Bad Philip Johnson Quote

| 51 Comments

There is a quote that I’ve seen all over the place, and I believe even used myself over the years, from the founder of the ID movement, Philip Johnson. Here is the quote as it is usually given:

“The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.’”

The quote appears on over 400 webpages according to Google, and the source cited is the April 1999 edition of Church and State magazine. That magazine is published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and this article was written by Rob Boston. The problem is that this is not a quote from Philip Johnson, it’s a quote about Philip Johnson, and as it has gotten passed around it has often been attributed to Johnson himself. For the full text of the article, go here. Given how often we have criticized the creationists about inaccurate and out of context quotations, it is imperative that we avoid using this quotation ourselves.

Update: This is a good example, I think, of how our side handles such situations compared to the other side. I emailed Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic, last night because he had recently used the quote in an article, and I informed him that it was a paraphrase, not a quote. His immediate response was to say thank you for the correction and to call his publisher because the quote also appears in his forthcoming book and he wanted to make sure it got taken out so it wouldn’t get disseminated any further. Kudos to Shermer.

51 Comments

Well, I hope you mentioned this to someone from Americans United.

By the way, I found a better one.

There is a quote, attributed to James Madison, which is in textbooks and cited in court cases.

Bogus.

“Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”

At least, I checked with the Library of Congress and one of America’s top Madison scholars.

The truth rocks.

And, “The Truth” by Terry Pratchett is pretty funny, too.

Kudos to Shermer, yes. BUT WHY DID HE USE IT IN THE FIRST FREAKIN’ PLACE?!

There is a quote, attributed to James Madison, which is in textbooks and cited in court cases.

Bogus.

“Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”

Madison was a better writer than that. It reminds me of those emails which go around, purportedly from George Carlin or some other wit, which consist of unfunny paragraphs skewed toward libertarian conservatism. Not very good fakes.

The present discussion is over whether belief in Darwinism is compatible with a meaningful theism. When most people ask that question, they take the Darwinism for granted and ask whether the theism has to be discarded. I think it is more illuminating to approach the question from the other side. Is there any reason that a person who believes in a real, personal God should believe Darwinist claims that biological creation occurred through a fully naturalistic evolutionary process? The answer is clearly No.

and

I have two concluding points. First, the contradiction between Darwinism and theism is not necessarily evident to people who have only a superficial acquaintance with Darwinism. That explains why 40 percent of the American public believes in a God-guided evolution and thinks, no doubt, that this position satisfactorily reconciles science and religion. The contradiction sinks in when a person assimilates Darwinist ways of thinking and sees how antithetical they are to theism.

Johnson Darwinism: Science or Philosophy

The present discussion is over whether belief in Darwinism is compatible with a meaningful theism. When most people ask that question, they take the Darwinism for granted and ask whether the theism has to be discarded. I think it is more illuminating to approach the question from the other side. Is there any reason that a person who believes in a real, personal God should believe Darwinist claims that biological creation occurred through a fully naturalistic evolutionary process? The answer is clearly No.

and

I have two concluding points. First, the contradiction between Darwinism and theism is not necessarily evident to people who have only a superficial acquaintance with Darwinism. That explains why 40 percent of the American public believes in a God-guided evolution and thinks, no doubt, that this position satisfactorily reconciles science and religion. The contradiction sinks in when a person assimilates Darwinist ways of thinking and sees how antithetical they are to theism.

Johnson Darwinism: Science or Philosophy

I found the text online

Johnson calls his movement “The Wedge.” The objective, he said, is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to “the truth” of the Bible and then “the question of sin” and finally “introduced to Jesus.”

“You must unify your own side and divide the other side,” Johnson said. He added that he wants to temporarily suspend the debate between young-Earth creationists, who insist that the planet is only 6,000 years old, and old-Earth creationists, who accept that the Earth is ancient. This debate, he said, can be resumed once Darwinism is overthrown. (Johnson, himself an old-Earth creationist, did not explain how the two camps would reconcile this tremendous gap.)

Johnson added that he is happy to be working with university professors, such as Michael Behe of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, who are critical of aspects of Darwinism, even though they may not themselves be literal creationists. This strategy, he said, “enables us to get a foothold in the academic world and the academic journals. You have to prepare minds to hear the truth. You can’t do it all at once.”

Would be interesting to see if others reported the same or if transcripts etc are available.

JS Narins wrote:

Well, I hope you mentioned this to someone from Americans United.

There’s no need to. It’s not given as a quote from Johnson in their article, it’s given as a description of Johnson’s beliefs there. And that description is accurate. It just isn’t a direct quote. As for Madison, there are several false quotes from him that are passed around among the religious right, as well as many more from other founding fathers. I’ve documented many of them on my blog.

More at From Truths That Transform with D. James Kennedy by Johnson

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.

hehe wrote:

Kudos to Shermer, yes. BUT WHY DID HE USE IT IN THE FIRST FREAKIN’ PLACE?!

Undoubtedly because he saw it cited by innumerable people and just assumed it was accurate. That’s pretty normal, we can’t all look up every single quote we see in the original. We tend to trust those who agree with us. This post is, as far as I know, the first time it has been publicly debunked and I did it specifically so that people would know from now on that it’s not an accurate quote, or at least that it’s not accurate to attribute it to Johnson (it is an accurate quote of Rob Boston). Hopefully, people will see this and refrain from using it in the future.

Pim:

I linked to the original text of the article on the AU website (from the wayback machine) in my post. The text is accurate as a quote, but it should be attributed to Rob Boston as a description of Johnson’s views, not as a quote from Johnson himself. There’s no doubt that it’s an accurate description of what Johnson beliefs, but it’s still inaccurate to present it as a quote from him.

From the article in question it does look like a direct quote of what he said.

Well, although it isn’t a direct quote, the quotation marks within the quote do show that there are two levels of quoting going on. And it would appear that the material is a fairly accurate representation of his views, which is pretty much the opposite of what creationist quote-mining is trying to convey.

Pim wrote:

From the article in question it does look like a direct quote of what he said.

Look closely at where the quotes are. They aren’t around the whole statement, they’re around a few specific phrases. As I said, there’s no doubt that the description of Johnson’s views is accurate, but it’s a description, not a direct quote from Johnson. And that is how it is often portrayed.

Johnson has been explicit about the Christian principles underlying his philosophy and agenda and that of the intelligent design movement. In speaking at the “Reclaiming America for Christ Conferences” Johnson has described the movement thus:

“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.” …”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 the truth?” …”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. He also said

“We are taking an intuition most people have (the belief in God) and making it a scientific and academic enterprise. We are removing the most important cultural roadblock to accepting the role of God as creator.” Johnson, Enlisting Science to Find the Fingerprints of a Creator. The Los Angeles Times. March, 2001. “Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.” [20] “This isn’t really, and never has been a debate about science. It’s about religion and philosophy.” [21] “The objective [of the Wedge Strategy] is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.’” [22] “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.” These are supposedly direct quotes made at The Southern Methodist University conference in March 1992

Jonboy quotes ““The objective [of the Wedge Strategy] is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.’” [22] “

But that is from the same disputed source. The question is: was the quote literal or an interpretation of the author?

Jonboy:

What you just posted is exactly why I wrote about this. The text appears in your comment as a direct quote from Johnson and it is not a direct quote. Where did you paste it from and what does footnote 22 reference?

Kudos to Shermer, yes. BUT WHY DID HE USE IT IN THE FIRST FREAKIN’ PLACE?!

Because most of us are too cheap and lazy to check out sources and we tend to trust things we like too much.

When you’ve got to crank out articles and books on a regular basis, you tend to use more and more short cuts as time goes on until you get in trouble for it.

The purpose of quote mining is to take a snippet of text that appears to be contrary to the author’s purposes. As such, there seems to be countless times that creationists have used this tactic and countless times that these claims have been conclusively answered. The Johnson non-quote does not come close to this kingd of tactic. The non-quote is simply an accurate summation of his personal philosophy. Have you heard ID advocates complaining?

jonboy got his stuff from wikipedia

someone already removed the quote from the wiki page on pj

looks like you boys have a lot of work cut out for you getting this removed everywhere

whether tis noble to admit a mistake after caught red handed is debatable but debate would certainly be limited by the extent to which you rectify the damage

there’s a lot left to go

another wiki page for example

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&[…]oogle+Search

get crackin

its pretty scary if you do your science with the same due diligence as you quote people you don’t like, innit

Whoever Wrote:

onboy got his stuff from wikipedia

someone already removed the quote from the wiki page on pj

looks like you boys have a lot of work cut out for you getting this removed everywhere

whether tis noble to admit a mistake after caught red handed is debatable but debate would certainly be limited by the extent to which you rectify the damage

I am not sure that there is reason to remove this as long as the quote is presented fully. To me it seems that the author is quoting what Johnson said.

It takes a site like PT to actually discuss such issues and correct them if necessary.

whoever Wrote:

whether tis noble to admit a mistake after caught red handed is debatable

Of course it is. Honesty requires that one tell the truth even when it causes you problems. It doesn’t look too good in the short term, but in the long term the best thing you can possibly do for your credibility is to correct the mistake the moment that you become aware of it and do your best to stop that mistake spreading further.

That’s a significant part of the mindset that we call science.

Misquoting is not that uncommon in the world of science. In the days when I got papers to review I would check as many citations as I could against the originals and the number of errors was disturbing.

Some people got everything spot on. Others made relatively trivial errors (except possibly to the person being cited) - errors in the exact wording of the title, spelling of the author’s name and so on. Then there were errors in volume and page numbers that can make it harder to track down an original source. In other cases the original had been twisted, probably a result of the paper going through several drafts (none of these were direct quotes, but sources of information). Then there were the really bad ones such as the person who confused potassium (K) with phosphorus (P). Another paper was cited for the effect on insect pest infection, yet insects in general or in particular were never mentioned in the original. The authors of one paper managed to quote another paper exactly backwards - and the second author on both papers was the same person. Out of 13 citations I checked for one submission (I rejected it for this reason, 12 were wrong.

I have described my experiences to other people in various areas of research and I have never yet found anyone who checked the citations for correctness. I strongly advise anyone who reads a citation that sounds a little odd to try to track down the original for themselves.

Is that you DaveScot?

Since DaveScot, eh well whoever, manages Dembski’s uncommon descent website, he may want to correct the many arrors in ID activist statements about science.

Speaking about a full time job :-) But it seems that ‘whoever’ considers it well worth the effort…

The irony indeed

whoever wrote:

So much for open forums. I tried to go read After The Bar Closes and found my IP address blocked after commenting here and on austringer.net.

Maybe when you boys get serious about admitting your mistakes you can admit what a mistake it is to call your forums open. I’m sure you know what I mean about that Ed.

You can’t imagine how little I care about whether you can read pages I have no control over. This has exactly nothing to do with this post so it’s going to the bathroom wall.

Can somebody tell me on what post that new guy was complaining about the big bang and ontogeny? I left for a few hours, and now I’ve looked on a dozen threads and can’t find it.

thanks. shortly after i asked, douglas commented, so it showed up in the Recent Comments section and I found it.

So many threads from different time periods can be active at a given time, I find 10 entries in the Recent Comments section isn’t enough.

Anybody else think so?

hmm, I think Wayne Francis had developed a nice little app. that did a great job of thread tracking when used on top of PT. Works like a plugin for your browser, kinda. It worked great for a while, but after my last HD crash, i lost it.

I don’t know if Wayne is still lurking about, but if he is, you could try to get it from him.

You need an RSS reader and feed http://www.pandasthumb.org/index.xml as the url

I RSS certain sites, but I think working from the RSS feed of Panda’s Thumb might be more of a hassle than working from the website.

Optimally, the Recent Comments list would keep items for a time period, say 12 hours, rather than a tiny FIFO queue, but Panda’s Thumb only works like that in Heaven (Where, btw, there is no spam or ActiveX, IE supports CSS properly, and changing your browser settings to make text comfortably sized and backgrounds comfortably dim doesn’t break the living hell out of many webpages).

Ed wrote:

“Undoubtedly because he saw it cited by innumerable people and just assumed it was accurate. That’s pretty normal, we can’t all look up every single quote we see in the original.”

Yes we can, if we are supposed to be one of the leading skeptics out there!

PvM has mentioned D.James Kennedy. Kennedy is a fairly strict young earth creationist and proponent of Answers In Genesis Ministries and his own Creation Studies Institute. Does this mean that Johnson is now a YECer ? I thought that the IDers are supposed to be unclear about the age of the Earth etc.

In fact I’ve read a number of articles on the web recently which would suggest that they are distancing themselves from the YEC position.

I think it is “Phillip” with two l’s. Check one of his book covers: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0830813241/

Ed Brayton,I apologize for not responding to you immediately,I made the post just as I was leaving for work.In reading “Whoever’s” post I see you have the origin of my quote. Just like every one else ,I took it as fact that Johnson was directly responsible for the quote.

I’m still about. I use my program every day and my local database for panda’s thumb is up to 460 meg. If you are finding it hard to follow the threads I’d be happy to provide you the program. Its got a few bugs that crop up but some are actual IE bugs and a restart of the program is all that is needed.

If I get some spare time I’d like to rewrite it in .Net and feed off of the RSS feed. Anyone that wants it is welcome to email me at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] replacing someplace.com with gmail.com

An added plus is that if you are used to the Microsoft text to speech voices the articles and comments can be read back to you. If you have better voices installed it should be able to use them too.

With almost 70,000 comments its a great resource when I want to search for something someone said oh so long ago.

The creationists “retraction” would go like this: “The following quote has been attributed to Phillip Johnson: …”

See? That’s not a lie. You DO get to have your cake and eat it too.

I learned this from the propagandist Casey Luskin.

Well, it depends. If DaveScot was the creationist, there wouldn’t be a retraction, he would just delete every thread where he said the wrong thing.

Yeah Steve S IF DaveScot was the creationist there wouldn’t be a retraction, he would just delete every thread where he said the wrong thing.

And then run around behind Don DemQuixotski’s skirt and poke his tongue out that guy isn’t even out of diapers.

whether tis noble to admit a mistake after caught red handed

‘Caught redhanded’? Little man, I would remind you, it is the ‘evilutionists’ who caught this mistake and rectified it themselves, under no external pressure. I defy you to cite examples of creationists admitting and correcting their own myriad misrepresentations when not pressured to do so.

is debatable but debate would certainly be limited by the extent to which you rectify the damage

‘Debatable’? Hmmm, isn’t that a rather dishonest? Isn’t one of the main ‘virtues’ of creationism supposed to be its superior moral charactar?

Incidentally, if this quote is inaccurate, why hasn’t Johnson complained about it? (Or has he?)

Arden Wrote:

Incidentally, if this quote is inaccurate, why hasn’t Johnson complained about it? (Or has he?)

Absence of complaints need not make the quote accurate, there may be other reasons why Johnson never complained.

It’s important that when using this quote, the source is clearly stated. In this case, it is a quote by someone quoting Johnson. It’s certainly not a direct quote from Johnson and it’s hard to find a second source that describes what Johnson said at the meeting covered.

Absence of complaints need not make the quote accurate, there may be other reasons why Johnson never complained.

I’m not suggesting Johnson’s silence means the quote is accurate. What I am saying is that I find it fascinating that even tho it’s not accurate, he’s never popped up to dispute it, especially when creationists have denied so many things that they HAVE said.

All I can figure is that even tho it’s not accurate, he likes the sentiment it expresses. In other words, it does accurately capture how he feels.

(And yes, I know, that’s still no reason to use the quote.)

Sorry Arden, did not mean to imply. Seems we agree :-)

In comment #79063 PvM queries whether I am DaveScot. I most certainly am not!

I am not sure why he thinks I might be, unless he feels it is basically unreasonable to raise questions about how rigorously science is actually performed. In fact, for some time I have been concerned about the sloppy way in which some people use references. Nature (1993, vol 364, p 665) published a letter from me on the topic, which elicited several letters of agreement from people in very different areas of research. As an ironic twist, Nature managed to get two mistakes into my name when they printed the letter.

Out of curiosity, those of you who have checked the accuracy with which people use references in your area, what has been your experience?

Richard Simons said:

In comment #79063 PvM queries whether I am DaveScot. I most certainly am not!

I am not sure why he thinks I might be, unless he feels it is basically unreasonable to raise questions about how rigorously science is actually performed.

I think PVM was directing that question to ‘whoever’ in comment #79041. I think the odds are quite good it’s DaveScot or one of his like-minded cronies.

Sorry if I got the target of PvM’s comment wrong. I’ll retract the indignation :-)

some troll Wrote:

whether tis noble to admit a mistake after caught red handed is debatable

The phrase “caught red handed” does not apply to mistakes.

Incidentally, if this quote is inaccurate, why hasn’t Johnson complained about it? (Or has he?)

Because that wouldn’t be in his interest. A complaint that it’s merely a paraphrase, rather than his actual words, would confirm that it is his position. If he did complain, the natural question would be “Then what were your actual words?”

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This page contains a single entry by Ed Brayton published on February 11, 2006 3:43 PM.

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