May 28, 2001

New Books

The big event last week was the conference May 24-26 at Calvin College on "Design, Self-organization, and the Integrity of Creation" hosted by Bill Dembski and featuring many of the Wedge authors. I was not present, and reports from participants and spectators have not yet come in, so I will comment on this event in next week’s Update. This week I’ll describe briefly two fine books I have just received that advance the case for separating the evidence of science from the materialist prejudice that provides the main support for the Darwinian paradigm. Both books deal ably with both the scientific and the philosophical issues, but one places primary emphasis on science, while the other analyzes Darwinism in the context of ongoing debates over God’s responsibility for moral and natural evil.

Neil Broom is a chemical engineering professor in New Zealand with a research interest in medical applications of bio-mechanics. His book How Blind is the Watchmaker? is in the tradition of my own Darwin on Trial and Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box.  Readers may find it somewhat more scientifically informed than the former and somewhat less technical than the latter. Broom’s book is profusely illustrated, and I particularly recommend it as a gift for persons with a scientific bent who are open-minded but not yet well informed about the scientific defects in Darwinism. The Foreword is by Bill Dembski, who comments that “If there is one theme in How Blind is the Watchmaker?, it is freedom. Broom wants to free science from arbitrary constraints that stifle inquiry, undermine education and turn scientists into a secular priesthood.”

Cornelius G. “George” Hunter was senior vice-president of a Silicon Valley high tech firm, and has “retired” to get a Ph.D in Biophysics at the University of Illinois. His Darwin’s God argues brilliantly that Darwinian evolution is primarily about God and theodicy  rather than science. The task of theodicy is to explain how (or whether) it is possible to maintain belief in an omnipotent, benevolent deity in light of such notorious evils as war, torture, and cancer. To many thinkers, solving this problem requires distancing God in some way from creation by, for example, finding that he has to act through impersonal laws. The reasoning starts with attempts to protect God from moral censure, and it often ends by concluding that the God thus protected is unnecessary, or exists only in the minds of a dwindling body of modernist theologians. Darwin himself relied heavily on theological (or anti-theological) arguments, and so do contemporary Darwinists like Kenneth Miller, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins. When Darwinists insist that religion and science must be kept separate, what they mean is that their own brand of religious argumentation must have a monopoly.

We have seen the continuing influence of theological arguments in the debates over Darwinism as recently as the criticism this year of my book The Wedge of Truth in First Things by the Jesuit Father Edward T. Oakes. In his review in the January issue, and again in his defiant response to the many critical letters in the April issue, Oakes insisted that God must be unable or unwilling to design a cell.  If God were to take so direct a part in creation, then how could he justify not intervening to prevent airplane crashes or genetic defects? Where that reasoning leaves such core Christian doctrines as the Incarnation and the Resurrection, I leave for Father Oakes to explain. Whatever one thinks of modernist theology, the proper scientific task of testing hypotheses by experiment is an altogether different enterprise. Whether theists can explain evil is one sort of question; whether biologists can demonstrate that the Darwinian mechanism has the power to create new genetic information is another sort of question. It is of the very essence of Darwinism to mix the two questions, because Darwinists have to rely upon shallow theological assertions (“God wouldn’t have made the Panda’s thumb that way”) to take the place of the missing scientific evidence.

Copyright 2001 Phillip E. Johnson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 5.28.01