Re: More on PJ

Peter Vibert (
Wed, 19 Mar 1997 15:35:45 -0500

Burgy wrote:

>Off line, a reflector participant wrote to Glenn and me as follows:
>>>Would you agree that there is a substantial difference between
>1) Speaking to scientists and saying, "Beware of self-deception, as the
>story I just told you illustrates. You should especially check yourselves
>for this on the theory of ____________."
>2) Speaking to non-scientists and saying, "Scientists ARE self-deluded
>about things, as the story I just told you illustrates. This is especially
>true about the theory of ___________."
>If you agree that there is an important difference between these two
>scenarios, would you also agree that Philip Johnson's choice of rhetoric,
>when speaking to non-scientists (his usual audience), all too often strays
>too close to the second?>>
>No doubt a large difference. But I would not agree, based on what I've
>seen, that PJ is any closer to #2 than to #1. And I quickly point out that
>PJs audiences are more frequently scientists, philosophers and other
>academics. I have never heard him lecture (I'm sure he has) to an audience
>of "just plain folks."...

As I was originally (2/25) responsible for bringing up the subject
of Phil Johnson's book review (from which the Benno Muller-Hill story
came), I might remind Burgy and others that Phil's review was published in
BOOKS AND CULTURE; A CHRISTIAN REVIEW (a monthly from Christianity Today,
Inc.), whose target audience is decidedly NOT scientifically trained

Phil knows exactly what he is doing in these pieces. It is not (and has
hardly been from the beginning around 1990) a matter of educating or
warning scientists, but of firing off polemic with the express intention of
stirring debate where there had for too long, in his view, been none.

(He stated this very clearly in his Christianity Today art. of October 24,
1994, pp22-26. "Shouting Heresy in the Temple of Darwin", subtitled
"Naturalism has become the civil religion of our universities. A game plan
for a Christian response").

As everyone who has followed Phil's writings in the past decade knows, what
may have started as a 'game plan' to stir up academic science and
philosophy took a nasty turn when Phil found he was receiving strong
opposition from Christians in science. By the time of his 1994 CT article
and his letter to CT in 1995 - when the responses to Darwin on Trial, and
the Van Till/Johnson debates in FIRST THINGS etc. were past - Phil had
taken to characterizing his Christian critics as variously "indoctrinated";
having "an enormous stake in believing that what the rulers of science tell
us about evolution is true"; being "Christian accomodationists"; and that
"Christian intellectuals" were having the effect of "keeping Christians
quiet while the scientific naturalists indoctrinate their children".

I don't believe all this rhetoric falls within the bounds of getting
scientists to think about their presuppositions. Rather it has degenerated
into name-calling and conspiracy theorizing, and the target audience is now
the 'general Christian public'. The game plan now appears to be that of
marginalizing those who do not agree with Phil's approach (whether they
question his theology or his grasp of biology).

The consequences for the 'general Christian public' are becoming
significant. A new 'creationist orthodoxy' is emerging to supplement or
replace YEC views - admittedly not yet as tightly packaged, but nonetheless
representing a strong challenge to those of us loosely designated as
'theistic evolutionists', who are suspected of holding our views simply to
maintain our jobs or our credibility in academia.


Peter J. Vibert
Pastor Guest Senior Scientist
Wading River Congregational Church Biology Department
PO Box 596, 2057 North Country Road Brookhaven National Laboratory
Wading River, New York 11792 Upton, Long Island, NY 11973

tel: (516) 929-8849 Dept. tel: (516) 344-3415
fax: (516) 929-3523 e-mail: