Interview with Christian Book Distributors, Inc.

Email interview conducted the week of August 14, 2000


With Phillip Johnson

CB: How would you describe the main purpose of The Wedge of Truth in comparison to your other books?
Johnson:
Each of my books builds upon the logic that was erected in my previous ones.  My prior books argued that the real discoveries of science -- as opposed to the materialist philosophy that has been imposed upon science - point straight towards the reality of intelligent causes in biology.  When you realize that fact, then you are ready to recognize that there are two definitions of "science" in our culture.  One definition says that scientists follow the evidence regardless of the philosophy; the other says that scientists must follow the (materialist) philosophy regardless of the evidence. The "Wedge of Truth" is driven between those two definitions, and enables people to recognize that "In the beginning was the Word" is as true scientifically as it is in every other respect. From that starting point, I go on to discuss the major scientific and cultural questions that ought to be on the table for discussion.  The Wedge of Truth is most like my previous book Reason in the Balance - but written with the advantage of 5 more years of reading and discussion.

In the June 1992 edition of Scientific American, Stephen Jay Gould attacked your book Darwin on Trial (as well as you personally) by saying that a lawyer, "cannot simply trot out some applicable criteria from his own world and falsely condemn us from a mixture of ignorance and inappropriateness."  How would you respond and how do you feel The Wedge of Truth addresses this, and similar criticisms?
Biologists deserve respect when they tell us what they know as biologists.  But when biologists presume to tell us what philosophical concepts we must accept, they have stepped far outside of their legitimate expert role.  At that point outside critics must step in to separate the genuine biology from the philosophical prejudice.  What Stephen Jay Gould describes as criteria from the legal world are actually fundamental logical principles that must be applied in all fields of study, including evolutionary science.

Many scientists, Christian and otherwise, argue that evolution could simply be the way God chose to create the world. How do you respond?
God could create however he wished to create.  But the modern, neo-Darwinistic theory of evolution says that God was limited by naturalistic philosophy, and would not dare to do anything that our current rules of science do not permit. The absence of God is a necessary presupposition of Darwinism.  If we assume that God was always there, ready and willing to create, then we would never entertain such an absurd idea as that the peppered-moth experiment tells us something significant about how God actually did create.

What is the hardest thing about being Phillip Johnson?
Living up to the expectations of my dear friends and supporters.  The more you accomplish, the more is expected from you.  But I enjoy the struggle immensely, and thank God that I was given this calling.

Why do you think the general public is so willing to believe anything that the "scientific elite" says?  Is it because they are so impressed with the mystery that enshrouds the halls of academia or is there a deeper issue at work?
There is a deeper issue, and I explain it in The Wedge of Truth.  The sad story is that denying the true God is often the starting point for human wisdom.  We do not wish to honor the true God, and so we turn from the creator to created things, including idols of the mind like the theory of evolution. Of course secular universities are tempted that way, but the sad thing is that similar inclinations are widespread in the Christian academic world, and in the bureaucracies of the mainstream denominations.

How did you enter this debate in the first place?
As an adult convert to Christ, already an established professor at Berkeley, I knew that most intellectuals are either agnostic or very liberal in religion.  They assume that a Christian (in the traditional sense) must be somebody who has thrown his brains out the window for some emotional reason.  The primary reason they are so confident in that judgment is that they believe science has demonstrated that an unguided natural process is our true creator.  When I was on sabbatical leave in London in 1988, I had time to read the literature of Darwinism and discovered that the theory is founded upon the very same naturalistic assumptions which it supposedly validates.  I also discovered that the literature of evolutionary science is replete with circular reasoning, hidden assumptions, wild extrapolations, and biased treatment of evidence.  I realized that I was dealing not with a true scientific theory but with a creation myth backed by pseudoscience.  I wanted to tell the world what I had learned - and so I wrote Darwin on Trial and have gone on from there.

What are some of the major issues at stake in the debate over naturalism?
The most important question is whether God is real or imaginary.  Did God create man or did man create God?  The latter is the teaching of evolutionary naturalism, and even many Christian thinkers tacitly assume that position.  In Chapter Four of The Wedge of Truth I ask whether theology has any access to knowledge - as opposed to being mere subjective belief.  These are some of the most important intellectual questions of our time, and also of all other times.

Is debate even being allowed?  If so, in what format and how is it being received?
There is fierce resistance.  For example, we had a conference at Baylor University in April 2000 to discuss whether the evidence of nature points towards or away from the need for a supernatural creator.  It was probably the most distinguished conference in Baylor history, with two Nobel Prize winners and many of the country's most distinguished professors in science, philosophy, and history.  The conference so frightened the Baylor faculty that they demanded that the sponsoring Institute be shut down at once to make sure that nothing of that kind ever happened again!  Baylor is a Baptist University, by the way, that advertises itself to prospective students as providing a Christian education.  On the issue of naturalism the university world is totally closed-minded and fearful.  The nominally Christian institutions are particularly fearful because they are understandably worried that they will be accused of betraying their heritage and advertising themselves falsely.   But the truth will eventually wear them down.

What has been the response of the Christian community to your work? The secular community?
I am extremely controversial (or even dismissed out of hand) in the Christian academic community, and in the moderate-to-liberal mainstream denominations like the PC-USA (to which I belong).  I draw huge audiences at conservative churches and seminaries, and also at secular universities.  Students are fascinated by the topic of origins, and want to hear something more substantial than the propaganda they get in their classes.  The most peculiar reaction is the hostility which I encounter from many professors at Christian colleges and seminaries.  You would be amazed if I gave a list of the evangelical institutions that don't want me on campus!   This is not because I am unpopular there, but because my message is too well received for the comfort level of certain influential professors.  I am raising a question that the accommodationist professors had hoped would be buried forever, and they are extremely embarrassed when students start asking them the tough questions about evolution and naturalism.  But everyone who steps out on behalf of the truth encounters bitter opposition like that, in the church as well as in the secular world.

Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying that science is not a religion because it, "is free from the main vice of religion, which is faith."  How would you respond to this?  How do you believe The Wedge of Truth will equip Christians to respond to statements like this?
Dawkins has faith in metaphysical materialism.  Absent that faith, it would be obvious to him (as it is to me) that the Darwinian "blind watchmaker" mechanism has no creative power.  Everybody starts from faith, just as every house has a foundation.  The question is not whether you will build upon a foundation, but whether you will build upon a foundation of rock or upon a foundation of sand.

If someone were interested in entering the discussion about naturalism / Darwinism, besides The Wedge of Truth, what books would you recommend they read?