With Phillip Johnson
This article is reprinted from an interview with Citizen Magazine, April 1999.
Scientists and educators are typically scornful of biblically based ideas, but many find it less easy to resist the concept of "intelligent design"-hard evidence that life on earth is not the result of a random process. That's the message law professor Phillip Johnson of Berkeley, Calif., is taking to the world's leading scholars. Johnson is the author of Darwin on Trial, and most recently, Objections Sustained: Subversive Essays on Evolution, Law & Culture. Johnson spoke recently with Citizen editor Tom Hess.
Citizen: Are public schools wrong to teach evolution?
Johnson: No, if it is taught honestly. The problem is that it's being taught dogmatically. It's being used to indoctrinate students rather than inform them.
What should Christian students learn, if anything, about
They should learn how the scientific community thinks about this subject. They also ought to learn all the weaknesses of the theory and the evidence that contradicts it. Then they will be able to make up their minds intelligently.
How can Christian parents correct what their children are
taught in public schools about the origins of the world?
They can teach their children about the evidence that the textbooks omit, and warn them that the textbooks present only one side. But to do that, parents have to become well-informed. They have to work at it.
You've dedicated your most recent book, Objections Sustained,
to "present and future members of the Wedge." What is
The Wedge is an informal group of scientists, students and others who want to counter the idea that nature, or materialism, is all there is, and that God is effectively excluded from the natural world.
We call our movement the Wedge because a wedge is a tool that can split the toughest and thickest log-Darwinism-which has dominated the 20th century. It seems impenetrable, but one can always find a crack and drive a wedge into it. As one drives the wedge deeper, the crack widens until the log inevitably splits wide open.
What are these scientists' fields of study?
The discussion centers around biology, but the scientists come from a number of fields. The Wedge also involves philosophers, historians, theologians and many other persons besides scientists.
What fields do they work in?
All sorts. Some are professors at secular universities, some at Christian colleges, some are in industry or the professions.
We are working against the grain in almost every academic setting, including Christian colleges and seminaries. Most academic institutions take Darwinism for granted. They see religion as a source of unreason, and believe that if we can just get past the idea of God we can be reasonable and solve all our problems.
How do members of the Wedge communicate with each other?
We communicate primarily by e-mail, and through conferences held about once a year.
What's your role in the Wedge?
I'm called the "thin edge" of the Wedge. That is, my writing and speaking have split open a closed intellectual environment so the living water can flow in. It's much easier for me to do that because I'm not a researcher, I'm not applying for research grants. I'm a senior professor of law with an endowed chair, so I'm secure.
But aren't you discredited for being a lawyer and not a
Scientists do this to each other all the time. A biologist will claim that a biochemist isn't qualified to discuss biology. I'm trying to broaden the debate. It's my job to spot hidden philosophies, and that is what a good law professor does.
What progress has the Wedge made so far?
The concept of intelligent design (ID) is becoming legitimate in cosmology because even the atheists recognize that all the fundamental laws of nature had to be "finely tuned" in order for life of any kind to be possible.
In the academic world generally, there is a fierce battle over whether there is such a thing as "truth"-a single standard of reasoning that is valid for everyone. Each of these debates constitutes a crack into which the thin edge of the Wedge can penetrate.
How do you keep up with developments in so many different
areas of scientific inquiry?
I read the more accessible scientific journals, and there are many sources available on the Internet. In the area of evolutionary biology in particular, it is easy to follow the important developments.
Which fields of science have been most responsive to ID?
Some fields are partial to ID by their very nature. Engineering is one of these, because engineering is intelligent design. Physics tends to be favorable to ID because the fundamental constants of nature all seem to be set by some master hand to favor the conditions necessary for life.
Which fields are most resistant?
Biology is the great holdout. Some of the most famous biologists went into biology because they want to banish any idea that God is the Creator of life. Cosmologists can afford to recognize a Creator at the very beginning, provided the Creator is thereafter inactive, but biologists find the Creator immensely threatening, because a Creator who takes a role in the life processes is a Creator who is too close to us, who might care about what we do.
That's scary, particularly if you are doing a lot of things you know the Creator wouldn't approve of.
Tell us what it's like to confront a Darwinist?
I work hard to keep the debates friendly, because I want my opponents to keep coming back for more. Usually that works, but sometimes they get very upset. After all, I am attacking their religion! I don't expect that people who've lived all their lives off of scientific materialism to give it up all at once.
Describe your most recent encounters.
At the end of September I spoke at a big scientific conference in Italy with some famous persons-including Nobel prize-winning biologist Christian De Duve and cosmologist Paul Davies, who won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Davies is one of the cosmologists who thinks there is a purpose to the universe but no God with the power to intervene in the life processes. Go figure.
De Duve is a staunch materialist-nature is all there is. We had some marvelously lively discussions when I told them they were imposing their religious prejudices on the scientific evidence.
In October I had a wonderful debate with Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg at the University of Texas. Weinberg, one of the most famous scientists in the world, debates me before an academic audience whenever I come to Austin. He gets a bit more open to my point every time. This is the "thin edge" at work.
What's the question that evolutionists fear most? What makes
them most angry?
The question that drives them crazy is: "What if physical evidence is at odds with the philosophy that nature is all there is?" Darwinists have defined their system so that the evidence always has to support the philosophy, which is to say it always has to deny that God played any necessary role in the history of life. They go all to pieces when they contemplate the possibility that the evidence might point to God.
Have you found that ID makes Darwinists more receptive to
ID is an intellectual movement, and the Wedge strategy stops working when we are seen as just another way of packaging the Christian evangelical message.
Christian workers and organizations sometimes have difficulty understanding why anything other than direct evangelism is worthwhile. They ask us, "What does it matter what those silly professors think?" and "When are you going to get to the point and do what Billy Graham or Bill Bright would do?" The evangelists do what they do very well, and I hope our work opens up for them some doors that have been closed.
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