evidently harboring a contempt for it.
Of course, each group is free to choose as its leader whomever
they view fit. Recall, though, that
we are discussing a group which supposedly intends to win the battle by
presenting scientific evidence. The
fact that they have for a leader a man who has neither conducted a single
scientific experiment, nor derived a single formula, nor proved a theorem, nor
suggested any scientific theory in any field, and moreover, inadvertently
betrayed his contempt for scientists, this choice of a leader quite eloquently
testifies to the actual status of that group in relation to a genuinely
On the other hand it is telltale that the people who offer
supposedly scientific arguments in favor of their views and beliefs, have chosen
as their leader a man who is a lawyer. Such
a choice is easy to understand if we account for a simple fact the entire
set of arguments in favor of the intelligent design theory is actually far from
being really scientific, since it is based not on any empirical proofs but
rather on convoluted sophistry. Naturally, a lawyer's skill is a suitable tool
if the discussion is based on casuistry rather than on an empirical foundation.
Every line in Johnson's writings reveals a lawyer's approach
to the subject of discussion. Perry
Mason, probably the most famous of fictional lawyers, unswervingly believed in
his client's innocence regardless of the evidence. Of course, the creator of Perry Mason made sure that the proofs of his
clients' innocence would eventually come to light thus vindicating Mason's
shenanigans. However, real life is
rather different from fiction.
In a court of law there are always three corners in a triangle:
prosecution, defense and a jury (or just a judge). However confident a lawyer is of his side of the story, he has to
confront the other side and convince the jury. In his writing, Johnson is free from the constraints of a legal
procedure. He is the prosecutor, defense lawyer and judge all in one. He prosecutes Darwinism and the materialistic worldview, he defends the
intelligent design theory, and he pronounces the verdict.
A good example of Johnson's lawyer technique of using to his
advantage any small piece of evidence, however insignificant or even contrary to
his case, is found on page 160 of . Johnson
relates in that paragraph to Stephen Jay Gould's review of the first edition
of Darwin on Trial. That
review, Johnson tells the readers, was "a hatchet job." Nevertheless, Johnson tells
us, he was "elated" by that review, because its very appearance testified to
the strength of Johnson's position which forced his adversary to write a
lengthy review a whole year after the book's publication. There is little doubt that if such a review did not appear,
Johnson would be "elated" as well, and would interpret the absence of a
review as proof that his adversaries just have no good counter-arguments and
therefore chose to keep silent about it.
In any situation, by a lawyer's logic "either you lose or I
In agreement with Johnson's exaggeration of the shock allegedly
created by his book in the scientific community, a statement on the back cover of his book Darwin on Trial asserts
that that book "rocked the scientific establishment." I have news for Johnson and the authors of the above statement: his books
have made very little impression on scientists. Its popularity among his co-believers, who have already been
convinced of the validity of his arguments, in no way translated into even a
ripple in the minds of experts in the field he has amateurishly attacked.
Of course, a
lawyer's logic would also provide a ready explanation if one pointed out the
minimal impact of Johnson's writings on scientists. For example, Johnson's comrade-in-arms religious philosopher Alvin Plantinga asserts
on the same book's back cover that the book in question "shows just how
Darwinian evolution has become an idol." This implies that the defense of Darwinism may only be due to the
atheistic religion of the scientific "establishment," which prohibits
criticism of an "idol" blindly worshipped by scientists. Of course, the real reason for the absence of any noticeable effect of
Johnson's writing on the scientific community is that scientists know the
facts whereas Johnson, as is typical of dilettantes, only thinks he knows them.
assumes the role of a prophet, foretelling the imminent demise of Darwinism and
of materialism/naturalism. Here is
a quotation from Johnson's paper  (page 448): "I believe that at some
time well before 2059, the bicentennial year of Darwin's 'Origin of
Species,' perhaps as early as 2009 or 2019, there will be another celebration
that will mark the demise of the Darwinist ideology that was so triumphant in
While I have no taste for engaging in foretelling the future, I feel insulted when encountering such brazen assertions which are not
based on any factual evidence but only on self-righteous belief in one's
infallibility. Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism are scientific theories suggesting
certain interpretations of experimental and observational evidence. As any scientific theory, they may be correct in some respects and wrong
or uncertain in some others. Their
survival or demise will result from the further progress of science but not from
the beliefs and emotions of Johnson and his cohorts.
Johnson's entire literary production is valueless as far as a
legitimate scientific dispute goes. However,
his lawyer skills and eloquence can be persuasive to laymen and because of the
popularity of his books and papers it seems desirable to provide some rebuttals
to his unfounded claims.
3. Johnson's qualifications as a nemesis of Darwinism
On page 13 of his book  Johnson explains why he is qualified to
discuss Darwinism. He offers two reasons for being viewed as a legitimate
participant in that dispute despite not being a biologist. One of the reasons
is, as Johnson says, "Practicing scientists are of necessity highly
specialized, and a scientist outside his field of expertise is just another
While that statement seems to be superficially correct, it
requires substantial amendment. Of
course, a biologist usually is not an authority on physics and an astronomer is
not an expert in biology. How does
this justify a lawyer rebuffing a biological theory? Usually astronomers do not
endeavor to discuss biology and biologists normally keep clear of disputing the
problems of theoretical physics. Why does the fact that scientists are usually
specialized in relatively narrow fields qualify a lawyer to discuss problems obviously far from a lawyer's background and
expertise? Isn't something not
quite right with your logic, Mr. Johnson?
Moreover, Johnson's assertion is also in itself quite feeble. Although a scientist is indeed usually an expert only in his
own narrow field, every practicing scientist has a general understanding of how
science works. Such an
understanding is acquired through experience in designing experiments,
collecting data and sorting them out, discerning regularity in the experimental
results, interpreting the data and distilling the grains of truth from the chaos
of measured numbers. This
experience is quite similar for a physicist, biologist or chemist, but is
completely alien to a lawyer. Therefore,
a scientist endeavoring to discuss problems of a field in which he has no
specific experience, is still much better equipped to do it than a lawyer is.
To provide one more reason why he should be considered an authority in
biology, Johnson says: "I should say something about my qualifications and
purpose. I am not a scientist but an academic lawyer by profession, with a
specialty in analyzing the logic of arguments and identifying the assumptions
that lie behind those arguments."
Hence, we may expect that in his books and papers Johnson will
shower the readers with strictly logical arguments, void of any personal bias,
proving his thesis with mathematical
certainty. Is this indeed the case?
There are various kinds of logic. One is that of a scientist,
whose goal is to establish facts and to distinguish clearly between the facts
and their interpretation. When a
scientist starts a research, he is not supposed to know in advance what he will
find. He is equally interested in every fact regardless what theory or
hypothesis that fact jibes with. A scientist uses logic to separate the chaff
from the wheat and to arrive at the most reasonable and plausible interpretation
of his findings.
Another logic is that of a lawyer. The
lawyer's goal is not to find the truth but to win in an adversarial process. The lawyer's logic is naturally subordinated to his goal. A lawyer's arguments necessarily tend to stress everything that
supports his, already adopted, position and to downplay or disregard everything
that contradicts it. Therefore Johnson's assertion that he is perfectly
qualified to attack a biological theory does not seem to be convincing.
All this said, I would like to emphasize that Johnson certainly has the
right to discuss any problem of his choice, be it in biology or the mathematical
group theory. However, when
evaluating his argumentation, there is no reason to attribute to him the status
of an expert in any fields beyond his legal expertise. All his discussion, no
matter how popular his writing are, is that of an amateur.
Like Johnson, I am not a biologist. Unlike Johnson, I will not
pretend to have mastered biology and I will not delve into purely biological
problems. Also unlike Johnson, I am a practicing scientist with a half-century
of experience in scientific research. Hence,
while both Johnson and myself are dilettantes in biology, I have at least a
general expertise in scientific research, and thus in applying scientific logic
to the problems to be discussed. Johnson
lacks such expertise.
Not being a biologist, I have no intention to delve into details
of Johnson's discussion of particular features of the theory of evolution. There is also no need for that, because, as mentioned earlier,
Johnson's arguments failed to persuade a single biologist who supported the
theory of evolution, to change his views. Johnson has a ready explanation for
his lack of success in fighting the views of scientists. He want us to believe that scientists' minds are "closed" because
their views are based not on evidence but on an "atheistic religion" or on
materialistic philosophy. This
assertion is patently implausible. It grossly distorts the actual position of
scientists and is nothing short of slander. In reality, Johnson's
particular arguments against Darwinism have been specifically and decisively
rebuffed more than once. Darwinists have responded to Johnson's predecessors,
who used similar arguments and examples, before Johnson ever offered his views. Therefore there is no need for me to repeat those
counter-arguments, even if I were well qualified to do so. For example, one of the sources where the readers who are not biologists
can find a transparent presentation of the essence of the theory of evolution
that, in my view, shows quite convincingly the fallacy of Johnson's position
is a website at The Talk.Origins Archive .
before, on page 14 of his book Darwin on Trial, Johnson writes: "I am a
philosophical theist and a Christian." He
continues saying that he is "not concerned with addressing any conflicts
between the Biblical account and the scientific evidence." What a convenient position! This way both the wolves are satiated and the
sheep are safe. Before even starting discussing the topic of his book,
Johnson demonstrates the peculiarity of his alleged logic. If he is a believing
Christian, does that not mean he is supposed to believe in the biblical story? And if that story contradicts scientific
evidence, how come he is not concerned about it?
This statement alone portends very peculiar twists of alleged
logic a reader may expect to see in the rest of Johnson's writings.
I will start discussing Johnson's literary production from his paper in
the collection Mere Creation.
4. Johnson sinks a battleship
In his article  in the collection Mere Creation Johnson writes:
"What went wrong is that scientists committed the original sin, which in
science means believing what you want to believe instead of what your
experiments and observations show you."
The reply to that assertion is two-fold. First, one may wonder whether or not it is actually Johnson himself and
his cohorts who have committed the described original sin. Indeed, do not Johnson and his colleagues believe what they want to
believe instead of what experiments and observations show? Can Johnson point to a single experiment or observation confirming his
religious beliefs? If Johnson
thinks that beliefs which are not based on experiments and observation are
illegitimate, how come he holds firm beliefs which obviously are not based on
any experiments or observations? The mentioned accusation against scientists
(seemingly all scientists) in something Johnson is certainly guilty of himself,
sounds rather amusing.
Second, Johnson's accusation is plain slander. Scientists who conduct their research properly (and otherwise they would
hardly deserve the title of scientists) do not believe what they want to believe
but only what their experiments and observations show them. When I say "scientists,' I do not imply particular individuals but
rather the community of scientists. Individual scientists are human and nothing
human is alien to them. Like Johnson, some scientists may be prone to err and
sometimes to believe what they want to believe. Such beliefs, though, as a Russian adage says, have short legs. They do
not survive scrutiny by the scientific community and are swiftly dismissed if
they are not supported by independent verifications. A recent example is the
story of the so-called "cold fusion" allegedly discovered by professors Pons
and Fleischman and discussed at Science In the Eyes Of a Scientist.
picture of scientists is a caricature better describing his own behavior rather
than that of "scientists."
The quoted statement portends the overall level of Johnson's
following rebuttal of naturalism. Since
his article is a call to arms, he needs to frighten his co-believers with the image of an alleged monopolistic bunch of vile anti-religious scientists
all in cahoots to suppress the free exploration of the truth and of any theories
that contradict their atheistic religion. Of course, this picture is another
caricature having no basis in reality.
another quotation from Johnson's article: "What went wrong in the wake of
the Darwinian triumph was that the authority of science was captured by an
ideology..." He continues with a
question: "What are we going to do to correct this deplorable situation?"
No, Mr. Johnson. Science has
not been and is not in the claws of any ideology, while you and your colleagues
have obviously been captured by your religious beliefs. There are among scientists men and women of various
ideological and religious persuasions, from believing Christians, Jews, Muslims,
Hindus or Buddhists, to agnostics and atheists, who manage to reconcile their
beliefs with proper scientific research. There is no conspiracy of scientists to
suppress whatever ideas and theories one may come up with. There is no
scientific police that try to suppress views and their free expression by Mr.
Johnson and his cohorts, however preposterous those views may seem from a
Why, then, is
Johnson trying to present this false picture of science and of the allegedly
reigning "deplorable situation?" Because his real agenda seems to be not
"freeing the minds," as he claims in one of his books, but imposing his
ideology on society as a whole.
Just look at
the list of publications by InterVarsity Press which printed all of Johnson's
books. It includes dozens of
titles, none of which reports results of any scientific research. Instead, most
of these books are polemic
escapades often disparaging legitimate science. So far nobody has tried to
suppress the activity of that publishing house, or of the numerous periodicals
which print articles by the adherents of "intelligent design." Many
scientists view the abundance of such publications as a really "deplorable
situation," but it has never occurred to scientists to do anything to suppress
those publications, regardless of the level of ignorance or the distortion of
facts which, as many scientists think, is not uncommon in these publications. Of
course, Johnson's article is what could be expected a speech by a lawyer
whose task is to prove his point regardless of the facts.
5. Johnson opens minds. Or does he?
the back cover of Johnson's book Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds
 we read accolades by Johnson's cohorts, such as Michael Behe, Charles
Colson and Dallas Willard. According
to Behe, Johnson is "our age's clearest thinker on the issue of
evolution." Colson tells us that
Johnson's analysis is "brilliant." Willard
asserts that Johnson's production must be "closely studied by all who wish
to understand the forces that actually govern the intellectual world in the
United States today."
It is nice to know that Johnson has found full approval of his
ideas and discourse among his co-believers who seem to belong to a mutual
admiration society. However, for an unbiased reader the book in question looks
rather different. In this book
Johnson very openly shows his contempt for scientists. He spares no sarcasm and derisive labels when referring to professors of
zoology like Tim Berra, Nobel laureats like Francis Crick, and renowned
astronomers and authors of popular books on science like Carl Sagan.
Arguing against Berra, Johnson adopts the position of a judge who
possesses an immeasurably higher understanding of the subject under dispute than
Berra has and suggests the derisive term "Berra blunder" as a general
definition of logically untenable propositions. Even if we disregard the rudeness of this way of conducting a discussion,
the very substance of Johnson's rebuttal of Berra's discourse is a display
of Johnson's own blunder. Berra illustrates the process of evolution using the
example of how an automobile's design led from an original model, through a
number of modifications, to the most recent model. In Johnson's view, this
example is Berra's blunder because
automobiles are designed by engineers and therefore the example in question does
not testify against the concept of "intelligent design," but rather supports
is preposterous. Berra's example
was just an analogy. It is a
ridiculous assumption on Johnson's part that Berra, a university professor,
did not realize the difference
between natural selection and the deliberate design of an automobile. Berra gave his example to illustrate
the process of gradual modification, which, as any analogy, has both similarity with and difference from the process of natural
selection. The similarity,
legitimately noted by Berra, is in the sequential chain of modifications, common
to both the deliberate design of automobiles and evolution via
natural selection. The difference is in that the automobile design was indeed a
product of an intelligent agent, an engineer (or engineers) whereas evolution
via natural selection, according to Darwinian theory, is an unguided process. The difference between the two situations does not make the use of such
an example a "blunder" and is completely justified, as long as nobody tries,
as Johnson does, to represent it in a light very different from Berra's
intent. Since Berra did not use his
example as a proof of evolution theory, Johnson's obvious fallacy meets the
definition of fighting a straw man.
Johnson's attack on Berra reveals Johnson's misunderstanding
of the concept of an analogy, which is rather odd accounting for Johnson's
assertion of being an expert in the logic of arguments. Johnson does not seem to distinguish between a replica and an analogy. An analogy is a method of illustrating a situation A by considering
another situation, B, which has some features common with A. Situation B is
chosen because it is easier to comprehend than A, often simply because B is more
familiar to a wider audience.
Analogies are similar to models which are the
mainstay of physics. Models are discussed at length in Science In the Eyes Of a Scientist.
An analogy is
also a model, just not of an object but of a situation. In order for an analogy to be useful, the real situation has to be replaced by another, usually
simpler situation, which has certain features in common with the situation under
discussion. Like with models, a
choice has to be made between the features that are essential for the situation
under discussion and those that are secondary. The analogy must preserve the essential features and ignore the secondary
ones, thus making it easier to comprehend the essential features of the
discourse has met this rule, because his goal was to illustrate how the
evolution process passes consecutive stages, and for that illustration the
source of changes - either intelligent agent or random events was
attack on Berra displays the smugness of the dilettante which Johnson appears to
be even in the area he claims to be his field of expertise the analysis of
the logic of arguments.
Another example of Johnson's arrogant contempt of those who do
not share his views is seen on page 74. Here
Johnson discusses a computer modeling of a process of descent with modification. >In the footnote on that page we read: "I am amused by self-styled
'skeptics' who invariably seem able to believe the wildest nonsense if it
Remember that the "self-styled skeptics" Johnson refers to in this
passage include professional biologists, experienced in scientific research and
the interpretation of experimental data. "The
wildest nonsense" mentioned by Johnson is the extensive experimental evidence
in favor of Darwinian theories. What about Johnson's own proclaimed beliefs regardless of evidence? (Just recall his proclamation of his faith in the beginning of Darwin
Derogatory remarks about science and scientists are scattered all
over Johnson's opuses. For
example, on page 135 of The Wedge of Truth  Johnson asserts that
Darwinists "do not understand the difference between intelligent and
unintelligent causes." Really,
Mr. Johnson? Are Darwinists such
fools that they need a lawyer to teach them the meaning of common terms?
On page 92 of the same book Johnson informs readers that Einstein
"was apparently unaware that his own statement was both immodest and
What a travesty a self-appointed arbiter teaching Einstein
modesty and logic!
On the other hand, Johnson's writings are indeed full of real
blunders and a preposterous disregard for plain logic, as discussed in the next
6. How a dilettante discusses information
One of the examples of Johnson's dilettantism and of the feebleness of
his logic is his discussion of information. In the book Defeating Darwinism
by Opening Minds  in the section titled "A Book Isn't Just Ink and
Paper" Johnson discusses the difference between information and the material
medium used to record this information. One
of his main theses is that information is a separate entity unconnected to the
material medium on which it is recorded.
On page 72
Johnson writes about his book: "The information in each chapter was exactly
the same whether it was recorded on paper or on computer disk or in some
fragmented and disembodied form as it moved over the links of the internet." He then provides an example: "If all copies of Shakespeare's plays
were destroyed, nothing would be
permanently lost. Actors who had learned the roles could easily re-create the
texts from memory." In
Johnson's view, this example illustrates the independence of information from
a material medium which can be used for its storage.
about "disembodied" information floating over the internet as well as the
assertion allegedly illustrated by the example of actors memorizing plays are so
blatantly lacking logic that I am tempted to give it a generic name of a
"Johnson blunder." All his
examples show is that information can be transmitted from one material medium
(for example, paper and ink) to another material medium (for example, the
Of course, information and the medium carrying it
are not the same. The medium can
carry or not carry information. However, information cannot exist without some
material medium in which it is recorded. Recording information entails a certain
change in the medium's structure. This
change is reversible. Information can be erased as well as recorded. It does not exist unless it is recorded and hence cannot exist without a
Johnson's example fails to mention that in the process of information
transmission it is impossible to eliminate noise. The information received by
another medium (as, in his example, by the actors' brains) is never identical
with the original information (as, in his example, the written or printed text).
However, the most essential fact disproving Johnson's assertions
is that, unless information has been transmitted to another material medium, it
is destroyed as soon as the medium that contained that information has been
destroyed. Information does not
exist independently of the material medium on which it is recorded.
Another fault of Johnson's treatment of information is in that he
evidently confused information with a meaningful message, which is a rather common misinterpretation.
Since Johnson concentrates on the information that is carried by
biological macromolecules, mainly DNA, we can limit our discussion only to
information contained in texts, this
term meaning any string of symbols. These symbols can be letters of an alphabet,
or numbers (as in the infinitely long string representing π) or the elements of the DNA strand.
Information is discussed in detail at A Consistent Inconsistency, so I will not repeat it here.
That discussion shows how
poorly Johnson understands the topic information he so bravely
endeavored to discuss in .
Indeed, in The
Wedge of Truth  Johnson discusses information once again, this time
"teaching" his readers the real meaning of that term. On page 42 Johnson writes: "Information theory is a complex subject far
beyond the purview of this book." This
sentence may seem to imply that Johnson simply wants to spare his readers the
travails involved in a discussion of information theory, which he himself has mastered. Actually, he betrays his ignorance of even the seminal concepts of that
theory as soon as he tries to write about it. He writes: "By information I
mean a message that conveys meaning, such as a book of instructions." It looks as if Johnson offers his own information theory, quite different
from the one commonly accepted in science.
If Johnson had
spent some time acquainting himself with the seminal concepts of the real
information theory, he might have learned that in that science the concept of
information is defined quite differently. Rather
than referring Johnson to some high-level monograph, let us quote from a
commonly available source, Van Nostrand's Encyclopedia of Science  written
for non-experts. In the article titled "Information Theory" we read: "The
term information as used in the context of information theory, is not related to
Since Johnson obviously uses the term information in a way different from
information theory, we have to carefully look at his statements each time he
uses the word "information" to see whether or not that statement makes any
sense. When he borrows in his discussion some concepts related to information
from other sources, it very well may not
be applicable to what he means by that term. On
the other hand, when he makes use of that term as he understands it, it may behave very differently from the behavior
of the real information as it is defined in information theory.
Johnson is not
alone in the confusion of information with "meaning." Some
other "design theorists" often make a similar mistake. Usually, however, it
is done in an implicit way, when, in the course of a discussion, the subject is
imperceptibly changed, switching from information to a meaningful message and
vice versa. Johnson seems to stand alone in that he makes his mistake obvious by
an explicit statement.
Johnson's main thesis, which he shares with other adherents of
"intelligent design," is that biological structures carry vast amounts of
information and the latter cannot be generated by chance or by a combination of
chance and natural law. Therefore, insists Johnson, living organisms must have
been created by a supernatural intelligent agent.
The fallacy of
this argument is due to the mix-up of two concepts information and
Biological structures do indeed carry a lot of information. However, it is not what Johnson defines as information. The information carried by, say, a DNA strand, can very well be created
by chance. (Of course, biologists' prevalent view is that the structure of DNA
is the result of a combination of random and non-random factors). Nothing
prevents the generation of information, as it is defined in information theory,
in a stochastic process. In particular, Johnson
seems not to know that meaningless strings of symbols often carry much more information,
in the proper sense of that term, than meaningful messages. This point is
discussed at A Consistent Inconsistency. If, though, the term "information" is used, as Johnson suggests, to
denote a meaningful message, then the
probability of its being generated by chance is indeed exceedingly small. This
statement, however, has little to do with biological structures. While the
latter indeed carry a large amount of information,
there is no evidence whatsoever that biological structures carry a meaningful
message. Actually there is plenty of evidence to the contrary (see, for
page 54 of  we read: "A random assortment of letters also contains no
significant information unless the sequence is also specified
by some independent requirement." If
Johnson read at least an introductory text on information, he might learn,
again, that a random sequence of letters contains, as a rule, more information
than a meaningful text. To learn
that, Johnson would need to familiarize himself with the concept of a text's
entropy (see, for example A Consistent Inconsistency) which, unfortunately, is not being taught in law schools.
For example, the DNA strand, which is the primary example of an
information-rich biological structure, is known to have a composition whose
origin is very hard to explain by "design" but it is easily explained by a
process of random unguided events. The
DNA strand includes a large number of genes, each performing a certain function. If this statement were the whole story, it might give at least some
foundation to the hypothesis of DNA carrying a "message." However, the whole story is rather different. Besides genes, the DNA strand also includes a very large number of
so-called "pseudo genes" which do not perform any function, gene
fragments, "orphaned" genes, "junk" DNA, and "so
many repeated copies of pointless DNA sequences that it cannot be attributed to
anything that resembles intelligent design." (Quoted from a paper  by
Kenneth Miller.) Of course, unlike Johnson, Miller, a professor of biology, is a real expert in the matter and has expressed in the above quotation
the view of the overwhelming majority of biologists.
see that Johnson is not only a dilettante in biology, he is largely ignorant of information
which he has the gall to "explain" to his readers.
The fact that Johnson, who may
be an expert in law, but is an obvious dilettante in biology and is ignorant of
information theory, has acquired the status of a leader of the "intelligent
design theorists," shows the abject paucity of substance in that "theory."
7. Mr. Johnson prosecutes Darwin
As mentioned before, I have no
intention of engaging in a detailed discussion of biological problems because I
am as much a dilettante in biology as Johnson is. In my view, such discussions
should be left to experts. However,
I think I may point out some quite obvious faults in Johnson's attack on
Darwinism, in particular in his book
Darwin on Trial .
The very title of that book
betrays Johnson's real agenda - to prosecute Darwin and his followers as a
bunch of criminals.
apparently confident, as is usual for a dilettante, of having mastered the
nuances of biological science, Johnson has the gall to accuse scientists of
lies, maintaining that scientists deliberately conceal information that may
reveal a weakness in their position. Scientists,
according to Johnson, do it for selfish reasons to preserve their dominance
in academia. Here is a quotation from page 12 in Johnson's book , where
Johnson refers to evolution theory as a "subject that has for too long been
protected from critical thinking by law and academic custom." Indeed, Mr. Prosecutor? Which
law prohibits a critique of Darwinism? If
we believe Johnson, for a long, long time there has been no critical discussion
of Darwinism among scientists, but now a lawyer named Johnson has arrived to
finally clear up the matter. To
remedy the sad situation, i.e. the alleged shortage of critical discussions of
Darwinism, Johnson suggests a prescription (page 452 in the collection ): "If you are a scientist you can
follow the path set by Michael Behe and others and bring out the crucial
information that is not widely reported because it does not fit materialist
preconceptions." It seems
Johnson is talking here not about contemporary science but rather about the
medieval Church which indeed made it quite unsafe for a scientist to report
information which contradicted the Bible. It remains Johnson's secret - who those vile scientists are who hide
crucial information contradicting materialist preconceptions. As to his example of Michael Behe, the latter is indeed a genuine
scientist, an expert in biochemistry. However, Behe's reports which Johnson
has mentioned are not a part of Behe's biochemical research. Johnson refers here to Behe's controversial book
Darwin's Black Box , discussed at Irreducible Contradiction. This book is a popular tale in which many very interesting facts of molecular
biology are mixed with arbitrary creationist interpretations of them, rejected
by many experts in biology . It would be a very sad situation if other
scientists followed Behe's path, so enthusiastically endorsed by Johnson.
Johnson, having read some material in biology, imagined that he mastered all the
intricacies of that marvelous science. Actually,
according to the reaction by professional biologists, Johnson's anti-Darwinian diatribes remind of a eunuch disputing the
opinion of the Sultan regarding the love-making skills of the Sultan's wives.
Johnson's subterfuge is in
attributing to scientists an attitude which actually is his and his cohorts'.
His main thesis is not a discussion of the intricacies of biological theories but rather his insistence that Darwinism is based not on evidence, but
only on a purely philosophical premise, metaphysical
naturalism (which he alternatively refers to as "metaphysical atheism,"
or "materialism"). Never mind
that it is actually Johnson and his co-believers who base their views on faith
rather than on empirical evidence. In Johnson's picture, immensely far from
reality, scientists who support Darwinism are depicted as members of a sect, who
have a very narrow vision because of their doctrinaire adherence to atheism. On the other hand, Johnson depicts himself and his cohorts as open-minded
and tolerant people, prepared to listen to and to reasonably discuss any
arguments, both supporting and contradicting their views. If only biological
(and any other science) were freed from the shackles of the perfidious
materialism, maintains Johnson, Darwinism would have no chance against
To support such a view, Johnson
offers some critical comments on the Darwinian theory of evolution. Like his
predecessors in the attack on Darwinism, Johnson concentrates on some aspects of
Darwinism which have not yet been sufficiently clarified or understood. His
argument is purely negative, since he does not provide any arguments which would
indeed show the advantages of the supernatural explanation of the origin of life
and of species. Johnson's negative argumentation does not offer anything that has not been heard
before from other creationists. Most of these critical comments have been shown by many
Darwinists to be superficial and usually unconvincing if the real details of
biological science are taken into account.
Let us review some examples of
Johnson's rebuttal of certain arguments in favor of Darwin's theory of
Chapter 2 in  is titled
"Natural Selection." Johnson's
main thesis in this chapter can be briefly expressed as an assertion that the
principle of natural selection as one of the driving forces of evolution has no
empirical confirmation. Johnson discusses several approaches used to
substantiate the principle of natural
selection and finds all of them unsatisfactory.
In a section titled "Natural
Selection as a Tautology" Johnson misrepresents some arguments by Darwinists
when he formulates that principle in a derisive form. He writes, for example, that the principle of natural
selection is nothing more than a tautology of the type: "organisms that leave
the most offspring are the ones that leave the most offspring" (page 22). Does
Johnson indeed believe that biologists who accept Darwinism are such dimwits
that they do not understand the obvious emptiness of the quoted assertion?
Without delving into the
meaning of the principle of natural selection, we can state an obvious fact: if
this principle is supported by evidence (as it is indeed) it has considerable
explanatory power. It shows the path of evolution as controlled by the easily
understood force of predominant survival of species better adapted to the
environment. If Johnson wishes, he
may present this principle in a tautological form, although such a presentation
is misleading. Presenting something
in a tautological form does not at all mean disproving it.
Actually, it seems that indeed,
in Johnson's view too many scientists are fools who do not understand
elementary logic and stubbornly disregard facts in order to preserve their
philosophical prejudices. Many statements to that effect are scattered all over
his books, with the frequent use of the term "nonsense" in regard to views
that differ from Johnson's.
Apparently realizing that
derision of the seemingly tautological character of the principle of natural
selection does little to demolish that principle, Johnson proceeds to show that
the idea of natural selection has no basis in any empirical evidence.
The two most important points
in that discussion are "Natural Selection as a Scientific Hypothesis" (pages
24-28) and "Natural Selection as a Philosophical Necessity" (pages 28-31) in
Discussing natural selection as
a scientific hypothesis, Johnson insists that the evidence offered by the
Darwinists (as exemplified by D. Futuyama's arguments) is not at all
convincing. He writes (page 27): "None of the 'proofs' provides any
persuasive reason for believing that natural selection can produce new species,
new organs, or other major changes, or even minor changes that are permanent."
Of course, finding some
arguments to be not persuasive enough is everybody's prerogative. However,
experts in biology overwhelmingly view the evidence as persuasive enough to
accept it as a good scientific theory. I
find it more reasonable to rely on the opinion of experts than on that of a lawyer who is obviously prejudiced against the theory in question
because of his proclaimed philosophical and religious views. This is more so
because of Johnson's obvious blunders when he discusses questions which are
closer to my own area of expertise (for example, his discussion of information).
Why should I expect his discussion of biological problems to be any better? He is no more a biologist than he is an expert in information theory.
Biologists overwhelmingly agree
that there is very strong evidence in favor of the natural selection at work in
the process of evolution. They
overwhelmingly believe that evolution
results in the emergence of new species. While
Johnson is not persuaded by the evidence in question, he does not offer a single
argument showing that the emergence of new species or organs via natural
selection is impossible. He admits
that evolution as a simple change within some narrow limits takes place. Where
are those limits? Johnson provides
no arguments to support his contention that those limits are narrow indeed to
the extent making the emergence of new species impossible.
It seems amusing that Johnson's quasi-logical rebuttal of the
arguments by evolutionists in the chapter in question has been convincingly
demonstrated to be baseless, this demonstration having come from his own camp. I am referring to the writing of Del Ratzsch .
Ratzsch participated in the conference of "design theorists" at Biola
University, where he gave a talk. His
paper titled "Design, Chance & Theistic Evolution" appears in the
collection  Mere Creation edited by William Dembski, along with the
papers by Behe, Nelson, Meyer, Dembski, Johnson, and other principal proponents
of "intelligent design." No
opponent of that "theory" had access to either the conference at Biola or to
the collection in question. His book The Battle of Beginning  was
published by the same InterVarsity Press which published a long list of
pro-design books but not a single one arguing against "intelligent design." Hence, he obviously belongs to the same camp as Dembski, Johnson and
However, Ratzsch stands alone in one respect: he actually is what
Johnson is alleged to be by his admirers and claims to be himself, namely, in
the words of Dallas Willard (in the foreword to Johnson's The Wedge of
Truth) "relentlessly logical."
This relentless logic is the
foundation of Ratzsch's impartiality and of his penetration into the real
meaning of the arguments used by both sides in the "evolution vs. creation"
dispute. In his book  Ratzsch offers a well substantiated analysis of the
false arguments which are often the staple of the mutual attacks by the
adherents of the two opposing views.
Ratzsch's analysis resulted though in showing that actually the
position of evolutionists is much stronger than that of creationists. His critical autopsy of false arguments by creationists depicts a pitiful
picture of either ignorance or of a deliberate disregard for the real arguments
of evolutionists, thus making the creationists' critique hopelessly
inadequate. On the other hand, when
Ratzsch turns to debunking the critique of creationism by evolutionists, he
finds mostly secondary erroneous points and misinterpretations by evolutionists.
Therefore, while Ratzsch evidently aimed at demonstrating that both sides of the
dispute are equally guilty of inaccuracies (which may be true) his analysis
pictured a rather unequal stand of the two sides in the dispute, with
evolutionists looking much better than their creationist opponents. (A detailed discussion of Ratzsch's analysis is beyond the scope of
Why has InterVarsity Press, a
publishing house specializing in the propaganda of "intelligent design" and
its allies, printed Ratzsch's book? Apparently
because placing "creationism" on the same level as science would in itself
be a victory for creationism. Ratzsch
apparently tried to do just that, and it was neither his fault nor a predictable
outcome that his effort would backfire, at least in the eyes of a skeptic.
In Ratzsch's book we find something not found in any other
writings of "design theorists" and their cohorts. Ratzsch reveals the errors in Johnson's arguments. He did not shy away from debunking the "leader" of the "design
theorists." Unlike admirers of
Johnson, the only praise Ratzsch is willing to bestow on Johnson is by saying
that Johnson's book Darwin on
Trial along with Denton's Evolution: a Theory in Crisis served as
"catalysts" of the trend to elevate the sophistication of discussion from
the primitive level of "early creationists" to the more recent "higher
tier" of participants (page 84 in Ratzsch's book). On the other hand, Ratzsch shows the fallacy of Johnson's arguments. First he debunks the creationists' argument that the theory
of natural selection is a tautology (pages 144-145). Ratzsch does not mention Johnson by name in this section, but
since Johnson uses, as we discussed, the argument alleging the tautological
character of the natural selection concept, Ratzsch's debunking tool shows the
absurdity of Johnson's stand on that question. A few pages further, in a section titled "Circular Reasoning,"
Ratzsch directly names Johnson and shows again the fallacy of the latter's
argument against evolutionists. Ratzsch
shows here that Johnson (as well as Denton) does not understand the nature of
scientific reasoning and the relationship between experimental data and
theories. This analysis coming from
Johnson's own camp makes it unnecessary for me to delve into the details of
Johnson's faulty arguments; I refer instead to Ratzsch's book .
8. The wedge of arrogance
It is educational to look at how Johnson reacts to critical comments
about his previous publications. In
particular, in his book  he responds to professor of philosophy Robert
Pennock and to a professor of biology Kenneth Miller.
In Johnson's view, both his opponents simply don't know what
they are talking about. Both writers, Johnson tells us, resort to a caricature
instead of honestly reporting on Johnson's strong arguments. Pennock is "naοve"
(page 60), his errors are "elementary" (page 135). As to Miller, he,
according to Johnson, "grotesquely distorts the design concept..." etc.
However, Johnson's reasoning shows signs of his own, often
elementary, misunderstanding of the subjects he so bravely argues. Here is an example. Miller compares an explanation of life emergence by
attributing it to a supernatural intelligence, to an imaginary situation in which some adherent of "intelligent
design" would refuse to explain in natural terms the spectrum of solar
radiation, resorting instead to the hypothesis of a supernatural origin of that
spectrum. Johnson derides
Miller's example as allegedly showing Miller's egregious misunderstanding of
the difference between the two situations. He writes (page 130): "If I were
willing to stoop to that level of caricature, I suppose I could portray Miller
as insisting that the scientific arguments that measured the emission peak were
designed by unintelligent natural forces and contemptuously rejecting as
'religion' any attempt to assert the existence of engineers." He
continues: "Miller either does not know, or chooses to ignore, that the
argument for intelligent design rests primarily on the existence of complex
genetic information and the absence of a natural mechanism for creating it." In fact, there is no caricature in Miller's example, which simply
illustrates the difference of approaches to the explanation of phenomena between
science and the so-called "intelligent design theory." While the scientific approach, based on a search for a natural
explanation, is capable of providing a strong explanatory power, a reference to
a supernatural cause lacks such a power, and in that Miller's example is
relevant. In Johnson's view, the
example is a caricature, because the sun's radiation follows "a regularity
produced by a known physical process." On
the other hand, Johnson and his co-believers in "design" "are concerned with the much more important question of the origin of
irreducibly complex system or new complex genetic information."
Why this interest in a much more important question makes
Miller's example a caricature, is Johnson's secret. I will give a slightly different example. Johnson probably has heard about the laws of thermodynamics. There are four of them. Thermodynamics
itself does not explain these four laws but simply postulates them as a
generalization of immense
observational and experimental evidence. If
we wish to understand deeper the nature of these laws, we can choose one of two
approaches. One is to assert that we do not know the intrinsic meaning of these
laws and attribute to them a supernatural origin. This is similar to the attitude adopted by adherents of "intelligent design" when discussing the origin of
genetic information. Science,
however, chose another path. As a result of intensive scientific work, the nature of laws of thermodynamics found a
very transparent explanation in a purely natural way. This explanation is given in statistical physics, which makes clear the
underlying molecular mechanism of the laws of thermodynamics which are a
manifestation of an enormous difference between the probabilities of various
microscopic configurations of the host of particles constituting macroscopic
bodies. If physicists chose the
prescription for solving problems given by Johnson and his cohorts, the laws of
thermodynamics would remain mysterious products of the supposed intelligent
agent, i.e. completely unexplained.
refute each statement in Johnson's books would require a few more books of
about the same size. Of course, I
have no intention to do that, as I have already spent more time and effort on
discussing Johnson's quasi-scientific exercise than the latter deserves. Let me quote one more time from The Wedge of Truth. According to Johnson, scientists who happen to disagree with his views on
science maintain that "scientific evidence is not really needed to prove the
theory true any more than scientific evidence is needed to prove that two plus
two equals four." Recall
that it was Johnson who accused some other writers of making caricature of the
views of "design theorists."
quoted statement is indeed a caricature, moreover a caricature which does not
have even a remote semblance to facts. No,
Mr. Prosecutor, it is you who offer assertions without any evidence to support
them. When you claimed to be a Christian believer, did you suggest
any evidence which could support your beliefs? In your view, only scientists are required to provide evidence, while you
and your fellow believers are not. In fact, contrary to your caricature,
scientific theories are inevitably based on evidence, and no scientist has ever
suggested that evidence is not necessary. You
try to attribute your own attitude to scientists.
Throughout his books, Johnson repeatedly emphasizes that he is not a
"creationist." Moreover, while
rebuffing some of his opponents, for example Robert Pennock, he refers to their
use of the term "creationism" for him and his cohorts, as an attempt on the
part of his opponents to smear him. However, as we proceed chronologically
through Johnson's publication, we see how this camouflage gradually becomes
more and more transparent. Johnson
is as hard-boiled a creationist as they come, no matter how fervently he protests such a label. This follows from the essence of his arguments throughout his books and
papers, and comes into the open in his most recent book The Wedge of Truth
. In that book Johnson largely sheds the mask of an objective analyst
concerned only with facts and openly proclaims the superiority of religious
faith over science.
against the critique by Robert Pennock in the latter's book  Johnson
writes (page 136 in ): "... intelligent design advocates (the "new
creationists" targeted in Pennock's subtitle) do not bring Genesis into
the discussion at all..." Here
Johnson again claims that his and his cohorts' arguments have no religious
foundation. In fact, the opposite
is true. Chapter 7 in The Wedge
of Truth, titled "Building a New Foundation for Reason," is replete with
statements to this effect. Here are a few examples of such statements: "...
science means a very partisan adherence to a philosophy variously called
naturalism, materialism or physicalism." (pages 145-146). "By any realistic
definition naturalism is a religion, and an extremely dogmatic one" (page
148). "Naturalism is ultimately incompatible with the existence of reason"
(page 149). "At a fundamental level we know the reality of God..." (page
152). "The materialist story counterfeits the authority of science in order to
masquerade as an inference from scientific evidence, but it is actually based on
idolatrous fantasy" (page
155-156). This comes from a man who claimed to make conclusions based
solely on evidence but not on philosophical or religious grounds. In Johnson's
view scientists who disagree with him are "claiming to be wise, but become
fools" (page 156). On page 159 we
read: "Once we learn that nature does not really do its own creating, and we
are not really the products of mindless natural forces that care nothing about
us, we will have to reexamine a great deal else." Isn't that statement the credo of a creationist? Remember the ancient saying: "Persians are recognized by their tall
Let us look
again at a quotation discussed at the beginning of this paper. Johnson wrote:
"I believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to
do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process
instead" (page 14 in Darwin on Trial).
So, Mr. Johnson claims to believe in a way which allows for both
the possibility of creation out of nothing and that of an evolutionary process. Fine; nobody can deny Johnson his right to believe whatever he chooses to
believe. If, though, the above
statement is a sincere expression of Johnson's beliefs, so that the
possibility of an evolutionary process is compatible with his beliefs as well as
the concept of "creation out of nothing," then why has he resorted to such a
ferocious attack on the theory of evolution as suggested by Darwin and developed
further by "neo-Darwinists?" Why is his attack not
only against the theory of evolution itself by also against the scientists who
disagree with him? Why did Johnson
refer to biologists who support the Darwinian evolution theory as dimwits who
are ready to believe the "wildest nonsense?"
roster of scientists who, he
asserts, base their adherence to Darwinism not on empirical evidence, but on
their naturalistic philosophy, includes not only professed agnostics and
atheists, but also Christian believers who happen to insist that the theory of
evolution is based on vast empirical evidence. Does Johnson not realize that accusing biologists like Miller, who is a
Christian like Johnson himself, of a doctrinaire adherence to a materialistic
philosophy is both absurd and arrogant?
seems rather obvious that the manner in which Johnson writes about those
biologists who view the Darwinian explanation of biological evolution as
plausible, is rather far from an impartial discussion of their views. He derided
such professional biologists as Miller and Berra, betraying his quite emotional
rejection of their views. Phillip
Johnson's philippics against the Darwinists (no pun intended) display a lot of
anger and very few valid arguments. If he admits that the God he believes in
could have chosen to work through the evolutionary process, why then did he feel
the desire to abandon his endeavors in the field of law and get involved instead
in fighting evolutionary theory?
Here is a
quotation from a paper  by Kenneth Miller: "It seems to me that the scope and scale of
evolution can only magnify our admiration for a creator who could set such a
process in motion. To the deeply religious, evolution may not be seen as a
challenge, but rather as proof of the power and subtlety of the creator's ways.
The great Architect of the universe might not have written down each DNA base of
the human genome, but He would still be a very clever fellow indeed."
a believer like Johnson, did not prevent Miller (and scores of others,
biologists and philosophers) from being a sober-minded adherent of the evolution
theory because the latter has a very solid empiric foundation and great
explanatory power. The leader of
the "intelligent design theorists" Johnson, however, set out to demolish
Darwinism and with it the materialistic approach to scientific research. Having claimed to be an expert in the logic of discourse Johnson clearly
disregards logic when, on the one hand, he claims his readiness to except that
God might have chosen to work through an evolutionary process and on the other
hand does his best to destroy the very concept of such a process.
course, we can't read Johnson's mind. However, it seems plausible to guess
that when he claims to accept the possibility of an evolutionary process, he is
not sincere. It seems plausible to assume that Johnson's claim about the
possibility of an evolutionary process was just a tool to show that he keeps an
open mind, while his actual attitude to the evolutionary process is stubborn
denial, caused by the actual narrowness of his vision. Johnson asserted, as was
quoted earlier, that he is not concerned with the discrepancies between the
Bible and science. However, the
entire picture presented in his writing creates a different impression. His dilettantish but ardent struggle against the theory of evolution
makes one suspect that his real motivation is a feeling that the theory of
evolution hopelessly contradicts the Bible dear to his heart.
quoted Richard Dawkins who asserted that Darwinism made it possible to be an
"intellectually fulfilled atheist." Note
that Dawkins said "made possible," not "made necessary." Like Miller,
Johnson had an option to remain a believer and to approach the theory of
evolution without prejudice. He
made another choice to pounce on the evolution theory and on everybody who
adheres to it.
assault on science has nary a chance of influencing the development of science
to any serious extent. The noise produced by his books, lectures, and articles
is just a nuisance. Those serious scientists who replied to the writing of that
highly arrogant and highly prejudiced dilettante did him a favor, displaying a
lot of politeness. As to his
predictions regarding the imminent collapse of Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism, let
us wait and see. I can repeat the
words of the great Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovski. Once, when he was publicly reading his poems, a listener asked, how long, in the poet's opinion, his poems would survive. Mayakovski
answered: "Well, drop by in a thousand years, and we'll talk about it."
Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin
on Trial, InterVarsity Press, 1993.
P.Johnson, Reason in
Balance, InterVarsity Press, 1995.
P. Johnson, Defeating
Darwinism by Opening Minds, InterVarsity Press, 1997.
P. Johnson, The Wedge
of Truth, InterVarsity Press, 2000.
P. Johnson, How to
Sink a Battleship, in coll. Mere Creation, ed. W. Dembski, InterVarsity
Nancy R. Pearcey, You
Guys Lost, in coll. Mere Creation, ed. W. Dembski, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Biology and Evolutionary Theory.
Scientific Encyclopedia, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1976
Kenneth Miller, Technology
Review, v. 97, No 2, pp. 24-32, 1994.
Michael J. Behe, Darwin's
Black Box, Simon and Schuster, 1996.
Del Ratzsch, The
Battle of Beginnings, InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Robert T. Pennock, Tower
of Babel, The MIT Press, 2000.