A MILITANT DILETTANTE IN JUDGMENT OF SCIENCE
a lawyer (Phillip Johnson) disproves
First posted August 12,
1999. Updated in September 2000.
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.
Of 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.
Likewise, though, 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 ontological. Methodological 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 faith.
agenda were to win the day, it could mean the collapse of science.
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.”
In 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 Phillip Johnson…”
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 http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/ignoramus.htm . 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 scientific discourse.
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 win.”
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.
Johnson also 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 1959.”
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.
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 layman.”
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 www.talkorigins.org .
As mentioned 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.”
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 http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/good_bad_science.htm .
Johnson’s 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.
Here is 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 scientist’s viewpoint.
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.
OPENS MINDS. OR DOES HE?
On 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 it.
This argument 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 at http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/good_bad_science.htm .
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 situation.
Berra’s 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 inconsequential.
Johnson’s 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 supports Darwinism.”
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 on Trial”.)
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 self-contradictory…”
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
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.
The statement 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 actor’s brains).
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 material medium.
Additionally, 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 http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/dembski.htm , 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 source (like ), let us quote from 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 the meaning.”
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 “meaning.”
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 http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/dembski.htm . 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 example ).
On 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 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.”
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.
Being 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 http://www.talkreason.org/perakm/behe2.htm . 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 creationism.
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 natural selection.
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 their cohorts.
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 this review.)
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 .
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 “naïve” (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 publications, 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.
Arguing 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 hats?”
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?”
Johnson’s 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?
It 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 [ 9] 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.
Johnson 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.
Johnson’s 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 Press, 1998.
 Nancy R. Pearcey, You Guys Lost, in coll. Mere Creation, ed. W. Dembski, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
 Claude E. Shannon, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, Bell System Tech. J., July 1948 and October 1948.
 Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1976
 Kenneth R. 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