Fundamentalists love Phillip E. Johnson, but only because they don’t hear him laughing all the way to the bank. In fact, the only thing I like about Johnson is that he takes advantage of fundamentalists’ gullibility to make a living. Certainly beats being a lawyer, in my book anyway.
Of course, Johnson portrays himself as David standing up to the Goliath of entrenched dogma, as the messenger of post-Darwinian enlightenment. Underneath the noble mask, though, he’s just another huckster. It’s ironic that he spends half his time paying lip service to Truth-with-a-capital-T, then spends the other half mutilating it to serve his dishonest aims. His audience is none the wiser, and since he’s telling them what they want to hear, they don’t complain.
Anyone who reads tracts such as Darwin on Trial and Defeating Darwinism (By Opening Minds) realizes instantly that they are aimed at people with little or no knowledge of history, science, or philosophy. The way Johnson sets up straw men such as Naturalism, Materialism, and Evolution makes it clear that he is defining these terms in any way he sees fit, for an audience otherwise unfamiliar with such concepts.
For example, he explicitly denies that there is any difference between the concept of species evolution and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. This, of course, makes it easier for him to point to debate among scientists concerning “evolutionary theory” and make his readers think that the very notion of species evolution is still being debated in scientific circles. Anyone who understands this difference realizes the dishonesty in Johnson’s method, but his audience wouldn’t care even if they could understand the point.
Similarly, Johnson takes great pains to equate philosophical concepts that his readers don’t realize are completely dissimilar. Methodological naturalism is simply the basis of experimental science, limiting the variables in any experimental situation to those that can be scientifically verified. Johnson asserts that this is no different than atheism, because God is excluded from the process. Of course, Johnson understands that by this logic even plumbing is atheistic, but he’ll only apply it to the sciences his audience doesn’t like. Johnson obviously grasps the valid basis of the naturalistic assumption, but it sounds sinister to his audience when he describes it as some bizarre form of fetishism. If his readers can’t see the difference between using naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena and denying the existence of God, Johnson isn’t about to be the one to help them out. He hopes that by making an example of an outspoken atheist such as Richard Dawkins, he can play on his audience’s fundamentalist paranoia.
His audience isn’t going to notice the way Johnson contradicts himself at times, but along with railing against the atheism of evolution, he also asserts that Darwinism aspires to be a naturalistic religion with sacred scriptures, priesthood, and creation myths. Johnson doesn’t have to decide whether science is anti-religious or a surrogate religion in and of itself, since either one sounds bad to his readers. He can quote a scientist favorably if something he said supports a point Johnson is trying to make, but quote the same scientist later and condemn him for his blind allegiance to the religion of Materialism.
The Johnson Herald always bears the shocking headline “Scientists Quoted out of Context Admit ‘Evolution is…False’!”. In Darwin on Trial, his contention that evolution is an unfalsifiable tautology is supported by quotes by prominent scientists (Haldane, Mayr, and Simpson) seemingly asserting that natural selection is proved by the fact that the fittest organisms are the ones that survive. Had he bothered to quote the authors in full, his audience would realize what they truly meant: that there is no universal trait conferring fitness upon all organisms, and that criteria for “fitness” only apply to a particular organism in its environment at one point in time. Again, this point may be way too subtle for Johnson’s readers.
Even his detractors give Johnson credit for being a good lawyer. Johnson attacks Darwinism by trying to create reasonable doubt about its claims, and that’s the essence of a legal argument. However, Johnson would like his audience to believe there’s no such thing as circumstantial evidence. He asserts that all evidence must be of the empirically observable sort, even when the subject at hand is ancient biology. Prehistoric events aren’t likely to have eyewitness accounts, but Johnson repeatedly dismisses geological, paleontological, and radiometric evidence as not constituting “proof” at all. Consequently, his audience can agree every time he complains that there is no proof of evolution, even though such evidence abounds. If Johnson were to claim during a murder trial that a medical examiner’s forensic evidence isn’t really proof, I doubt even his readers would call him a good lawyer.
Johnson also misleads his readers concerning the “predictive” qualities of a true science. Evolution, he explains, is a pseudoscience because it does not make predictions concerning future evolutionary events that can be used to verify or falsify its assumptions. However, evolutionary science does not claim to know the future course of life on Earth. It makes predictions concerning which fossils we’d be likely to find in which strata, which genetic relationships we should expect among certain species, etc. These can be tested, and have proven reliable.
Certainly the most glaring example of Johnson’s deceptive tactics is his misrepresentation of Thomas Kuhn’s philosophy of scientific revolutions. In Darwin on Trial, Johnson hails Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions as if it were ready-made anti-evolutionary propaganda. In Johnson’s interpretation, Kuhn says the evolutionary paradigm is obsolete, and is no more scientifically valid than the geocentric model of the universe. Johnson also has Kuhn asserting that science is just a matter of opinion, and that only those poisoned by the religion of Materialism would subscribe to the evolutionary explanation. Reading Kuhn’s book makes it clear that he meant none of these things (and in some cases just the opposite), but Johnson banks on the fact that his fundamentalist audience isn’t likely to encounter Kuhn’s works directly.
Johnson gave biologist Tim Berra a drubbing for using the comparison of Corvette models during three consecutive years (in Berra’s Evolution and the Myth of Creationism) to help readers visualize the notion of descent with modification. Johnson wants his readers to think he scored a knockout punch by pointing out to Berra that cars don’t evolve, although that was hardly the point of Berra’s analogy. Johnson even coined the term "Berra's Blunder" to describe an analogy that uses man-made creations to describe natural science. His audience won’t mind that Johnson has no such issue with Creationist analogies concerning watchmakers and designers, in which man-made creations are used as evidence of the supernatural origin of the complexity found in living organisms.
Michael Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity” might be scientifically questionable and logically unsound, but “Behe’s Blunder” is a boon to Johnson in his quest to shake the foundations of evolutionary biology. Behe asserts in Darwin’s Black Box that certain biochemical structures (for example, protein cascades involved in blood clotting or in vision) are so complex that they couldn’t have evolved in Darwinian fashion, and hence are proof of an Intelligent Designer. Luckily, these structures don’t fossilize, so Behe only has to oppose scientific speculation about their origins or development. University of Chicago researcher James Shapiro, honest enough to admit that there is no direct evidence for the Darwinian evolution of such complex structures, nevertheless scoffs at Behe’s notion that such structures must be products of Intelligent Design. Johnson quotes Shapiro in Defeating Darwinism, then laments that a rational scientist could come that close to the Truth about evolution but stop short of admitting it. He attributes this to (what else?) the brainwashing effect of the religion of Materialism.
No one can read Darwin on Trial without thinking, “This would be a little more persuasive if Johnson had a radical new theory to promote. Unfortunately, all he’s got is the same old Big Magic Guy routine.” Johnson correctly points out that Galileo, Newton, and Pasteur were believers in a divine creator, but conveniently fails to mention that none of these three proposed supernatural theories to explain natural phenomena. During a Nova Online debate, Kenneth R. Miller challenged him to state what better theory he could offer to explain all the scientific evidence presented for evolution. Johnson merely answered, “I’m not proposing another theory; I’m explaining why I’m not convinced by yours. When the truth is that we don’t know, it’s best to say so.” This embarrassing remark makes it clear that Johnson doesn’t believe a word he says, and is filled with contempt for anyone who takes his schtick at face value. It’s obvious that he’s basically dusting off old anti-evolution arguments, sticking them together in no logical way, and presenting them to the uneducated as the New Wisdom. Fundamentalists aren’t going to ask what theory Johnson proposes to replace Darwinism, and the scientific support for it, so he realizes that they are the perfect rubes for his scam. Phillip E. Johnson knows his audience, and he knows how much he can put past them.
------------------ The bear thought his son could talk in space about the time matter has to rotate but twisted heaven instead. -Brad McFall
[This message has been edited by MrHambre, 10-21-2003]
I thought that I'd just add the note, that Johnson is an OEC, and does accept the validity of a considerable amount of the mainstream scientific thought.
He does think that the "evolution" of the Earth's life was through a series of special creations - But, as I see it, this actually places him closer to the mainstream science than to the processes of young earth creationism.
The Skeptical Inquirer likes articles like this. This is so well done it deserves hard-copy treatment, you should submit it. In anticipation, here's a little feedback.
Last sentence of para 4: The best tack to take is to attack Johnson while portraying his audience as victims - I don't think you don't want to critisize Johnson's audience in the last sentence of this para. There are several other places where you're also negative about Johnson's audience. I thinkk you should attack only one villain at a time. Johnson appears all the worse if his audience is portrayed as unsuspecting dupes of his machinations. You don't have to praise them, just don't villainize them. Save it for another editorial.
Superb, superb, post. One of the best. Perhaps you might consider cutting & pasting into readers reviews, I'm thinking Amazon, but I'm sure there are others.
In case I haven't already said it, superb post!
------------------ "I can't prove creationism, but they can't prove evolution. It is [also] a religion, so it should not be taught....Christians took over the school board and voted in creationism. That can be done in any school district anywhere, and it ought to be done." Says Kent "consistent" Hovind in "Unmasking the False Religion of Evolution Chapter 6."
Most usage of Natural Selection is tautological, as also observed by Popper. I think this is very typical of Johnson, that he addresses the common understanding of Natural Selection among biologists, in stead of trying to find a definition of Natural Selection that is not tautological and addressing that. I think this is fair enough.
MrHambre: "and that criteria for “fitness” only apply to a particular organism in its environment at one point in time."
I guess Johnson would never address something like you write here, because you can't reference above in Darwinist literature. You could make interpretations of Darwinist literature which support what you write here, but not reference something which says more or less the same. At "a point in time" a cocunut falls from the "environment" on a "particular organism", killing it outright. So then might this be a fit organism that was unlucky, or an unfit organism because it died before reproducing, or does fitness simply not apply to particular organisms at a point in time? Johnson just passes over such argument and addresses the common understanding of biologists at facevalue, which is refreshing IMO.
The "spiel" about methodological naturalism is something that is only prevalent in evolutionist circles. We should all be very wary of evolutionist / darwinist fanatics trying to unify all science under one method. What this methodological naturalism does is to add superflous atheistic adjectives, like blind, undirected, purposeless, to supposedly scientific theories. Physicists could with equal merit say that gravity is purposeless, but they don't, only Darwinists say their theory is purposeless. In this context of the initiative of evolutionist fanatics to try to unify all science under one atheistic method should Johnson's criticism of materialist religion be understood.
It's not proper for an evolutionist to refer to an example of intelligent design (of corvettes) to illustrate their theory, but it is proper for a creationist to refer to an example of intelligent design (of watches) to illustrate their theory. I guess that is the blunder to which Johnson refers.
Johnson just falls back on the Michaelangelo's painting theory as an alternative to evolution. Since evolutionists commonly explicitly deny that evolution allows for creativity, this becomes an alternative rather then a different perspective on the same thing. It's just neurons and whatnot in Michaelangelo's brain, nothing non-natural going on here at all, and then the logic of evolutionism tends to degrade the argument further into explaining the painting as an expression of Michaelangelo's racial characteristics.... That Johnson doesn't give a mechanism for how organisms come to be is no shame, just as it is no shame that he doesn't give a mechanism for Michaelangelo's painting. He falls back on a cliche about the unknowable nature of creation that is shared by most, but disturbingly is not shared by that many evolutionists.
In a university psychology course, I recall seeing a movie concerning cognitive development in children. A child was shown a tall, slender cylinder full of water and a wide, shallow dish. Both of these containers could hold the exact same volume of liquid, but when the child was asked which he thought could hold more, he immediately pointed to the tall cylinder. The notion of volume was explained to him and he even watched as the liquid in the cylinder was poured into the dish and filled it exactly. When asked again, he still said the cylinder. His sense of spatial relationships had not developed to the point that he could make such distinctions.
Our Syamsu is a similar case of arrested development. Like Phillip Johnson, he asserts the same tired arguments over and over. Unlike Johnson, however, his inability to see evolutionary theory in a rational light is due to his serious intellectual shortcomings.
Syamsu makes a claim, and he considers it fact. Any attempt to refute his argument falls on deaf ears, simply because he’s not equipped to consider any other opinion than his own. For instance, he seems to believe that we evolutionists are Darwinian literalists, and so take every word written by Darwin (as well as Haeckel, Galton, et al.) as the gospel truth. He has been told that Darwin’s works, while scientifically revolutionary, are full of 19th century prejudices that none of us feel obliged to share, but he still quotes Darwin’s anachronistic racial comments as if citing evolutionist scripture.
The misuse of evolutionary theory by eugenicists and Nazis is enough to nullify the theory of evolution by natural selection itself, says Syamsu. Since Konrad Lorenz was a Nazi and a Darwinist, his reprehensible activities can be used as empirical evidence against Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many have pointed out that Werner von Braun’s Nazi past doesn’t nullify astrophysics, but Syamsu keeps bringing up Lorenz as proof that Darwinism is tantamount to genocide.
The best example of Syamsu’s inability to come to terms with reality is the subject of Natural Selection, which he claims includes variation for no good reason. He says that the comparisons that variationist definitions rely on lead inexorably to Nazism. Evidently the true concept of NS is far too complicated for him, because he takes great pains to try to reformulate it in a way that, for its utter meaninglessness, he considers more useful. Mammuthus and Wounded King both pointed out several times that there is no way to gauge differential reproductive success without comparing variants, but Syamsu was ready with one quote from Stephen Gould supposedly supporting his preposterous position, and another from Karl Popper. Neither could be even remotely construed as helping his case.
Fitness is another concept Syamsu equates with Nazism, and in his post above he claims that nowhere in the Darwinist literature is it said that criteria for fitness are only applicable to organisms in their environment at one point in time. From the glossary of this very site:
“The basic fitness concept that population geneticists commonly use is relative reproductive success, as governed by selection in a particular environment; that is, the ability of an organism (genotype) to transmit its genes to the next reproductively fertile generation, relative to this ability in other genotypes in the same environment ("relative fitness").” Everyone reading this understands the Darwinian concept of fitness and how it applies to natural selection. Syamsu says you’re all wrong.
Syamsu’s attempts to paint Richard Dawkins as an amoral sociopath were answered by Primordial Egg’s quoting of the preface to Selfish Gene. Dawkins makes it clear he is not advocating lawless anarchy or institutionalized cruelty. Syamsu ignored the post and continued in his mistaken interpretation of Dawkins’s book, of which he probably had not read past the title.
It’s clear Syamsu doesn’t understand methodological naturalism, though he rails against the concept in the post above. He deplores the fact that ‘evolutionist fanatics’ apply the term ‘atheistic’ to a supposedly scientific endeavor, without telling us how the concept of supernatural intervention has ever benefitted scientific inquiry.
Syamsu is lost when it comes to analogies. To represent the difference between a theory and its misuse, Schrafinator proposed the analogy of a baseball bat. The artifact itself could be used for violent ends quite unintended by its inventor, and in the same way Darwin’s theory has been misused by racists. Syamsu couldn’t grasp the notion at all.
The concept of “Berra’s Blunder” noted above produces the same confusion for Syamsu. He falls for Johnson’s double standard hook, line, and sinker. Johnson claims that since cars don’t reproduce, the origin of cars and natural phenomena are completely dissimilar. Thus, Berra is prohibited from thinking that the design in items manufactured by humans and those produced by natural reproduction have similarities with any illustrative value. Note that Berra is not claiming that Corvettes are proof of evolution, but those are the words that Johnson and Syamsu are trying to put in Berra’s mouth. Then Johnson turns around and claims that human-manufactured items and natural organisms, completely dissimilar a minute ago, are so alike that they support the assumption that natural phenomena are the result of intelligent agency. Of course Syamsu agrees.
Why Syamsu says “evolutionists commonly explicitly deny that evolution allows for creativity” is anyone’s guess. I personally have never heard such a thing asserted by anyone on this forum or any other, so the assumption must be made that it is either a fabrication or a complete distortion of a formerly meaningful idea. However, just the fact that Syamsu brings it up is a testament to his self-delusion. Even if he could cite some author who actually made the claim, we evolutionists would simply tell him we disagree with the author.
That’s just the way Syamsu sees it: the cylinder holds more water, and no one can tell him any different.
------------------ The bear thought his son could talk in space about the time matter has to rotate but twisted heaven instead. -Brad McFall
Lorenz's work is now known by historians to be slanted towards his nazilike belief in eugenicism. Lorenz like so many evolutionists conflated moral understanding with objective understanding in papers he published in a Nazi journal. Later he then made prosaic books with suggestive titles like "The socalled evil", based on those papers. It's entirely different then Werner von Braun's scientific work. I suspect that Werner von Braun was a Nazi because of Lorenz's work, or Haeckel's, because a science minded person like von Braun might well be easily duped, and or tempted by such pseudoscientific deceit. That some people propose that the intricate relationship between Darwinism and Nazism can satisfactorily be described by a a baseballbat anology, is a lawyertrick to stop investigation of that relationship.
Of course your opinions about me, and your strawman of my opinions, are obviously all prejudicially slanted to defend Darwinism.
That some people propose that the intricate relationship between Darwinism and Nazism can satisfactorily be described by a a baseballbat anology, is a lawyertrick to stop investigation of that relationship.
Maybe baseball isn't your bag. How about these two items...
1) TNT (dynamite). This was created with the intent of helping mankind, but has been used by every political-military system since its invention to blow their enemies to smithereens. There is certainly a connection between what it is, and what it is currently being used for by most governments, but it is not a necessary connection.
2) Nuclear Physics. This may be a better analogy. All this field of study does is describe the nature of the nuclear material of matter. Yet since it has stepped onto the world stage, Political-military systems have tried to use its tenets to create weapons greater than those based on dynamite to blow their enemies smithereens to smithereens.
Eugenics existed LONG before Darwin's theories came about. Political-military systems... much as they always crave greater weapons... have in many cases craved creating a better/stronger citizen (or warrior). The Spartans were a fantastic example of this. But you can pick just about any of them. From killing the deformed, to arranged marriages (for benefit of glorious offspring that would result), governments have been doing it forever.
In fact, all we are talking about is BREEDING. Humans have done this to animals for millenia and so it isn't surprising that early on they figured out they could do it to themselves. Are breeding manuals Nazi propaganda?
Darwin's theories were based in part on looking at breeding that we saw humans doing, and asking if nature could do the same thing. Thus he did not start the idea of Eugenics, he just wondered if nature shaped species in the same way man already had been doing (but without purposeful ends, as man has).
It is not surprising to see morons not understand what he is saying and using an observation as a mantra to action. Like moving from we can split atoms to generate energy, to Nature says we MUST split the atom to conquer our enemies!
You can certainly investigate Nazis that misused Darwin's theories, or evolutionist writers that were also eugenicists (or Nazis).
But to say there is a logical/necessary connection between making observations about nature's method of influencing speciation, and humans mandating human breeding programs is highly illogical... and contrary to historical evidence.
Since Darwin advocated eugenics in his prosaic work, it's not really a question of "morons not understand what he is saying".
Of course there was racism and eugenics prior to Darwin, but racism and eugenics are not like a gene that sprang into existence through a mutation somewhere back in history, as if the origin of all racism can be traced back to one root cause.
Darwin and Wallace, and Spencer's highly similar theories of selection were all inspired by Malthus eugenic work on population growth. So eugenicism was mixed up with Darwinism from it's conception, although I don't think this historical link has that much significance in the link between Darwinism and Nazism.
Actually historians broadly recognize the link of Darwinism to Nazism. Klaus Fischer for instance who wrote a standard book on Nazi Germany, says that the rise of pseudobiological racism would be inconceivable without the intellectual climate of opinion that developed as a result of the Darwinian revolution. I think this is the right way to approach the issue, to think in terms of how Darwinism "effects the intellectual climate of opinion" both societaly and individually. Looking at it this way, I think it is meaningful to try to get fairly precise from what points in the theory the crossover from Darwinism to eugenics etc. tends to occur.
This is all very repetitive for me. I ask that people not bring up either my redefinition of selection, or my opinion about the link of Darwinism to Nazism in threads that have a different subject. When somebody spreads basic falsehoods about the link of Darwinism to Nazism then I feel compelled to respond. I refer you to my previous posts, or read Klaus Fischers's book "Nazi Germany : the twelve year reich", I think it is called, or Burleigh's "The racial state revisited" on how presentday historians are looking at the relationship between Darwinism and Nazism.
Since Darwin advocated eugenics in his prosaic work, it's not really a question of "morons not understand what he is saying".
Although I am unaware of Darwin advocating eugenics, for the sake of argument I will pretend that he did. I already said people who believe in Darwin's theories may be eugenicists as well.
What I want to see from you is a quote by Darwin that says his theories on the nature of speciation is a mandate for eugenics. That is what morons are doing. Moving from an observation about nature, to an imperative about human behavior.
If he said such a thing then that part of his theory would be wrong. This is something that MrHambre talked about in his post. The totality of "Darwin's theory" is not perfect and has been getting revised.
This is one reason it ought to be called evolutionary theory, rather than Darwinism.
And although I do not know of Darwin's popularity among Nazis, it wouldn't surprise me. They sucked up every bit of culture they could to rationalize their actions. You know they also believed in mysticism, Xtian religion, and vegetarianism? I mean these are deep in both their writings or their personal practices. Are these also "linked" to Nazism. If not, why not?
quote:In a university psychology course, I recall seeing a movie concerning cognitive development in children. A child was shown a tall, slender cylinder full of water and a wide, shallow dish. Both of these containers could hold the exact same volume of liquid, but when the child was asked which he thought could hold more, he immediately pointed to the tall cylinder. The notion of volume was explained to him and he even watched as the liquid in the cylinder was poured into the dish and filled it exactly. When asked again, he still said the cylinder. His sense of spatial relationships had not developed to the point that he could make such distinctions.
After giving this part of your post some thought, I have come to the conclusion that there is one part of the analogy that is not completely accurate. In the case of the child, one assumes or even expects that the child will over time, with education, and via exploration of the local environment that all children do, that such a misconception about volumes will be overcome. At the very least, one can state, almost all children have the capacity to develop their sense of spatial relationships. Not so with Phillip Johnson, Syamsu, and the majority of fundamentalist creationists. Unlike a child who after observing that previously held misconceptions are false, discards them, creationists and IDists cling to fallacies regardless of and in spite of direct, indirect, or theoretical evidence that directly contradicts their cherished views. Thus, the children in your example are in a process of development. Johnson and Co. are in a state of arrested development. The part of the analogy that holds is that both children and the superstitious make childish errors when it comes to science.
I've been interested to note that Phillip Johnson's influence shows in some of our recent posters. Martin J. Koszegi uses Johnson's acronym NATS (naturalistically assumptive, temporally speaking) to describe the prevailing scientific mode, and declares that evolution is a metaphysical research program. John Paul claims that there is no observable evidence of evolution, and attacks the practitioners of materialistic philosophy who masquerade as scientists. WILLOWTREE (who mentioned Johnson in a recent post) and Apostle are similarly fond of evolution-as-secular-religion arguments.
These folks agree with Johnson's deplorable caricature of scientific methodology. They agree every time Johnson claims that there is no evidence for evolution and that Darwinism is unsupported by observable facts. Evidently their main exposure to evolutionary theory is through the writings of Johnson. What can be done to counter this man's insidious influence on the gullible? Isn't there any way the weak-minded can resist his appeal?
The dark nursery of evolution is very dark indeed. Brad McFall