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The Search for Intelligent Design in the Universe     

The Search for Intelligent Design in the Universe 
By: Michelle Quinn --  Mercury News staff writer 
Photo: Patrick Tehan
Phillip E. Johnson is a dangerous man. 

At least that's what his critics think. Certainly Johnson, 59, a tenured law professor at 
the University of California-Berkeley, is unconventional: A Christian intellectual, he is 
trying to bring God back into the scientific story of how life began and evolved. 

Johnson contends that the story of the beginning of life has been controlled by 
evolutionary theorists and accepted unquestioningly by the intellectual elite, including 
the media. He argues, in fact, that the theory of evolution is the foundation of the 
world view of the intellectual elite, who, he says, subscribe to a belief in a godless, 
meaningless, materialist world.

Not that he shuns evolution entirely.

Johnson is a new breed of creationist, one who uses books and articles rather than a 
pulpit to argue his position, and one who grants that some of what evolutionary 
theory says is probably true. He says even more should be taught about evolution-
including its contradictions. 

Johnson, an evangelical Presbyterian, argues that, like him, most Americans believe 
in a mixture of evolution and creation theory but their opinions have been shut out of 
scientific and public debates. 

Instead, these debates have tended to be dominated by the extremes: Bible 
literalists, who believe that Earth was created by God about 10,000 years ago; and 
some evolutionary theorists, who believe the universe is developing without the help 
of a supreme being. Evolution, a cornerstone of biology, holds that some forms of 
animals and plants developed into other forms by a process of change through 
succeeding generations. 

In his books and articles-and in appearances on CNN-Johnson argues that 
evolution theory is suspect because it inadequately explains the most essential 
questions, such as "How did life begin?" and "How do complex systems develop 
from simple ones?" 

Indeed, scientists offer competing, contradictory explanations about how a species 
evolved an eye or a wing over time. They also debate the rate of evolution. 

Johnson uses these disagreements to question not how evolution took place, but 
whether it explains biological innovation at all. He says that the answers to life's 
origins and development, in fact, "point to intelligent design" and not just nature and 
chance as evolutionists purport.

Critics have labeled him `dangerous' for tapping into Americans' fear that science 
and religion are incompatible. And he unfairly gives scientists a bad name by arguing 
that they ignore contrary information to promote their evolution agenda, says 
Eugenie Scott, human biologist and executive director at National Center for 
Science, a non-profit organization that supports the teaching of evolution in the 
public schools. 

Johnson, Scott added, employs his skills as a lawyer to use language to confuse 
people. "I think he is capable of generating a lot more anti-evolutionary feeling than 
the other creationists," she said. 

Johnson, who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure, is used to the hubbub. 
Affable and animated, he spoke about his campaign at his Berkeley home, where his 
wife runs a children's library, mostly for home-schooled kids. 

How do you think life started and evolved? 

My starting point is there is no scientific factual evidentiary basis to believe that the 
Darwinian mechanism-mutation and selection-has any creative power. It doesn't 
have the power to create genetic information. 

Can you explain that? 

The cell is a miniature chemical factory, which can be compared to a city or a 
supercomputer. It has a vast number of functions. They have to be directed, and this 
level of activity implies the existence of a program that directs the whole thing. The 
right question to me is: How does the program get written? Who or what writes the 
program and how is this done? 

Neither random mutation nor natural selection is an information-creating mechanism 
at all. You get a certain amount of change out of random mutation, but it doesn't 
grow anything more complicated. 

The reason evolutionary scientists believe mutation and selection can do and did do 
the job is not because of the evidence, it is in spite of the evidence. They believe that 
because they have identified science with materialist philosophy, that all that exists is 
matter and the laws of physics and chemistry. 

Those two had to do the creating because nothing else was available. And that being 
the case, a mindless, material, evolutionary process is a deductive logical necessity. 
If there's a process that turned a bacterium into a butterfly, it's unknown how it 
happened. It's a mystery. There is no such mechanism we can observe in nature or 
in the laboratory. 

Why can't we come up with a theory based on what we know? Isn't it somewhat 
unfair to say, "show me how evolution happens in a laboratory," given that this is a 
process that has taken millions of years? 

If you are a philosophic materialist, you don't need any evidence at all. It's got to be 
true as a matter of logic. If you are Christian, like I am, you might say: "Show me. I 
want to see it." That's a higher standard. But it's perfectly rational. 

Yet you've said that you accept some aspects of evolutionary theory, such as natural 
selection [the process by which a species, over time, adapts to its environment by 
selecting genes that are more likely to help it survive] and mutation [an alteration in a 
cell's genetic material transmitted to the cell's offspring]. 

Most people get into this topic because they have a complete picture to sell. It 
happened the way the Book of Genesis said and here's how you defend that, etc. Or 
it happened the way Darwin said or Stephen Jay Gould (the American paleontologist 
and evolutionary biologist) said. I have an entirely different approach to the question. 

You talk about evidence proving an intelligent creator. What evidence? 

Here's the evidence. Think of the computer and the experience we all have with the 
computer. You understand that the computer is not just matter, not primarily. It 
contains silicon, plastic, but that's not what makes it a computer. It's the design, the 
software-it's why Bill Gates is so rich. 

And the software is the product of human intelligence. To arrange the letters into a 
meaningful set of instructions, you need the intelligence of the software designer. 

I think it's ironic that in the computer industry, people fail to recognize that it takes 
intelligence to write the software. Neither lawlike processes or chance or a 
combination of the two has that ability. 

Aren't you just substituting one belief system for another? 

People decide the big spiritual questions on other grounds. I do not argue that you 
can deductively prove the existence of the biblical god from science. When you 
understand what the genetic information is and what the need for intelligence is, that 
creates a science that's inherently God-friendly, rather than God-hostile. It doesn't 
prove the reality of a god who cares what I do. But on the other hand, it's consistent 
with such a being. It's not at all my project to prove God with science. Instead, you 
get rid of a stumbling block. 

Are you hoping to change people's minds? 

Most people in the intellectual world have been taught all their lives that the only 
basis for any objection to what the evolutionary scientists are saying is biblical 
literalism, what I call the "Inherit the Wind" stereotype. ["Inherit the Wind" is a 1955 
play about the trial of John T. Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher who, in 
1925, was charged with violating state law by teaching the theory of evolution.] 

People like yourself, maybe, or Stephen Jay Gould or the president will not change 
their minds. They will continue to be materialists. They have a deep unfalsifiable 
faith. Even where I am, people believe in Darwinian evolution because they have 
always been told that all educated people believe in it because they've been told you 
are an idiot if you don't. But this is a very shallow level of commitment. 

In August, the Kansas School Board ruled that the state's standards and 
examination would no longer include evolution theory, causing academics to fear 
that evolution would be taught less in the schools. What was your reaction to the 

The reason why it's more significant than a regional high-school education issue is 
that we're sitting on a volcano in a sense. The public opinion polls show that only 10 
percent of the public accepts the official scientific story that we're created by a 
mindless, material evolutionary process in which God played no part. Two-thirds of 
the public says teach both sides. That's the view of the presidential candidates on 
the Republican side. That's what Al Gore said on Monday and then repudiated on 
Wednesday [the week of the August decision]. Kansas created an overreaction. All 
the editorials could have come from the same pen: "The Catholic Church persecuted 
Galileo." "The Scopes trial." "The Bible is not a scientific textbook." "We'll lose the 
economic race to the Japanese." 

In 1991, you wrote "Darwin on Trial," and are now working on your fifth book on the 
subject of evolution theory. Why has this become your life's work? 

I was an establishment figure when I was young, but now I have become a cultural 
revolutionary. I grew tired of the nit-picking that is a law professor's natural lot, and 
decided to tackle the big issues. The biggest issue of all is the official creation story 
of our culture, the story that tells us how we come to exist and how we relate to 
ultimate reality. In our culture that is Darwinism, and I discovered that this idol had 
feet of clay. It governs not only science, but all aspects of intellectual work, including 

What has been the reaction at the law school to your books and media 

My colleagues at the law school are very decent and tolerant folk with whom I have 
an excellent relationship. Some of them agree with me. Some think it's crazy or 
quixotic. They are all quite cordial about the entire matter. In the legal culture, there's 
an inclination to believe there are two sides of every story, and that the experts are 
bluffing as much as not. It's rather easy to get legal people to see that there's 
another side to this question. 

What has been the reaction among your church members to your work in advocating 
intelligent design? 

There's a difference of opinion about how important this debate is. What I always say 
is that it's not just scientific theory. The question is best understood as: Is God real or 
imaginary? An imaginary god isn't the foundation of anything. 

(c) 1999 by the San Jose Mercury News. [...] 
(Quinn M., "Phillip E. Johnson is a dangerous man," SVMagazine, January 9, 2000)