An Easy-To-Understand Guide For
Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds1

Phillip E. Johnson


James Kidder, Ph.D.
Human Palaeontology
University of Tennessee
Knoxville TN

In his first foray into the world of evolutionary biology, Darwin on Trial,2 Phillip Johnson raised the issue that the practice of evolutionary biology did not allow for the formation of non-mainstream ideas on the subject and was, thus, circular in its interpretation of the data. This ought be a valid concern to all scientists and Mr. Johnson's criticisms should not be taken lightly. In his new book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds,1however, Johnson has gone one step further by proposing that not only is "Darwinism" (a term he never clearly defines) a lie but that its perpetuation in the scientific community must be fought against. In his first book, he (at least) presented the illusion of being open-minded. Here he does not. This is even suggested by the title. If our minds are to be open, should we not be "assessing" Darwinism rather than "Defeating" it?

The book has two main parts: 1. What people have said about evolutionary theory, and 2. the theory of evolution and the nature of science in general. The first is meant to lead into the second.

In the first part, it is hard to find fault with Johnson's method of attack. He seizes on the statements of well-known individuals and organizations that have stuck their necks out very far in defense of evolutionary theory. His opening example is a statement from the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) from 1995 which reads, in part:

The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.(NABT)3

(Recently, in response to criticisms regarding the use of the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal", the NABT removed these words from their mission statement)4

Later on, he quotes Julian Huxley, who states:

In the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created, it evolved. So did all the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion. (Huxley 1960).5 ( Mr. Johnson did not provide this citation).

While these statements are forceful, neither is scientifically defensible. The biological theory of evolution states that organisms are modified in form through descent and that this modification is a result of changing gene frequencies. Evolution can only describe this in terms of the natural world. The theory is silent about the creation of life or of the world. It simply does not have that kind of explanatory power. Johnson is correct to point these out. He is also correct to say that if these are the prevailing educational trends, they represent a bias in the scientific establishment. Having spent ten years working in a biological science, I am not convinced that this is the case.

My experience is that, in some ways, the world of science is much like the world of creation science. The vast majority of scientists go about their business neither trying to prove God exists or does not exist. They simply perform science as though things around us behave in an ordered way. This is known as methodological naturalism.This is true for evolutionists as well. A vocal minority of scientists, however, have loudly stated that evolution denies the existence of God. They believe that modern science can relieve us of the "burden" of supernatural ideas (Depew 1995)6. This is philosophical naturalism. In the creationist world, many creationists do not wish to argue how old the universe is. They are content that science has given us a reasonably accurate picture of this. These are known as the old earth creationists. A vocal minority, however, shouts very loudly that the earth must be 10 000 years old. These are known as the young earth creationists. Neither the extreme evolutionary position or the extreme creation science position has much in the way of hard evidence to back it up. Johnson has focused his attack on the extreme evolutionary position. That does not make that position correct.

Once the reader gets to the second part of the book, the discussion of evolution, the fossil record and science in general, the book, as a whole, suffers from three major problems: 1. misuse of analogy; 2. lack of understanding of the palaeontological record, and 3. mischaracterization of scientific arguments concerning evolutionary theory.

1. Misuse of analogy

Phillip Johnson demonstrates time and again in this book a knack for creating analogies out of potentially complex concepts or events. Unfortunately, in many cases, these analogies are either incorrect or misleading.

  • Johnson tells a fictionalized account of the Challenger Space shuttle disaster in which a no-name student suggests that tragedy will strike if they do not postpone the launch due to cold weather. Because she is unknown, no one listens to her, although she has worked out all of the calculations completely. Tragedy does strike and all aboard are killed. This analogy is particular effective because it has dual implications. First, as is clear from the context of the analogy, the student is meant to represent the well-thought out critical analysis of creation science and the NASA engineers the unyielding, uncritical, non-self examining evolutionary perspective. On the second level, the student represents the antiestablishment student whose ideas do not match those of the mainstream and will, therefore, never be accepted. Thus, science will continue like a juggernaut, never questioning its conclusions.

    The problem is that on the first level, the notion that creation scientists carefully work out their calculations has been shown to be rarely true (For original arguments, see Morris (1989)7, Akridge (1980),8 Slusher (1980),9 and Lubenow (1992) 10. For rebuttals of these arguments, see Strahler (1987) 11 and Foley (1998) 12). In the vast majority of cases, the evidence for creation scientists' arguments are found wanting or consist of unwarranted extrapolations of isolated phenomena to global models. Contrary to the claims of many creationists, the scientific community does not reject their claims because of the revolutionary nature, but because they do not withstand scientific scrutiny. On the second level, the notion that no-name scientists are never heard simply does not bear up historically. While there certainly are unfortunate cases of suppression, many discoveries and inventions have arisen from work by scientists that were not considered to be in the mainstream. Charles Darwin was an unknown naturalist who started as a divinity student. The names of George Gaylord Simpson, Ernst Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky and Sewall Wright were completely unknown in the 1930's before they formulated the new evolutionary synthesis. History is replete with figures who have challenged the prevailing paradigms of their field and, in so doing, have revolutionized science. What sets them apart is that the hypotheses they constructed are supported by the available evidence and have stood the test of time.


  • Johnson uses the story of Santa Claus to illustrate the argument that belief in the supernatural is unscientific. Little kids start out believing in Santa Claus until that belief is dashed by the knowledge that it is their parents that are leaving the presents for them. As nice as this analogy might sound, it is overly simplistic and misleading. While there are certainly supernatural aspects of believing in both Santa Claus and God, the similarity ends there. There is no evidence suggesting that Santa Claus exists and considerable observational data suggesting he does not. To my knowledge, there is no such evidence for the existence or non-existence of God. No one has ever believed in God only to discover that it was kindly Mrs. Boopfaddle four doors down who was responsible for the operation of the universe.


  • On several occassions, Johnson equates the acceptance of evolution with a belief in some sort of anti-religious social order. In his description of the movie Inherit the Wind, he makes the following statement:

    "At the very end of the film the wise defense lawyer, played by Spencer Tracy, weighs the Bible and On The Origin of Species in his hands, shrugs and then puts the two books together in his briefcase. The implied message is that the two are equivalent and compatible. The Book of Nature and the Word of God are in agreement, provided the latter is interpreted in the light provided by the former. The closing gesture assures the audience that Darwinian naturalism does not aim to abolish Christianity but to liberalize it so that it is compatible with a properly scientific understanding of our origins. Fundamentalist resistance to evolution is thus shown to be not only unintelligent and futile but also unnecessary." (p. 100)

    This analogy suggests that "Darwinism" is a social philosophy which dictates behaviour rather than a scientific theory. Properly practiced, evolutionary theory rises or falls on its own merits, not some psychosocial interpretation of it. As mentioned earlier, that Julian Huxley believes that modern science can explain away God does not make it so. Discussions of the sociology of agnosticism by antievolutionists, while purporting to have a base in science, largely occur in the absence of it. Creationists such as Henry Morris (1989)13 have recently used the acceptance of evolutionary theory as an explanation of the evils of society. This suggests that before there was Darwin, there was no evil. A cursory glance at the Bible would strongly suggest otherwise. Evolutionary theory is exactly that, a theory. No more, no less. If it has support, it goes on. If it is found scientifically wanting, it is discarded, like so many theories before it.

2. Lack of Understanding of the Palaeontological Record

On numerous occasions, in attempting the discredit the fossil record, Johnson betrays a general lack of knowledge of this record.