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Christianity Today, Week of December 2
The Dick Staub Interview: Phillip Johnson
Asking the right questions is at the heart of the evolution debate.
Dr. Phillip Johnson has taught law at Berkeley for over 30 years and is one of the most prominent representatives of the Intelligent Design Movement. The theory claims that the complexity of life suggests a higher intelligence, rather than evolution, is behind its creation. Johnson is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, and his newest book, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate.
What does Ohio's decision on science requirements mean for the Intelligent Design Movement?
The recent decision of the Ohio Science Standards Committee of the State School Board has been a big breakthrough. [Critics] are calling it a compromise, but it isn't. It's our position. It allows teachers to present evidence against the theory of evolution. This evidence includes the facts that the drawings of embryos in the textbooks are fraudulent and that the peppered moth experiment was botched if not an outright hoax.
Students then can learn things like that were kept from them before. It all depends, of course, whether the teachers take the opportunity to do this.
Likewise, it depends on the initiative Christian parents take to make sure that their children know and learn as much as they should. But the big thing for now is not the impact this will have on teaching, but that it symbolizes that the Darwinists are no longer invincible.
They have lost a big one. They're like Napoleon's army in Moscow. They have occupied a lot of territory, and they think they've won the war. And yet they are very exposed in a hostile climate with a population that's very much unfriendly.
That's the case with the Darwinists in the United States. The majority of the people are skeptical of the theory. And if the theory starts to waver a bit, it could all collapse, as Napoleon's army did in a rout.
Why did you choose to take on evolution?
What I noticed in 1987, was that Darwinism and evolution were more in my field, legal analysis, than in science. The amount of biology you have to know to argue it is very slim. It was mainly a matter of assumptions and logic.
The Darwinists assume the conclusion they want to get at, and they read that conclusion into the basic definition of science. If you let them get away with that, then they can hardly lose. But if you challenge that, it's hard for them to defend it.
But Christians do not all agree on how the Earth was created. How did a fairly contentious subculture unite around this kind of idea?
It's a matter of asking the right question, which all of the Christian groups ought to be able to agree on.
Now, some didn't. But most could agree that the right question is, "Does the evidence show you need a creator, or does the evidence show that nature can do the creating on its own?" That question is prior to questions about how long the creator took.
But it's also a question that the Darwinists cannot afford to give way on. Once I put that question on the table they've got a big problem, and it tends to unite the people who really believe in God.
This idea is at the heart of The Right Questions. What lessons does the book share?
It's an all-purpose intellectual method that you can use with any difficult issue. [The idea is not to] go giving answers before you're sure you've figured out what the question is. And make sure that you are asking the right questions in the right order.
[People] tend to worry too much about the answers they get. But what's more important is the reasoning behind those answers.
You suffered a stroke not long ago. How did that affect you personally?
I had a stroke while taking a nap in a beach home. I woke up in an ambulance with my left side incapacitated and really not knowing what life I was going to have after that. I say I was in the valley of the shadow of death fearing something worse than death: incapacity.
My friends from the church gathered all around me and they prayed for a miracle of healing. My friend, Kate, a wonderful trained singer sang this hymn, "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand."
Talk about the right question. I thought, Do I stand on Christ the solid rock? Maybe I have one foot on Christ, the solid rock. But don't I have the other foot on the capacity of my own brain? That's what I've always relied on. That's what got me to Harvard. That's what made me a Berkeley professor. That's what made the wedge strategy.
Yet maybe that's shifting sand, since I'm lying here with the right side of my brain in shatters. Just the conversion wasn't enough. I had to mature. And then that wasn't enough. I really needed to lose the other thing that was most reliable to me that I stood on. I came to this realization that the important thing in life is to be in the place that God meant you to be, doing the thing he means you to do.
How do you relate this personal tragedy to the national tragedy of September 11?
I was home just a few days from the hospital and the stroke therapy when I saw that horrible event. I had hoped it was an Internet hoax. But then I thought, The world has had a stroke, the same thing has happened to the world that happened to me.
Those towers that were hit were described in The New York Times as "our towers of faith," our faith in a great commercial civilization. I compared that to the Japanese admirals in 1941 who thought that our faith was based in the battleships at anchor in Pearl Harbor.
But no, the strength of America is not in its towers or in its battleships, it's in its faith. Of course, I said that, but I wasn't sure it was really true anymore. This isn't the same country we were in the previous decades.
Now we're seeing how the country is almost cringing in fear of these Muslim terrorists from the Middle East. I see professors afraid to discuss the subject because they're afraid of what the Muslim students will do. They're afraid it won't keep the peace on campus. I never thought our country would descend to this level.
We are afraid to search the truth and to proclaim it. We once knew who the true God was and were able to proclaim it frankly. But since about 1960 we've been hiding from that. We've been trying to pretend that all religions are the same.
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Earlier Dick Staub Interviews include:
Connie Neal | The author of The Gospel According to Harry Potter talks about leading a friend to Christ through the wizard hero. (Nov. 19, 2002)
Chris Rice | The author of Grace Matters talks about his friendship with racial reconciliation leader Spencer Perkins, his former coauthor and best friend. (Nov. 12, 2002)
John Polkinghorne | The 2002 Templeton Prize winner sees the Bible as "the laboratory notebook" of the Holy Spirit. (Nov. 5, 2002)
Ruth Tucker | The professor and author of Walking Away from Faith talks about doubting God. (Oct. 29, 2002)
Vishal Mangalwadi | The author and lecturer talks about how the Bible shaped India, Western democracy, and his life. (Oct. 22, 2002)
Dave Alan Johnson | The creator of Doc talks about balancing entertainment with spiritual depth and TV shows with evil plumbers. (Oct. 15, 2002)
Chuck Palahniuk | The author of Fight Club talks about his new book and the need to see culture not on a TV set but by talking to neighbors. (Oct. 8, 2002)
Frederica Mathewes-Green | The author of Facing East and The Illumined Heart talks about her spiritual journey and transformation. (Oct. 1, 2002)
Chris Seay | The author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano talks about men who want to be in the "Christian mafia." (Sept. 24, 2002)
John Sloan | The author of The Barnabas Way says Christians need to kiss more frogs and reconsider their prayers for blessings. (Sept. 17, 2002)
Nancy Guthrie | Two years after sharing her story of Hope with Christianity Today, the modern Job tells of losing another child to Zellweger Syndrome (Sept. 10, 2002)
Stephen L. Carter | The Yale University law professor and author of The Emperor of Ocean Park talks about the lack of religious characters in modern fiction (Sep. 3, 2002)
Francine Rivers | The fiction writer says she starts each book with a question that she doesn't know the answer to. God provides the ending. (Aug. 27, 2002)
Ben Heppner | The acclaimed dramatic tenor speaks about getting into opera, his faith, and P.O.D. (Aug. 20, 2002)
Morton Kondracke | The political commentator talks about how being saved from alcoholism, and trying to save his wife from the ravages of Parkinson's. (Aug. 13, 2002)
Mike Yaconelli | The author of Messy Spirituality discusses God's "annoying love." (Aug. 6, 2002)
David Brooks | The Weekly Standard senior editor talks about the spiritual life of Bobos. (July 30, 2002)
Calvin Miller | The author of Jesus Loves Me: Celebrating the Profound Truths of a Simple Hymn talks about childlike faith (July 23, 2002)
Kathleen Norris | The author of The Virgin of Bennington talks about being found by God in the midst of sex, drugs, and poetry. (July 16, 2002)
Thomas Moore | "To really live a secular life and enjoy it is part of being a religious person," says the author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion (July 9, 2002)
Os Guinness | Whether we're seeking or have already been found, we're all on a journey. (July 2, 2002)
Oliver Sacks | The physician author of Awakenings talks about his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, order in the universe, and testing God. (June 25, 2002)
David Myers | People say they know money can't buy happiness, says the Hope College psychology professor. But they don't truly believe it. (June 18, 2002)
Richard Lewis | The comedian, actor, and author talks about his humor, addiction, and spiritual journey. (June 11, 2002)
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