Law prof Phillip E. Johnson pulled on Darwinism’s loose ends
BUIES CREEK, N.C. (BP)--While on sabbatical in London, law professor Phillip E. Johnson, was looking for something to write about. He stumbled upon Darwin’s theory of evolution.
A teacher of contemporary legal theory at the University of California at Berkeley and someone who had recently had a conversion experience, Johnson decided that Darwinism was not just scientific theory but the story of creation for our time and began to question and investigate the theory.
“I discovered a lot of loose ends in Darwin’s theory,” Johnson said Feb. 7 at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law in Buies Creek, N.C. “And I’m the kind of person who, when I see a loose end, I have this irresistible desire to pull on it.”
Johnson’s “pulling” led to a paper that eventually became the draft of his first book “Darwin on Trial,” providing momentum in the early days of the Intelligent Design movement, which holds that the biological aspects of life are too complex to have evolved randomly but must have been produced by an unidentified intelligence. Johnson differentiated the theory from creationism because Intelligent Design doesn’t claim, one way or the other, that there is anything supernatural about this creative intelligence.
“We know today that cells are much more complex than Darwin thought,” Johnson said. “They have their own chemical factories, sophisticated transport systems and cell repair facilities, so the position that this level of complexity could come together just by chance seems remote. We concluded that life springs from some unidentified intelligence.”
Intelligent Design also challenges scientists who claim that the evidence of evolution is everywhere -- from fruit flies branching into new species to bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics -- by insisting that scientists use only small-scale variations within a species to explain evolution. There are no fossil records for the big transformations, Johnson said.
Unlike creationists who claim the world was created in just six days, Intelligent Design does not deal with the question of how long it took to create the world, Johnson explained.
“The creationists are up against all of the scientists. I tried to narrow the debate and bring the movement into the realm of science,” he said. “Scientists couldn’t dismiss the theory of an intelligence because they investigate types of intelligence all of the time.”
Intelligent Design has caused controversy throughout the world. A federal judge ruled in December that Intelligent Design cannot be taught in biology classes in a Pennsylvania school district because the teaching of the Bible does not belong in science classes, but Johnson isn’t concerned about the theory being taught in public schools.
“We want to discredit Darwinism,” Johnson said. “This theory has had an enormous impact on secularization because it eliminates the Creator. We thought that if the theory of evolution was cast into doubt, it would have a big cultural impact, just as it did when it was discovered.”
A native of Illinois, Johnson received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his Juris Doctor from the University of Chicago School of Law, where he graduated first in his class. He became a clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren at the U.S. Supreme Court and, in 1967, began teaching at Berkeley where he gained notice as a teacher of criminal law and legal theory. He currently is professor emeritus of law at Berkeley and the author of numerous books, including “Reason in the Balance.”
Susan Welch is a writer in the office of public information at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C.