Re: Phil Johnson's Approach

Steven Schimmrich (
Mon, 24 Feb 1997 09:10:47 -0600 (CST)

Don DeGraaf ( wrote:

> Terry Morrison is the Director of Faculty Ministries for IVCF, a
> former Chem. professor at Butler U., and an ASAer. Terry Asked me to
> post the following Q on this listserv. Terry is an important channel of
> communication of our views in this matter to senior IVCF staff and
> grad students.
> "Recently some Christians in higher education have asked me why
> scientists affiliated with ASA and/or IVCF seem often to be unhappy with
> Phil Johnson's work. I'd like to hear some response to that question
> from both questioners of and supporters of Phil's work."
> I'm sure that your replies wil be of interest to those on this list as
> well as to Terry.

For what they're worth, here are my opinions about Johnson's work. I'm a
fourth-year PhD student in geology and I am currently teaching undergraduate
labs in physical geology and in paleontology. I'm also moderator of the
Science & Christianity mailing list.

While I do think that Phil Johnson raises some good points, and should
be credited for getting people to think about the philosophical underpinnings
of science, I also think that his arguments will ultimately be ineffective
among those engaged in mainstream science (including Christians engaged in
mainstream science) for several reasons...

1. Johnson's style really turns off most people in science. He criticizes
evolutionary theory the same way Johnny Cochran criticized evidence in
the O.J. Simpson trial. In other words, his arguments are those of a
lawyer seeking no more than to cast doubt on a few points (some of his
criticisms may be legitimate, others clearly are not) and then claiming
we should throw away the whole massive ediface of modern biology on
this basis. While that may work in a court of law, it doesn't work in
science where one must consider ALL of the evidence and make arguments
based on reason, not on emotional appeals (contrasting science with
Christian belief sets the stage for an emotional appeal).

2. Also part of his style is the implication that all mainstream scientists,
indeed all those who disagree with him, are engaged in some sort of
conspiracy. While this strategy may again work in a court of law, people
in science just laugh at the idea. So many scientists are so greedy for
advancement, recognition, grant money, etc that they would happily prove
their colleagues wrong on some widely-accepted belief (like the HIV/AIDS

3. Johnson also seems to fundamentally misunderstand how science works in
the real world (hey, maybe it's because he has no training in science and
never worked on scientific research problems!). He proposed doing away
with methodological naturalism in science but proposes no workable
alternative (and many Christian scientists see no workable alternative).
Why is it that all the vocal opponents of MN in science are not people
who DO science but rather lawyers, philosophers, and theologians?

4. Johnson makes many outright mistakes when speaking about paleontology.
To my knowledge, he has never acknowledged these mistakes. Johnson's
apparent refusal to address any criticisms of his claims greatly
reduces my respect for him and his arguments.

- Steve.

      Steven H. Schimmrich           KB9LCG  
      Department of Geology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
         245 Natural History Building, Urbana, IL 61801  (217) 244-1246     Fides quaerens intellectum