|From Truths That Transform with D. James Kennedy
Dr. Phillip Johnson
I became fascinated with the literature of biological evolution in 1987 while on sabbatical leave in England. I was interested in why, if the Gospel is true, agnostic thinking so completely dominates the intellectual world. Such thinking is taken for granted at the great universities and in public education.
I was fascinated with the evolutionary story, which is really the creation myth of the modern age. The first thing I noticed about it is that it contradicts the book of Genesis. It actually contradicts a whole lot more than that because, as the scientists define evolution, it is inherently a purposeless, mindless process that produced human beings as an accident. So if somebody tells you they believe in theistic evolution and God-guided evolution, the mistake they've made is that they don't really believe in evolution at all. If it's God-guided, it isn't evolution as the scientists use the term. There's a reason for that which goes right to the heart of what the theory is about.
Nature Is All There Is
Contemporary evolutionary scientists define science as an enterprise based on a naturalistic understanding of reality. That is, they assume at the beginning, before they start looking at any evidence, that nature is all there is. Nature is composed of matter, the particles that physicists study, so this philosophy can also be called "materialism." Matter is all there was-in the beginning were the particles in mindless motion. Nature had to do its own creating because they assume that nature is a closed system that can never be influenced by anything outside-like God, for example. It's taken for granted that those particles in mindless motion can form stars and planets, that on a planet they can form chemicals, and that on the early earth these chemicals came together in a pre-biotic soup. Some of these chemicals then spontaneously formed a simple living organism which grew up to be all the kinds of plants and animals, including human beings.
That's just taken for granted. I think you can see why, if you realize what must be true if nature is all there is. How did all creation occur if nature had to do it? You couldn't have plants, animals, and humans just popping out of the void-that's a miracle and would point to something supernatural. You have to start with the simplest possible thing-particles in mindless motion. And by the way, never mind where they came from. These have to be able to do all of the creating on their own. You can't have mind and purpose until mind and purpose evolve by this mindless process in human beings.
To talk of a purposeful or guided evolution is not to talk about evolution at all. That is "slow creation." When you understand it that way, you realize that the Darwinian theory of evolution contradicts not just the book of Genesis, but every word in the Bible from beginning to end. It contradicts the idea that we are here because a Creator brought about our existence for a purpose. That is the first thing I realized, and it carries tremendous meaning.
Terrible Scientific Reasoning
The other thing I realized is that evolution is based on absolutely terrible scientific reasoning. I'll just give you one little example to illustrate it. The basis of the theory of evolution is that it is possible for these mindless material forces to create plants and animals that are masterpieces of intricate complexity-far more complicated than a super computer or a space ship. How can they do that? The evolutionist will say, "We have natural selection. There are these random variations, and the ones that work the best are able to reproduce their kind-they survive and reproduce, so they're the ones that leave descendants. The descendants have
their characteristics, and things get better and better this way." And so you go from an extremely simple, primitive organism all the way up to a tree or a lobster or a human being by this process.
Let's suppose we ask, "What's your most powerful demonstration of this process?" In every textbook for the past several decades the prime illustration of the power of natural selection has been the Peppered Moth population in central England. You've probably run into this if you've had a course in biology. The short of it is that there's a population of Peppered Moths. Most of the moths are light colored; some of them are dark colored. That's how things were at the beginning, but then the trees got darker because of industrial smoke during the Industrial Revolution. As a result, the birds that eat the moths could not see the dark moths very well against the darker trees, and so dark moths tended to survive, and eventually they came to predominate. But air pollution laws kicked in around 1950, the trees were cleaned up, and now the birds could see the darker colored moths better and they ate their fill, and the population went back to what it had been at the beginning-mostly light moths. End of story.
Now, if you have any common sense at all, you will ask how does this tell us how we get moths and trees and birds and scientific observers in the first place. It's obviously inadequate. It doesn't show the creation of anything. Nothing new enters. There's light and dark moths at the beginning and at the end. And that's it. That's the most powerful demonstration of what natural selection has actually been seen to do.
Why, then, is this taken as evidence of natural selection's vast creative power? The experiment is so trivial that it's almost an anticlimax. It's also not honest; it's actually a scam. It's now well known in the scientific world, and has been in the major journals, that the moths don't even sit on tree trunks Yet there are pictures in all the textbooks of these moths on tree trunks. In order to make the pictures, the scientists actually glued the moths to the tree trunks. I am not kidding.
Now, why would they do that? Why are otherwise intelligent people so impressed with this kind of thing? It is because, as I soon discovered, that they take for granted that scientific thinking-which means rational thinking to them-starts with the premise that nature had to do its own creating. If nature had to do its own creating, and if it had to make these wondrously complex things, then natural selection is the only idea anybody's ever had that sounded remotely plausible as a way to doing it and so it just has to be true.
Now, if you're looking for confirmation of something you know just has to be true, you're not very critical about the evidence that's offered for it. Their guard is down. If I told you I dropped a penny out of my pocket backstage and it fell down, you wouldn't be disposed to ask for proof, would you? But suppose I said I dropped a penny and it fell up and stuck to the ceiling? Then your suspicions would be aroused. You'd want a demonstration.
There's this totally uncritical attitude toward the evidence and a tremendous quantity of what I recognize as really bad reasoning that creates another problem. If the reasoning is that bad, why is it so predominant in the intellectual world? Why has it been so hard for people to make the arguments to critique it and to show what's wrong with it? I told you part of the answer-it's the philosophical system behind it. It is seen to be inherent in the definition of science that something more or less like this just has to be true. Moreover, the dispute over whether it is true has been characterized as a Bible vs. Science dispute or as Genesis vs. Science. Do you believe the Bible or do you believe science?
Characterizing the dispute in that way has had certain unfortunate consequences. For one thing, it leaves the people of God divided. The Jewish people don't see it as their issue. They say, "Well, we don't read the Torah quite that way." The Catholic people say, "Well, that's a Protestant issue. We're not worried about the details of Genesis. We're worried about the teaching authority of the Church." The Eastern Orthodox people say something similar. The Protestants are divided between liberals and conservatives, and the conservatives are divided between old earthers and young earthers. In short, it's a very divided situation. So when the people of God are divided, the way is open for agnostics to say, "We should put all of this aside and say that we don't deal with any of those 'God' questions. We explain the world without regard to God."
Moreover, the evolutionary establishment uses the Bible vs. Science stereotype effectively. They say the only reason anybody doubts our theory is that they're literal Bible believers and they just don't pay attention to the scientific evidence. They constantly repeat that theme, and their literature teaches young people that that's the case. Now, those of you who are familiar with the creation-science movement know that that is not the case. They present scientific arguments and are insistent that they are genuine and valuable arguments.
But it is so easy to distort this and say, "Well, you may be making scientific arguments, but you wouldn't be making them if it weren't for your belief in the Bible. You're basing this all on that biblical foundation, and if you just looked at the evidence, you'd agree with us." That stereotype has been used. And it can be used very effectively, because when you are committed to defending the Genesis account, this brings in a whole lot of subjects and a whole lot of details. It involves cosmology, astronomy, geology, chemistry, etc. It involves all of the details of Genesis, and enables the Darwinian side to go on the attack. They can attack whatever the current audience thinks is the most difficult detail of the Bible to defend.
Two Definitions For Science
When I got into this field of study, I saw that there is a way to reformulate the issue and to change the question being asked that reverses these disadvantages. It enables us to present the argument a new way. Here's the way I presented the question in order to turn what has been a losing case for the Christian and theistic side into a winning case. What I say to the scientific world and the university world, and also the religious world, is that in our culture it appears that we have two definitions of science, not just one. Definition number one is the one we hear about the most: Science is doing experiments, making observations, and following the evidence wherever it leads.
You say, "Well, that's very reliable. You do experiments that other scientists can repeat. You make calculations they can check. That's a very reliable way of getting the facts." When you think of science in that way, you're inclined to think that its conclusions are reliable. And, indeed, we tend to think of science as basically fact. Assuming you're talking about the Bible vs. Science, it's like you're talking about the Bible vs. the facts, and you're in a big hole in the ground if you allow the issue to be defined that way.
But science has another meaning in our culture, particularly when it's applied to these questions of origins. That other meaning is: Science is
applied materialistic philosophy. The scientific enterprise says that our job is to explain the whole world and the cosmos and all the creatures in it without any reference to God as the Creator, without any supernatural acts, and on the basis of invariable natural laws that were the same from the beginning-all so that the creating was done by nature itself without God participating. And if you don't do that, it's not science; it's religion.
So if, for example, we raise the question, "Is it really possible for nonliving chemicals to combine and become a living organism?" The answer is: of course. What's the proof? Living organisms exist, you see, and they couldn't exist if it weren't possible for them to exist. "Well," you say, "wasn't it necessary for God to take some action." You've changed the subject. That's religion; that's not science. I thought we were talking about science.
So that's science as applied materialist philosophy. And when science is defined that way, nature has to have its own creative power, and that has to be natural selection. That's why that Peppered Moth experiment has been so important to them, and a couple of others like it that seek to illustrate natural selection doing something, even though it's not something very impressive.
When Evidence and Philosophy Diverge
So, I put the question to the scientific and the university world: Suppose that the evidence is going in one direction and the philosophy is going in another? Which should we follow? Suppose the evidence points to the conclusion that you need a Creator to get life started, to get things as complicated as biological cells, let alone human brains, in existence. Should we follow the evidence, or should we say, "Oh, bother the evidence. It's pointing in the wrong direction. We want to stick with the philosophy."
The true answer to that is that they stick with the philosophy. But, of course, they can't afford to admit that because biologists have some authority as biologists to tell us facts of biology they've observed. They don't have any authority as biologists to tell us that we should adopt a philosophy because they like it, and that's the position they would be in.
Consider the reasons why this makes it possible to put the debate on a new footing. In the first place, when I raise that question in the university world, the secular world, I'm raising the kind of question that's raised all the time. What are your hidden assumptions? Are they justifiable? We pick apart your argument analytically. What I'm not doing is bringing the Bible into the university and saying, "We should believe this." Now, bringing the Bible into question works very well when you're talking to a Bible-believing audience. But it's disastrous when you're talking, as I am constantly, to a world of people for whom the fact that something is in the Bible is a reason for not believing it. If they thought they had good evidence for something, and then they saw it in the Bible, they'd begin to doubt.
That's what's got to be kept out of the argument if you're going to do what I want to do, which is focus on the defects in their case-the bad logic, the bad science, the bad reasoning, the bad evidence. In fact, it's my debating opponents in the university world who want to talk about the Bible. I get on the Peppered Moth case and why it doesn't show anything and why it's a dishonest piece of work, and they'll say, "Let's talk about Noah's Ark instead." They want to because they know how to fight the Bible and they know how to use the techniques of ridicule and stereotype. And I say, "No, we're not going to talk about that today. We're going to talk about your lousy reasoning. That's a much more interesting subject."
That's the first thing-we raise the issue in a way it can be raised in the academic world. The second feature of this is that we raise the issue in a way that unites rather than divides the people of God. Is God real or imaginary? The scientific materialist philosophy that grows out of evolutionary science says something very significant about God. It says that it's not the case that God created mankind; it's the other way around. Our true creator is this mindless process of evolution. When we evolved to a certain stage, but before we had scientific knowledge of how we really were created, we imagined this father figure in the sky. We called it God. Man created God-that's the philosophy of naturalism. So, what you have is that God is not real, but religious belief is real. They're "religious" believers and they have this subjective belief in God, which is sort of a grown-up version of a child's belief in Santa Claus. It's a comforting myth.
You heard Janet Folger saying that the doctrine in our universities and courts now is that all religions are equal. Remember that? All are equal. This is where that comes from. We only get knowledge that's valid for everybody from science, and that's based on materialism. Everything is matter. Religious belief, however, is subjective-it's all in your head. There's no knowledge there-just subjective belief. And that's why all those subjective beliefs are equal, except the one that says they're not equal. And that one's got to be silenced.
So did God create us? Or did we create God? That's an issue that unites people across the theistic world. Even religious, God-believing Jewish people will say, "That's an issue we really have a stake in, so let's debate that question first. Let us settle that question first. There are plenty of other important questions on which we may not agree, and we'll have a wonderful time discussing those questions after we've settled the first one. We will approach those questions in a better spirit because we have worked together for this important common end."
I have built an intellectual movement in the universities and churches that we call "The Wedge," which is devoted to scholarship and writing that furthers this program of questioning the materialistic basis of science. One very famous book that's come out of The Wedge is biochemist Michael Behe's book
Darwin's Black Box, which has had an enormous impact on the scientific world. It shows that at the molecular level-the proteins and enzymes where the real action is-the picture of every organism is one of irreducible complexity. They are more complex than a computer or a space ship and filled with intricate parts which all have to work together, so you have to get all the parts at once. There is no possibility of a Darwinian step-by-step explanation of how they came into existence. You see, that's broadening the intellectual program of The Wedge. We have other books coming out from major university presses that are doing this and getting a foothold in the academic world.
It's inherently an ecumenical movement. Michael Behe is a Roman Catholic. The next book that is coming out from Cambridge University Press by one of my close associates is by an evangelical convert to Greek Orthodoxy. We have a lot of Protestants, too. The point is that we have this broad-based intellectual movement that is enabling us to get a foothold in the scientific and academic journals and in the journals of the various religious faiths.
Now, some Bible believers are a bit concerned when they hear the issue presented in exactly this way. They ask "Are you only bringing in the god of the philosophers and not biblical authority?" I think when that objection is made, they don't quite understand the program and where it's going. You have to start someplace, and you have to prepare minds to hear the truth. You can't give it to them all at once.
When God decided to do something important for the Jewish people, He didn't hand them the Old Testament and say, "Here. Read this and figure it out." It took many centuries of work, and experience, and learning for the people to get the idea of what God was about.
Likewise, if you're going to introduce people to scriptural truth, the first thing they have to understand is that there is a possibility that God actually could communicate. And in order for that to be possible, it has to be possible for God to be our Creator. And that is impossible if God is just an imaginary idea in our minds. So, one has to start at the most basic level with opening the mind so that it is in a position to receive truth well before it actually gets the truth or is capable of absorbing it.
Now, the way that I see the logic of our movement going is like this. The first thing you understand is that the Darwinian theory isn't true. It's falsified by all of the evidence, and the logic is terrible. When you realize that, the next question that occurs to you is, "Well, where might you get truth?" When I preach from the Bible, as I often do at churches and on Sundays, I don't start with Genesis. I start with John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word." In the beginning was intelligence, purpose, and wisdom. The Bible had that right and the materialist scientists are deluding themselves.
The next question is: Why do so many brilliant, well-informed, intelligent people fool themselves for so long with such bad thinking and bad evidence? Where are you going to go for the answer to that? Romans 1:20-23, which tells us that God's eternal power and glory were always evident in the things that were created. Even Richard Dawkins, the arch atheist, arch materialist, high priest of Darwinism in England begins his major book on this subject by saying that biology is the study of extremely complicated things that look as if they were designed by a Creator for a purpose-and the job of science is to show that they weren't. So it isn't as if the truth wasn't made evident to him. He turned away from it. That's explained in Romans 1, and that brings us into the sin question and, eventually, to a point where we can ask people the great question Jesus posed to His disciples. "Who do men say that I am? And who do you say that I am?" Unless you've prepared the way, that's a meaningless question. "Why should I care" would be the answer you would expect until you get people to the place where that makes some sense.
That's how to turn a losing issue into a winner-by understanding the mindset of the other people and raising questions in a way that unifies your side and divides the other side. It gives you a starting point that you can hit hard before going on to the other detailed issues which can be addressed secondarily.
Reclaiming the Intellectual World
There are a lot of good things people can do. And the first one I'm going to say comes really straight out of the name of this conference-Reclaiming America For Christ. Throughout most of the 20th century the battle for Christianity has been a defensive battle; the initiative has been held by the atheists and agnostics-the scientific materialist culture. And the problem has been to hold on to some Christian culture. Christianity has done very well in the 20th century with the heart, but it has lost the intellectual world. Well, it's time to go back and reclaim it.
In order to do that, we have to build really powerful Christian minds capable of going into that world and challenging it. We need people with a tremendous amount of intellectual understanding and courage in order to raise the tough questions.
There are educational programs I'm involved with that are doing quite a good job of that. We need to do more of it. What our educational programs need to do, and what we need to do with the young people is not just teach them our side. That's important; that's a good thing to do. But even more important is to teach them how the other side thinks-the other side's evidence. Too often young people have come into the universities, and encountered the evolution course, or some other course in history, and they'll say, "My Christian educators didn't teach me this." "My parents didn't teach me this. I'm hearing this for the first time. And it's put so impressively, it blows me away. And now I'm beginning to doubt."
What we want them to do is go into those courses and say, "You know, they taught me about this when I was in high school. I already heard about that Peppered Moth. I already heard about those fossils. I know exactly what this thinking is and I know what's wrong with it."
I wrote Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds with the bright 18-year-olds, the high school seniors and college freshmen, in mind to teach them just that. One of the things I suggest for parents is to get the movie,
Inherit the Wind, a 1960 movie which is the fictional version of the Scopes trial, the 1925 evolution/creation trial, which is totally different from the play,
Inherit the Wind, on which it was based. The reason I want people to get that movie and to watch it with their young people is that it's a masterpiece of propaganda-of anti-Christian, pro-Darwinian propaganda. But of course, if you know how it's done, if you know what really happened, if you know what the science was really like, it doesn't have any power to confuse you or to convince you. It's like the movie,
The Wizard of Oz, where the little dog gets behind the curtain and pulls the curtain and exposes the Wizard. It's like that if you watch the movie and see how the tricks are done. What you give young people is an education, not just in what's wrong with evolution, but how people are misled by propaganda. If they're properly inoculated in that way, they can go to Harvard, they can go to Berkeley, they can even go to Christian colleges, which often are not really very reliable on these issues-and they won't be fooled. They'll know how to deal with it, they'll know how to analyze it, and they'll do very well.
In summary, we have to educate our young people; we have to give them the armor they need. We have to think about how we're going on the offensive rather than staying on the defensive. And above all, we have to come out to the culture with the view that we are the ones who really stand for freedom of thought. You see, we don't have to fear freedom of thought because good thinking done in the right way will eventually lead back to the Church, to the truth-the truth that sets people free, even if it goes through a couple of detours on the way. And so we're the ones that stand for good science, objective reasoning, assumptions on the table, a high level of education, and freedom of conscience to think as we are capable of thinking. That's what America stands for, and that's something we stand for, and that's something the Christian Church and the Christian Gospel stand for-the truth that makes you free. Let's recapture that, while we're recapturing America.
Dr. Phillip Johnson has been called "our age's clearest thinker on evolution" and the "principal lay critic of Darwinism." He is the author of
Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance, Defeating Darwinism By Opening
Minds, and Objections Sustained. Dr. Phillip Johnson,
Professor Emeritus, taught law at the University of California at Berkeley for over twenty years. A graduate of Harvard and the University of Chicago,
Dr. Johnson was a law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court.