Creation and Evolution: An Interview With Phillip Johnson

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Creation and Evolution

An Interview With Phillip Johnson

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The Good News: Concerning evolution and its effects on modern educational systems, you mention intellectual superstition. What is that?

Phillip Johnson: What we get as science in the Darwinian theory of evolution is not based on science. It's based on a prior commitment to materialism and philosophy. Facts take second place to that philosophy, and therefore what we're getting is what I call a materialist mythology. That's what I mean by intellectual superstition.

GN: As a lawyer and law professor, how did you become interested in writing a book that analyzes Darwinism?

PJ: I was in England on sabbatical in 1987-88 and began reading on the subject. I found it fascinating and began looking into it further. I found out many interesting things. For example, some scientists at the British Natural History Museum were saying things that were completely contrary to the Darwinian theory, and they were being told to shut up and keep quiet. I looked into it to find out what was going on. While there, I bought all kinds of scientific books and read the scientific journals at the University of London, where I was a visiting professor. In retrospect, it's perfectly logical that I should get into this subject, because fundamentally it's all about the relationship between assumptions and proof. Specifically, people aren't always forthright about their assumptions.

Evolutionary biologists state their assumptions as fact. They state their assumptions emphatically, then treat them as proof. One of the first things I noticed was that some evolutionary biologists I talked to couldn't appreciate the difference between what they'd proved and what they'd only assumed. They didn't really understand the difference. Thus I wrote Darwin on Trial, which is really a critique of bad reasoning presented as legitimate science.

GN: Would you briefly identify the themes of your books Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism?

PJ: Darwin on Trial is my book on evolutionary science. It goes into the scientific detail fairly thoroughly to show that the evidence is against the theory [of evolution] at every point. This leads to the conclusion that what is driving the evolutionary-science community is not the evidence but a philosophical position that they endorse in spite of the evidence. So that's the book for people who want to go deeply into the science of it.

The second book, Reason in the Balance, is mainly about the cultural implications [of belief in evolution]. It has several chapters on the scientific background, but the main theme is to show that the philosophy behind Darwinian evolution—which is materialism, or naturalism—has become in effect the established religion of our country.

This has great consequences for subjects like law and ethics, because, if God is dead and a mindless process of evolution is our true creator, then God's moral authority is also dead. That means that all questions of value are up to us and we can change the rules at any time that we like. So that's the foundation for the moral relativism that we seek out throughout society.

The third book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, is specifically addressed to graduating high-school students, beginning college students and their parents and teachers. It is basically intended to prepare these students for the kind of indoctrination that they will receive in college, not only in the science curriculum but throughout the curriculum.

They will be presented material which presupposes that nature is all there is, that there has never been any supernatural influence from the ultimate beginning to the present and that God belongs in the category of what they call religious belief, which is to say subjective fantasy.

So this book is to prepare them for what they'll be hearing and to understand the thinking behind it, because these subjects are not presented straightforwardly. The professors don't say that they're going to convince you that naturalism is true; they start out with that assumption and everything follows from there. You have to understand where they're coming from to have an understanding of what's wrong with this whole system.

GN: How will these high-school students, who are going into college, be exposed to what you are saying about defeating Darwinism? Apart from discovering your book, how can more people be made aware that modern education will automatically teach them the effects of naturalism?

PJ: This is what families have to take responsibility for. The public-school educators are not going to teach students something that undermines the philosophy they're trying to inculcate in them, that they've been taught to believe themselves. So it has to be a very high priority for Christian families to make sure that their children learn.

This is one of the things that has energized the home-schooling movement to such an extent. But it isn't necessary for parents to go that far. They can read up on and learn these ideas themselves and make sure they're taught in the home or in church or in some kind of educational, supplemental program.

The Christian community has all the resources it needs to do this kind of educating, whether the public schools like it or not. The limitation here has been that the parents and the ministers and the youth workers and teachers haven't understood the issues. They have been misled to believe that the kind of secular education we're receiving is compatible with a Christian belief system and that the theory of evolution in particular is only about minor scientific matters that don't touch the larger issues of life.

However, this is fundamentally untrue. So the real problem is that the parents, teachers, youth workers and ministers—everybody—need to learn to understand this and develop some kind of a program to communicate that to our young people. It's very much within our resources; the problem is simply one of understanding.

GN: As a tenured professor in a major university, you've seen how the commonly accepted educational belief system has been assumed as true by many academicians and how this notion has had its affect on young students' minds.

PJ: It does, and it molds the thinking of the whole culture. What is really insidious about it is that people don't realize that their thinking is being molded. It comes in through the assumptions, and that's where the effective indoctrination and propaganda work.

The way to put something across to people so that it gets into their minds is not to tell them something straightforwardly, because then their defense is up. Then they can recognize it and make counterarguments. What you do is to assume it and smuggle it in in the unstated assumptions behind the stuff that you are teaching on the surface. This is what occurs in the educational system, and this is what I teach people to be able to spot.

GN: This approach you're taking is revolutionary, isn't it?

PJ: Yes, this is a peaceful, intellectual revolution.

GN: You advance the notion that 90 percent of Americans believe in God.

PJ: They say they do. They'll answer a poll question that way. How deeply that penetrates into their thinking is quite a different question. People answer poll questions by giving the answer they think they are supposed to give. So you have to do a lot of interpreting do get truthful results.

GN: This leaves us about 10 percent who, to some degree and on some level, are agnostic or who at least promote naturalism, even unwittingly. Is it possible that 10 percent can dominate the 90 percent in this area, and, if so, how?

PJ: Sure, they can, especially if they take the high ground, the high intellectual ground. You see the education at every level. Government, lawmaking and all those things presuppose the viewpoint of the 10 percent. Now, this is masked because the viewpoint of the 10 percent is not inconsistent with religious belief. So people can have a naturalistic worldview and accompany it with a lot of God talk—that is to say their understanding is that God belongs in this category of religious belief, and so, effectively, everybody has their own God. The whole thing is part of their imaginative life. In their view, God is not real in the sense that the theory of evolution is real, which is to say that it's taught as true for everybody. Their view is that God is real if that idea works for you.

So that's the viewpoint on God which is taken throughout public life in the United States, and it's why somebody can say with some sincerity I'm a very religious person and yet they will have a fundamentally naturalistic understanding of what that means. This kind of understanding is presupposed in public life, and that is why the idea of tolerance has become central. In this way of thinking, true religion means that you never interfere with somebody else's belief system and that all of these are relative systems good only for the person who holds that belief, so government should presuppose none of these beliefs.

That means, effectively, that the agnostic position—which says we have no knowledge of God—becomes the neutral position which governs the country. This is what the Supreme Court has effectively enacted and imposed in its religious-liberty decisions. So, whether that is ever changed as a governmental matter, it's really important for people to understand what is going on and why the laws have changed in the direction that they have. That's the subject that I explained in Reason in the Balance. I want people to realize that, although 90 percent of the country says they believe in some sort of intelligent Creator, the opposite is what is being taught and proclaimed as fact. It isn't because the evidence supports that, but because a small minority believe in the power of blind chance and naturalistic forces.

Public education is no longer under public control. Now the teachers' unions, curriculum planners and government officials have established control over education in general. The public doesn't like a lot of what goes on in the schools, but they're told it's none of their business.

GN: What plans do you have to get your information out to the public, electronically or otherwise?

PJ: That's what I've written about in my latest book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. That book really answers the question, especially in chapters six and seven, where I explain what I call the web strategy. This is the building of an intellectual movement and includes the combination of a strategy aimed at legitimating the critique of evolutionary naturalism in the secular universities and in bringing a common understanding of this issue to the Christian world.

GN: How would you like to see the subject of beginnings approached in science classes?

PJ: First and foremost, the subject should be approached with honesty and candor. I agree with the Darwinists that students should learn more about evolution. The difference is that they want to indoctrinate students, and I want them to learn the flaws in the theory. I want them to see why the fossil evidence is so inconsistent with Darwinism and how they point to a few isolated examples and ignore everything that doesn't fit their premise.

If science is going to deal with the question of whether there is a Creator, they ought to openly and honestly deal with both sides of the issue rather than just one. They say they stay away from religious issues, but that is false. They deal with them constantly by trying to persuade people that there is no intelligent Creator who had a hand in the creation, that purely physical, material mechanisms were the only thing at work. They refuse to deal with all the compelling evidence for an active, intelligent Creator.

GN: Regarding the Bible's view on truth vs. deception, Revelation 12:9 speaks of Satan, who deceives the whole world. In a much larger spiritual context, could the biblical account of an unseen god of this world deceiving mankind fit into this paradigm of naturalism, which you show undergirds and pervades our assumed educational relativism?

PJ: Yes, it certainly does. However, I prefer not to go to the book of Revelation because that makes a lot of people very nervous. When I'm speaking on this subject, the scripture I prefer to start with is Romans 1:20-21, which states that since the creation of the world, God's invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.

We see the reality of the created through the creation, but then we see that, even though men knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

So what the Bible is saying is that, to avoid the reality of a Creator, people have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.

Evolution is another form of nature worship, which is what the Bible is talking about here. It's a way of getting God out of the picture, by replacing the true God with the god of the human imagination. The proposition is, effectively, that God didn't create man. It's the other way around: Man created God out of human imagination. Of course, what man has created man can command. That's the key point. So Romans 1:20-21, which bears this out, is the scripture that I prefer to emphasize.

GN: Are you ever able to use this scripture when arguing your points with the scientific community?

PJ: When I'm speaking to a secular university and a scientific audience, I stay completely away from anything to do with the Bible. In that context, the fact that something is in the Bible is considered to be a reason not to believe in it. You're not going to persuade those people with scriptures. That's the kind of subject that comes up with a Christian audience, the ones who want to find out how this ties in with the Scriptures. Unless some people have some initial respect for the Scriptures, there's no point in trying to use it as an explanation.

GN: Thank you, Professor Johnson, for discussing with our readers the subject of evolutionary naturalism, as it relates to our educational system, sound reasoning, and Christian faith. GN

Phillip Johnson bio

Phillip Johnson is the Jefferson E. Peyser professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written three books relating to the creation-evolution debate: Darwin on Trial (second edition, Intervarsity Press, 1993); Reason in the Balance (1995) and Defeating Darwinism (1997). Dr. Johnson is a graduate of Harvard University (1961) and received his law degree from the University of Chicago (1965). He was law clerk for California Chief Justice Roger Traynor (1965-66) and for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren (1966-67). He has also been a visiting professor at the Emory University School of Law, Atlanta (1982-83), and at University College, London (1987-88).

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