Phillip Johnson’s Bold Stand

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This issue came up in comments and is something I’ve been meaning to post about. It seems that most people, both pro and con, are of the opinion that ID “theory” accepts an old Earth. Most write-ups about ID in newspapers and magazines make mention of this as being something that distinguishes ID from old-school creationism. But it’s simply not the case. Leading ID proponents argue that the age of the Earth is irrelevant to ID, and that ID advocates are free to believe in an old Earth or a young Earth as they see fit. Indeed, it would be hard to explain the involvement of people like Paul Nelson, who is openly YEC, if ID theory were committed to an old Earth. Instead, they argue that the detection of “design”, whatever that means, is the only thing that ID is concerned with. And that’s prompted many critics to point out that ID is effectively useless when it comes to understanding natural history. In other words, ID “theory” isn’t a theory at all, it’s a collection of crappy criticisms.

The person most responsible for this strategy is Phillip E. Johnson, often referred to as the father of the ID movement. Most have assumed that Johnson is an old-Earther, since he doesn’t defend a young Earth or make it a part of ID. (The strategy is to change the subject when it comes up,) But as far as I know, Johnson has never committed himself in print one way or another. But in a recent article in Touchstone magazine, Johnson does us the favor of clarifying his position on the age of the Earth. And his position is…that he has no position.

Before discussing the current article, let’s back up a bit and look at a couple of other instances where Johnson has talked about his strategy and position. In an interview for Touchstone (you start to wonder if the people at Touchstone have a liking for ID) a couple of years back, Johnson explained the Wedge strategy:

So the question is: “How to win?” That’s when I began to develop what you now see full-fledged in the “wedge” strategy: “Stick with the most important thing”–the mechanism and the building up of information. Get the Bible and the Book of Genesis out of the debate because you do not want to raise the so-called Bible-science dichotomy. Phrase the argument in such a way that you can get it heard in the secular academy and in a way that tends to unify the religious dissenters. That means concentrating on, “Do you need a Creator to do the creating, or can nature do it on its own?” and refusing to get sidetracked onto other issues, which people are always trying to do. They’ll ask, “What do you think of Noah’s flood?” or something like that. Never bite on such questions because they’ll lead you into a trackless wasteland and you’ll never get out of it.

Claims about information have been dealt with elsewhere (needless to say, Johnson is full of it), but notice how the Wedge strategy is based upon pushing issues like Noah’s flood out of the picture? Heaven forbid we start discussing natural history, even though that’s what evolution is all about.

(As a quick aside, the whole interview is an enlightening read. Johnson candidly describes why he dedicated his life to attacking evolution. It’s because of a mid-life crisis that prompted his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. Go figure.)

Now, let’s take a look at a slightly earlier piece by Johnson in which he addresses the age of the Earth directly (sort of). This is from a Weekly Wedge Update, hosted on ARN, in which Johnson describes some emails he had with Richard Dawkins:

Do you think the age of our planet is closer to 4000 million years or closer to 100,000 years?

The former, but with the caveat that I have made no effort to investigate the subject personally and am merely accepting the current scientific consensus. In lectures, I tell the audience that I assume that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old. If Darwinists would like to have more time, however, I am happy to grant them 46 billion years, or 460 billion. Regardless of the time available, their system of evolution cannot work because it never gets started with the essential job of creating new complex specified genetic information. See my review of Paul Davies’ book on the origin of life.

I would have more confidence in the dating evidence if I were assured that the scientists can tell the difference between speculative philosophy and empirical investigation. In this I tend to share the concern of Richard Lewontin, who wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and [Edward O.] Wilson tell them about evolution.” What worries me is that so many physicists and geologists seem to think that the peppered moth or finch beak observations illustrate a mighty creative force that produced moths and birds in the first place. I hope that they apply more rigorous standards for evaluating evidence when they are estimating the age of the earth.

Here he seems to say that he accepts an old Earth, but he qualifies it with all sorts of wishy-washiness that gives him an easy escape hatch. There’s not really much arguing with that position; he can play both sides of the fence with ease, claiming not really to be a young Earther, but not really an old Earther either. And of course he deftly deflects the issue by segueing into an attack on the standards of the scientific community. When looking at the Wedge strategy as outlined in his Touchstone interview, his stance, or rather his lack of a stance, makes perfect sense. Johnson is one slick dude.

Now let’s see what he says in his recent (from May 2004) article in Touchstone:

I have to say I was favorably impressed, although I know that I invite disapproval by praising a book written by creationists. I continue to take no position on either the age of the earth or the origin of the Grand Canyon, but the exquisite photographs of canyon scenery are exceptionally well presented, and the accompanying articles, including several by persons with doctorates in geology or related sciences from well-regarded universities, are reasonable and informative–at least if you concede the possibility that an argument for biblical creationism can be based on anything more worthy than ignorance and prejudice.

(Emphasis added.)

The article is about a recent dust-up concerning a YEC book on the Grand Canyon being sold in the National Park Service’s bookstore alongside of actual science books. (PZ Myers shows here that the book makes no attempt at disguising its extreme religious views.) Johnson loves this sort of thing; it plays right into his attempt to stereotype scientists as a bunch of dogmatists trying to shut down discussion. Of course he doesn’t explore any of the pertinent issues, such as whether it’s appropriate to have a religious book being sold in a government owned bookstore. But I don’t want to discuss the whole article, except to point out something I’ve noticed about Phillip Johnson’s argumentative style. Johnson employs a tactic that is so frequently used, so well-worn, that I suspect he’s had it written up and made into a poster that hangs on his wall along side his word processor. Whenever he’s at a loss for words, he just looks up at it and gets inspiration. The tactic works like this:

  • Claim that the evidence supports your position. (cf. “Both sides to the dispute are trying to advance or protect the truth as they see it, and the outcome should depend upon the evidence, not the labels.”)

  • When confronted with the fact that the evidence actually supports the opposite position, claim that the evidence isn’t really evidence at all, but is actually just a bunch of presuppositions, dogmatism, and wishful thinking. (cf. “I only wish that the rulers of science would state their precommitment to naturalism openly and defend it forthrightly, instead of hiding naturalism in the definition of “science” and then presenting as observed or experimentally tested fact conclusions that are actually derived from naturalistic philosophy.”)

Now Johnson of course doesn’t take a position here, but he gives us a taste of logic that he uses to attack his hated enemies, like the theory of evolution or the idea that HIV causes AIDS. And it’s the kind of logic that can be used to prove almost anything, because the evidence itself can be arbitrarily tossed-out simply by declaring it to be the result of philosophical bias. Just so long as you don’t apply the same standard to yourself, you can still claim to be on the side of the evidence.

Now that I think about it, Johnson has another signature tactic that he employs here: Talk about how mainstream scientists are in disagreement about this or that, as if the entire field is in total disarray, which is somehow supposed to make your own wild alternative look plausible. I don’t know the current state of Grand Canyon geology (and neither does Johnson), but I do know that Noah’s flood is not among the theories under consideration. That’s not due to dogmatic bias, as Johnson would probably have it, but because the flood story is indefensible, as too is the notion that the Canyon is only 4000 years old. Pretty much everything we know about modern science would have to be wrong in order for flood geology to be right. It’s just that bad.

And that brings me to the point I wanted to address, which is that Johnson’s position on the age of the Earth, which is that he has no position, is downright ridiculous. First and foremost, the age of the Earth is most certainly not irrelevant to evolution, which is the issue that Johnson wishes to focus on. While not a part of evolutionary biology itself, an ancient Earth is a necessary prerequisite in order to provide the vast amounts of time necessary for diversity to evolve. If the Earth were really only 6000 years old, then large-scale evolution would be impossible, and we could just drop the whole thing right there. On the other hand, if the Earth is really as ancient as geologists say it is, then creationists like Johnson need to somehow explain natural history sans Noah’s flood. And I mean explain it, not just claim (falsely) that it doesn’t square with evolutionary theory. Why should fossils be ordered the way they are if Johnson’s preferred theory, whatever it may be, is the correct one? YECs can at least explain the fossil record as the result of a worldwide flood, fraught with difficulty though it may be. Old-Earth creationists (and other IDists) need to come up with a consistent explanation of their own, something Johnson has never bothered to do.

Secondly, the age of the Earth is certainly not irrelevant to creationists. Leading YECs will attack old-Earth creationists with as much bitterness and acrimony as they attack evolutionists. It’s a major, major issue for them. As they see it, if you doubt the Bible’s plain meaning, which tells us that the Earth is young, then you may as well quit your religion and start eating babies like the atheists do. YECs spend an inordinate amount of time going after what they consider compromising Christians who are willing to imperil their mortal souls by flirting with an old Earth. (See for example Operation: Refuting Compromise by our pals at Answers in Genesis.)

That makes it really hard to believe that Johnson is sincere when he says he has no position on the age of the Earth. The fundamentalist circles that he hangs out in certainly don’t think it’s a minor issue, nor one that can be ignored. Johnson would have to be unique among fundamentalist Christian antievolutionists not to have given it a great deal of thought. His reply to Richard Dawkins claiming that he hasn’t looked into the issue is hard to take seriously – if you are interested in the “origins” debate at all, the age of the Earth is not only something you should look into, it’s the first thing you should look into. Subsequent arguments about evolution depend critically on how old the Earth is. And it’s not that hard of a thing to look into either. This is one area where the creationist view and the mainstream view are so vastly different that the evidence can clearly adjudicate between them. You don’t need to be an expert to understand evidence that the Earth is a good deal older than 6000 years.

So why is Johnson so wishy-washy about this not-so-irrelevant subject? There are two obvious reasons. The first is that Johnson’s biggest contribution to the antievolutionist movement is the “Big Tent” strategy. He wants to combine all opponents of mainstream evolution, from YECs on up to the people who simply think God intervened in evolution from time to time, together into one big happy family. That provides what any political movement needs most, which is sheer numbers; their differences can be worked out later, according to Johnson. Part of the difficulty with this strategy is that the bulk of creationists in America (and probably the majority of ID advocates) are of the young-Earth variety. And as we’ve seen, these people tend to be quite inflexible about their views concerning Genesis. If Johnson wants to keep his Big Tent from tearing itself apart with infighting and squabbling, he cannot allow ID to become an old-Earth theory. He has to either make it a young-Earth theory, or debase it to the point where it says nothing about the age of the Earth one way or the other.

The second reason is that ID was conceived, at least in part, as something that could pass constitutional muster when mandated for public school science classes. We’ve seen over the last few years a pretty steady parade of ID attempts at altering public school curricula. But the Supreme Court has ruled, in a series of decisions, that teaching creationism is unconstitutional. So if they’re going to get ID taught in pubic schools (over the objections of those know-nothing scientists), then ID cannot be equated with creationism. Few things would bring about ID’s legal demise faster than identifying it with YEC. ID advocates have in fact tried to use the young-Earth provision of YEC as means of distinguishing ID from creationism. See for example the way in which creationism is defined by Discovery Institute fellows DeWolf, Meyer, and DeForrest in Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook:

Furthermore, the propositional content of design theory differs significantly from that of scientific creationism. Scientific creationism is committed to the following propositions:116

(1) There was a sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing.

(2) Mutations and natural selection are insufficient to bring about the development of all living kinds from a single organism.

(3) Changes of the originally created kinds of plants and animals occur only within fixed limits.

(4) There is a separate ancestry for humans and apes.

(5) The earth’s geology can be explained via catastrophism, primarily by the occurrence of a worldwide flood.

(6) The earth and living kinds had a relatively recent inception (on the order of ten thousand years).

These six tenets taken jointly define scientific creationism for legal purposes. The Court in Edwards ruled that taken jointly this group of propositions may not be taught in public school science classrooms.

Notice that the last two propositions are characteristic of YEC and not necessarily of other forms of creationism. The authors go on to define ID as consisting of a few meaningless and redundant propositions, with the age of the Earth being noticeably absent. Since DeWolf et al are using this as the legal basis on which they hope to get ID taught in public schools, they know good and well that if ID were equated with “scientific creationism”, they’d be sunk. That’s why ID advocates get quite defensive and angry if you equate the two.

So as we see, if Johnson comes out in favor of an old Earth, he risks alienating the critical YEC contingent of the ID movement. Yet if he comes out in favor of a young Earth, he risks ruining the ID movement’s overarching goal of getting ID taught in public school science classes. So instead he adopts an implausible pretense of sitting on the fence, not really knowing and not really caring. So much for evidence and discourse.

35 Comments

Johnson Wrote:

Regardless of the time available, their system of evolution cannot work because it never gets started with the essential job of creating new complex specified genetic information.

Seems Johnson is still peddling this nonsense. How sad to hear that ID proponents still hold to these fallacious beliefs especially when evidence has shown them to be wrong

Sigh

Taking no position implies the issue is still open to debate. They correctly think this agnosticism absolves them from having to explain why the overwhelming evidence is wrong. But it still leaves them with the impossible task of justifying how the evidence is inconclusive.

Just more dumbass behavior by dumbasses. I still wonder what it is about lawyers that makes them unusually susceptible to creationism.

One small correction: Phillip (E.) Johnson, the godfather of ID, spells his name with 2 ‘l’s.

Philip (R.) Johnson is my “boss”.

I won’t speak for him on ID, but he’s one of the lead investigators on a current HIV vaccine trial, so I think we can be pretty sure where he stands on the HIV/AIDS issue.

Both are known as “Phil Johnson”

These six tenets taken jointly define scientific creationism for legal purposes.

Science has only one tenet: “What you see is what you get.” Ockham’s Razor applies.

Russell Wrote:

One small correction: Phillip (E.) Johnson, the godfather of ID, spells his name with 2 ‘l’s.

Oops, thanks for catching that. Problem fixed.

Well, as far as Johnson’s relations with YEC, he has managed to keep them somewhat intact. Witness this comment from John Johnson of the Creation Association of Puget Sound.

“I recommend Phillip Johnson as a personal friend and an ally of YE Creation, even though he refuses to discuss the age of the earth and seldom uses scripture - however, he has quoted Romans 1:20 in a lecture tape. He is closer to our position than he can state publically to keep his forum, and often meets with or lectures for YE creationists (e.g., seminar at ICR) and has spoken for our luncheon creation group back in 1990.”

Steve said:

Just more dumbass behavior by dumbasses. I still wonder what it is about lawyers that makes them unusually susceptible to creationism.

In my experience lawyers are not much susceptible to creationism, at least, no more than the average holder of a graduate degree.

Lawyers may be less inclined to be creationists, in my experience. The trick is to get them to rule on the evidence, whether it’s admissible at trial, and what it says. Law functions with rules of evidence that are somewhat stricter than science. A few lawyers I know make the mistake of thinking that if a person holds a science degree, anything they say is science.

But find a good tort lawyer, especially a tort defense lawyer who is used to disqualifying pseudo-science advocates as experts, and you have found someone who won’t “believe” in creationism, generally.

Think about the legal cases for moment: Only in the Scopes trial did was there a creationist win at trial, and then only because the defendant pled guilty. Considering the track record of creationism in courts, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to wonder why lawyers are unusually immune to creationism clap-trap?

You can have Johnson; we’ll take Clarence Darrow any day.

Well, as far as Johnson’s relations with YEC, he has managed to keep them somewhat intact. Witness this comment from John Johnson of the Creation Association of Puget Sound.

“I recommend Phillip Johnson as a personal friend and an ally of YE Creation, even though he refuses to discuss the age of the earth and seldom uses scripture - however, he has quoted Romans 1:20 in a lecture tape. He is closer to our position than he can state publically to keep his forum, and often meets with or lectures for YE creationists (e.g., seminar at ICR) and has spoken for our luncheon creation group back in 1990.”

Johnson’s unwilling to take a stand on this issue has implications beyond the simple question of honesty. Lets for sake of argument assume that he is in reality undecided. If he can’t figure out, after over a decade of being deeply involved in this issue that the Earth is over ten-thousand years old then his competence and judgement must be considered to be exceedingly poor. That Earth is old, is very obvious to anyone without dogmatic commitment and even a trivial amount of knowlege. The falsification of the YEC point of view is trivial to understand and far more readily availiable to laymen than the evidence for common descent.

This has the potential of being a “wedge” issue for pro-science people to use. 1) His absolute neutrality is unbelievable and thus puts Johnson in the role of a lying lawyer. 2) If it is believed then anyone who can be convinced that the earth is old will know that something is deeply wrong with the ID movement if it can’t affirm that fact.

(I am assuming that if one can’t be convinced that the earth is older than ten thousand then one is immune from any evidence.)

—- Anti-spam: replace “usenet” with “harlequin2”

As a lawyer and a fan of this site, let me chip in on our sub-species’ susceptibility to creationism. Many lawyers are very well educated in many respects, but often poorly educated or informed on scientific issues in general, especially scientific methodology (which is either very similar to, or the polar opposite of, legal methodology, depending on who you ask). Lawyers are just as, and maybe much more, susceptible to our political and cultural beliefs, as they are much more germane to our field than would be true of a scientist.

Moreover, we like to fight these issues out, and the results of those fights become “true” and significant in a legal sense. Science, from a certain perspective, is irrelevant when we can create truth through our dicta. Isn’t that why we become lawyers? Well, that and the chicks, and the money, and the fast cars, and the big muscles.

You may be interested in, and may already be familiar with, the recent dust-up at Harvard Law School this past semester. I was a student at the time, just graduated, and was actually writing a paper for a Church and State class on Constitutional barriers and methods to exclude ID from public classrooms.* Coincidentally, while I was plugging away on my turgid paper, the Harvard Law Review (perhaps the most prestigious legal journal in the world, unless you listen to the damned Yalites) published an even more turgid book review by one of its members, praising “Law, Darwinism, and Public Education,” a pro-ID text (as is probably evident from the prominent use of “Darwinism”).

Professor Brian Leiter, a distinguished academic and professor at the excellent University of Texas School of Law, stepped up to the plate. Leiter is a lawyer and a philosopher, not a scientist, but he’s also no fool or shrinking violet. He wrote an incindiary letter to the Review calling the article “scholarly fraud,” which really seems to sum it up to me. It touched off a series of nasty commentaries and letters to the editor that probably sum up the whole “lawyers’ approach to sham science” debate. I think it was only graduation and the vacation of campus that killed the brouhaha.

You can read a writeup of the exchange, and probably search out the subsequent comments, on the school paper’s website.

* My paper wasn’t great, but I’m a graduate now and thinking about rewriting it and trying to publish. If there are any bona fide scientists here willing to co-author a short piece on ID in public schools, it might be an interesting experiment.

Excellent article!

While I don’t claim that “ID ‘theory’ accepts an old Earth” I frequently say that its “official” origins model is “old-earth plus common decent.” That is because Michael Behe (one of the 3 or 4 major ID players) made his position clear, and to my knowledge, no IDer to date has challenged him directly. Even William Dembski’s recent bungled attempt to “falsify” common descent ends with him right back on the fence, and still quite sympathetic towards Behe. If IDers were “just questioning the science” as they pretend, the infighting would leave no time to misrepresent evolution.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

Part of the difficulty with this strategy is that the bulk of creationists in America (and probably the majority of ID advocates) are of the young-Earth variety.

I assume that you mean “ID advocates” among the general public and not the major promoters. As for the latter, I am convinced that, in private, most of them accept not just old-earth and common descent, but even evolution. Ronald Bailey made a good case for why they pretend otherwise:

http://reason.com/9707/fe.bailey.shtml

This bit from Bailey’s piece says a lot: Conservative activist Beverly LaHaye, a biblical literalist who is president of Concerned Women for America, puts the matter directly: “If the biblical account of creation in Genesis isn’t true, how can we trust the rest of the Bible?”

How can you have an intelligent conversation about anything in the real world with someone like that?

Bob Maurus: How can you have an intelligent conversation about anything in the real world with someone like that?

“Real world” of time, matter, energy, physics… stuff like that? or “Real world” of popular culture and political realities?

Consider “the best-selling novels for adults in the United States…”

The latest is “Glorious Appearing,” which has Jesus returning to Earth to wipe all non-Christians from the planet. It’s disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety. If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of “Glorious Appearing” and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit.

(Nicholas Kristof , writing about the latest of the “Left Behind” novels by Beverley’s hubby, Tim. I think you need a NYTimes subscription to read the full column, where you’ll see that compared with Jesus, Freddie Kruger is a teddy bear.)

All these readers: I wonder how many are reading this in the spirit of a comic book, how many in the spirit of “Yikes! I better drop what I’m doing and go fight the Good Fight for prayer in School, Genesis in science class, and fundamentalists in the White House, lest I, too, be filleted, have my eyes melted and flesh dissolved by Angry Jesus!”

I think that Johnson’s comments tend to support the view that he is not a YEC. In that case it is at least possible that he does not think it terribly important from a religious perspective how old the Earth is. Moreover openly stating a personal belief in YEC is not likely to hurt the ID cause. Stating a personal beleif in an old Earth, however would likely be useful ammunition for the no-compromise YEC groups.

That the ID movement remains non-committal on the issue is more interesting. At the very least it shows that the movement regards the continued suppport of the YEC contingent as being more important than scientific credibility.

Colin McRoberts Wrote:

Many lawyers are very well educated in many respects, but often poorly educated or informed on scientific issues in general, especially scientific methodology (which is either very similar to, or the polar opposite of, legal methodology, depending on who you ask).  Lawyers are just as, and maybe much more, susceptible to our political and cultural beliefs, as they are much more germane to our field than would be true of a scientist.

Moreover, we like to fight these issues out, and the results of those fights become “true” and significant in a legal sense.  Science, from a certain perspective, is irrelevant when we can create truth through our dicta.  Isn’t that why we become lawyers?  Well, that and the chicks, and the money, and the fast cars, and the big muscles.

This actually has much relevance to Johnson’s tactics. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the adversarial system of a courtroom, you set up two competing theories. A lawyer then tries to poke holes in the other side’s case, without necessarily ‘proving’ their side. That is, you can win just by having enough doubt about your opponent’s case, whether or not the jury fully believes your case. So I would say that the methodology of collecting evidence may be similar in science and the law, but the methodology for sorting out the truth is quite different. Which is part of the reason that scientists and lawyers frequently misunderstand each other.

Also, Steve’s piece touches on many issues covered by Rob Pennock in his book “The Tower of Babel”. One of the points that Pennock makes, and which I hadn’t thought of before, is that Johnson is essentially a postmodernist. Or more precisely, he is using postmodern techniques and rhetoric to attack science. (He apparently admitted as much to a political science class he gave a talk to.) This seems incongruous for a fundamentalist Christian to be using postmodern deconstructive techniques, but I think its quite correct. The irony, of course, is that once you start using postmodern ideas, it doesn’t stop until you’ve relativized all of reality. The same techniques Johnson is using to undermine science can be (and are) used to undermine what he takes to be central - the Bible and Christian theology. This is something that Christians should be more cognizant of.

A minor correction:

… a YEC book on the Grand Canyon being sold in the National Park Service’s bookstore alongside of actual science books. … Of course he doesn’t explore any of the pertinent issues, such as whether it’s appropriate to have a religious book being sold in a government owned bookstore.

The bookstores (there are three) in question are operated by the Grand Canyon Association, a nonprofit organization, not by the National Park Service. But the GCA operates these stores under the supervision of the NPS, which must approve items for sale in them.

What I’d like to cut-and-paste to the world is Phillip Johnson’s take on “debates” with Darwinists:

“Indeed, my philosophy is, when I do a serious debate, to play for a draw because I do not want my opponent and the audience going away saying, ‘That is one clever lawyer who can make you look like a fool in a debate.’ I want them to go away saying, ‘There’s more to this than I thought. We ought to do this again.’ All you have to do is get the right issues on the table and then you win. You don’t have to worry about it, because Darwinism is wrong, and it will self-destruct.”

That just about says it all: debating creationists and IDiots is a lose-lose proposition; just inviting them to the table is an admission that you’ve lost.

I think you’d have to bring out some deep PM ideas to try to justify valuing faith-based ‘knowledge’ over real knowledge.

Colin, who taught your Church and State class? Just curious (as another HLS grad). :)

Off topic, but: Anyone got the key to the bathroom? I can’t seem to get in, and I’m afraid someone might be locked in there.

I can’t speak for Johnson, but William Dembski is definitely an OEC:

http://groups.google.com/groups?sel[…]upernews.com

I also find it interesting to observe that no matter how the leading advocates of ID struggle to maintain the position that they are not the same group as the young-earth creationists, for the “rank and file” there is no difference. In my last semester of college, I attended a presentation given by a Christian group on campus which, according to their fliers, would be about intelligent design; the presentation turned out to consist entirely of bumper-sticker arguments that could have been copied from an Answers in Genesis webpage: Noah’s flood, no transitional fossils, the second law of thermodynamics, and so on.

There’s no law against teaching pseudoscience in public schools. They can teach Christian pseudoscience, however, only if (or when) it’s successfully dissociated from religion. ID is the latest attempt.

Try pinning an IDer down on the identity of the “designer!” For lawyers, they say it could be an alien(s), but they want people to understand it is God.

Adam Marczyk Wrote:

I can’t speak for Johnson, but William Dembski is definitely an OEC:

If you use Johnson’s definition of “creationist” (anyone who believes that life is created) then I too am an OEC - who happens to accept common decent and evolution – as science defines it if not how IDers define it.

Using more appropriate definitions, I see it this way:

1. Evolution is a scientific theory (and numerous scientific facts).

2. Creationism (any of the mutually-contradictory anti-evolution models) is a belief. “Scientific” creationism or “creation science” combines that belief with a strategy to misrepresent science.

3. ID is merely a strategy to misrepresent science.

Of course, given the nature of the typical audience, ID indirectly promotes all of the creationisms. And, in the example of that Christian group’s presentation, many creationists, particularly YECs are borrowing much of the ID strategy. If they had any confidence in their alternative model, they wouldn’t need to conceal it in their fliers. This isn’t saying much, but I actually have more respect for Kent Hovind than for the ID strategists, and the YECs who hide behind them.

… Johnson is essentially a postmodernist. Or more precisely, he is using postmodern techniques and rhetoric to attack science …

Good point. Creationists seem to implicitly regard evolution as a narrative favouring, and thus promoted by, the academic elite. Epistemology just isn’t germane to the question - it’s all politics. They’re much like many climate change contrarians and free-market cornucopians in this regard, in that science is just “a way of knowing” based upon a group’s interests, and no more valid than any other such narrative (although in the case of these last two groups, it’s environmental science that is the narrative, and environmental scientists favour it for no other reason than because it justifies nice big grants for them).

… Johnson is essentially a postmodernist. Or more precisely, he is using postmodern techniques and rhetoric to attack science …

Good point. Creationists seem to implicitly regard evolution as a narrative favouring, and thus promoted by, the academic elite. Epistemology just isn’t germane to the question - it’s all politics. They’re much like many climate change contrarians and free-market cornucopians in this regard, in that science is just “a way of knowing” based upon a group’s interests, and no more valid than any other such narrative (although in the case of these last two groups, it’s environmental science that is the narrative, and environmental scientists favour it for no other reason than because it justifies nice big grants for them).

For some warmed-over postmodern analysis aimed at attacking the evil “materialists” who are hijacking our country’s discourse, see The Evangelical Outpost where one of Johnson’s disciples, the inimitable Joe Carter, says:

Some philosophers do use zombies as an argument against materialism:

The general structure of the zombist’s argument is, as follows: (1) Zombies are possible. (2) If zombies are possible then materialism fails. (C0) Therefore, materialism fails.

It’s that simple. Clearly, the materialist is embarrassed by this argument. It is not that he cannot answer to the zombist’s challenge. He has even more than one objection to it. Still, the zombist has the upper hand in this game: He can offer an easily comprehensible and appealing idea (and we all like simple but powerful ideas) and the only thing the materialist can do is-as it seems-to hover on the details.

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Colin, who taught your Church and State class? Just curious (as another HLS grad). :)

Mansfield. Nice guy, and I think I would have loved the class as an undergrad, but as a 3L it lacked … fire and brimstone. Too much 17th century methodism, not enough Scalia-bashing.

/objective opinion

Let’s be honest folks. The age of the earth is NOT a minor point. The history of geology is the story of how devote men abandoned diluvialism for neptunism and then abandoned neptunism for uniformitarianism. They abandoned these views of the earth because of the overwhelming evidence against their views. How one views the age of the earth is a commentary on how one treats scientific evidence and the Christian faith. Johnson’s refusal to take a stand on this issue potentially exiles him to the refuse pile of nonconsequential ideas.

Many thanks.

It had never occurred to me that Johnson might take a position that could diminish him further in my eyes. His HIV/AIDS denialism, which I had not been aware of, does so.

He, Deusberg, Mullis and their denialist comrades have blood on their hands. But unlike Deusberg and Mullis, Johnson cannot claim to have made earlier discoveries that advance science or human health, that in part may atone for that blood.

Kary Mullis has disputed the link in the 90’s, but he won the Nobel, so I gave him a little berth. I don’t know that he’s still doing it. If he is, maybe that’s just because he’s been drinking and surfing since roughly 1991. ;-)

Indeed, Michael, scientists can painfully give up cherished notions when the evidence is against them. Dembski, Behe et al don’t seem to pass that test.

“If he is, maybe that’s just because he’s been drinking and surfing since roughly 1991. ;-)”

Drinking what, we may ask …

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on July 18, 2004 4:27 PM.

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