Saturday, 30 April 2011

Phillip E. Johnson — father of ID — lax, unpersuasive and simply wrong

I'm now up to chapter 13 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God, which is approximately one-eighth of the way through its "50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science". As I feared, it's proving a tedious affair. Given that this is a recent book I'd hoped it might contain some really good up-to-date arguments, or at least a challenge of some sort. So far, however, it's been disappointing. The first section, The Question of Philosophy, should have been challenging, but seems to comprise what I (a non-philosopher) can only describe as philosophically bankrupt arguments. The current section, The Question of Science, appears to be all over the place; some of its chapters don't offer an argument at all, so I fail to see how they count towards the "50 Arguments".

Nor do I understand why every one of the first 13 chapters is either identical or very similar to an article on That website doesn't reference the book, and the book only briefly references the website (in the introduction) as a place to find "still more articles". Shouldn't there be at least an acknowledgement that the book contains reprints? Or that the website does? (At this stage I'll not be surprised to discover that the whole book is available on the website, which could explain why there's nothing new.)

Curious though that is, what of chapter 13? It's titled "Darwin's Battleship — Status Report on the Leaks This Ship Has Sprung" and is by Discovery Institute co-founder and major intelligent design proponent Phillip E. Johnson. He begins by citing his 1993 book Darwin on Trial, quoting the epilogue in which he predicts that ID will win out over evolution. He then goes on to list how he perceives progress in this regard. It's actually a bit comical:
Science organizations regularly mischaracterize ID, calling it "creationism in a cheap tuxedo." They dream up conspiracies and make false accusations. They try to make sure that no one who is friendly to ID is allowed to publish articles in the peer-reviewed literature and then use the lack of such articles to prove that ID is not science. They try to prevent ID-friendly scientists from attaining research or teaching positions. They enter into local school district decision-making processes to make sure that Darwinism is not allowed to be questioned in any way, bringing in the ACLU if there is any attempt to offer an even-handed approach to the teaching of evolution. (p. 74)
Who's "dreaming up conspiracies and making false accusations" here? I seem to remember a somewhat disreputable film (that's putting it mildly) called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed that was chock-full of conspiracy theories, every one of which was promptly debunked by people who actually investigated the facts.

Johnson goes on to state that the "Darwinian mechanism of evolution" has no explanation of how the complex living world came about. This is just plain false. Anyone who reads Richard Dawkins' latest, beautifully illustrated book, The Greatest Show on Earth, cannot fail to understand the stunning simplicity and elegance of Darwin's idea. As for explaining "how life came into being from chemicals" — Johnson must surely know that evolutionary theory has practically nothing to say on the subject because that's not what it's about. He complains that Edward O. Wilson gives no concrete examples of evolution in an article in Harvard magazine, while providing no examples himself — nor does he provide a reference to Wilson's article. In fact the only reference Johnson gives is to his own book. His final paragraph is telling:
Recently, Harvard opened a new major research project, especially to study the origin of life. This may be in response to the criticisms of the Intelligent Design movement. Other recent articles suggest that scientists in the biological establishment are doing research specifically to answer the challenges raised by ID. If this is the case, it should be seen as a good thing by everyone. We in the ID movement are proponents of good science. If our criticisms and questions lead to better research, we are unafraid of the results. In the meantime, our current concern is to keep evolutionary scientists honest about the current state of the evidence and to allow young people to understand why there is a controversy about the subject of evolution. (p. 75)
It sounds entirely reasonable, until the last sentence. In evolutionary science — the kind supported by peer-reviewed research — there isn't a controversy about the subject of evolution. The controversy is entirely in the minds of ID proponents who want biological science to be based on a religious idea.
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