JUDGING A SELFAPPOINTED IMPEACHER An introduction to Phillip E. Johnson's response to Step

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JUDGING A SELF-APPOINTED IMPEACHER An introduction to Phillip E. Johnson's response to Stephen Jay Gould's book review of "Darwin on Trial" By David N. Menton It has long been understood that one dares to criticize Darwinian dogma at ones own risk. Even as early as 1879, the famous Lamarkian, Samuel Butler wrote in his note book: I attacked the foundations of morality in "Erewhon," and nobody cared two straws, I tore open the wounds of my Redeemer as he hung upon the Cross in "The Fair Haven," and people rather liked it. But when I attacked Mr. Darwin they were up in arms in a moment. (Samuel Butler, 1879, "Evolution Old and New" p 54) In a book review in the July 1992 issue of "Scientific American" entitled "Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge," self appointed impeacher Stephen Jay Gould is "up in arms" to say the least. Clearly, no one can publicly criticize the logic or scientific validity of Darwinian dogma without being subject to impeachment by Gould - not even Dr. Phillip E. Johnson, Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley and former legal aid to Chief Justice Earl Warren. Professor Johnson's book "Darwin on Trial" has received widespread public interest and media attention but Gould assures us that this "is certainly no measure of the books merit." Calling upon God's Word (Proverbs 11:29), and the words of Abraham Lincoln ("Darwin's soulmate"!!!) for moral support, Gould, a well known Marxist and atheist, severely berates Johnson for daring to suggest that man may actually have been created by a sovereign Creator. Gould tells us that Johnson has "taken the low road in writing a very bad book," indeed, he insists that "it hardly deserves to be called a book at all." Gould derisively dismisses Johnson's book as "at best, a long magazine article promoted to hard covers" - strange criticism from a man who has himself published several books which are in fact compilations of his magazine articles! Gould concludes that "Darwin on Trial is "scarcely more than an acrid little puff" that really isn't good enough to merit "worrisome retorts" then gives us three full pages of his acrid and worrisome retorts. Lest anyone think that Johnson is a bit over sensitive in his claim that the review of his book by Gould is really an "attack piece," the review should be read in it's entirety in Scientific American. To give the flavor of the "review," I include the following partial list of Gould's invectives against Johnson and his book: clumsy, careless - repetitious - abysmally written - fails utterly - abstract argument with no weighing of evidence - false use of synecdoche -.tilts at rotted windmills - grandiose claims - badly argued - based on false criteria - misconstrues the basic principles of science - does not grasp the purpose and logic of the evolutionary argument - fails to present cogent arguments in his own brief - development of his case is fatally marred - full of errors - density of error is so high I must question wider competence - inadequacy in his own realm of expertise - performs abysmally in the lawyer's domain of the art of argument - false and unkind accusation - unfair discourse - unjustly castigates. It is understandable that Johnson was a bit miffed by his unjust castigation by Gould and requested an opportunity to respond. The following is a transcript of a letter Dr. Johnson sent to Jonathan Piel, Editor of "Scientific American" magazine: Dear Mr. Piel: I have just received the July issue of Scientific American with the review of my book "Darwin on trial" by Stephen Jay Gould. This review is what is known as an "attack piece" - an all-out attempt to discredit the author rather than to come to grips with the genuine intellectual issues raised by the book. I am considering various options about how to respond, and here is the one I like best: Would you make available an equivalent space for a reply essay by me? If you agree to do this, I will consider that Scientific American has dealt fairly and responsibly with me on this issue. I am sure you are aware that there is widespread feeling that some persons in the scientific establishment are trying to shut out dissent on this subject. I hope that you also agree that covering dissidents with invective and denying them a right to reply is the antithesis of the scientific approach. Allowing equivalent space for a response is the fair thing to do -- and it is also the scientific thing to do. I am confident my reply essay will contribute to intelligent discussion of the points in controversy. On the other hand, if I am as incompetent as Gould says, your readers are certainly capable of discovering that for themselves when they see the quality of my response. I am not afraid of exposing myself to further criticism, and I hope you are not afraid to present your readers with both sides of the question. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. Sincerely yours, Phillip Johnson It will come as no surprise that the magazine that fired the popular science writer Forest Mims, for daring to merely think (not write) critical thoughts about Darwinian dogma, refused to publish a reply essay from Johnson. And still, evolutionists criticize creationists for not publishing their scientific criticisms of Darwinism in peer reviewed scientific literature! In an effort to get Johnson's rebuttal as widely distributed as possible, Tom Woodward, Director of the C.S. Lewis Fellowship, has distributed the following document by Dr. Phillip Johnson: ================================================================= THE RELIGION OF THE BLIND WATCHMAKER by Phillip E. Johnson (Stephen Jay Gould published a 3-page attack on Phillip E. Johnson and his book "Darwin on Trial" in the July, 1992 issue of "Scientific American," Editor Jonathan Piel refused to publish this response.) "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." So writes Richard Dawkins, author of "The Blind Watchmaker." As a Darwinist, Dawkins maintains that the appearance is deceptive, and that living organisms are actually the product of natural selection. This "blind watchmaker thesis" is the most important claim of evolutionary biology. If scientists were able to say only that primitive fish "somehow" became amphibians, and then mammals, and finally humans, nobody would be very impressed. Absent a credible mechanism, the transformation of a fish into a human being is nearly as miraculous as the creation of man from the dust of the earth. What makes the story of evolution impressive is that Darwinist scientists think that they know how such transformations occurred, through natural processes requiring no divine guidance or non-material orienting force. The blind watchmaker thesis has enormous religious significance because it purports to explain the history of life without leaving any role to a supernatural Creator. "Before Darwin," writes Stephen Jay Gould, "we thought that a benevolent God had created us." After the acceptance of Darwinism, that belief became intellectually untenable. According to Gould: "No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature (though Newton's clock- winding god might have set up the machinery at the beginning of time and then let it run.) No vital forces propel evolutionary change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature." God as a remote First Cause thus remains a possibility, but God as an active creator is absolutely ruled out by the blind watchmaker thesis. That is why Richard Dawkins exults that "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." That doesn't mean that Darwin made it impossible to be anything but an atheist. For example, Darwinism and theism can easily be reconciled by those who, like Asa Gray and Charles D. Walcott, misunderstand Darwinian evolution as a benevolent process divinely ordained for the purpose of creating humans. (Gould himself has been particularly emphatic in correcting that sort of misunderstanding.) On the other hand, Darwinism does give atheists and agnostics a decisive advantage to the extent that belief in God's existence is a matter of logic and evidence. Those who really understand Darwinism, but still have spiritual inclinations, have the option of making a religion out of evolution. Theodosius Dobzhansky -- Gould's prime example of a Christian evolutionist -- actually exemplified the religious dimension of Darwinism. Dobzhansky discarded the traditional Christian conception of God, followed Teilhard de Chardin in spiritualizing the evolutionary process, and worshipped the glorious future of evolution. Gould writes that religion and science should not conflict, "because science treats factual reality, while religion struggles with human morality." But this statement implies a distinction between morality and reality which does not exist, and which Gould himself would never observe in practice. Does the morality of racial discrimination, for example, have nothing to do with the factual reality of human equality? The author of "The Mismeasure of Man" didn't seem to think so. And what gives Gould the authority to proclaim that religion may not concern itself with the factual reality of God? God can't have any moral authority unless He really exists, and if God really exists He might take a hand in creation. When a scientific elite claims exclusive authority to decide what is `real," it is asserting control over science, religion, philosophy, and every other area of thought. Religion, like science, starts with assumptions or conclusions about reality. If we were created by God for a purpose, that is one starting point. If we are the accidental product of blind natural forces, that is a very different starting point. In the former case we try to learn the will of our creator, and in the latter case we discard the "intervening spirit" as an illusion and proceed to chart our own course. Thus Gould himself, in the concluding sentence of "Wonderful Life," proceeds directly from a Darwinist starting point to the religious conclusion that we are morally autonomous beings who create our own values: We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes -- one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way. The author of all those statements castigated me for suggesting that Darwinism is tied to naturalistic philosophy and opposed to any meaningful theism. David Hull, reviewing "Darwin on Trial" for "Nature", was equally severe with me for refusing to concede that Darwinism has finished off theistic religion for good. Hull emphatically proclaimed a Darwinist doctrine of God: What kind of God can one infer from the sort of phenomena epitomized by the species on Darwin's Galapagos Islands? The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror.... The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray. So much for Darwinism's religious neutrality. Now to the more important question: Is the blind watchmaker thesis true? To put the question another way, does natural selection really have the fantastic creative power which Darwinists claim for it? That seems an appropriate question, but persons like Gould, Dawkins, and Hull insist that the very definition of "science" rules the question out of order. They say that science is inherently committed to naturalistic premises, that Darwinian evolution is the best scientific (i. e. naturalistic) theory of biological creation that we have, and even that Darwinism possesses a virtue called "consilience of induction" -- meaning that it explains a lot if we assume that it is true. One way or another, Darwinists meet the question "Is Darwinism true?" with an answer that amounts to an assertion of power: "Well, it is science, as we define science, and you will have to be content with that." Some of us are not content with that, because we know that the empirical evidence for the creative power of natural selection is somewhere between weak and non-existent. Artificial selection of fruitflies or domestic animals produces limited change within the species, but tells us nothing about how insects and mammals came into existence in the first place. In any case, whatever artificial selection achieves is due to the employment of human intelligence consciously pursuing a goal. The whole point of the blind watchmaker thesis, however, is to establish what material processes can do in the absence of purpose and intelligence. That Darwinist authorities continually overlook this crucial distinction gives us little confidence in their objectivity. Examples of natural selection in action, like Kettlewell's observation of population shifts in the peppered moth actually illustrate cyclical variation within stable species that exhibit no directional change. The fossil record -- characterized by sudden appearance and subsequent stasis -- is notoriously reluctant to yield examples of Darwinian macroevolution. The therapsid reptiles and Archaeopteryx are rare exceptions to the general absence of plausible transitional intermediates between major groups, which is why it is important to understand that even these Darwinist trophies are inconclusive as evidence of macroevolution. No wonder that prominent authorities like Stephen Jay Gould and Lynn Margulis have yearned for a new theory, on the ground that the evidence contradicts the neoDarwinist claim that macroevolutionary innovation results from the accumulation of small genetic changes by natural selection. The point is not whether "evolution" in some vague sense is true. "Evolution" has certainly occurred, but the scientific importance of this statement is slight when evolution is defined vaguely as "change" or modestly as "shifts in gene frequencies." No doubt the pattern of relationships among plants and animals invites an inference that there was some process of development from a common source. But how much do we know about this process of development? Perhaps one day scientists will be able to test some macroevolutionary mechanism, involving changes in the rate genes or whatever, that will explain how a four-footed mammal can become a whale or a bat without going through impossible intermediate steps. The difficulties should be honestly acknowledged, however. What evolutionary theory needs is a reliable creative mechanism, capable of building highly complex structures like vision and breathing systems again and again in diverse lines. Speculation about how an occasional jump might occur won't do the job. Readers who know the score will understand why I feel honored that Stephen Jay Gould could find no better response to my challenge than a vitriolic attack that evades the main points and instead wanders through the book in search of something to complain about. (Compare what I wrote on page 16 of "Darwin on Trial" with Gould's complaint about "recombination," and you will see how hard he worked to find a nit to pick.) I welcome criticism on specific points; that is why I circulated preliminary drafts to many distinguished scholars, including Gould. The subject in controversy, however, is my argument that the blind watchmaker thesis is not supported by the evidence -- i. e., that science does not know how life could have evolved to its present complexity and diversity without the participation of preexisting intelligence. If Gould had a convincing answer to that argument, you may be sure that he would have stated the issues clearly and met the main line of reasoning head on. The review itself merits no further response, but what requires explanation is the hostility. What divides Gould and me has little to do with scientific evidence and everything to do with metaphysics. Gould approaches the question of evolution from the philosophical starting point of scientific naturalism, which denies a priori that a non-material being such as God could influence the course of nature. From that standpoint the blind watchmaker thesis is true in principle by definition. Science may not know all the details yet, but something very much like Darwinian evolution simply has to be responsible for our existence because there is no acceptable alternative. If there are gaps or defects in the existing theory, the appropriate response is to supply additional naturalistic hypotheses. Critics who disparage Darwinism without offering a naturalistic alternative are seen as attacking science itself, probably in order to impose a religious straitjacket upon science and society. One does not reason with such persons; one employs any means at hand to discourage them. But maybe Darwinism really is false -- in principle, and not just in detail. Maybe mindless material processes can't create information-rich biological systems. That is a real possibility, no matter how offensive it is to scientific naturalists. How do Darwinists know that the blind watchmaker created the animal phyla, for example, since the process can't be demonstrated and all the historical evidence is missing? Darwinists may have the cultural power to suppress questions like that for a time, but eventually they are going to have to come to grips with them. There are a lot of theists in America, not to mention the rest of the world, and persons who promote naturalism in the name of science will not forever be able to deny then a fair hearing. Scientific naturalists who think that Darwinism can be defended by waging ideological war against the critics are free to follow the example of Stephen Jay Gould. Others may prefer to take the path of Michael Ruse and the Darwinist scientists who participated in an academic symposium on "Darwin on Trial" in March, 1992, at Southern Methodist University. These persons learned that it is possible to debate metaphysical differences in an academic setting in a fair-minded and mutually respectful manner. In the end, the entire scientific community will have to acknowledge that honest discussion -- with assumptions identified and terms precisely defined -- is the only method for resolving disagreement that is consistent with the best traditions of science itself. When scientists defend a cherished doctrine by obscuring the issues and intimidating the critics, it is a sure sign that what they are defending isn't science. ================================================================= Reprints of Johnson's response essay "The Religion of the Blind Watchmaker" and research notes which were omitted to fit the essay on a single page, are available on request. Also available at reasonable cost are the following: Two video tapes of lectures by Dr. Johnson: "Darwinism on Trial" "Behind the Critique" The printed text of his lecture: "Evolution & Theistic Naturalism" A packet of 20 selected reviews of "Darwin on Trial." Address inquiries to: C.S. Lewis Fellowship P.O. Box 9000 Holiday, FL 34690-9000


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