Stephen E. Jones

Phillip E. Johnson: Complete web links

Hastie P., "Designer genes: Phillip E. Johnson talks to Peter Hastie," Australian Presbyterian, No. 531, October 2001, pp.4-8.

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Designer genes

Phillip E. Johnson talks to Peter Hastie

[Republished here with the permission of Australian Presbyterian and Prof. Phillip E. Johnson.]

H: Most of your professional life has been spent as a Professor of Law. Can you tell us something about it?

J: I grew up in the Chicago area and went to Harvard University for undergraduate work. Then I returned to study at the University of Chicago. After that I came to California for the first time and started out as law clerk to Chief Justice Roger Traynor in the California Supreme Court. And that's when I met professors here at Berkeley and was recruited for the faculty. Then I went back east for a year to be law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court, which is sort of starting at the top of the American legal profession. But I didn't want to stay in Washington or New York; I liked the life out here on the west coast. So I came back and I've been here in California ever since. As a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, I've had a special interest in criminal law and evidence and I've published a number of works in that area.

H: Your book, Darwin On Trial, has been very popular and won a number of accolades. Michael Denton, the renowned microbiologist, has said it's the best critique he's ever read of evolution. How is it that a professor of law got involved in this subject?

J: Everybody, at first glance, regards it as odd that a law professor should take this subject on. People think that you have to be a biologist to deal with the subject authoritatively. But evolution does not belong exclusively to the biologists. In fact, there is very little biology involved in it. The amount of biology you have to know can be learned in a few days. It's nowhere near as difficult as what a barrister might have to master in order to cross-examine an expert witness in a field such as chemistry.

For instance, the same examples are used over and over again: the Miller-Urey experiment, peppered moths, fossil horses, finch-beak variation, Archaeopteryx, and mammal-like reptiles. I could go on through about a dozen of these. In my books I've covered just about all the evidence that features in the popular literature about Darwinism. And it's the books for the general public that matter.

You need to remember that in the professional literature no one ever queries whether the theory is true or not. People just take it for granted when they deal with the details. So when this stuff gets to the general public, you find that all the relevant information is in the popular books.

In fact, the subject is really about logical reasoning. The question is:- does the evidence show that natural selection has an enormous creative power when you hear that finch-beaks in an island population vary slightly in size from year to year? Does this information help us to understand how birds come into existence in the first place? My answer is, "No". And if a biologist answers, "Yes", it's not because he knows more about finch-beaks; it's because he is using a different set of assumptions and reasoning criteria.

So, the debate about evolution is really a debate about logical reasoning, hidden assumptions and the like. And that's what a law professor like me is professionally qualified to deal with.

The other reason why this subject is of interest to lawyers is that if you look at the classics of evolutionary biology, from Darwin and Huxley in the beginning down to Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins today, they all - every single one of them - wrote books for the general public. And you will never find a statement in one of those books that says: "You mustn't try to figure this out for yourself, it's too difficult, you need a PhD in biology". Instead they say, "Once we've explained the basic theory to you, it's so obviously true that you must be highly prejudiced or plain ignorant if you don't believe it".

So, I like to say that I am the self-appointed representative of all those readers for whom these books were written. My job is to answer these authors by explaining to them why their case is logically flawed and unconvincing.

H: How did you originally become interested in the subject of Darwinism and evolution?

J: Simply because it involves the most important subject of all in intellectual life: the creation story. You know, that's the thing that really got me interested. We're not talking here about a scientific theory that's only of interest to professional biologists. Darwinian evolution has become the creation myth of our culture.

Remember that every culture has a creation myth and a priesthood. This priesthood is the body of experts who are licensed to tell the creation story to the public. They're very jealous of their authority because it gives them enormous power. I mean, scientific gurus like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins have no real standing as research scientists. Nor do they have any special credentials as philosophers or public policy experts. But they give enormously influential opinions about all these things because they are deemed to have this knowledge of how we were created and where we came from. So people look to them as great, wise men who hold the secrets of the creation story. This is what gives them all their authority. It's a very important and fascinating topic.

H: You began to publish on the subject of Darwinism after a trip you made to England in 1987. What happened there that aroused your interest in the subject?

J: Well, the story's been published a number of times, so it's pretty well-known. I went to Britain in 1987, not intending to do anything like this. In fact, I left the Berkeley law school with the idea that I was going to study insurance law. But I never got started on that research project.

Interestingly, I had an office at University College, London. On the days when I went into my office from Hampstead Heath, I had to walk past London's leading scientific bookstore. There in the main window they used to feature these books about evolutionary theory and all the controversy surrounding it, starting with Richard Dawkin's The Blind Watch-Maker. Dawkin's book is really the most influential statement on contemporary Darwinism. So, I got fascinated by it. Then I began to realise what these people were doing - Dawkins, Gould and all the others. They're not involved in real science at all, that is, in the sense of testing hypotheses with repeatable experiments. Their game is story-telling! And they put it across with verbal tricks, semantics, shifting definitions, and all sorts of rhetorical tricks which are really my business to understand. So, I thought, "My job as a law professor is to spot this sort of stuff. I'm trained to know the tricks, so I guess I should show other people how to do it." And that's what got me started.

H: Has writing about Darwinism affected your legal career?

J: Not in any significant way. It did affect it, but not in the way many people might think. For example, my colleagues in the law faculty have always been very understanding and supportive. I took it up when I was already an established senior law professor. So my career was never really at risk. But, over time, I gradually began to lose interest in the routine teaching of law subjects. As you can imagine, the subject of creation/ evolution was much more fascinating. So I began to spend more and more time travelling to lectures and writing books, and less and less time on my work as a law professor. Eventually, I decided that the only honest thing to do was to retire early from my professorship. And so I did that recently. This is the first year in which I'm not teaching at all (2001).

So it did affect my career, but not in the sense that anyone took action against me. My colleagues gave me a wonderful dinner when I retired, and we're still on excellent terms.

H: How have images of the famous Scopes' Monkey Trial in 1925 in Tennessee shaped the debate over evolution in the ensuing years?

J: Oh, they've had a great influence. Just as the debacle over Galileo in the Renaissance has shaped all future discussion of the science/ religion interchange, so the lasting images of the Scopes' Trial have profoundly affected the ongoing debate. But in both cases I think the wrong lesson has been drawn. From the Galileo case, what we really learn is that a man who thinks for himself is apt to get in trouble with his other professors and the people who control the funding. The problem was not only with the Catholic Church. Galileo's scientific colleagues were also to blame.

Of course, at the time, the Catholic Church was the ruling intellectual power; the problem was that all the professors of natural science happened to be affiliated with the church. But today, the equivalent of the College of Cardinals is not a group of guys in red hats who sit in Rome, but the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC and their equivalent bodies in other countries. In other words, these people are the academic elite. And the academic elite is never really in favour of freedom of thought. Why? Because the academic elite is the people who get a name for themselves by establishing their theories. And so naturally, I guess, they don't want to see them overturned. That's the lesson from Galileo.

And from Scopes' trial what we discover is that there was a popular movement that was wary of the intellectuals. They wanted to know if the elite was telling them the truth. However, they weren't very good at framing the questions. That's still true today. People aren't sure as to what questions they should ask of the intellectual elite, so they have to be taught how to frame them. And that's what I'm trying to do.

So the group that was trying to impose a thought-control system on the rest of us was not a group of fundamentalists but the scientific elite and the American Civil Liberties Union. They don't want anyone disagreeing with them. However, since the common people were not clever enough in framing the issue, they came out looking as if they were the inquisitors who wanted to stop freedom of thought.

H: You've said that teachers in a democracy have got a duty to deal fairly with both sides of the issue. To what extent is that happening in the educational system today, and are there free speech issues involved?

J: Yes, there certainly are! We are working hard to establish the idea of dealing fairly with both sides of the debate over the screaming objections of the academic elite and the professional educators. What is at issue can be well illustrated by the great controversy from Kansas last year.

Here you have the Kansas board of education with very little power or authority, which mounts an ineffective protest against the dogmatic teaching of evolution in its schools. Remember that the bi-coastal elites in America, from New York, Washington and Los Angeles, barely know where Kansas is - they call it "fly- over" country. So they're not deeply concerned about what 16 year-olds in Kansas are learning in their high schools - in fact, they're probably not sure whether they actually have high schools in Kansas! Nor do they care. But when they hear about a Kansas revolt against Darwinian evolution, they get very panicky because they are afraid that the ordinary people will learn to think for themselves. And the good people in Kansas are thinking. They are no longer prepared to buy the line of the scientific elite - that evolution is something you must believe no matter how crazy it may sound to you.

So I'm convinced that all we need to do is to get fair-minded teaching and a fair- minded public hearing of all of the evidence. Then, if we can have an unprejudiced look at all this information, the whole Darwinian system will collapse of its own absurdity. And I think the other side secretly agrees with us because that's why they're so desperate to keep the issue from getting on the table.

H: Do you sense a feeling of desperation in the current public debate?

J: Well, yes. But, there are two sides to it. There's both desperation and overconfidence. Of course, that may sound self-contradictory or paradoxical, but it isn't really. There is certainly an intellectual desperation. Darwinists still can't figure out why everybody doesn't believe their theories; all they can do is repeat the same worn-out arguments time and time again..

On the other hand, their overconfidence comes from the fact that they have control of the newspapers, television networks, educational system, and government money. On a power ratio, they're 99 to our 1. And so that makes them overconfident.

Now, I believe that the explanation for the origin of life that's based on truth will eventually win the contest. Having the numbers at the moment proves nothing. Eventually, the intelligent design movement will split their constituency like a wedge splits a log.. Then their groups and power will turn in against themselves and Darwinism as an intellectual force will implode. But we haven't achieved that yet. So we'll have to wait and see if it happens.

H: Have you got a lot of people working on the "log-splitting"?

J: Yes, we have. In fact, more and more people are crossing over to us all the time. One of the assets that we now have is that this is the age of internet communications and talk-back radio. So, it's easier to get around the "gate- keepers": that is, the people who control the journals and the newspapers and the like, than it was a generation ago.

H: How important is the definition of terms in the debate between evolutionists and people in the "intelligent design" school?

J: It's all important. For instance, I like to tell audiences that when I teach law students how to read a statute, I always say to them that the tendency is to think that the "Definitions" section in a piece of legislation is the least important part of the statute. Of course, we all know what these words mean, right? But they don't. You see, it's how particular words are defined in the statute that matters.

I like to give an example of one of our federal laws that makes it illegal to possess a fire-arm under certain circumstances. But it turns out in this legislation that a hand grenade is defined as a fire-arm, whereas a pistol or a rifle is not. You see, it's what we call a "term of art" - it doesn't mean what you think it means in ordinary language.

The same applies to the use of terms in any discussion of evolution. For example, evolution can be used to refer to any change, any variation in living organisms whatsoever. It can also refer to the whole creation process - from the first amoeba up to Bill Clinton. You need to watch how the terms are used in an argument. Often people switch the meaning of the terms and argue illogically like this: any variation proves that evolution is a fact, which proves that evolution created us all, which proves that God had nothing to do with creation. You can see how an invalid argument can be constructed by manipulating these definitions.

Have you ever been to a carnival where they play the game of spot the "pea under the shell"? They're always moving the pea and you can't see it - it's done so rapidly. The shifting definition of evolution is like the pea under the shell game. The pea is always being switched.

Scientists often play this sort of game when they're talking about science. For instance, the word "science" can simply mean the investigation of evidence. On that basis, some scientists claim that science shows that evolution is a fact which proves that natural selection is our creator. Obviously, that rules God out of the picture. But people also use the word "science" as referring to materialist philosophy, which seeks to explain everything in terms of material causes. On this second definition of "science," you don't actually need to look at any evidence at all. You just assume that material causes created us through natural selection. That way, you eliminate God from the picture from the very start. Scientists play this game all the time. They often shift back and forth between the philosophical definition and the empirical definition and confuse us.

Again, switching definitions is also used to discredit creationists. On the one hand, people can use the word "creationism" to mean extreme, biblical literalism; on the other hand, it can be used to refer to anybody who believes in a Creator. So the definition is as broad or narrow as you wish. And evolutionists change it in mid-stream as is necessary for their argument. This is a basic tool of pseudo-science. It's to use definitions and rules of reasoning in such a way that your conclusion is the only one that can be considered. But since the issue has already been decided, you can use any piece of evidence to prove anything. I call that pseudo-science.

H: In your opinion, what are the secondary issues in the creation-evolution debate?

J: I think that one of the secondary issues concerns the details of the chronology in Genesis. Many Christians get excited about that. But I always teach my audiences that the message of evolution isn't just that God created gradually over a long period of time so that the days of Genesis have to be understood as long historical periods. If that was all that was at stake, it would be nowhere near as important a controversy as it is. But the real message of evolution is that God had nothing to do with biological creation. So I say, in terms of biblical importance, that we should move from the Genesis chronology to the most important fact about creation, which is John 1 : 1: "In the beginning was the Word". Evolutionary biology is emphatic that God had nothing to do with it. It says: "In the beginning were the particles."

One of the big things that I have to do is to get people who want to object to evolution, to the main issue. It's important not to be side-tracked into questions of biblical detail, where you just wind up in a morass of shifting issues. In my judgment, the chronology of Genesis 1 is a secondary issue.

Again, I think it's fair to say that the questions of whether Darwinism leads to immoral consequences is a side issue too. Please, don't get me wrong here. It has lead to many immoral consequences, so you can make a case for that. But the real question is whether it's true or not; not whether Darwinism has had undesirable results. If it's true, it's still true, even if it has had undesirable effects. But the important thing is that evolution is not true.

H: You've said that part of your strategy for challenging the influence of Darwinism is to learn how to detect baloney. What exactly do you mean by "baloney"?

J: Well, I borrowed that term from Carl Sagan. It wasn't original to him, either. It's a word that has a wide currency even if it is slightly vulgar. Essentially, it means that someone is trying to trick you or fool you. So detecting baloney is really just learning to tell when people are bluffing. And that's what goes on in evolutionary biology all the time. We get bombarded with scientific baloney. Some of the most incredible claims come to us in the guise of science: "science says", we are told. And we are meant to meekly believe it. But if you can detect the baloney, then you'll start asking the questions that they don't want you to ask. That's all there is to it.

H: Can you point to any baloney in the debate?

J: Where do I start? There's so much of it! I've already covered the most important question, which relates to the way evolutionists constantly switch definitions and say that any variation in a species equals evolution which equals the explanation for the origin of the world. From there on in , it's all baloney.

The basic thing that Darwinists do is to present evidence very selectively. So, if there are several hundred million fossils, they will find a couple of groups that can be slotted into the evolutionary story. Then they're the only ones you'll ever hear about. But this is dishonest. All the evidence should go on the table. Scientists should test their theories against all the facts. When they don't do this, their work deserves to be called " baloney."

Mind you, creationists can be guilty of baloney too. It's quite widespread in use. Often when people talk about the subject of evolution, they will say: "Well here's what I prefer to believe." And then they'll sketch out whatever compromise makes them feel comfortable. And that's it as far as they're concerned. It never occurs to them to ask whether this view is true or not. All that matters is what they're comfortable with. But the real issue is: what is true? I find that hard to get across to people.

H: You've said that the problem with evolution is that Darwinists have not just failed to provide a complete explanation of their theory; you've said that they've failed to understand what needs to be explained. What do you mean by this?

J: I'm raising the central issue in the evolution debate, which is: how do we account for the highly complex information that's essential for the existence of life? For instance, just this morning I was reading an article in a distinguished scientific journal that says: "Scientists have now found some of the chemicals that are needed to create life in outer space, and therefore life could have been created in outer space around one of the moons of Jupiter", or whatever. Now this is all complete nonsense - my baloney detector has gone wild and is flashing red and beeping at high frequency at this point.

You see, what makes life life is not the chemicals. You can buy all the chemicals in a chemical store. You can mix them ‘til the cows come home and you'll never get a living organism. We can't even make life when we have all the chemicals in a test tube and all the tools of science working for us. So the idea that the chemicals are going to link up in outer space - if you get a few of the right ones - is utterly absurd. What evolutionists fail to explain, and even fail to understand, is the very thing which needs to be explained - that information content is the key component to life. We may call it the software of life - the instructions that make all those complex processes work together to produce a living organism.

H: You insist that Darwinists should subject their claims to logical reasoning and impartial investigation. But doesn't it cut both ways? Are you prepared to do the same for biblical idea of creation and intelligent design?

J: Absolutely! It does cut both ways, and I am prepared to do the same. All truth is God's truth. Further, if that endangers faith then faith deserves to be endangered. Of course, that really pin-points one of the issues over which I have intense and sometimes bitter discussions with Christian educators. They're looking for a safe way to approach this issue, and I'm looking for a way to get at the truth. At this point, we're travelling down two different roads.

In my book, Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds, I warn Christian parents that if we're going to teach our young people to think critically with open minds, we shouldn't be surprised if they turn the process on us. But is that a bad thing? Shouldn't we be prepared to subject all our ideas to a searching critique? Actually, Christians have a lot less to fear from this because our doctrines have been under the microscope for centuries. All our dirty laundry has been washed very publicly and there's nothing that's going to be discovered that hasn't already come out. The fact is that the Darwinists have got a lot more to be afraid of than we do. They've never had the experience of having their assumptions exposed for all to see and criticise. So, I'm not at all worried about this prospect.

H: How do young people handle this sort of critical exposure and challenge?

J: The best way to deal with this subject from the standpoint of young people is to teach them everything there is to know about evolution. The worst way to deal with it is to try to protect them from it. Again, this is where I'm very critical of many Christian educators. But a lot of them are coming around - they're changing their view.

The idea in many Christian schools and colleges has been: "Look, let's keep the kids Christian for as long as they're here. And then whatever happens after that, you know, it's not on our watch; it's not our fault". That, of course, means that as soon as the kids get away from the protected environment and get to a university like this one, they hear about the peppered moth and all the bag of tricks that the Darwinians have, and they're bowled over by it. Since they've never heard it before, they quite naturally come to the conclusion that their parents and teachers have been lying to them. So we set them up for a fall.

So I say that Christian kids should learn about all that stuff in advance. Then we don't have to worry about it. If they learn about the peppered moth in school, they're just going to laugh when a college professor brings it up. And all the examples of Darwinism are like that. They're all bogus! If the kids are inoculated with truth they'll be fine.

So when the education issue comes up, I always say that the last thing we should do is prevent the teaching of evolution. On the contrary, we want to teach the young people a whole lot more about evolution than the science educators want them to know. It works! Once you do it - and I do it all the time - the kids are in no danger of falling for Darwinist tricks. In fact, they become supremely confident after they've been shown how the tricks are done. Naturally, if it was a magic show, you wouldn't show them how the magician does the tricks; that would spoil their fun. But it's different when you teach them how to spot the baloney in evolution. In this case, it adds to their fun. So you should do it.

H: Why do you think the argument from intelligent design is more compelling, than the argument from naturalistic evolution?

J: I think it's intuitive. When people see evidence of design, they automatically think of a designer. Many times women, particularly older women, will hear my lecture. And they'll say: "Haven't these biologists ever seen a baby being born." You know, just out of their own experience of birth they know that there is a Creator that's involved. By the way, the atheist knows this too. Richard Dawkins says that biology is the study of complex things that look as if they were designed for a purpose. He sees it. Francis Crick, another arch-materialist, says that biologists have to remind themselves constantly that what they study was not created; it evolved. You see, if they didn't remind themselves constantly that there is no Designer, then the facts that stare them in the face might get their attention.

This is exactly what Paul says in Romans 1:18. He tells us that God's eternal, invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and majesty, have always been visible in the things that are made. I think this is just plain common-sense that everybody rec goes on to say we are without excuse. The fact is that people know that God is there; they just don't want to honour Him as such. And so their foolish minds are darkened. And that's exactly what happens when you refuse to acknowledge design in the creation.

So what the scientific naturalists have to do is keep design, or intelligent design, off the table; Because, once it is on the table, it will inevitably triumph. And the more you look at the Darwinian mechanism that's supposed to fill the role of a Creator, the more obvious it is that it doesn't have what it takes. The so-called evolutionary mechanism can't manufacture complex information. Nor can it create new biological structures involving sophisticated interdependent systems.

H: Is there any problem in believing that God used natural selection and mutation as the mechanisms for creating all the species we see around us?

J: This question takes us right to the heart of the problem. In the first place, God could have used natural selection and mutation, or whatever else He wanted to use, as the mechanism of creation. So, that's a totally phoney issue.

Nobody is saying that God couldn't have done whatever He thought was appropriate. But the theory of evolution by natural selection says that we had to be created by some combination of chance and natural law. In Darwinian terms, this means mutation and natural selection were the cause of creation because there wasn't anything else available; you see, as far as Darwinists are concerned, God wasn't in the picture. For instance, why would you conclude from the peppered moth or the finch-beak evidence that natural selection has enormous creative power? No one would do that if they were thinking reasonably. There are better explanations for these variations. But since Darwinists start with the assumption that God is out of the picture, they conclude that nature has to do its own creating, and this is the only explanation that they can think of for the changes. So nature, not God, must be responsible for the creating.

This means that the central assumption of the Darwinist position is that God is excluded from the process of creation. When you know this, it's a sign of illogical and incoherent thinking to say, "Well, isn't it wonderful that God chose natural selection and mutation as His means of creating". He couldn't have chosen evolution because by definition it excludes God altogether. Nevertheless, this takes in Christian educators all the time. I often get into trouble by expressing my low opinion of Christian academics who are taken in by this kind of reasoning.

Of course, the theory of evolution by natural selection doesn't deny the existence of God. All it says is that God didn't have anything to do with the act of creation. The way I like to put it with my audience is this: I say, "It's not that God doesn't exist; it's just that He has never found gainful employment". Again, Darwinists say they're not against religion. Well, certainly not! You can worship natural selection. But what all forms of Darwinism are dead against is the claim that there is a supernatural Creator who was actively involved, whether by direct action or by guiding evolution, in bringing about our existence. They deny God's direct involvement. As far as they are concerned, there was no supernatural Creator who had anything to do with bringing about the existence of plants, animals and human beings.

H: Do you find any logical difficulty with theistic evolution as a half-way house for Christians?

J: Well, I think that there are some very obvious problems with it . Theistic evolutionists need to realize that while there may not be any limitation on what God might have done, the reasoning of Darwinism is based on the assumption that God was not involved in creation. So theistic evolution is a misnomer that is based on a logical fallacy.

One question I like to ask theistic evolutionists is this: "If you believe that creation took place through natural selection and mutation, which by definition excludes God as a causal factor, why call the process theistic? I can't see anything theistic about it at all. It's just playing with words. Theistic evolution is exactly the same thing as atheistic evolution only with some meaningless, vacuous God-talk spread around. It's not really an intellectually honest position at all; it's a kind of political compromise.

H: Is there anything wrong, in terms of logic, with arguing that evolution is based on science and reason, whereas creation is just a matter of faith, regardless of the scientific evidence?

J: You bet there is. There's everything wrong with it. One of the worst mistakes that have been made, particularly by Christian intellectuals, is to suppose that some people have faith - these are the religious people - and then other people have reason - these are the scientific people. They have this mistaken notion that faith means believing something even though you have no reason to believe it and when you know in your heart it's not true. On the other hand, they assume that reason implies that your position is based on truth and the facts. But this is confused thinking.

Actually, everybody has faith and everybody reasons. The thing to understand is that reasoning always starts with assumptions. And this is true of anyone who reasons in any situation. Reason or logical reason - logic - gets you from premises to conclusions without contradiction or straying off the straight and narrow path. But your logic is only as good as your assumptions. We all know that if you have different assumptions, you'll get to different conclusions. So, the most interesting part of the reasoning process is deciding on your assumptions or starting-point. You can't reason to do that because you would be reasoning from other assumptions, and you would have to justify those.

Now Darwinists, that is, scientific materialists, reason from the assumption that matter is all that there is; God is absent. Their starting-point is that in the beginning were the particles and the particles somehow formed complex living stuff. That's a faith commitment. They can't actually prove it in a scientific sense. Further, their faith is so powerful that they're willing to believe in evolution regardless of the fact that there is strong evidence to the contrary. Actually, their theory is based on fairly slim evidence: variations among a finch population, a handful of fossils, and a few other phenomena which convinces them that this whole, fantastic system can work. Then they ignore problems they can't solve like the existence of information and how you actually create it. After I looked over this whole area, I realized that it's the Darwinists, not the intelligent-design people, who have a faith that triumphs over all the evidence and every principle of reason.

I like to tell people that in my younger days I used to be an agnostic, but I gave it up because I couldn't summon the massive amounts of faith that were required to sustain the position. So, the question is not who has faith and who has reason, but whether it's reasonable to start with the assumption that matter and motion is all there is. And I believe that it's unreasonable; indeed, it leads to more un-reason if you do it.

H: Young people, at school, often feel overwhelmed by their teachers, who insist that evolution is unquestionably true. What should students do when their teachers support evolution and dismiss creation out of hand?

J: Well, I think that what we all have to do - young people, parents, teachers - is to know what's wrong, and we do that best by learning what's right.

Now it's unhelpful when young people stand up in class and say, "I don't believe this because I was taught at home not to believe in it", or whatever. That makes them sound like unreasoning robots, or something. So, they really have to learn the score. Unfortunately, most of them are not going to learn it in school because that's where the problem is. So there has to be a big educational effort outside of the formal schooling. And my movement is working on that.

Besides my own books, we have developed some really excellent products. The latest one, Icons of Evolution, by Jonathan Wells is a terrific book...Its going to have a huge impact! For the young people in their teens, particularly, IVP has produced a cartoon book called What's Darwin Got To Do With It? That's a wonderful introduction to these issues.

I do a lot of teaching of teens, and I particularly like it. Not all young people at that age are interested in ideas. I mean lots of them just want to meet girls or boys or whatever. But the ones who are interested in ideas are the most interesting people to talk to because that's where the mind is being formed; that's where they're forming the foundations of their intellect and they'll carry it with them for the rest of their lives. And so they're at a more interesting stage than people of my age who have already formed their views. What we need to do is to give those bright and inquisitive young minds the kind of background that lets them know what's wrong in those books.

Then they have to develop a bit of discernment about what to bring up and where. It's probably not a good idea to fight the teacher every day of the year or the professor in the college. That won't work. But if you just talk a lot with the other students about it, more and more they get to say, "you know, there's something really wrong here."

Informed young students think it's funny when a professor doesn't know that the peppered moth photos were faked. They think it's a bit of a joke that he believes that those embryo drawings are genuine. We know they're fakes - they've been admitted in all the leading scientific literature. Eventually, that is going to get through to the teacher.

So, it's a matter of being patient and learning your stuff, raising a few objections, but more and more just getting the word out and having a good-natured smile about it. You don't need to be arrogant. If young people do this, they'll have plenty of effect in the long run.

H: What should mums and dads do? They often find their children are being indoctrinated.

J: That's implicit in my answer. They have to learn about this stuff themselves and get the right books and have their young people understand it. You see, the mistake they have made - and Christian parents fall into this trap - is to think that they must protect their kids from it by not even mentioning it. Some don't even want them to hear about it. For reasons I've already explained, that's a bad strategy.

Of course, some parents believe that all they have to do is tell their kids what they think is the true story - "Well, you know, this is the biblical teaching so you should believe this." But this sets up a potential conflict of the Bible verses science. And that puts the young people at a disadvantage when they're dealing with real science and scientific claims.

I am convinced that we have to do a lot better job of learning the science of evolution; and this means learning what's faked and what's not. And that's really what my books have all been about. And the stuff that's coming out of our Wedge movement at the moment is meant to empower people. So right now there is a massive job of public education that has to be done.

H: Over recent years there have been a number of discoveries in the field of molecular biology which have been helpful in understanding the problems of evolution. What do you consider to be the most significant discoveries?

J: Well, one of our members of the Wedge is Stephen C Meyer. He is a scientist and gives a brilliant lecture about the information content in DNA. The information in DNA lies at the heart of molecular biology. Sadly, there's an illusion among scientific materialists that the discovery of DNA has supported materialism.

Now DNA is the molecule that governs heredity. In fact, it's the molecule of life. What we learn from the sequence of nucleotides in DNA is that information is the essential part of all the life-processes. It's information that makes the cell run and keeps our bodies going. DNA is like a complex computer program or information system that is written in chemical letters in a chemical environment but is distinct from the chemicals themselves. We all know that there's a difference between the information that arranges the letters on the page of a book and the chemical properties of the ink which forms the letters on the paper. The two are quite distinct.

The question is: how does this amazingly complex information come together? By a mind of course! Did Bill Gates make billions of dollars out of his Windows programs by leaving the design of each system up to chance. You don't need to be a genius to work that one out.

H: One final question. In terms of promoting your movement, what sort of materials can people get if they want to pursue this matter further - if they want to educate their children; if they want to get books into school libraries?

J: In terms of books, a good place to start is with my first book on the subject - Darwin on Trial. I have also published another one in the last year called The Wedge of Truth. They are useful starting-points. Then there are books by my colleagues:- Jonathon Wells Icons of Evolution, Michael Behe Darwin's Black Box, and William Dembski's book Intelligent Design. All the other books that come out will be listed at our websites.

Professor Phillip E. Johnson is the Jefferson E. Peyser Professor of Law, Emeritus, at the University of California, Berkeley in San Francisco. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Emory University and University College, London. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago. His books on the subject of Darwinism include Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, Objections Sustained and The Wedge of Truth. He also serves as an elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA.

Rev Peter Hastie is the Issue Editor of Australian Presbyterian and the Minister of Ashfield Presbyterian Church, Sydney.

Copyright © Australian Presbyterian 2001

(Hastie P., "Designer genes: Phillip E. Johnson talks to Peter Hastie," Australian Presbyterian, No. 531, October 2001, pp.4-8. Emphases in original)

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Copyright © 2001-2005, by Stephen E. Jones. All rights reserved. This page and its contents may be used for non-commercial purposes only. If used on the Internet, a link back to my home page at would be appreciated. Created: 17 October, 2001. Updated: 18 February, 2005.