Cover Story

You say you want a devolution?

Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson cheerfully deconstructs the scientific church of Darwin

Issue: "Debunking Darwinism," Nov. 22, 1997

Is it a bird? Is it a dinosaur? The dinosaur-to-bird theory, a mainstream evolutionist orthodoxy, is faltering. A new book that proclaims the old faith, The Mistaken Extinction: Dinosaur Evolution and the Origin of Birds, is hitting the stores this month. But Alan Feduccia, chairman of the biology department at the University of North Carolina, has come out in opposition: "The dinosaurian origin of birds is based on sloppy science." As academic evolutionists fight among themselves, the feathers are beginning to fly. The tail ends of America's cars exhibit a more populist angle on the evolution/creation debate. When some Christians began displaying plastic fish, evolutionists on their vehicles added legs to the fish. When some Christians then inserted Jesus' name inside the fish, evolutionists followed with the name of their patron saint, Darwin. Now there's a third stage: A big Jesus fish devouring the evolved fish of Darwin. As Thanksgiving approaches this year, Christians can thank God for the work of researchers at creation science institutes who have fought for many years to show that the world is God's world. They can also be thankful for the new work of Michael Behe that is creating a stir; his book, Darwin's Black Box (see WORLD, Nov. 30/Dec. 7, 1996) has opened up a new front in the debate. But grabbing the greatest amount of attention these days is Phillip E. Johnson, the lawyer and professor who is somewhat of a prodigal son. Mr. Johnson grew up in a nominally religious home, majored in English literature at Harvard, went to law school at the University of Chicago, clerked for liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, and in 1967 became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, his academic home to this day. Mr. Johnson, however, was theologically homeless. He had been an agnostic with a failing marriage. Then he accompanied his 11-year-old daughter to a Vacation Bible School dinner. The pastor's message caught Mr. Johnson's attention, however, and he started down the path to Christ. First, he slowly came to understand Jesus and his need for salvation. Then, he started to reevaluate the systems of belief, on issues such as evolution, that he had absorbed during his years apart from God. The work that now consumes him began when Mr. Johnson visited Charles Darwin's home in England and began to read books about evolution, such as Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker. The more Mr. Johnson read, the more he realized that "mutation and selection can't create, and that there are even more fundamental problems than that with the Darwinian scenario." Six years ago Mr. Johnson published the result of his study, Darwin on Trial-and since then he has been a frequent debater and college lecturer on the inadequacies of the evolutionary faith. The Johnsonian personality has been helpful in that pursuit. Articulate in debate, he is quick to tell a funny story or laugh at another's. He is careful, whether in a group or one-to-one, to make eye contact with his listeners. He can dominate a conversation through the sheer force of his words and ideas, but he is also willing to listen to questions and then explain an idea until it is understood. Don't be too quick, however, to tag Mr. Johnson's car with a creation science sticker. What he emphasizes about the origins of the world is that it is the product of intelligent design. He is deliberately a deconstructionist: "I've got this simple project of putting the demolition charge on the key philosophical concept that has allowed the atheists and agnostics to dominate the whole intellectual world and governmental world in a country where most of the people believe in God." As Mr. Johnson has been making his case during the 1990s, he has been fine-tuning his message and amassing allies. He speaks on campuses and in churches. For the last two years, he has taught at the Cornerstone Festival, several days of loud music and hours of teaching staged on a farm by the counter-culture community Jesus People USA. He is about to embark on a tour of seminaries in the Southern Baptist Convention, a group whose support he covets and is winning. Unlike those who see the persuasiveness of evolution and all its evil cousins as a sign that the end is near, Mr. Johnson believes that Darwinism is crumbling: "Those people are already fighting with each other. Sometimes what people say is that we are a major defection or two away from total victory. Once we get some undeniably legitimate figures in the scientific and intellectual communities saying, 'This is a legitimate issue. We can't sweep this under the rug anymore,' that's when the situation will have radically changed." The ascent of Darwinism brought on a frightening new world, Mr. Johnson says. Naturalistic evolution, by definition, excludes God; the natural conclusion, once evolution became the accepted orthodoxy, was for absolute lines of morality and behavior to become relative, allowing for the flourishing of many elements now seen as harmful: the sexual revolution fueled by easy methods of birth control; feminism; the "right" to abortion; and a consequent devaluation of human life. Conversely, if Mr. Johnson's campaign succeeds, he believes that exclusion of God from the public arena will become much more difficult: "Once the issue is properly understood, the evolutionary scientists cannot defend the position that we should follow materialist philosophy regardless of the facts. It's because of the confusion between the philosophy and the facts that they've been able to dominate the scene. Once they don't dominate the scene, then we have a radically new world. That's when the opportunity to talk about what really happened becomes meaningful." Once God is in the picture, Mr. Johnson says, there will be a new look at the evidence: "If we say, 'Did a bacterium by gradual steps turn into a lobster or an insect or a worm ...' most people ask, 'Is it possible God could have done it that way?' That's a boring question. Of course it is possible. But if God is in the picture at all, then what's the evidence that he did change a bacterium by gradual steps into a worm? There's no evidence. It's not recorded in the fossils. It's not testable in the laboratories. It's something that if anybody believes it, they believe it on faith, faith in evolution." Ministers and Christians in science "have been heavily influenced by indoctrination.... Evolutionary science is based on naturalism and draws philosophical conclusions to that base. That's why any theistic evolution is inherently superficial. It leads people into naturalistic thinking, and they don't realize it." One powerful piece of indoctrination, Mr. Johnson notes, was the 1960 film Inherit the Wind. "They see the Rev. Jeremiah Brown, the anti-intellectual. They want to be both Christian and intellectually respectable. The tragedy is that it lets naturalistic thinking into the doors of the church. This explains why the mainstream religious are leaning to the naturalistic-the liberal-side." What happens when that thinking changes? Mr. Johnson says, "The next step after the realization that Darwinism isn't true ... is to ask, 'How did this happen?' At that point, Romans 1:20 comes strongly into play. We see that part of the human project has always been to get rid of God." So rising above the "science" that gets rid of God "will be every bit as significant as the Darwinian revolution of the 19th century was in its way, and that's what caused the complete marginalization of theism in the intellectual world." Romans 1:20 states, " For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." That is something to be thankful for in this year of our Lord, 1997.

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