Cover Story

The evolution backlash: Debunking Darwin

Intelligent Design: This broad, new movement sets aside differences among creationists, makes important scientific inroads

Issue: "Evolution Counter-Revolution," March 1, 1997

News last week from the evolution front:

**red_square**In New Mexico, the Senate Education Committee approved a bill mandating adoption of the science curriculum standards of the National Academy of Sciences, which include a dogmatic treatment of evolution. Arguing against the bill, John Baumgardner, a Los Alamos National Laboratory geophysicist, told the committee that &quotbiologists have not a clue about how genesis occurred."

**red_square**In Virginia, a local American Family Association leader demanded that school officials disavow language used in a biology textbook comparing divine creation with astrology, fad diets, and other forms of &quotpseudoscience."

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**red_square**Across the country, newspaper headlines reported that an asteroid 6-12 miles wide hit the earth 65 million years ago, killing two-thirds of the species then in existence. An Associated Press article concluded, &quotAmong the survivors, scientists believe, were small mammals that--over millions of years--evolved into many new species, including humans."

**red_square**Over the past year, the evolution controversy has intensified across the nation. Colorado high-school student Danny Phillips's battle is typical: When he watched a classroom video that attributed the origin of life to &quotrandom molecules in the atmosphere," he argued that the showing of the video, with its evolutionary assertion, violated local school policy requiring teachers to present evolution as theory, not fact. A school committee initially agreed. But, under ACLU pressure, the school board ruled for the video. That battle continues.

**red_square**And there's other news: Science magazine warned that creationists are coming back armed with a &quotshrewd new strategy." The new strategy centers on a concept labeled intelligent design. The design movement shows promise of winning a place at the table in secular academia, while uniting Christians concerned about the role science plays in the current culture wars.

Short, freckled, with round face and crinkly eyes, Phillip E. Johnson of the Berkeley law school is an unlikely looking revolutionary. Yet he is the acknowledged leader of an intelligent design movement that combines classic critiques of evolutionary theory with a fresh, innovative approach. The key, Mr. Johnson told WORLD, is not to defend a prepared position so much as to promote critical-thinking skills.

As a law professor, Mr. Johnson's focus is on the logic and rhetoric used in support of Darwinism. Scientists build a case exactly as lawyers do in the courtroom, using the same strategies of persuasion. For example, Mr. Johnson points out, &quotDarwinists benefit from equivocating between two meanings of the term evolution." Sometimes the word refers simply to minor changes in the living world--an observable fact that no one questions. But at other times it means that all life developed through completely natural causes--a philosophical speculation that is highly questionable. In Mr. Johnson's words, &quotDarwinists play a shell game by getting you to assent to the trivial definition of evolution, and then suggesting that it compels you to accept a comprehensive philosophy of naturalism."

Another common trick of persuasion is the selective use of evidence. The facts adduced in favor of Darwinism are decidedly meager: minor adaptations in the color of moths, the shape of finch beaks, or the wings of fruit flies. Such examples represent modifications of existing structures; they leave unanswered the burning question: How does nature create complex structures in the first place? For the Darwinian true believer, Mr. Johnson says, what bridges the gap is naturalistic philosophy. &quotIf naturalism is true--if nature is all that exists--then something very much like Darwinism has to be true, no matter what the state of the evidence." His devastating conclusion: &quotDarwinism is not so much an inference from the facts as a deduction from naturalistic philosophy."

Mr. Johnson argues his case in two books, Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance. The flair and sophistication of his presentation has won a hearing for the design paradigm in high-level academic circles. Of course, some establishment scientists dismiss Mr. Johnson as a lawyer who has overstepped his bounds--who just &quotdoesn't understand how science works." Yet he has been invited to speak at state and private universities across the country, and his engaging wit has earned him warm friendships among many of the scientists who are his intellectual foes.

For example, when young Danny Phillips protested the classroom video, he politely offered an alternative called &quotDarwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?" featuring Mr. Johnson in a Stanford University debate with Cornell biologist William Provine (available from the Access Research Network, www.arn.org/arn). What's more, Mr. Provine makes a point of letting the audience know that he and Mr. Johnson are friends--that after the debate they will go out for dinner and have a beer together.

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