Tara’s Blog

Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson

Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson

Oh my STARS! But I just LOVE this book!

I first learned about Professor Johnson back in law school. (He was a University of California Berkeley Law Professor until he suffered a series of strokes back in 2001.) I heard him speak at a Christian Legal Society Conference (he became a Christian later in life, I think in his forties, after he had been a tenured law professor for many years), and I was immediately impressed not only by his brilliance, but also by his humility and wry humor.

I started reading his books at that conference and I’ve loved every one I’ve read.

If you enjoy logical, dispassionate, rhetoric/name-calling-FREE discussions about eternally important topics (like evolution), then I strongly urge you to read his works.

In re-reading Darwin on Trial this week, I was trying to keep track of quotes to share with you but OH MY there are just too many. I’d really like to quote the entire book to you—but instead, I’ll just (hopefully) tempt you to read it yourself with a few lines from the Epilogue:

“One thing I am not doing is taking sides in a Bible-science conflict. I am interested in what unbiased scientific investigation has to tell us about the history of life, and in particular about how the enormously complex organs of plants and animals came into existence …

The philosophically important part of the Darwinian theory—its mechanism for creating complex things that did not exist before—is therefore not really part of empirical science at all, but rather a deduction from naturalistic philosophy. In brief, what makes me a “critic of evolution” is that I distinguish between naturalistic philosophy and empirical science, and oppose the former when it comes cloaked in the authority of the latter …”

(I think one of the reasons I love this book so much is because it hits my dual-love of law (rules of evidence!) and philosophy and does so in a very readable, logical, I would even say enjoyable manner. But Fred said I should probably warn you that he found the book to be a bit dense/hard to read.)

Oh, and if you’ve never heard of Phillip E. Johnson/Darwin on Trial and decide to google either, be further forewarned that MAN! Is he MALIGNED. Especially on the (I’ve found it to be QUITE biased and I wouldn’t trust it for anything more than a starlet’s birth date and even then I’d be skeptical) Wikipedia. Nothing like TRUTH to bring out irrational, ill-informed critics.

Let me close, then, with just a few more lines on that topic. Again, from the Epilogue, beginning with how Professor Johnson responded to a scathing attack he received from Stephen Jay Gould in Scientific American:

“Gould listed a string of objections about matters that had nothing to do with the main line of argument (see the research notes following this chapter for a summary of Gould’s specific objections) …

None of this would have impressed anyone who had read the book, but most readers of Scientific American would not have done so and would be likely to assume that Gould was describing it accurately. They were not likely to hear anything to the contrary because the editors refused to print my response or any letters from readers, although I know they received many.

Far from being discouraged by this treatment, I was elated …

Everyone who was following the controversy assumed that Gould was the most formidable adversary I would encounter and many were waiting to see if he would come up with a devastating response. That he could do no better than a hit-and-run attack was an implicit admission that he had no answer on the merits. As one biochemist friend wrote me in congratulations, “Judging by the howls of pain from the back pages of Scientific American, I think you must have struck a vital spot.”

And so I had …”

Oh oh oh! I know I said I’d close with that topic. But please indulge me just a few more lines because Professor Johnson’s own close of the Epilogue is just so great:

“My primary goal in writing Darwin on Trial was to legitimate the assertion of a theistic worldview in the secular universities …

Darwinian evolution with its blind watchmaker thesis makes me think of a great battleship on the ocean of reality. Its sides are heavily armored with philosophical barriers to criticism and its decks are stacked with big rhetorical guns ready to intimidate any would-be attackers. In appearance, it is as impregnable as the Soviet Union seemed to be only a few years ago. But the ship has sprung a metaphysical leak, and the more perceptive of the ship’s officers have begun to sense that all the ship’s firepower cannot save it if the leak is not plugged. There will be heroic efforts to save the ship, of course, and some plausible rescuers will invite the officers to take refuge in electronic lifeboats …

The spectacle will be fascinating and the battle will go on for a long time. But in the end reality will win.”