Letter to the editor

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Darwin on Trial

Charles B. Thaxton, Ph.D.

President, Konos Connection
P.O. Box 991, Jullan, CA 92036

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 44 (September 1992): 217-218.

A response to reviews of Darwin on Trial (by Phillip E. Johnson) written by Duane Thurman and Owen Gingerich. Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1991. (Reviews published in the June 1992 issue of PCSF.)

Johnson's Darwin on Trial is perhaps the finest piece of original scholarship analyzing the agenda of the Darwin industry this century. I found the work insightful, well researched and reasoned, and lucidly presented. Not only that, but it was a sheer joy to read. Seldom has a work of technical analysis given me such pleasure while I learned.

Professor Thurman's is a good descriptive summary of the contents of Johnson's book, informing a would-be reader that Darwin on Trial is a worthwhile book to read. His assessment, however, suggests little of the richness and depth of insight within its pages. I agree with Thurman that a more apt title would have been Darwinism on Trial, for that surely is the subject of the book. According to Johnson, Darwinism is a euphemism for scientific naturalism, a grand materialistic philosophy of world view.

Professor Gingerich thinks Darwin on Trial is a "good read," and his review includes more of the flavor of Johnson's book. Both he and Thurman mention Johnson's impressive credentials as a legal scholar and that he is expert at analyzing arguments. Johnson takes arguments apart and exposes faulty logic with care and apparent ease, the way a good mechanic takes apart a malfunctioning machine looking for a broken part. According to Gingerich, Johnson is "a thoughtful and intelligent author," the possessor of "an enviably logical gift of mind, and a covetably sharp pen," who has presented a "brilliantly argued critique of Darwinian evolution" that is "deftly organized, articulate, even witty."

Yet after noting all that brilliance and ability to analyze how words are used in arguments, neither reviewer considers whether Johnson's analysis might also be correct. Instead Thurman issues a cautionary warning to the reader that Johnson the lawyer has more than objective analysis on his mind. He has considerable skills and is trying to persuade the reader to accept his point of view. And Gingerich records that, after reading Darwin on Trial, he was left with "a highly uneasy feeling. " He suspects Johnson of having made an egregious error that undermines his case, though he does not tell us clearly or precisely what it is.

To see how incisive Johnson's analysis is, consider the question whether it is possible to embrace Darwinian mechanisms as a scientific description of the way moths, trees and people made their initial appearance on this ear, without also embracing naturalistic philosophy that goes along with it. Here Johnson is careful to protect himself from being caught in a logical trap, by saying, "I believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to work thorough a natural evolutionary process instead"<|>(p. 14). What God could have done is one thing. What the empirical evidence supports is quite another. It is clear that Johnson does not think there is any empirical evidence for such a natural process having produced life, or transformed bacteria into humans. Thus Johnson's analysis should provide little encouragement to those who espouse guided or theistic or non-naturalistic evolution. However, he is equally critical of the young earth creation view, and Johnson does not make clear what view he personally holds.

What if Johnson's analysis of Darwinism is correct? Then it means that many fine minds, including the minds of many Christians, have been seduced by a naturalistic metaphysics insidiously masquerading as science. In other words, modern empirical science didn't blast Christianity at its root as Jacques Monod and many others have claimed. Philosophical naturalism merely and brilliantly used the prestige of science to intrude into traditional Western culture, and by an incredibly clever smoke and mirror routine, so well orchestrated it looked conspiratorial, managed to replace theism as the intellectual vanguard shaping the development of the "global village."

But is Johnson's analysis correct? Gingerich has doubts, but has not identified any substantive errors. Someone should come forward to expose the flaw in Johnson's analysis if it is there, for there are signs in many quarters that educated people outside the hallowed halls of science are taking his arguments and ideas seriously, and are prepared to act on them. "A highly uneasy feeling" may give us sufficient cause to look for an error, but it is no basis to decide there is one. Our regard for truth and reason demands more. It is an important matter, for unless a fatal flaw is identified, who can say that this admittedly brilliant analysis of Darwinism is not also correct? And if it is correct, or if very many think it is, who can doubt that as a consequence much of our social fabric based upon Darwinism will begin to unravel? These are very uncertain times.

There is room for improvement in Darwin on Trial. Gingerich is quite right to note that Johnson does not point out what we ought to have done with respect to the Creationists. Nor did he point us in the direction of what we should do about the way evolution is currently being taught in the schools. However, unlike Gingerich, I do believe Johnson understands how science functions, and I would prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that his prescription may be coming an a sequel. In case Johnson has not thought of this, perhaps the suggestion will prompt one.