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.
- The metaphysical assumptions of evolution are wrong and lawyers like Johnson are experts in this area.
- Evolutionary biologists constantly misinterpret evidence and lawyers like Johnson can easily recognize where they are going wrong.
- The truth about evolution is being suppressed by scientists.
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.