The Creationist Manifesto, March 21, 2002
Reviewer: John Kwok
Phillip Johnson's DARWIN ON TRIAL should be viewed by most as Creationism's MEIN KAMPF or COMMUNIST MANIFESTO; a slick, well-written legal brief against evolution which is merely a litany of Johnson's anger towards "naturalistic" science and a compendium of alleged flaws made by distinguished 20th Century evolutionary biologists. It soon becomes quite apparent that Johnson neither understands nor appreciates why science must remain an enterprise devoid of supernatural explanations; one should only look to the Salem Witch Trials - so brilliantly recreated in Arthur Miller's play THE CRUCIBLE - to see how far the legal profession has come from embracing supernatural explanations to relying instead on credible, reasonable evidence (However, even today, it isn't totally perfect, since some lawyers have relied on quack scientists such as some who think they can find bite marks on long buried corpses.).
In twelve relatively short chapters Johnson valiantly tries to make the case that there isn't any evidence for Darwinian evolution, that evolutionary biologists are guilty of comitting the crime of tautology for using circular reasoning in citing evidence which supports evolution, and that Darwinisim - and by extension, science, itself - has become a religion since it cloaks itself in a "naturalistic" philosophy which rejects any notion of a Creator intervening in natural processes. Oddly enough, Johnson has the temerity to cite philosopher Karl Popper's falsifiability criterion for good science in explaining why evolution isn't science, but instead, a religion. However, Johnson fails to mention how a "theistic science" - one which acknowledges the possiblity of supernatural intervention - would be consistent with Popper's reasoning.
Like classic Young Earth Creationists such as Henry Morris and Duane Gish, Johnson dismisses much of the scientific evidence for evolution. For example, he distorts the important work done by distinguished ecologists Peter and Rosemary Grant on the Galapagos finches; undoubtedly one of our finest ongoing field studies of microevolution and Natural Selection. He also trivializes the important work of Brown University biologist Hermon Carey Bumpus which demonstrated how natural selection works, sarcastically noting that Bumpus killed dying sparrows so he could do his scientific research (Actually these birds were dying, and Bumpus did try saving them, but Johnson ignores this point to make the case that Bumpus was insensitive towards his subjects.).
Instead of reading DARWIN ON TRIAL, I would strongly recommend reading Robert Pennock's TOWER OF BABEL, Kenneth Miller's FINDING DARWIN'S GOD, and Philip Kitcher's ABUSING SCIENCE - all of which have devestatingly effective critiques of creationism and its advocates, including Johnson. Of these three books, Pennock's tome does an excellent job pointing out the close intellectual kinship between traditional young earth creationism and Intelligent Design.
Lies and Deceit, June 12, 2001
This book is evil. It begins by mixing up the definitions of fact, theory, and hypothesis. Quotes are taken out of context and don't reflect their author's intended meaning. Authors have complained in writing only to see the same mistruths reappear in the 2nd edition. Science and the scientific community are falsely portrayed. Naturalism is substituted for objectivism and Darwinism for evolution. Without knowledge of paleontology or anthropology and how the scientific community really works, this book may sound very convincing.
Bread and circuses for the faithful, January 5, 2001
Reviewer: Nico Taudarian
What kind of a disregard for the truth must one have when one says "the argument cannot be proved either way therefore the argument goes to the best arguer" ? Sadly, Mr Johnson, science does not work like that and as a lawyer you merely confirm what the vast majority believes about your profession to begin with.
Ignoring vast amounts of evidence not just from biology and paleontology and taking material from his evolutionist whipping boys Gould and Dawkins, out of context the author builds a great case against Darwin's Theory of Evolution. One wonders whether he could build the same case if he actually bothered to consider the evidence he ignores (or more probably didn't bother seeking out), evidence which would certainly acquit Darwin. For instance the evidence of paleobotany is not nearly as equivocal as that for paleontology providing much hard evidence for evolution. But theists aren't concerned about plants, they're just miffed at being labelled monkeys and will move heaven and earth and scientific fact to deny that they are.
We now have witnessed the evolution of new species, the fact that we previously hadn't creationists used to hold as proof that evolution was suspect. May we now ask for a withdrawal of this objection ? Hardly surprising given Steve Jones' introduction to "Darwin's Ghost" in which he states that nature is constant change and it is difficult to quantify what constitutes a species anyway, a species being an almost arbitrary pair of lines drawn on a spectra of life.
It would be nice if, in a spirit of fairness, Johnson wrote another book called "God on Trial". He would find that the evidence against God overwhelming, particularly if the rebuttal of the cosmological argument were introduced to the discussion (note for theists : the rebuttal falsifies God, sorry). The reviewer from Texas states that science is making a false assumption in stating that there must be materialist explanation for our being here and that because of this initial false assumption all subsequent evolutionary theory is wrong. Well, sorry, if first we examine God and find that explanation false (which was done in the 19th century, you just haven't heard about it) then the assumption scientists make is the only valid one left (I trust we can leave UFO explanations out of it).
So if you want a laugh at the hoops theists will jump through in order to keep their sense of adequacy intact then by all means read this book. Just don't expect scientists to treat it with anything other than the contempt it merits for it's blatant disregard for truth.
dishonest and shallow; offers no alternative, October 28, 2000
Reviewer: Benjamin Crowell
This book is dishonest because Johnson tries to misrepresent many normal scientists as having doubts about normal science. Over and over, Johnson quotes Stephen Jay Gould's criticisms of traditional evolution as if they were criticisms of evolution itself. In fact, Gould is simply trying to argue for punctuated equilibrium rather than evolution at a constant rate.
This book is shallow: Johnson has apparently only read the popular-science literature. Virtually all of the book is written as if Gould's and Dawkins' popular books constituted the entire literature on evolution.
Once again we hear the tired creationist argument that evolution only occurs within species, when the fossil record shows clearly that new species arise from old ones, e.g. horses and rhinos arose from a common ancestor. One wonders at the dismal picture of the history of life implied by this within-species view of evolution: God created dinosaurs, trilobites, and humans simultaneously, but later decided arbitrarily to extinguish the vast majory of species. It's all downhill. With no mechanism for replacing extinct species, one can only imagine that the world will end up with no life at all. The idea also doesn't work because there are no clearly definable species among obligately nonsexual organisms such as bacteria.
Finally, this book offers no real alternative to evolution. Instead, Johnson suggests allowing supernatural causes and faith-based reasoning into science. If supernatural science had anything to offer, then presumably it would have resulted in a consistent, useful body of scientific knowledge. It hasn't. There are as many types of creationism as there are creationists, and that's the way it will remain until they admit that empirical evidence is the only way to tell whose theory is right.
Same Old Story, July 16, 2000
Reviewer: Mark Piske
Phillip Johnson, like so many creationists, is like a child insistent that "there is room for Santa in theories of the origins of Christmas presents". And despite being shown strong evidence of a very plausible alternative theory using known elements (parents) the child persists, going through example after example of gifts he "can't explain" whose appearance in his friend's living room seems "irreducibly complex", beyond the scope of a mere parent to pull off.
His problems with evolution are no different. Never mind the myriad facts found that support evolution - Johnson and his cronies will just keep backing up saying "oh yeah, well what about THIS!" They are oblivious to the fact that claims of "irreducible complexity" merely amount to saying "I can't figure out how this happened", and as such speak to the limitations of the speaker, not the limitations of evolutionary theory.
But this should come as no surprise, since their ignorance of the basic fundamentals of science are exposed in virtualy every utterance, from their inabilility to understand the progressive, incomplete nature of scientific theory, to the laughable claim by one poster here that evolution is not science because the entire process cannot be replicated. By that "reasoning", the theory that the sun exists is not science.
Science means replicable, falsifiable TESTING of a theory, which with evolution happens every time a new fossil is dug up, since, as another poster mentioned, the possiblity exists for a T-Rex skeleton with human remains inside to be discovered and destroy evolutionary theory on the spot. This falsifiability is precisely what is lacking in creationism (all facts being accepted with a shrug and "God must have meant it to be that way"), and why it is most certainly NOT science.
And PLEASE folks, let's not bore each other with the pedantic claim that Johnson is merely acting as a good scientific critic, and is not pushing creationism at all. His creationist agenda is the only reason for his behavior. When someone who is NOT a fundamentalist Christian comes forward with evolutionary criticisms, then we'll talk.
And shouldn't that raise some interesting questions for the creationists? If the evidence REALLY favored creationism, then it stands to reason that someone out there BESIDES fundamentalist Christians would think so, right? No problem for the creationists - for every troublesome fact like this, they merely invent a conspiracy that explains it (sans evidence of course).
There's no reason for reading this book, as its arguments are both worthless, and unoriginal. It's all been refuted before.
Over 200 pages versus over 100 years? Whatever..., June 25, 2000
An acquaintance lent me this book. I have been an amateur follower of the evolution-creation debate and, being of the opinion that the scientific theory of evolution is the superior concept, I was curious as to what Darwin on Trial could offer. The back cover describes Darwin on Trial as 'the controversial book that rocked the scientific establishment!' This grossly exaggerates the effect that this 200+ page book had on over a hundred years of well-established scientific investigation, although the book is generally regarded by some as one of the best of its kind (although that is not saying much).
Johnson is a law professor specializing in the logic of arguments. He is also a Christian and 'philosophical theist'. Johnson's opinion is that his outsider status may be superior to that of a specialized scientist when it comes to analyzing evolution, which covers a variety of sciences. Johnson could have a point, assuming the he has knowledge of the subject. However, throughout this book Johnson shows he lacks that knowledge.
The biggest problem with Johnson's work, in my opinion, is his constant confusion of the naturalistic approach of scientific investigation with full-fledged philosophical naturalism. Any philosopher or scientist knows that science is limited seeking natural explanations for natural phenomenon in the natural world. As others have said, Johnson's appeal to allow the supernatural into science would make the world safe for lazy scientists. There are times when I am working in the laboratory when I would like to explain away the occasional anomalous result as being due to 'gremlins' or some such nonsense. However, that would not explain the evidence or allow me to make predictions. A 'supernatural explanation' is contradiction in terms.
Johnson also argues his case like a lawyer rather than as a scientist. He uses flawed arguments creationists have use in attempts to discredit evolution, and supports those arguments with selective use of evidence. I will not go into the problems here, as there are books, journals and internet resources that one can find that expertly critique the arguments and evidence Johnson uses. Johnson gets much of his evidence from popular books (Gould, Dawkins, etc.) and magazines (such a Science or Nature), but was he aware that there is a vast amount of information to be found on the subject in many other scientific journals? In addition, many of Johnson's resources are rather old (30+ years old) and I wonder if at least a few of the quotes in the book are taken out of context. Also, for someone who specializes in the logic of arguments, Johnson seems to use arguments from authority frequently. I suppose that this illustrates the differences between 'lawyer logic' and actual logic.
Johnson's work has some other problems. He constantly uses terms like evolution, Darwinism, Darwinist, creation and creationist in such a confusing manner that it becomes hard to understand what he means at times. Johnson confuses fact and theory in science, and in doing so he cites the debates between scientists regarding the mechanisms of evolution as a weakness of evolution. However, such discussions regarding the mechanisms behind observed phenomena are common in all fields of science and serve to better science by strengthening theories or creating new theories. Also, Johnson's responses to his critics in this 2nd edition are rather childish and he ignores or glosses over many of the more profound criticisms.
In the last few chapters that we reach the 'climax' of the book. Johnson claims to have shown that mutations, natural selection, fossil evidence, etc., do not support the 'Darwinists', so why do they keep promoting evolution? Why, it's practically a conspiracy, of course! The atheists, philosophical naturalists, materialists, anti-religionists, etc. need to have evolution otherwise their whole worldview would supposedly fall apart. And what's worse is that these groups want to push their agenda on your children!
Give me a break. Reading these last few chapters, it was hard not to keep from laughing. This conspiracy theory/'religion' of Darwinism claim is Johnson again going back to the creationist bag of flawed arguments. Exposing this 'conspiracy' seems to be the true purpose of this book. Scientists know that many topics are outside the realm of scientific investigation. Johnson generalizes the opinions of a few scientists to scientists in general. Johnson may be surprised to find out that most scientists have some degree of religiousness, but, being scientists, they do not allow this to bias their studies as they recognize that it would be bad science. To make matters worse, Johnson misrepresents concepts like naturalism and humanism, and his own Christian bias shows through. He seems overly concerned that the scientific theory of evolution implies a purposeless universe, which is something he just cannot accept. However, Johnson has no trouble accepting all of the other scientific concepts that make no claims regarding the supernatural. I guess this reveals something about the true nature of the creation-evolution debate for some people at the personal level.
Johnson does stay away from the unsupportable creationist side of the debate. He even criticizes creationists like Gish and Morris on at least a couple of occasions. But Johnson's lack of knowledge of evolution and science, his arguing style, and his use of flawed creationist arguments against evolution make this book not much better than other anti-evolution/creationist fare. As some of the reviews here have shown, it might convince those with little to no knowledge of science and philosophy, as well as those who are already convinced that evolution is wrong. However, those of us who know better give it one star, if only because zero stars is not yet an option.
interesting philosophy, atrocious science, June 24, 2000
Reviewer: Scott Hartman
An interessting thing has happened with biology. Everyone accepts that it takes 4 years of calculus to understand quantum mechanics, or that a graduate degree in engineering is required before you can design a skyscraper. But when it comes to understanding the most complex part of our planet, the origin and evolution of life, we can trust a lawyer. Johnson himself states "biologists have always said that the basics tenets of evolution can be understood by anybody." Sure, this is true, in the same way anyone can understand that quantum mechanics involves the inherent unpredictability of things at very small (sub-atomic) scales. But to say that this level of understanding allows a lay person to accurately critique the theory is like saying a 3 year old who knows her A B C's can comprehend and critique Shakespeare. Johnson's grasp of science (or lack thereof) demonstrates how true this is. For example, he mentions Archaeopteryx, and succinctly says that scientists now consider it a true bird, not an evolutionary link. Not only isn't this true (many scientists classify Archaeopteryx as a dromaeosaur dinosaur), but he completely neglects to inform the reader of the myriad of other bird-like dinosaurs and dinosaur-like birds that have been found in the last 20 years (over 40 of them, including Eoalulavis, Rahonavis, and Unenlagia). Johnson's philosophy is a bit more interesting. He argues, and I agree, that scientists claiming that "religion and science are completely separate ways of unerstanding the world" are being disigenuous. It's true that religion and science both seek to explain the world, and sometimes they come into conflict. Unfortunately for Johnson, in this case his religion (which is not shared by the majority of judeo-christians) is being routed by the scientific evidence, leading to the simple conclusion that he is wrong, and so is his conviction of faith.
One little example of the evidence Johnson says isn't there. March 28, 2000
James O. Smith writes in his review of Johnson's book: "...The primary question he asks has not been addressed by any: 'What is the evidence that natural selection can or has the power to produce major changes in morphology or from one species to another?'"
There is abundant evidence for this. Please allow me to quote extensively, for example, from an article entitled "A Bug's Life: The Study of Metamorphosis" in the Winter 2000 newsletter from the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, which I received in the mail this evening:
"You've spread out your picnic blanket and are about to feast on potato salad and fried chicken. Then along come the ants. And bees. And mosquitoes.
"There's a reason why these pests seem to be everywhere. They are part of four insect groups--beetles, bees/ants, moths/butterflies, and flies/mosquitoes--that make up more than half of the world's known animal species. The secret to their success? Metamorphosis.
"Metamorphosis is a process in which larval, pupal, and adult stages differ greatly, allowing each to occupy a different habitat and consume different food sources. Now two University of Washington zoology professors, the husband-and-wife team of James Truman and Lynn Riddiford, are proposing a novel hypothesis for how metamorphosis evolved.
"The researchers believe that a change in hormonal function during embryonic development led to the evolution of a unique larval stage, an innovation that allowed a virtual population explosion among these species in the last 250 million years. 'Metamorphosis really opened up niches that weren't open to insects before that,' says Riddiford.
"The earliest insects, which strongly resembled today's silverfish, lacked metamorphosis. Their juveniles looked very much like adults, minus functioning genitalia. After the evolution of flight, more advanced species--such as cockroaches and grasshoppers--developed incomplete metamorphosis. Their immature stages still resembled the adults, but in addition to lacking genitalia they bore wing buds that transformed into functional wings during the molt to the adult stage.
"In contrast, the higher insects--species with complete metamorphosis--spend their juvenile life as larvae that bear no resemblance to the adults. Truman and Riddiford explain that what allows them to change from, say, a caterpillar into a butterfly, is the way a group of insect hormones, juvenile hormones (JH), and ecdysteroids interact during embryonic, laval, and pupal stages.
"Juvenile hormones, not present in other insects, suppress the development of adult structures. These hormones remain as the larva grows, then disappear to allow growth of imaginal discs, which will give rise to specific adult structures. A complex interplay between JH and ecdysteroids then allows the larva to progress to a pupa, and finally ecdysteroids alone drive the transformation to adult.
"Juvenile hormones play such an important role in the embryonic and larval development of metamorphosing insects that they have been used as the basis for insecticides. For instance, JH mimics are used to treat ponds where mosquitoes breed, thereby blocking their metamorphosis. Such treatment also prevents eggs from hatching.
"The four major insect groups with complete metamorphosis all are thought to descend from a common ancestor, so it appears the development of metamorphosis in the insect world has occurred only once. 'There are indications that another group, called thrips, has evolved toward complete metamorphosis but so far has fallen short,' says Truman.
"In insects with complete metamorphosis, the lack of competition between juveniles and adults for food is a major factor in their success and diversification. Adults can feed on one source, such as nectar or blood, and only lay eggs when there is appropriate food for their young, such as dung, carcasses, fruit, and other relatively temporary sources.
"Truman and Riddiford believe that metamorphosis will provide a valuable model for researchers to understand the molecular basis for how shifts in the timing of protein production can lead to the creation of different body forms. That, in turn, could shed greater light on how life patterns have evolved.
"'Any innovation that helps you generate species that account for more than half of all living animals is not a trivial innovation,' says Truman."
The evidence for macroevolution by means of natural selection is there. You only need to be willing to look for it patiently, as generations of research scientists like Professors Truman and Riddiford have been. This book's author Phillip Johnson has shown himself unwilling to do so, for reasons that seem to have little to do with logic, less to do with the rules of evidence, and even less to do with the successful methods of empirical science.
Clever rhetoric, but confused, confusing and simply wrong, February 21, 2000
Reviewer: Mark Lowe
Johnson wants to gore two oxes in his book. His ultimate target is the naturalistic worldview science uses to describe and explain the universe. Because scientists are interested in explaining the world in terms of natural causes, a science that admits supernatural causes like divine intervention is a contradiction in terms. Evolution, which holds that life on Earth resulted from the unguided process of natural selection, which has no ultimate purpose in mind, is Johnson's second ox, but it is only a means to an end. Johnson's strategy is to prove that evolution cannot explain how life got here, to open the door for the interventions of a Creator, and a "theistic science" that takes the Creator and his purposes into account.
This is no Bible-thumping tirade about the inerrancy of Scripture. Johnson claims to disavow such "creation science," and describes his purpose as examining evolutionary theory critically yet objectively. Johnson tells us he is a Christian who believes that "a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process instead."
But not 50 pages into this book, Johnson's "objectivity" is blown. He gives no credence even to theistic evolution - that God "created" via evolution. Nearly 70 percent of the book is devoted to the same, tired claims of creationists that have been repeatedly and decisively refuted, as in Phillip Kitcher's Abusing Science and Douglas Futuyma's Science on Trial, from which this book takes its name.
Here are a few examples: natural selection is a tautology; the fossil record is incomplete; there are no transitional fossils; mutations are harmful; natural selection is not creative; microevolution does not explain macroevolution; natural selection only produces variation within the "kind;" organs like the vertebrate eye, structures like wings, and molecules like DNA are too complex to have arisen gradually by natural selection; scientists make "evolution" mean whatever they want in order to make it unassailable; and scientists are an intolerant priesthood who contradict and stumble over themselves in desperate attempts to save their cherished, atheistic theory from what is apparently nothing but refuting evidence.
Johnson also loses control of his professed goal of keeping terms and concepts clear, and stacks the deck in his favor. Thus, "creationists" are the good guys: even someone who believes evolution occurred but that God guided it in some way becomes a creationist. "Darwinists" are rank atheists, a minority of scientists who believe evolution occurred through unguided, natural processes (never mind that most scientists believe this is exactly how evolution occurred). Rather than distinguish them, Johnson plays on the many meanings of the word "evolution." And "Darwinism" can mean Darwin's original theory of evolution by natural selection, the "synthetic theory" (the union of genetics with natural selection), gradual evolution, or just evolution itself; Johnson does not distinguish.
Although well-read, he also demonstrates an inadequate understanding of evolutionary theory. Thus we get such assertions as "testing Darwinism by the molecular evidence has never been attempted," and that non-adaptive changes in organisms play no part in evolution. We are asked in this book to examine evolutionary theory critically. Returning the challenge, one must read this book critically and ask, what is going on here?
Johnson claims that the evidence is truly against evolution. So, he asks, why do scientists continue to subscribe to it? And to what does the evidence actually point?
Johnson's answer to the second question, slyly threaded throughout the book, is that life was created. Why won't science accept that? That lies in Johnson's answer to the first question: atheistic Darwinists have a stranglehold on science (and government and law and education), and "Darwinists identify science with a philosophical doctrine known as naturalism." This, he says, while not explicitly denying the existence of God, "does deny that a supernatural being could in any way influence natural events, such as evolution, or communicate with natural creatures like ourselves." Science won't disavow naturalism because "it gives science a virtual monopoly on the production of knowledge, and it assures scientists that no important questions are in principle beyond scientific investigation."
There are two outstanding problems here. The first is that Johnson confuses methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism and outright atheism. In their methodology, scientists don't deny that supernatural beings could influence natural events; they assume that supernatural beings, if they exist, do not influence natural events. To assume otherwise is to make the world safe for lazy scientists, because one can invoke the work of supernatural beings to explain all phenomena, not just the ones whose causes are not so obvious. But that does not commit scientists to the belief that God cannot intervene, or cannot communicate with creatures like us, or does not exist. It disqualifies revelation as evidence, for revelation cannot be observed and tested independently by more than one person. Science as an enterprise may be "a-theistic," but scientists are not necessarily atheists.
The second problem is Johnson's assertion that naturalism assures us that "no important questions are in principle beyond scientific investigation." The argument is that if science cannot address a question, it is not important. Johnson dislikes evolution because he believes it makes things purposeless. The question of God's purpose for man is very important to him. Many scientists have the same question. But they recognize that it and other important questions - about ethics, for example - are not amenable to scientific investigation.
Johnson calls for a Kuhnian "scientific revolution" that would give God a role in science and produce a "theistic science." But in sounding the call for revolution, Johnson reveals himself to be as overcome by naturalism as the "Darwinists" he accuses of perpetrating atheism upon unsuspecting Americans. He seems to believe that if science cannot investigate and provide answers about the existence of God, his purpose for human beings, or the proper moral order, then these areas of inquiry are simply a waste of time. A better self-refutation of his entire book could not be made.
This book is not aging gracefully, December 6, 1999
Reviewer: John Boggan
Reading this book with a background in biology, I find that Johnson either profoundly misunderstands or seriously misrepresents not only the theory of evolution (which is actually a very complex web of theories, but Johnson has a knack for oversimplifying) but the way science itself operates. Johnson appeals to the layman's misunderstanding and mistrust of evolution, and of science in general, but is still unable to explain why the overwhelming majority of scientists accept evolution as fact, even the ones who are not atheists. In the course of his attack, he uses misdirection, innuendo, and misrepresentation and omission of evidence.
Johnson rests his case on two rather shaky assumptions: first, that absence of evidence is evidence is absence, and second, that the fossil record truly has an appalling absence of evidence for evolution. Not only has the fossil evidence always been better than Johnson leads the reader to believe, but the evidence continues to be found, not only in paleontology, but also in the fields of genetics, developmental biology, and molecular biology.
Johnson is remarkably unimaginative when it comes to ways to test evolutionary theory, aside from pointing to gaps in the fossil record. Johnson goes into detail about the origin of mammals from reptiles as the "best" evidence of major transitions in the fossil record, yet there is abundant evidence from other groups, much of it published and available in the literature long before Johnson's book. One has to wonder how Johnson deals with the truly startling recent fossil discoveries in China.
Evolution is tested by each new fossil discovery. Yet Johnson dismisses the existing evidence while neglecting to explain why new evidence keeps turning up. Amazingly, Johnson ridicules the discoverers of a whale fossil with hind leg bones for using standard scientific wording, then uses this wording to imply the leg bones they found might not even belong to the whale fossil in the first place! Johnson attempts to discredit physical evidence, such as the transition from reptiles to mammals, so that he can concentrate heavily on biological systems, such as the eye, which by their very nature cannot be studied in the fossil record. He often asks questions like "how did a bacterium become a bird?" but doesn't ask "how did a jaw bone become an ear bone?" presumably because this can (and has been) studied and documented. Johnson will grudgingly concede a certain amount of speciation or "macroevolution." Johnson's actual claim is that evolution and natural selection are incapable of explaining the origins of higher-level groups like phyla, classes, and genera. Here Johnson makes the twin mistakes of assuming that phyla and other major groups evolve, and that the boundaries between higher level taxa are easily defined. Species evolve; higher groupings are artificial and the recognition of discrete groups with large gaps between them is in large part an artifact of taxonomic classification.
As do all creationists, Johnson completely overlooks plant evolution. Johnson is not entirely at fault here, since plant evolution has been woefully neglected by the popularizers of evolutionary biology like Dawkins and Gould, and Johnson himself admits that general and popular publications have been among his primary sources of information. In particular, I wonder how Johnson would deal with the huge number of plants that are fully capable of hybridization--both between species in the same genus, and between species of different genera, often wildly different in morphology, yet in many cases producing fully fertile hybrid offspring. Johnson further makes the mistake of assuming that species are both easy to recognize and to define. Such basic concepts as "species" and "speciation" are incredibly problematic in botany, precisely because evolution is an ongoing process and there are many populations representing the full spectrum from fully interbreeding through incapable of interbreeding--in other words, at every point along the road to speciating.
In the end, it's hard to know exactly what Johnson DOES believe, and he gives precious few clues as to what evidence he WOULD accept as convincing that evolution has occurred. I suppose it's progress that Johnson does not claim a literal interpretation of Genesis, or that the earth and universe are only 6000 years old. Although he takes pains to distance himself from the young-earth creationists, Johnson takes very personally the anti-creationism, pro-evolution, and occasionally anti-religious writings of many biologists that have been aimed precisely at the rightly-ridiculed "scientific" claims of the young-earth creationists. One wonders why Johnson gives credence to geologists--after all, nobody actually SAW the sedimentary layers being laid down millions of years ago--yet treats the science of biologists with such disdain.
This book is yet another case of a creationist (Johnson broadens the definition to include pretty much everybody who believes in God) pointing out errors, flaws, and weaknesses in evolutionary theory that biologists have made no effort to hide--yet failing to stem the tide of evidence that continues to unfold for evolution. In the end, Johnson's attitude seems to be that, since biologists themselves can't agree on all of the details of evolution, the theory itself must be wrong. Yet all biologists accept (1) that life has a long history on the earth, (2) that living things have changed over time, and (3) that living things have diverged from a common ancestry.
One final note: in the "epilogue" in the paperbook edition, Johnson complains about his treatment at the hands of evolutionary biologists. In particular, he complains bitterly about a book review by Stephen Jay Gould, in which Gould criticized both the style as well as the scientific content of the book. In other words, Johnson is complaining that a book reviewer is acting like a book reviewer, precisely as he had previously criticized a scientist for acting like a scientist.
And you trust lawyers because...?, September 26, 1999
Reviewer: Conrad Knauer
I was 'dared' to read this book by my fundamentalist Christian aunt. After reading it, I needed a good pick-me-up after having waded through pages and pages of misrepresentation, faulty logic and rhetoric, so I decided to look at lawyer jokes (since the author is, surprise surprise, not a scientist, but rather a lawer). I thought this one would do the best:
Q: What's the strongest evidence against both evolution and creationism?
Now then, to actually review this book, let me start out by quoting what turns out to be his central thesis (as stated on page 133)
"Darwinist evolution is an imaginative story about who we are and where we came from, which is to say it is a creation myth."
He further goes on to define "Scientific Naturalism" as the religion which people who ascribe to darwinian forms of evolution 'worship'.
He is able to (in his mind) justify these claims after having 'refuted' the evidence for evolution (I found his treatment of artificial selection, fossils such as Archaeopteryx and the Urey-Miller experiment the most preposterous).
And while he does not claim to know how life came to be, because he is a Christian who takes his faith seriously, it is pretty obvious why he finds it necessary to repeatedly stress that Darwinism is a belief system (religion) and not an objective way of looking at the universe.
The review on the back cover states:
"The controversial book that rocked the scientific establishment! Why? It shows that the theory of evolution is based not on fact but on faith - faith in philosophical naturalism. Phillip Johnson argues courageously that there simply is no vast body of empirical data supporting the theory.
With the intrigue of a mystery and the gripping detail of a court trial, Johnson takes readers through the evidence with the lawyer's skill he learned as a Berkeley professor of law specializing in the logic of arguments."
This is misleading in the extreme. For one thing, I did not find this book to be 'gripping' or full of 'intrigue'. It is a travesty as much as the O.J. Simpson trial was - when you find a lawyer who disagrees with science and you put them in a legal setting where arguments carry more weight than facts, the truth is what suffers.
Ironic then that in the epilogue, he concludes "But in the end reality will win". He seems to think that with his 170 pages of text and 50 of research notes that he has single handedly overthrown over a hundred years worth of science. The reality is that he has only further deluded himself.
Slick and Superficial, September 23, 1998
Reviewer: Mark Wylie
Phillip Johnson is a law professor at UC Berkeley and an evangelical Christian who has stated publicly that his conversion to Christianity was what motivated him to make a crusade out of trying to discredit the science of evolution. His arguments in this book are clever, and appealing to those who have no background in the natural sciences, but they are unsound and invalid, and anyone with sufficient training can see the gaping holes in them.
Johnson is far more clever than most creationists, so he has the sense to disavow some of the wackier claims of the Duane Gish-Henry Morris crowd, like dinosaurs coexisting with humans or a universe that is only 6000 years old. He also comes up with a clever way to get around his complete lack of scientific training. He argues that since evolution cuts across many scientific disciplines, scientists, who tend to specialize in one discipline, are not the best equipped people to analyze evolution--a layman like himself can do better. Sound plausible? Imagine if we applied the same logic to law. I could argue that since constitutional law covers cases in a variety of areas of law, while lawyers tend to specialize in one area, the best qualified person to teach constitutional law is someone with no knowledge of the law. Such an argument is no weaker than the claim that a law professor with no training in science is the best person to critique evolution.
Johnson's other arguments follow the same pattern--superficially plausible, but invalid once you take them apart. His central argument is that belief in evolution is not scientific--it is just as religious as creationism. He claims that since scientists rule out supernatural causes when they study natural phenomena, the scientists are in fact adhering to a religious belief in "naturalism." In fact, scientists confine themselves to natural explanations, not because they are arbitrarily ruling out the supernatural for "religious" reasons, but because supernatural explanations are inherently untestable and unfalsifiable, and scientists must confine themselves to claims and explanations that can be proven false.
Imagine, once again, that we turned Johnson's reasoning around and applied it to law--suppose we allowed supernatural claims into courts of law. "Judge Ito, members of the jury, it is true that my client O.J.'s blood was found at the scene of the murder, but he was not responsible for the crimes, because he was posessed by a demon on that evening and had no control over his body. Since the devil did it, you must acquit." Johnson and his fellow conservatives (creationist beliefs are almost entirely confined to the right wing) would be outraged.
While Johnson has disavowed any belief in the extreme views of the young earth crowd, it is astonishing how many of his arguments are right out of Gish and Morris. He claims that the fossil record does not support evolution (False. See any paleontology text or the talk.orgins FAQ). He claims that evolution is not falsifiable (False. For example, it would be falsified by findings of modern mammal fossils in PreCambrian rock formations).
Finally, Johnson displays a disturbing intellectual dishonesty when presenting the arguments of the scientists he criticizes. For example, he characterizes Richard Dawkins' "the Blind Watchmaker," one of the best books on evolution for laymen, as "a sustained argument for atheism" which is only incidentally about science. Johnson supports his claim with one out of context quote. Anyone who has read Dawkins' book knows how badly Johnson distorts it, but Johnson's book is aimed at an audience that has not read Dawkins or other scientists, so few of his readers will realize how dishonest he is.
I have rated the book at one star, meaning that I think there is no reason for a general audience to read the book. The only reason to read it would be to arm yourself against creationism by learning what its arguments are. Science educators and others who may find themselves on the frontlines fighting creationists might find it valuable for that reason only. Otherwise it is worthless.