An interview in Berkeley
edited for the SCP Journal and further abridged for the Internet. This is a sample of the interview.
Tal Brooke: In 1979, I wrote a book entitled The Other Side of Death, and in Chapter 9, "The Death of God," (on page 104) I wrote:
In this century we have seen the secular, naturalistic view replace the Christian faith in its statements about reality, God, and the universe. This is the philosophy of science. Naturalism asserts that the natural phenomena of the universe are its exhaustive reality and that life has no divine supernatural source or meaning.
A few pages later I wrote,
Yet by accurate definition, any concern with the invisible--that is, religion, ethical values, metaphysics--is not within the province of science, whose business extends no further than the observation and collation of data. Speculations and statements about ultimate reality in meanings behind the universe are not proper to science because science studies observable and repeatable phenomena piecemeal and from the outside. All the same, the language of science has become synonymous with the language of truth. The result is that the description of anything in scientific jargon with apparent scientific detachment creates an overwhelming impression of authority and authenticity."
I'm here with Phillip Johnson, one of the brightest minds on the horizon engaged on our side of the culture wars, a man who's been standing on today's Mars Hill debating the scientific elite about their sacrosanct dogmas comprising the philosophy of science, a philosophy that goes way beyond the bounds of its original definition.
Phil is also a personal friend and an ally of mine. Over dinner, coffee house chats and other locales in Berkeley Phil and I inevitably probe some of the key challenges of our time, inspiring and motivating one another. On the national landscape, Phil Johnson is the professor at Berkeley's prestigious law school, Boalt Hall, who's been hunting down and debating the biggest names in evolutionary biology, names like Stephen J. Gould of Harvard, Phil's alma mater. It has become increasingly evident over the past five years that these celebrated names have grown more gun shy of Phil, his lucid intelligence and tireless logic, as it becomes obvious that they are trying more and more to avoid confronting him. The battle is starting to tilt, and they know it. He is on to them and all their tricks. During this session I want to explore with Phil his recent powerhouse work entitled The Wedge of Truth.
Phil, as a layman it seems to me that what molecular biology has come up with is the discovery of an almost infinitely complex series of genome maps, an immense Rosetta stone to the power of the terabyte. Faced with something that screams of design and intelligence, and then to attribute it to the random forces of a blind watchmaker shows a level of presumption and blindness that's almost unfathomable unless you're dealing with a will that detests God or any sovereign agency that stands above it. It's almost a study in the mystery of iniquity. This infinite Rosetta stone is layered with a design at a level beyond anything Paul in the Book of Romans was describing in his depiction of nature, which eternally showed the evidence of the handiwork of God.
In your most recent book, The Wedge, the metaphor that you use for science's apparently immovable roadblocks is the tree blocking the road with drop-offs on both sides. It seems impassible until one dismantles the tree with a wedge, once finding the crack. Tell us about the crack and the wedge that can apparently dismantle this seemingly immovable tree of naturalism.
Phillip Johnson: When I took up the study of evolution, I had a different objective from what most people have. Most people want to answer all the questions. They want to tell you how long the process was and in what order things happened, and so on. Maybe they'll reconcile everything with every verse in the Bible if they're Bible believers.
What I wanted to do was to crack open the subject because it seemed to me that there was an obvious question to be asked that the scientific and cultural elite generally don't want us to ask, and that question is: Does the evidence of nature, fairly considered, point to the reality of a Creator, an intelligent source for the immense information content of every living cell?
Now, the reason they don't want that question on the table is that, indeed, the evidence does point to the reality of an intelligent designer if you're allowed to consider it. And so what is done by the rulers of knowledge in a situation like this is that they engage in rule making. And so the question is not what is true, what does the evidence point to, but rather what is the definition of science. What do the rules allow you to consider and not consider. And so the move is made that science is by its very nature confined to naturalistic explanations--explanations that indeed form the log in the road that prevents us from going any farther.
Tal Brooke: Then there's something called the wedge which can break apart that log.
Phillip Johnson: The wedge fits into the crack so that we can split the log and get it out of the way so that we can get to a more intelligent understanding of things. Well, the crack that I describe is the difference between the two definitions of science that are powerful in our culture. On the one hand, science is said to be the unbiased examination of experimental evidence. And because it's unbiased and involves only the experimental evidence, science must therefore presumably be free from any philosophical prejudice or political prejudice or religious prejudice or control by anything outside of science. Then there's a second definition which trumps the first, and that is that science is, by definition, dedicated to producing naturalistic explanations for everything, explanations in terms of natural causes like physical law and chance, regardless of the evidence, so that you cannot ask the question, "Does the evidence point to something outside of nature?" because that question is forbidden.
Tal Brooke: We would call this a closed system, in a way.
Phillip Johnson: It is closed.
Tal Brooke: Like Freudianism.
Phillip Johnson: It's closed. It rests on certain assumptions. Now, that wouldn't in itself be all that bad if the assumptions were admitted. But they're concealed because, on the one hand, the rule makers want to say, "We do not consider God. We're not saying anything one way or another about God." On the other hand, they want to say, "We're saying everything that needs to be said about God," which is that He's totally out of the picture. So that's where the deceit comes in, you see? The deceit comes in by concealing the fact that there are two definitions, and pretending that you are following the evidence wherever it goes when, in fact, you've decided before you even looked at the evidence that the evidence will exclude God from reality.
So that's the crack--which is to make clear to people that there are two definitions of science. And this enables us to ask, "What should we do if the two definitions conflict?" Especially if the evidence is leading in one direction but the rule making is forbidding us to go in that direction. That, of course, is what's happening in biology. And because it's happening in biology, it's happening in the culture in general. Darwinian evolution is only superficially about biology. What it is really about is God, and how are we going to get God out of reality so that we can have a creator more to our liking, a creator who is under human control, whom the rule makers can rule just as they aspire to rule our thinking.
Tal Brooke: As I read your book, which I think is just so powerful and so clear (I'm sure others have likened you to C. S. Lewis in a lot of ways), with its unremitting vigor in pursuing one strand after another, what kept hitting me is the cardinal issue that the scientific elite are trying to obfuscate-- namely, the existence of a higher intelligence. You bring up intelligence, information theory, design, and the fact that it can't all be reduced to simple material cause for explaining the immense complexity of the universe using their formula of random chaos, vast chunks of time in tandem with fixed laws. Is this not really a primary myth of today's scientists in trying to somehow get rid of intelligence?
Phillip Johnson: I used to say that the Darwinian story was one in which intelligence could not come into existence until it had evolved from non-intelligence. So that, for example, evolution has to be an undirected process. You couldn't have a mind directing evolution because it would be an unevolved mind, which is to say it would be supernatural, and that's forbidden.
But then after humans have evolved, and they invent science, you suddenly have intelligence appearing in the human mind able to take over and direct evolution (breeding, cloning labs etc).
I came to realize that by their definition, on a more sophisticated level, you cannot really have intelligence after all, even after human beings evolve. Because everything that we do is ultimately reducible in the Darwinian view to natural law and chance. The more far-reaching and sophisticated Darwinists like Sir Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, will say that all our thoughts are merely the results of chemical actions in the brain, "neurons firing" is the way they usually put it. Thoughts are thus fully explainable in terms of unintelligent material causes.
Tal Brooke: So why respect any thoughts at all?
Phillip Johnson: Well, of course, everybody who goes on this path makes an exception, and Crick does this wonderfully, saying your thoughts are the results of neurons firing in the brain. . .
Tal Brooke: . . But not his thoughts!
Phillip Johnson: Not his thoughts. His thoughts are exceptional. It's just like Freud. Everybody else's thoughts are the results of unconscious repressions and so on, except Freud's, because he understands it all.
Tal Brooke: Because he was above the rest. Interesting how these unbiased scientists climb the ladder of status! I think of Richard Dawkins, of course, who wrote The Selfish Gene and the Blind Watchmaker. I told you last time that a friend of mine who's on the faculty of UC Berkeley - a molecular biologist - invited me to a dinner in which Richard Dawkins was present. Dawkins was trying to flatter this woman philosophy professor across the table to win peer review for his latest book. He looked like a blushing English school boy. Another friend of mine at the dinner party who did a post-doctorate at Oxford whispered to me that Dawkins was at a lesser level because he was a zoologist and not a molecular biologist. I'm sure he's perennially haunted by this lesser status.
But it's interesting that the question Dawkins and others in today's scientific elite don't want to answer is the greater complexity of information question, as you point that out in your book. Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution cannot account for greater complexity of information at higher levels. And your group known as "The Wedge" have been hounding them with this.
Phillip Johnson: You know, many people have asked why it is that the founder of The Wedge and the most noticed critic of evolution these days would be a law professor rather than a biologist or at least some kind of a scientist. And the answer to that is that this isn't really about science or scientific evidence. It's about word manipulation. You see, the real problem of evolution is, how do you get the genetic information? Dawkins himself acknowledges, to his credit, that every cell . . .
Tal Brooke: We're talking about this cosmic Rosetta stone, the terabyte sized block of evidence.
Phillip Johnson: Every cell, according to Dawkins has more information in it than all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica combined, than your Windows 98 operating system, etc., etc. It's an immensely sophisticated kind of program that's only little understood. So how do you get that information built up?
Well, the Darwinian trick is to substitute what has occurred so that evolution becomes our creator while God is put out of the picture. The point is that it's all done with word magic. They substitute the real question--which is how do you get the information building in living systems--not how do you get change, which is far easier to answer. Dawkins can answer, the "change" question very easily. It'll just take him a second. As "give us an example of evolutionary change, or even of a mutation that is beneficial to the organism." Almost all mutations that have any physical affect on the organism are harmful. But because conditions can be very different one place or another, some will be advantageous. And so there are a few examples. The same handful of examples are used over and over again to illustrate advantageous mutation. So that's the kind of question he can answer.
What apparently happened to Dawkins during a certain interview was that when he heard the sophisticated question being asked--"Can you give us an example of a mutation that increases information?"--he knew he had trouble on his hands. If his questioners knew that much, then they knew the secret. And so that was why, as Dawkins himself tells the story, he had to pause to think about how to get them out of the house before they did real damage. So, as I said, this is why it's fundamentally a lawyer's subject, or a law professor's subject. One thing we understand is how words are manipulated in order to win arguments. And so that's what I've been exposing, and that's the key to the whole problem.
Tal Brooke: Well, it seems to me there is a real dishonesty of language here, as you point out in the State of Kansas school board controversy, where the public seems to be waking up to the fact that the dogma of the evolutionary faith is intent on keeping God out of the picture. They're seeing the arrogance of the few over the many. Those who watch over the common mind. Maybe you could tell us a few things about Kansas issue.
Phillip Johnson: Well, the Kansas issue came up because a few conservative Christians were elected to the State Board of Education, and then they were faced with a very aggressive effort by the Darwinist science educators who wanted to change the whole science education standards to make evolution the key to everything. And they were going to make evolution as important a concept as observation--in which you have to believe in it as a matter of faith before you even consider the evidence. They wouldn't allow any dissent to their view, wanting education to be used for indoctrination. So the members of the Board of Education did the best they could to protest this. I don't think they came to an ideal solution, but their options were quite limited, and they showed enormous courage in doing what they did.
They said, "We will not require the students to be tested on this macro evolution, which is the whole creation story you people are selling. But we'll only require them to be tested on the part of evolution that's actually observed." That's the small scale change and variation that actually occurs. Well, the science educators went ballistic, not just in Kansas, but nationally and worldwide. Every major newspaper in the country, and many in Europe and Asia, editorialized about this. They were denouncing Kansas. How can they do this horrible thing? One of the great crimes of the century. Now, just stop and think for a moment. Why is it that newspaper editors in Washington, D.C. and London and New York are panic-stricken if the school children of Kansas aren't tested on something?
Tal Brooke: Especially the Washington Post, I might add.
Phillip Johnson: Yes, well, the Washington Post was absolutely over-excited, hysterical about the whole subject. Now, of course, that isn't because they're worried about the details of high school curriculum in the state of Kansas. They don't know whether the Kansas students learn algebra or read a play of Shakespeare or know anything else. And they don't care. What they saw here was the beginnings of a popular revolt against the officially established religion of our day, which is evolutionary naturalism. And they knew that if the popular revolt ever got started, the situation would become uncontrollable because the state of the evidence is so unfavorable to the Darwinian orthodoxy.
Tal Brooke: In other words, the experts are trying to suppress certain key things getting out in the debate and coming under public scrutiny.
Phillip Johnson: Exactly. Once the issue of intelligent design gets on the table, once the question of complex specified genetic information gets on the table, then we all know where the debate is going to go. The evidence is so clear. Even the Darwinists themselves, when they think nobody is listening, will speak about how this is the instruction book that God wrote, or something like that. It's the natural way to think about it. But then, of course, they always insist that there is no God, and so blind matter did all of the creating. That's their ideology. And they can't afford to have that exposed. They can't afford to have people perceiving the difference between the real scientific evidence and the prejudice that the Darwinists bring to evaluating that evidence. So they had to crush the revolt in Kansas, and they used all their power to do so. You know, it occurs to me, it's so fascinating. We think of totalitarian dictatorships like the Soviets, and they maintained the Secret Police, the prison camps and all of that.
Tal Brooke: Propaganda as well.
Phillip Johnson: Well, yes. But, you know, you don't need those prison camps. What you just need to do is to control the ideas, the information that comes out. That's what the Darwinists have succeeded in doing. They've done a wonderful mind control operation on the intellectuals by defining knowledge in such a way that nature had to do its creating and that God is out of the picture. And so they'll do anything that they need to do to maintain that control. But they can do it by word magic. You don't need all of the coercive apparatus of the totalitarian state.
Tal Brooke: Well, especially in academia, where you have people who are ambitious and who want to be respected. I think a lot of these colleagues of yours would sell God down the river if it would give them tenure and more status--or even, in some case, if it made them look good at the dinner party. When I was there at that dinner party with Richard Dawkins, he was just sapping up attention and praise. It seems with so many of these people, they would sell God down the river for mere status.
Phillip Johnson: Well, when I first took up this subject of Darwinism, one of the things I liked to say was if you were at an academic dinner party, and asked, "Is this Darwinian theory of evolution really true?", you could hear the sound of minds snapping shut all around the table, because that's just not done. They all understand that this is a forbidden topic, forbidden even to think about. So they don't want to touch it. And then the true believers, of course, will go ballistic. They'll get very angry at having this question. There's a great . . .
Tal Brooke: That they would even be affronted with it . . .
Phillip Johnson: Yes. The academic world loves to believe of itself that it's in a protected area where there is open-minded consideration of ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a realm in which the powerful people, the ones who control promotions, tenure and so on, enforce a certain way of thinking. Now, they may be brilliant people and in many cases are, and their way of thinking may be interesting. But what happens is that what starts out in one generation as an interesting new idea becomes the official orthodoxy in the next generation, and then it stifles further thought.
Tal Brooke: Well, that's absolutely true. Now when I went to school they were still calling Darwinism a theory.
Phillip Johnson: the use of the word theory is probably not the best way to make the point that people want to make when they say it because the scientific establishment responds with a massive quibble about what theory means, and the fact is a theory can be very well established. It can, in some cases, be more reliable than a fact. So their quibble is well taken. But the people who say that are making a point, which is valid and should be expressed a little differently. They should understand that the Darwinian theory of evolution is a model. It's a scientific model which is based on certain assumptions. And, of course, the model is no more reliable than the assumptions upon which it's based. And the assumption is that nature had to do its own creating. So if you assume that God is out of the picture, He had nothing to do with the physical world, at least after the ultimate beginning - you know, he turned everything over to a combination of physical law and chance then, and has been absent ever since. He's an absentee landlord at most. Then something more or less like Darwinian evolution has to be true as a matter of logic because it's the best available solution to how law and chance did the creating. So in that sense it's a viable model. It's the best available model if you're going to explain the world on naturalistic assumptions. Now, it's quite consistent with that to say it's not true. See? It's a model, and the model is, has so many flaws, has so many logical and evidentiary flaws that you're justified in concluding the assumptions on which it's based are not rock solid. And, of course, they aren't. So if you had different assumptions, you would have a different model.
Tal Brooke: Phil, one of the things in your book that I find really interesting is the whole account in the 1920's of a guy named Phil Wentworth who went to Harvard supposedly as a Christian and soon got gutted of his faith. He's a fellow who clearly represents what happened to a generational wave of the so-called best and brightest, in a process to sweep the upper echelon of our society and which has gone on for decades. The same thing, I believe, happened to my father. I think I told you my dad was a Rhodes finalist barely missing the final cut. He also used to be a speech writer for Adlai Stevenson and William Fulbright, a true Washington egghead. I remember growing up and asking as a kid - "why are we here?" And the standard answer was from Kant; that Kant's categorical imperatives were enough to guide a benevolent society without needing to answer the deeper metaphysical question--it felt hollow to my young mind. My dad was sincere but clearly influenced by the intellectual avant garde of his day.
Clearly, Wentworth is a case of a guy who went from reason to rationalization, as you point out. You might want to narrate a little bit about Phil Wentworth, if you don't mind.
Phillip Johnson: Philip Wentworth wrote his own story in the Atlantic Monthly in 1932. I stumbled on it while just web surfing. The Atlantic has all its old articles on there. And I was fascinated because what Wentworth says in the 1932 article is that he was surprised by what happened to him at Harvard, where he was an undergraduate from 1924 to, I think, to '28. He was surprised to find that he lost his Christian faith at Harvard. You see, as he tells the story, he was going to become a Presbyterian minister. He went to Harvard with that intention. And then his mind was open, and he learned that the Christian story is not true.
But as I read the article, I could read between the lines, and I could see he wasn't telling the whole story. If you just looked at the way he put things, and the things that he did not say, it was quite clear that the truth was otherwise. He went to Harvard wishing to lose his faith, intending to do so, and was utterly uncritical about everything that they taught them. Now, you'll have to read the chapter to see how I know that this is true. And no one who has read the chapter has defied that I'm right in the analysis. He signals it so clearly. So the great lesson of the Wentworth story is that enlightenment rationalism is not reliable in its assumptions about the human mind. That is, the enlightenment rationalist idea was that if we were freed from religious superstition or prejudice of various kinds, then we would have the most reliable guide to truth that there could be, which is the free human mind.
But you see in the Wentworth story this person was intending to deceive himself and succeeding very well. The mind is not so reliable because it's guided by the will, and the will can be perverse, and it can be very deceptive, so that while we think we are opening our minds and reasoning to the truth, we may really be rationalizing, that is, just finding things that will help us in this self-deception project. Now, the quality of the mind, the brilliance, the high IQ is no defense because the cleverer you are, the more clever you are at deceiving yourself. So that's what's wrong with the assumptions of enlightenment rationalism. And, by the way, I know this personally because I went to Harvard too.
......The rest of this lengthy interview is in the SCP Journal.
Phillip E Johnson is a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall. He entered Harvard University at 16, went to law school at the University of Chicago, and clerked under Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Professor Johnson has taught law for more than thirty years at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of numerous books including the latest featured in this interview, The Wedge of Truth. Phillip is a good friend and ally of Tal Brooke and the two plan to cause more trouble down the road!
Tal Brooke is the President/Chairman of SCP, Inc and has authored eight books. His work has been recognized in Marquis Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, Contemporary Authors (Vol. 93-96), and The International Who's Who of Authors. He received an EPA first place award in the critical review category. A graduate of the University of Virginia and Princeton, he has spoken numerous times at Cambridge, Oxford, as well as Princeton, Sorbonne, Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and the University of Edinburgh.
A cassette of the full interview is available as an SCP Special