Johnson's concluding remarks (fwd)

Allen Roy (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 14:46:47 -0700 (MST)

Found this on another listserver. There is some great stuff here.

Allen Roy

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Phillip E. Johnson's concluding remarks at the Mere Creation conference,
Biola University, November 17, 1996 [from "The Real Issue", edited for


by Phillip E. Johnson

I'll start by remembering three important events that occurred
when I was a young adult, events which symbolize the ideological
shift that occurred in the second half of the 20th century.

The first event was the Darwinian centennial of 1959,
commemorating the 100th anniversary of the publication of
Darwin's _The Origin of Species_. The celebration was held at
the University of Chicago, where I entered law school shortly
thereafter. Chicago was a particularly appropriate place to have
the Darwinian centennial, because it was associated with other
seminal events in modern science: the first atomic reactor was
built there under Stagg Field, and in 1952 the famous Miller-Urey
experiment had given scientists confidence that the Darwinian
principle of materialistic evolution could be extended back to
the ultimate beginning of life.

So, in 1959 the mood at the Darwinian centennial was one of
triumphalism. Darwinism had gone through a rocky period when
there was much dispute about the mechanism, but then the neo-
Darwinian Synthesis had come to the rescue with its mathematical
population genetics. Neo-Darwinism seemed like the ultimate
truth, a biological "Theory of Everything."

Julian Huxley, grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley and brother of
Aldous, was the most prominent speaker. He declared that
supernatural religion was finished and that a new religion of
evolutionary humanism based upon science would become the
worldwide creed. We might say he proclaimed the death of an aged
tyrant called God, and then credited Charles Darwin with
supplying the murder weapon.

The second event to recall was the 1960 Stanley Kramer movie of
"Inherit the Wind," starring Spencer Tracy as the agnostic lawyer
patterned after Clarence Darrow. It was one of the great
propaganda masterpieces of all time. In the context of presenting
a very distorted account of the notorious Scopes trial, the film
portrayed the moral side of the Darwinian triumph over

"Inherit the Wind" is a simple morality play in which the
Christian ministers are evil manipulators and their followers are
bumpkins who sing mindlessly in praise of "that old time
religion." In the movie, it appears that the theological content
of Christianity amounts to threatening people with damnation if
they dare to think for themselves. The overthrow of this
caricature provides a liberation myth, which goes with the
triumphalism of the Chicago celebration. The movie teaches that
the truth shall make us free, and the truth, according to
science and Hollywood, is that Biblical religion is an oppressor
to be overthrown.

The film embodied a stereotype that has dominated public debate
over evolution ever since the Scopes trial. As far as the media
are concerned, all critics of Darwinism fit into what I call the
"Inherit the Wind stereotype." No matter how well qualified the
critics are, and no matter how well grounded their criticisms,
the reporters assume that they are Bible-thumping fanatics
challenging scientific fact in order to impose political
oppression. The review in _Nature_ of Michael Behe's _Darwin's
Black Box_ fits squarely in that tradition. Behe made solid
scientific arguments demonstrating the existence of irreducible
complexity in biochemical systems, arguments that the reviewer
did not dispute on scientific grounds. Instead, the review began
and ended with irrelevant attacks on fundamentalists who want to
substitute the book of Genesis for science. Like Marxism,
Darwinism is a liberation myth that has become a new
justification for ordering people not to think for themselves.

The third event in my trio is the 1962 school prayer decision of
the United States Supreme Court, _Engel v. Vitale_. The school
prayer involved in that case came not from the Bible Belt, but
from the state of New York. The school authorities wanted to
approve a prayer that would unite Christians and Jews, and so the
prayer was not distinctively Christian. It read: "Almighty God,
we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings
upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our Country." The phrase
"under God" had recently been added to the Pledge of Allegiance,
and so the educators had good reason to suppose that Americans of
all races and creeds believed in honoring our common Creator.

I'm not concerned here with the merits or demerits of school
prayer, but with the question of what unites us as a people, and
what we regard as divisive. Before 1962, America was unified by
the concept that people of different races and religious
traditions all worship their common Creator, the God of the
Bible; by 1962 that had been reversed. The 1959 Centennial
proclaimed that a blind material process of evolution is our true
creator. In 1962 the Supreme Court decided that even a very
general evocation of God was a divisive sectarian practice,
warning that government endorsement of religion is inherently
associated with religious strife and oppression.

These three events symbolized a tremendous change in the ruling
philosophy in our country. Science now teaches us that a
purposeless material process of evolution created us; the
artists, poets, and actors teach us that Biblical morality is
oppressive and hateful; and the courts teach us that the very
notion of God is divisive, and so must be kept out of public
life. The Pledge of Allegiance may say that we are "one nation,
under God," but we have become instead a nation that has declared
its independence from God.

I believe that at some time well before the bicentennial year
2059, 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. The theme of this anti-centennial
will be "What Went Wrong?" or perhaps, "How could we ever have
let it happen?"

What went wrong is that scientists committed original sin, which
in science means believing what you want to believe instead of
what your experiments and observations actually show you. In
small matters, as a scientist you cannot afford to indulge in
original sin because your colleagues will show you up and make a
fool out of you. If, however, you're leading the whole research
community in a direction it wants to go, your colleagues might
not be motivated, or may be even afraid, to challenge you.

What happened in that great triumphal celebration of 1959 is that
science embraced a religious dogma called naturalism or
materialism. Science declared that nature is all there is, and
that matter created everything that exists. The scientific
community had a common interest in believing this creed because
it affirmed that, in principle, there is nothing beyond the
understanding and control of science. What went wrong in the wake
of the Darwinian triumph was that the authority of science was
captured by an ideology, and the evolutionary scientists
thereafter believed what they wanted to believe rather than what
the fossil data, the genetic data, the embryological data, and
the molecular data were showing them.

What are we going to do to correct this deplorable situation?
Most of us at this conference are in academic life, and we will
be doing the academic job of research, writing, and teaching. We
have launched a new journal, Origins and Design, and we have had
a very successful first conference here at Biola. Many more
people have attended than we originally expected, and a lot of
very able people are now making a contribution in the area of
intelligent design. We hope to schedule future conferences at
major secular universities. We are developing a research agenda.
We have confidence in our intellectual position. We are observing
that the materialists have to rely on distortion and appeals to
prejudice to defend their position. This is a sign that we have
taken the high intellectual ground.

We have our healthy disagreements about all sorts of specifics,
but we are united on a common approach, a shared determination to
define the issues correctly. It is an approach that everyone can
contribute to-not just people with academic positions but also
school teachers, parents, youth workers, and everyone who has some
influence over the education of the next generation of thinkers.

I was asked to supply a theme for this conference, and the theme
I chose was this: "The first step for a 21st century science of
origins is to separate materialist philosophy from empirical
science." Actually, that's the basis not just for a science of
origins; it's the basis for a proper understanding of
rationality. To materialists, rationality starts with the
realization that in the beginning were the particles, and that
mind itself is a product of matter. That makes it difficult to
understand how there can even be knowledge of objective reality
in science.

In Chapter Six of _Reason in the Balance_ I compared two
prominent philosophers, John Searle and Richard Rorty. Searle
argues that there are objective standards of value in academic
life, and that mind is not reducible to matter. Yet he also
insists that all thinking must be based on materialistic and
Darwinian assumptions, thus undercutting his own conclusions.

Rorty has a poorer philosophy, but he is far more discerning
about the implications of materialism and Darwinism. Rorty notes
that Darwinian selection promotes only what is useful for
survival and reproduction, and concludes that "The idea that one
species of organism is, unlike all the others, oriented not just
toward its own increased prosperity but toward Truth, is as un-
Darwinian as the idea that every human being has a built-in
moral compass -- a conscience that swings free of both social
history and individual luck." When materialism is fully
understood, objective truth goes into the trash can along with
objective morality.

The post-modernist irrationalism that is sweeping our
universities is thus the logical outcome of the scientific
rationalism that prepared the ground by undermining the
metaphysical basis for confidence in objective truth. A wrong
view of mind has come out of science because science has become
confused with materialist philosophy. And that wrong view has
become a compulsory dogma for every discipline, and for the
intellectual culture in general.

Richard Dickerson, a professor of molecular biology at UCLA,
provides a good example of how the basis of modern science has
been articulated. He states as Rule Number One of scientific
investigation, "Let us see how far and to what extent we can
explain the behavior of the physical and material universe in
terms of purely physical and material causes without invoking the

That's a rational project, but there's another sentence that has
to be added for the rule to make any sense, and that is, "At some
point we'll stop to audit the books and see how far we've gone."
For example, if your investment advisor suggests plunging wildly
in the corn futures market, then at some point you're going to
want to know if you have anything left, or whether you've made
any money. If he tells you "Let's just always assume that corn
futures go up in value," you know you are giving your money to
somebody who has lost touch with reality.

So it follows from Dickerson's first rule that at the end of the
day you have to come in without a materialist bias and analyze
what's been happening. You've been trying to explain the
complexity of biology by mutation and selection, now what does
the evidence really show? How successful have you been? Does the
fossil record fit when you look at it objectively, and without a
Darwinian bias? We know the answer to that is "no." We ask, "Does
finch beak variation really show how you can get finches in the
first place?" No, of course not. Neo-Darwinism is a failed
project -- give it up! "Not yet!" you say. "We're still trying to
succeed." Good luck to you friend, but the evaluation for now is
that you aren't making it. It's what in tenure cases we call the
mid-career review; you haven't published and you're going to

The naturalists say, "Let's protect naturalism for a while longer
to give us a fair chance to succeed." It was reasonable to say
that a few decades ago. But now it's time to audit the books.

Most philosophers, literary critics, and Supreme Court Justices
assume the materialist picture of reality, even if they are not
consciously aware of it. As Paul Feyerabend put it, "Scientists
are not content with running their own playpens in accordance
with what they regard as the rules of the scientific method; they
want to universalize those rules, they want them to become part
of society at large, and they use every means at their disposal--
argument, propaganda, pressure tactics, intimidation, lobbying --
to achieve their aims." With these tactics they have been
successful in imposing a naturalistic religious philosophy on the
entire culture.

In his famous 1974 Commencement address at Cal Tech, Richard
Feynman provided an inspiring counter-example of how science
ought to be practiced. He began by warning against self-
deception, the original sin of science, saying that "The first
principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the
easiest person to fool." To avoid self-deception scientists must
bend over backwards to report data that cast doubt on their
theories. Feynman applied this principle specifically to
scientists who talk to the public: "I would like to add
something that's not essential to the science, but something I
kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the laymen
when you're talking as a scientist. . . . I'm talking about a
specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, [an integrity]
that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is
our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists,
and I think to laymen."

That's such a magnificent statement that I wish it could be set
to music. Richard Feynman's kind of science has the virtue of
humility at the very core. Honesty and humility. This is what has
to be brought into evolutionary science: an understanding of the
obligation of science to separate materialist philosophy from
scientific investigation, to maintain that separation and be
honest about it, and not to mislead the public about what has
been demonstrated and what hasn't.

When science aspires to establish a ruling philosophy for all
aspects of life, and to replace God as the basis of rationality
and human unity, it has to resort to the methods Paul Feyerabend
condemned rather than the humility that Richard Feynman
commended. It has to employ the bluster of such as Carl Sagan
and Richard Dawkins, both of whom have been highly honored by the
scientific establishments of their respective countries for
promoting naturalism and materialism in the name of science. We
need to replace Dawkins-style and Sagan-style science with a
science that is humble about what it can do. A science that
sticks to its data, that is careful to consider alternative
explanations, and that does not allow itself to be ruled by a
philosophical or religious agenda of any kind. A science that
does not commit the original sin of believing what you want to
believe. A science in which the scientists do not fool
themselves and therefore do not try to fool the public either.

Separating empirical science from materialistic philosophy is a
big job, and everyone with the right spirit can contribute to it.
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. If you are a philosopher, you can encourage your
colleagues to speak out against other philosophers and scientists
who abuse their authority by using it to promote dubious
philosophies as if they had been empirically confirmed. Lawyers
also have an important role to play, especially in persuading
judges that constitutional principles of freedom of expression
apply to criticism of evolutionary naturalism. Too many judges
have the idea that criticism of naturalism and materialism
constitutes "religion," and hence is forbidden on public

In some respects parents, school teachers, and youth workers have
the most important role in preparing the next generation of
thinkers to understand the difference between real science and
materialist philosophy. It's never too early to learn good
critical thinking -- but sometimes, after years of indoctrination
in a biased educational system, it's too late. Some of us are
preparing teaching materials to help home-schoolers, private
schools, and even adventurous public school teachers to teach the
kids what the textbook writers and curriculum planners don't want
them to know. Of course the Darwinists and their lawyers will
resist this ferociously. Recently, some of them have even taken
to saying that "critical thinking" is a code word for
creationism, and hence for religious oppression. They have cause
to worry, because when the young people learn to spot hidden
assumptions and know about the evidence the textbooks slide over,
they will be very hard to indoctrinate.

We need people who have enough courage to say this to the
scientific materialists: "We're going to challenge the claims
that you're making that seem to go beyond what you know. You can
tell us what you know as biologists, and we want to know and
honor that specialized knowledge. But when, as biologists, you
tell us that you are believers in materialism as philosophy, we
will reply, 'Who cares? You don't know that as biologists, and
we're going to call you on your false claims of expertise over
philosophical issues.'" We need to have lots of people doing just

What we need for now is people who want to get thinking going in
the right direction, not people who have all the answers in
advance. In good time new theories will emerge, and science will
change. We shouldn't try to shortcut the process by establishing
some new theory of origins until we know more about exactly what
needs to be explained. Maybe there will be a new theory of
evolution, but it is also possible that the basic concept will
collapse and science will acknowledge that those elusive common
ancestors of the major biological groups never existed. If we get
an unbiased scientific process started, we can have confidence
that it will bring us closer to the truth.

For the present, I recommend that we also put the Biblical issues
to one side. The last thing we should want to do, or seem to want
to do, is to threaten the freedom of scientific inquiry. Bringing
the Bible anywhere near this issue just raises the "Inherit the
Wind" stereotype, and closes minds instead of opening them.

We can wait until we have a better scientific theory, one
genuinely based on unbiased empirical evidence and not on
materialist philosophy, before we need to worry about whether and
to what extent that theory is consistent with the Bible. Until we
reach that better science, it's just best to live with some
uncertainties and incongruities, which is our lot as human beings
-- in this life, anyway. For now we need to stick to the main
point: In the beginning was the Word, and the "fear of God" --
recognition of our dependence upon God -- is still the beginning
of wisdom. If materialist science can prove otherwise then so
be it, but everything we are learning about the evidence suggests
that we don't need to worry.

One by one the great prophets of materialism have been shown to
be false prophets and have fallen aside. Marx and Freud have lost
their scientific standing. Now Darwin is on the block.

Some of us saw a clip of Richard Dawkins being interviewed on
public television about his reaction to Michael Behe's book. You
can see how insecure that man is behind his bluster, and how much
he has to rely on not having Mike Behe on the program with him,
or even a lesser figure like Phil Johnson. Darwinists have to
rely on confining their critics in a stereotype. They have
learned to keep their own philosophy on the stage with no rivals
allowed, and now they have to rely almost exclusively on that
cultural power.

These are exciting times. When I finished the Epilogue to _Darwin
on Trial_ in 1993, I compared evolutionary naturalism to a great
battleship afloat on the Ocean of Reality. The ship's sides are
heavily armored with philosophical and legal barriers to
criticism, and its decks are stacked with big 16-inch rhetorical
guns to intimidate would-be attackers. In appearance, it is as
impregnable as the Soviet Union seemed a few years ago. But the
ship has sprung a metaphysical leak, and that leak widens as more
and more people understand it and draw attention to the conflict
between empirical science and materialist philosophy. The more
perceptive of the ship's officers know that the ship is doomed if
the leak cannot be plugged. The struggle to save the ship will go
on for a while, and meanwhile there will even be academic wine-
and-cheese parties on the deck. But in the end the ship's great
firepower and ponderous armor will only help it sink to the
bottom. Reality will win.