First Things 79 (January 1998): 59-61

Books in Review

Briefly Noted


By Nancy Pearcey

Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. By Phillip E. Johnson. InterVarsity. 132 pp. $15.99 cloth, $9.99 paper.

When the Supreme Court struck down "balanced treatment" of creation and evolution in public schools ten years ago, the Justices hoped they had closed the issue. Instead, they guaranteed that Darwinism would become part of the culture war. Rather than being a subject for rational discussion in the classroom, Darwinism is now protected orthodoxy--and has acquired all the bad habits of an established religion. Phillip Johnson, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of two earlier books on Darwinism, hopes to teach readers to spot those bad habits and restore rational debate. His prime complaint is that Darwinism promotes philosophy under the guise of science. Evolution as understood by the scientific establishment is simply materialist philosophy applied to biology. And because the underlying commitment is philosophical, the flimsiest facts are counted as evidence--as when the president of the National Academy of Sciences recently published an article arguing that evolution is confirmed by differences in the size of finch beaks, as though the sprawling evolutionary drama from biochemicals to the human brain could rest on such instances of trivial, limited variation. Johnson is convinced that detecting fallacies of this type would go a long way toward defeating Darwinism. In this lively, tightly written book for a general audience, he teaches readers to train their "baloney detectors" on the doublethink, ad hominems, rhetorical tricks, and logical gaps that characterize the public propaganda for Darwinism.