Monday, December 05, 2011

Phillip Johnson, One of the Very Best Intelligent Design Creationists

 

The IDiots have been complaining of late that we aren't addressing their very best arguments in favor of Intelligent Design Creationism. They think we're just picking off the low-hanging fruit by attacking amateurs and Young Earth Creationists. This isn't true, but that's not a surprise since much of what they say isn't true.

The Intelligent Design Creationists are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial [Phillip Johnson on the Scientific Nature of Opposition to Darwinian Theory] [Christian Post: Darwin on Trial Still Resonates 20 Years Later] [Why Phillip Johnson Matters: A Biography]. It's clear that they think of Phillip Johnson as one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism and that's quite reasonable since he was one of the key players at the beginning of the movement. I'm going to assume that Phillip Johnson is not low-hanging fruit. He's among the very best that Intelligent Design Creationism has to offer or else they wouldn't be making such a big deal of this anniversary.

Here's a promotional video produced by the Discovery Institute that supports my claim. There's no doubt that Phillip Johnson is being touted as a leading light in the movement.



Now that we've established the importance of Phillip Johnson, let's look at what he has to say about Intelligent Design Creationism. Remember that the purpose of the introduction (above) was to establish that he is among the best of the best so I can't be accused of attacking someone who doesn't speak for Intelligent Design Creationism.

I'm asking you to take a look at this 1993 interview where Phillip Johnson answers questions about evolution and Intelligent Design Creationism. Jeffrey Shallit has already featured it on his blog Recursivity [This Video Should Be Shown to all Biology Students]. Jeffrey has addressed several issues that come up in the first 22 minutes of the one hour long video and I urge you to read what he (Jeffrey) had to say. (Hint: the best that the IDiots have to offer doesn't look too good).



The very first question is, "How does a lawyer's perspective help in evaluating scientific theories. Aren't you a bit out of your element?" Johnson gives the standard answer—the same one given by theologians, politicians, engineers, computer scientists, science writers, and surgeons. All these people have a nineteenth century understanding of evolution and they think that's all they need to criticize it. Why? Because they have the advantage of seeing evolutionary biology from the outsides and that allows them to recognize the basic flaws in elementary logic and reasoning in the discipline. Evolutionary biologists can't recognize these flaws because they are too deeply immersed in their study of evolution.

In Johnson's case, he's a lawyer and he claims to see the basic assumptions that evolutionary biologists are making without realizing it. Now, if you think about it, there's only one way he could know this and that's by becoming an expert on evolutionary biology. Otherwise, he's just making things up.

Throughout this video you will see at least a dozen examples of spectacular ignorance about evolutionary biology. It's clear that Johnson has no clue about any mechanism other than natural selection—that's what I mean about being stuck in the 1880's. It's clear that he doesn't understand molecular evolution. It's clear that he doesn't understand punctuated equilibria. It's clear that he doesn't understand Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould. It's clear that he hasn't a clue about the fossil record. He doesn't get speciation. etc. etc.

In other words, the first question is perfectly valid and so is the answer, but it's not the answer that Johnson gives. Johnson is way out of his element. You can't be a serious critic of evolutionary biology unless you thoroughly understand the subject. If I were an Intelligent Design Creationist, I would be very embarrassed by this video but most IDiots will not be embarrassed. They won't be embarrassed because their understanding of evolutionary biology is no better than Johnson's. In fact, many of them learn their biology from fellow IDiots like Johnson.

I often wonder if the IDiots apply the same reasoning to other disciplines like Roman history, epistemology, music theory, quantum mechanics, constitutional law and oncology. Do they think that outsiders are well-positioned to recognize the major flaws in those disciplines? Of course not. Evolutionary biology is special because it alone HAS major flaws that the internal experts can't see. In other words, the experts in evolutionary biology are difference from the experts in all other disciplines because biologists are really, really stupid and lawyers are very much smarter.

Naturally, Johnson doesn't really want to be put in the position of making such an outlandish claim—that evolutionary biologists are stupid—even though he clearly believes it. He sometimes argues instead that many scientists know the flaws in evolutionary theory but they are prevented from speaking out by a massive conspiracy that suppresses the truth about evolution. According to Johnson, scientists who criticize evolution will find themselves shunned by the scientific community and they won't get grants and may even be fired from their jobs.

Thus we see three majors themes in this video.
  1. The metaphysical assumptions of evolution are wrong and lawyers like Johnson are experts in this area.
  2. Evolutionary biologists constantly misinterpret evidence and lawyers like Johnson can easily recognize where they are going wrong.
  3. The truth about evolution is being suppressed by scientists.
One of the question asked of Johnson is, "You describe yourself as a creationist, what do you mean by that term?" (8 min, 35 sec) He answers correctly that, "A creationist is simply someone who believes in the existence of a creator." I agree with Johnson. I also agree with him that we should distinguish between several types of creationists so we aren't insulting people like Johnson by implying that they are Young Earth Creationists. That's why I call him an Intelligent Design Creationist.

Johnson is upset with scientists who use improper terminology to describe their opponents. In particular, he doesn't like scientists who imply that all creationists are Young Earth Creationists. "... that's just a very reprehensible kind of propaganda", according to Phillip Johnson.

The next questions is, "What is meant by the term evolutionist?" According to Johnson an evolutionist is a "metaphysical naturalist." He continues to use the term "Darwinist" to describe them. This is obviously not an example of "a very reprehensible kind of propaganda," at least in Johnson's mind. It would have been nice to hear him explain why.

I doubt that most readers will have the stomach to get through the entire hour and that's a shame because more people need to understand what we are up against. Phillip Johnson's understanding of evolution is inferior to that of the average high school student in Canada. His friends at the Discovery Institute don't recognize this because their understanding of science is no better. They think there's still a debate about the science when, in fact, that debate was lost a long time ago.

But this doesn't really matter to the Intelligent Design Creationists in spite of what they say. The "real" debate is about the existence of a creator god. In order to disguise that debate, the IDiots often talk about metaphysical naturalism or scientism because that sounds a lot more intellectual. This is where Johnson has had an influence, not as an amateur scientist, but as an amateur philosopher. But he's not very good at that either as many philosophers have demonstrated.

What's important to the science side of the debate is that this is as good as it gets. Phillip Johnson is one of the very best Intelligent Design Creationists so if you listen to his arguments you can be confident that you aren't missing anything better.


17 comments:

  1. Johnson may be touted as a leader, but I think you'll agree that Behe and Dembski are better bets if we're talking about science.

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  2. The video is much easier to get through if you view it as an anthropologist rather than as a biologist.

    At about 32 minutes he discusses the implausibility of intermediates in the evolution of whales. This of course was before the discovery of such intermediates.

    At about 38 minutes he suggests that rather than studying evolution one should simply study the properties of organisms. He implies that doing so would provide clear evidence for design. In fact scientists have extensively examined the properties of a wide range of organisms (via DNA sequencing). The result is yet more evidence confirming evolution and no evidence for design.

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  3. I often wonder if the IDiots apply the same reasoning to other disciplines like Roman history, epistemology, music theory, quantum mechanics, constitutional law and oncology. Do they think that outsiders are well-positioned to recognize the major flaws in those disciplines? Of course not. Evolutionary biology is special because it alone HAS major flaws that the internal experts can't see. In other words, the experts in evolutionary biology are difference from the experts in all other disciplines

    Sorry, but I beg to differ with this part. It's not that other scientific theories are immune to amateurish BS ID-like, is that the opponents are usually less organized in their vocalism. There are plenty of non-scientists (or, sadly, even non-specialist scientists) who misunderstand/misrepresent some part of the science and fully abuse the freedom of speech by making fool of themselves. But unless the criticized scientific theory happens to annoy for some reason a large number of people, the outlandish critics do not feel the need to aggregate their arguments as if they were a single big respectable theory, and they keep acting as individuals, thus rarely obtaining real public visibility.
    The evolutionary theory has indeed a particularity: many people dislike its implications so their criticism becomes overcritical and they become aware of the advantages of quoting someone else's similar (wrong) ideas. It's not only the evolutionary theory in such a position: there was a time for the heliocentric system, for the age of the earth, even for the relativity; at present it might be also a time for the global warming related issues. The overcritical non-specialist critics tend to organize themselves, the only difference is the label we design them. You coined the term "IDiots" specific for a certain class of negationists: it is not the only actual class, there are many others, they're known under different labels (or they have no label at all).

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  4. He is very good. Here is why:


    1) He articulates why Evolutionism is really naturalistic philosophy replete with unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable assumptions.

    2) He explains how the word "fact" in science refers to an objective observation coupled with an often very subjective interpretation.

    3) He explain that much of the arguments of ID have not been "debunked" so much as ignored.

    4) He shows just how little explanatory and predictive power the current paradigm actually has.

    5) He exposes the disconnect between various disciplines within evolutionary biology. Biochemists like Larry are ignorant of population genetics, while paleontologists are largely ignorant of molecular biology. There is no unifying synthesis.

    But I consider myself to be even better.

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  5. From the promotional video:
    "Uses an attorney's reasoning to scrutinize the scientists' logic."
    heh ;)

    "I'm asking you to take a look at this 1993 interview..."
    Whole interview? Please, mercy...

    "Because they have the advantage of seeing evolutionary biology from the outsides and that allows them to recognize the basic flaws in elementary logic and reasoning in the discipline."
    Interesting. When some atheists criticise religion, they are outside theology. But in that case it seems that you actually must be theologian to criticize religion.
    Hypocrisy...

    "many scientists know the flaws in evolutionary theory but they are prevented from speaking out by a massive conspiracy"
    Evolutionary Ninja? (BTW. Does anyone know, who came up with this concept?)

    ----

    He mentions Horseshoe crabs (17:30 and later 22:05).
    I recently read about them on Laelaps
    and there is link in the article to another article which explain that living fossils don't exist

    When he started talking, that "there is certainly no evidence that a bacterium by a process like this [descent with modification] gave birth to insects, and lobsters, and worms...", I stopped watching (29 minute).

    My brain hurts and it's evening here where I live.

    After watching a half of this interview, the only word which came to my mind is hypocrisy. And misleading. OK - that two words, but I am tired.

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  6. He exposes the disconnect between various disciplines within evolutionary biology. Biochemists like Larry are ignorant of population genetics, while paleontologists are largely ignorant of molecular biology. There is no unifying synthesis.

    So goes the clueless flunky ignoring the fact that Johnson knows nothing about biochemistry, popn.genetics, paleontology, and molecular biology. Johnson is a pathetic little whiny excuse for dissent.

    Truti

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  7. Atheistoclast wrote:
    Biochemists like Larry are ignorant of population genetics, while paleontologists are largely ignorant of molecular biology. There is no unifying synthesis.

    But I consider myself to be even better


    Don't be so shy: being both "ignorant of population genetics" and "largely ignorant of molecular biology" makes you indeed pretty better than the categories you mentioned.
    I'm not very sure you meant your last phrase in this sense >:-] (though this is the one and only interpretation fully consistent with your posting activity on this blog)

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  8. Truti

    Don't listen to Atheistoclast. He's an idiotic semi-educated troll who thinks his "work" is going to overturn the Darwinist Conspiracy Paradigm (or whatever he's calling it this week). He's also on record fantasizing about metaphorical scientific heads rolling if he or one of his idiot ilk gets into a position of power.

    Basically he's a malignant narcissist with a poorer grasp of science than Johnson. In fact, his obnoxious ignornat trolling has managed to not only get him sh1tcanned at Pharyngula, but he's also banned at the Discovery Institute and a bunch of other creationist sites. You know you're a freaking loser when the creationists hate you more than the actual scientists.

    unkle.hank

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  9. I had the misfortune of sitting through a presentation by Phillip Johnson sponsored by the inaccurately-named Veritas Forum at Ohio State. Johnson spent much of the talk speaking about the SETI program trying, ineptly, to make his point that ALL of science pursues metaphysical naturalism in an attempt to claim that teaching science in public schools violates the anti-establishment clause of the U.S. constitution. The main sponsors were philosophers (no surprise there). He did a lot of quote mining (mostly some Gould and Sagan) among other reprehensible creationist tactics. That was my first introduction to a "professional" creationist.

    As it happens, that same term I was TA'ing a gen bio non-majors course (700+ students) that term that turned to be taught, unbeknownst to me by a creationist. I started to suspect something was wrong when the lecturer happened to cancel two lectures specifically covering evolution.

    Man, that quarter sucked.

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  10. Atheistoclast said...

    But I consider myself to be even better.

    Boy, I've seen some backhanded "compliments" in my time, but that one takes the cake. I have yet to see a conversation on this site where you haven't ended up roadkill on the information highway and your ass handed back to you crisscrossed every which way with the treadmarks of reality all over it, and yet, this guy WORSE than you?

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  11. He also thought his lawyerly logic was pretty good at debunking the "HIV as the root cause of AIDS" claim. 'Nough said.

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  12. For those who missed it, Atheistoclast had a falling out with Uncommon Dissent

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  13. It was amazing that UD banned me because of unrelated comments (taken out of context)that I expressed on a separate forum. Anyway, I never liked the politics of the DI.

    I prefer to remain independent - a thorn in everyone's side and a friend to none.

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  14. Atheistoclast said:

    I prefer to remain independent - a thorn in everyone's side and a friend to none.

    Sort of like a kidney stone... yet another of the great ideas demonstrating the biological genius of 'Jesus Is Lord!'.

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  15. You might be right but you have a most uncharitable and reprehensible way of speaking.

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    Replies
    1. Trent: You will have to specify whom you are referring to, as so many of us here have uncharitable and reprehensible ways of speaking.

      Delete
    2. Some people seem to think that, compared to being right but speaking in a way that is "most uncharitable and reprehensible", it is preferable to speak charitably and admirably while being wrong. I am inclined to disagree...

      Delete