September 25, 2001

New York Review Enters the Fray

I am coming back strong after carotid artery surgery a few days ago.  Thanks to all the loyal Wedge readers who have sent their best wishes for a speedy recovery from the consequences of my stroke on July 13.

The news this week is the two-part article by Frederick C. Crews in the New York Review of Books, trashing books by Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, and myself. The October 4 issue with the first part arrived with yesterday’s mail.  You can also read the review on the web. The long review provides no evidence that Crews has read the books, much less thought seriously about the issues; it consists mainly of standard scientific materialist put-downs  that could have been stitched together from handouts distributed by any of the so-called “skeptic” societies.  The mystery is what motivated the New York Review to publish this belated expression of prejudice. Crews once had a considerable reputation as a Freudian literary critic with a whimsical streak, until he turned against Freud and began an obsessive crusade against psychoanalysis. Why didn’t the NY Review assign the demolition job to one of its regular science writers, such as Richard Lewontin, Stephen Jay Gould, or Steven Weinberg?  Perhaps the editors were too worried about the growing success of the Wedge to leave the controversy alone, and too worried about the consequences of admitting that there is a genuine scientific debate to put one of their scientific icons at risk. One thing I can say for Crews is that he is relatively candid about the entwined relationship of Darwinism and atheistic materialism.  This cuts the ground out from under the spin-doctors of the current PBS Evolution series, who show Darwinist Kenneth Miller taking communion, and thus try to convince their more gullible viewers that Darwinism is compatible even with conservative forms of Christianity, provided that the religious folk let the scientific materialists decide for the public just what is fact and what is fantasy.

Crew’s reasoning implies that Miller’s pitch is a fraud, but he nonetheless praises the first half of Miller’s book Darwin’s God, where Miller attacks Intelligent Design. Anything goes, so long as it favors Darwinism. Like most Darwinists, Crews is not troubled by the fact, documented by Jonathan Wells in Icons of Evolution, that Darwinist textbooks rely heavily on examples which are misleading or even downright fraudulent.  Instead of dealing with the icons, he launches an ad hominem attack against Wells.  What does it matter if the proof is imaginary, since Darwinism has to be true on philosophical grounds alone?

The underlying question is whether metaphysical materialism (physicalism) is conclusively presumed to be true - because it is inherent in the definition of “science” or “modern thought” – or whether physicalism is a falsifiable hypothesis. One of the Darwinist strategems is to argue that it is futile to establish defects in Darwinism, because the scientists will merely find another materialist theory that repairs the defects.  To counter this ploy, I showed in The Wedge of Truth that (as quoted by Crews) “if nature is all there is, and matter had to do its own creating, then there is every reason to believe that the Darwinian model is the best model we will ever have of how the job might have been done.”  Because he is apparently incapable of conceiving the possibility that materialist metaphysics might be inadequate, Crews ignores the all-important “if” clause and interprets the quoted sentence as a concession which “has handed argumentative victory to [the Wedge’s] opponents before the debate has even begun.”  The Jesuit Father Edward Oakes made the same logical blunder when he reviewed The Wedge of Truth in First Things. In these dark times, even the Jesuits have forgotten the value of logic.  It is no concession to argue  that “this is the best the materialists will ever do, and their best effort conflicts with the evidence.”  Darwinism is in serious trouble (hence the need for The New York Review to mount a desperate counterattack) precisely because so many intelligent people are waking up to the fact that materialism is not a self-evident truth, but a debatable philosophical premise that has effectively become an established religious philosophy.  Once the American people are allowed to consider the merits of that premise without prejudice, the Darwinists will be deep in a debate they cannot win. That is why they dare not contemplate, even for a moment, that fidelity to epistemic materialism may have caused them to overlook something important.

Copyright 2001 Phillip E. Johnson, Paul Nelson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 9.25.01