From: Stephen E. Jones <email@example.com>
> May I also take the opportunity to bring to the List's attention some
> recently webbed articles by Johnson:
> http://www.svmagazine.com/2000/week03/features/Story02.html "Phillip
> E. Johnson is a dangerous man." Profile of Johnson in the Sunday Silicon
> Valley magazine of the San Jose Mercury News.
He is a dangerous man, in the same sense that all rabble-rousing demagogues
are, in a culture already overrun with superstition for people like him to
tap into and seemingly justify. Everyone on this list should read the above
interview, to see the demagogue at work. His lies begin in his first answer,
when he claims the physically demonstrable falsehood that mutation and
selection cannot create genetic information. That this is false has been
demonstrated in laboratory environments, and it can be demonstrated in
natural conditions as well (it's easy, really: Take a bunch of organisms and
their offspring and you will find that some of the offspring do in fact have
*more* genetic information than their parents. QED).
No, I don't grant him the "Stephen Jones" escape of claiming to be
innocently, honestly ignorant of the relevant facts in this case; he has
been promulgating this crap for way too long for it to be innocent
falsehoods. He has been informed of the facts (i.e., physical proof that
offspring sometimes have more genetic information than their parents), so,
unless he wishes to claim he has some horrible mental or brain disorder that
prevents him from considering such evidence against his case, then, yes, we
*must* conclude, beyond any *reasonable* doubt, that he is simply outright
His comparison of the cell with a city is apt, but it doesn't support his
case. He claims that the activities of a cell must be directed (i.e., from
some source outside the cell), apparently on the premise that the components
of the cell do not have their own causal natures. But cities often do not
operate on the basis of any particular overall direction. Cities, in fact,
usually *evolve*; people gradually accumulate and evolve ways of living and
working together, *without* direction from on high. The parts of a city or a
cell are directed, but not by any outside source of direction. Instead, they
may be directed mainly by *each other*. There is no more need to postulate
an outside director for this case than to postulate one for the operation of
a television set. Once the right parts are put together in the right way,
and the right forms of energy are supplied, both operate *without* programs,
without external detailed control.
Of course, information is involved. That's true in *any* machine, or any
causal process. Where does the information come from? According to Johnson,
it cannot come from "random mutation" or selection. But, of course, if genes
are randomly mutated, then some of these mutations *must* be *increases* of
information (as empirical observation shows some of them indeed are
increases in information). Further, as Johnson well knows, much of genetic
variation is not properly called "mutation" because it comes from the
mingling of the genetic material from two different parental genomes.
Further, as Johnson well knows, some of these combinations result in more
information than was present in *either* parental genome, thus increasing
the total genetic information. But, apparently, truth really is a stranger
in Johnson's mind, at least as anything other than a hindrance to the
promulgation of his religious views.
At the end of his second answer, he says, "If there's a process that turned
a bacterium into a butterfly, it's unknown how it happened. It's a mystery.
There is no such mechanism we can observe in nature or in the laboratory."
Presumably, he means that we have not actually been able to observe a
bacterium turn into a butterfly. Big deal. When I watch a person through a
window approaching a door, disappear from view, and then a moment later
appear on the other side of the door, should I assume that there is no
process by which a he could have gone from being on one side of a door to
being on the other side, merely because I was not able to observe him the
whole time? Should I conclude that the man who appears on the other side of
the door is *not* the same man as the one I saw through the window a moment
I don't think so. I don't think Johnson thinks so, either. Though I agree
that we cannot *absolutely* prove that bacteria evolved into butterflies
(and numerous other things as well), it is ludicrous and absurd (and, in
Johnson's case, dishonest as well) to claim that such a process is a
"mystery." Why? Because *far* from being a mystery, we can offer, at a
sufficiently high degree of detail, *thousands* of was by means of which
bacteria could evolve into butterflies. The only true mystery is what the
*actual* evolutionary path was, because, beyond a certain level, we simply
do not have enough historical details to piece the actual path together in a
What's really a mystery is why Johnson continues to try to pass off such
sophomoric garbage as serious intellectual debate of a scientific issue.
Because the next question and answer are short, I quote them here in their
Michelle Quinn: Why can't we come up with a theory based on what we know?
Isn't it somewhat unfair to say, "'show me how evolution happens in a
laboratory,'" given that this is a process that has taken millions of years?
Johnson: If you are a philosophic materialist, you don't need any evidence
at all. It's got to be true as a matter of logic. If you are Christian, like
I am, you might say: "'Show me. I want to see it.'" That's a higher
standard. But it's perfectly rational.
First, notice that he does not answer Quinn's question at all.
Second, notice that he is attempting to put metaphysical non-naturalism on
the same epistemological par with scientific naturalism, *totally* ignoring
the fact that non-naturalism violates the principle of metaphysical
minimalism (a derivative of the principle of Occam's Razor) and the
principle of naturalistic sufficiency (which is the principle that, for any
empirical fact or collection of facts for which there *is* an explanation, a
naturalistic explanation can be offered that is *better* than *any*
non-naturalistic explanation, if only by the expedient of mechanically
"naturalizing" any allegedly necessary non-naturalistic explanation). The
principle of Occam's Razor has long been *the* major hang-up for creationist
theories, because they require a metaphysical level of reality that is
simply *never* necessary for the empirical facts at hand, because there are
too many naturalistic explanations possible for such facts. For example,
even if a novel causal principle has to be proposed to explain some fact,
that is *vastly* preferable to positing an entire new metaphysical level of
reality populated by supernatural gods.
Third, it's hypocritical to an *extreme* degree for a *Christian* (which he
claims to be) to be demanding *evidence* for *anything*, since, by
definition, Christianity is based on *faith*, not cognitive contact with
reality. In fact, *rational* proof of the existence of God would be, at
best, essentially irrelevant to Christianity, even if it were possible.
Thus, Johnson's demand, "Show me. I want to see it," is ludicrous. Has he
seen his alleged designer? If he claims he has, can he prove it was a
designer that he saw? Did he *see* the designer create the various species
that he claims did not evolve? Has he *observed* the designer tinkering with
the genes of bacteria to make butterfly genes? If so, precisely when and
where did he observe this remarkable event? Or does he claim to have
*observed* some designer creating butterfly genes de novo? Again, if so,
when and where? Can he provide the details so that *others* may duplicate
these remarkable observations?
Scientific progress is often a matter of competing theories. Pure
naturalistic evolutionary theories are one category of such competing
theories. They compete not only with each other, but also with
non-naturalistic theories, such as Johnson's. They compete in terms of how
well they work to logically *imply* empirically observable facts based on
*other* observed facts, and in terms of other epistemological principles
(such as Occam's Razor, mentioned above). Johnson's theory posits a vast new
metaphysical level of reality, an alleged designer, and a vast array of
facts not in evidence even in a *much* weaker sense than what he demands of
evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory starts from empirically observable
facts (such as the fact that genetic information *does* increase, in
laboratory experiments (just as he demands), and logically interpolates and
extrapolates other facts, according to a small set of testable causal
principles (i.e., principles that have empirical implications that are not
implied by other theories).
When intellectual criminals like Johnson can come up with a theory that can
do *half* as well as naturalistic evolutionary theory did in 1859, when
Darwin's theory was first published, *then* he should start talking about
whether his theory is preferable to such theory -- and then only if he can
also show that such a theory *requires* his non-naturalistic components,
that the principle of naturalistic sufficiency is false, that, *despite*
Occam's Razor, such non-naturalism really *is* rationally justified.
Johnson's answer to Quinn's next question is simply irrelevant. Yes,
computer software requires intelligence. But there is no viable analogy (at
least not one that helps Johnson's case) between computer software and the
development of genetic information. Further, as he probably knows but does
not want the *reader* to know, there is a type of programming called
"genetic" programming because it *does* use random mutation (or, more
generally, random variation) and selection to produce information. Trial
programs are generated randomly. The ones that come closest (by dumb
mechanical test) to doing what is needed are saved, and used as the basis
for another generation of programs that are variations on these. Again, the
unintelligent selection process is applied to determine which programs will
survive to reproduce and provide the basis for the next generation of
The end result of this process of random variation and selection is a
program that has the information (computer instructions) needed to carry out
the required operation. Intelligence goes into designing the *environment,*
but not into the *process*. Of course, what evolutionists suggest is that
*physical* evolution occurs in functionally similar environments that
occurred and occur naturally. If such an unintelligent *process* can create
information in one case, why can't essentially the same unintelligent
process create information in other cases? What we observe is that it *does*
create information in other cases.
[Footnote: The term "create" in this context is misleading. I'm using it
only because Johnson did. Information is never truly created, but random
variation *is* the variation of information, so, in effect, mutation and
variation are force-feeding information into the replication process.
Sometimes it cancels out information already present, resulting in offspring
that have *less* genetic information than their parents did. But,
*observationally*, sometimes the genetic information in the offspring's
genome *is* greater than the information in the parent genome(s).
Where *does* such information in the genome come from? It comes from the
almost constant ebb and flow of the environment, the chaotic "stirring" of
both external and internal environments by heat, cosmic rays, mechanical
movement, chemicals occurring in food, water, and air, by the evolved
process of recombining genes, which allows the micro-accidents of the moment
to largely determine many of the details of the resulting genomes (which is
why siblings from the same parents are often *very* different, even if they
are the same gender and born at the same time). In short, there is a
*constant* flow of information through an organism (if it is alive and
functioning), and this information influences the replication process and
sometimes causes the resulting offspring genome to have more information
than the parent genome(s) did.]
Is Johnson's theory (i.e., "a supernatural being did it") really supposed to
be any *better* than this? How then, does the positing of a supernatural
designer explain and predict that, if you take a previously untested microbe
and breed it in an environment that is uniformly hostile to it because of
some factor (such as heat or reduced resources), such that the only
available "solution" for the organism is to increase genetic information (so
as to provide the organism with a means of dealing more effectively with the
special environmental factor), it *will* increase genetic information? I
predict, on the basis of evolutionary theory, that this will happen. What
does positing an allegedly intelligent designer enable us to predict about
such a case?
That's right: Nothing at all. Why? Because we don't have a causal principle.
*All* we have is the alleged cause, but no defined and empirically
verifiable causal mechanism by which it works.
Finally, notice that when it comes to evidence of evolution of bacteria to
butterflies, Johnson demands to *see* it. But, when it comes to evidence of
a preposterous and scientifically useless non-naturalistic "intelligent
creator," he is only able to offer his *ignorance* of how evolution could
produce butterflies from bacteria. His argument is, in short: "I don't
understand how it could happen, therefore it did *not* happen, therefore an
intelligent designer exists." Of course, nearly *all* arguments for such an
intelligent designer's existence fall into the category of argument from
ignorance, so this is nothing new. Nor is it new that ignorance of
alternatives does not constitute proof of one's pet theory. What's important
to notice here is the hypocrisy of Johnson's demand for *direct* physical
observation of a process of evolution that took millions of years while
simultaneously proclaiming that his *ignorance* of this very same process
*proves* the existence of an "intelligent creator."
But, if he didn't observe the process of evolution, does he claim to have
observed the *non-evolutionary* history of life for the past few billion
years. *Show* me. I want to *see* it. He doesn't seem to grasp that the very
same observational limitations that make such direct observation of
evolution over a period of millions or billions of years impossible are
*exactly* the same limitations *his* theory faces; *he* has no more
observational basis for his claim than does the most naive evolutionist.
But, he wants to have it both ways. For the simpler, minimalist theory that
life evolved by a process of variation and replication, he wants complete
observational evidence, but for his *own* theory, he wants to dispense with
any evidence stronger than "I don't see how it evolution could work" (i.e.,
his own ignorance, which he has steadfastly and willfully maintained against
all attempts to educate him for many years now). For his *own* theory,
Occam's Razor no longer applies, and it's perfectly okay to arbitrarily
posit some supernatural realm populated by supernatural beings. I say, "Show
me. I want to see it."
Finally observe that at some points Johnson tries to pretend that he is not
arguing for a belief in a Christian God, but then, at several other points,
including at the end of the interview, he states the issue solely in terms
of a belief in God. Talk about wanting to have it both ways!
But, he would be even more hypocritical to stick with the view that it's
just a matter of competing scientific theories, because his real motive has
nothing to do with science. He is simply trying to push science aside in
order to promote religion. That's why the complete reversal on the issue of
observational evidence when he switches from demanding complete
observational evidence for the evolution of bacteria to butterflies, but
relies solely on his *ignorance* (a *lack* of observational evidence) as his
"evidence" for the existence of an intelligent designer. That's why the
incredible pretense that non-naturalism has no more requirements for
evidence than does naturalism (as if we did not all agree that the natural
world exists). That's why, in general, he evades issue after issue, and lies
through his teeth and his hat at nearly every step of the way.
In short, Johnson is a dangerous man because he is a demagogue with almost
no respect for the truth or reality.
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