Defeating Darwinism (Book Review)

defeating-darwinismSometimes a specialized subject matter expert is actually not the most qualified person to critique a related idea.  Case in point: Who would you trust more for advice on a difficult end-of-life decision for a loved one?  A life support machine technician or a medical ethicist?  Theoretically you would probably want a qualified mediator who is able to listen to the technician and the ethicist, like a family doctor.  But with only two choices, who is more qualified to counsel you on the right thing to do?  The mechanic or the theologian-philosopher?  I think many reasonable people would choose the ethicist.  But then again, many others would be more comfortable with the technician.  In all probability these two groups would condemn each other as wrong, foolish, ignorant, and maybe even evil.  Alas, such is human nature.

When it comes to the subject of science and origins, this kind of fighting is common.  Neo-Darwinism is the only respected scientific theory of origins in Western culture.  Any acceptable critique of this theory must come from inside the camp and must be kept away from the public eye to foster the illusion of unanimous agreement.  If any scientist outside the camp criticizes Neo-Darwinist theory or questions its foundational assumptions, they are treated as heretical troublemakers and denied access to the guild.  And if any non-scientist outside the camp dissents from the evolutionary orthodoxy, they are denied access to the table as unqualified, uneducated, and undeserving of a response.  The problem with this response to the questioning dissenter should be obvious.  In order to make a wise decision regarding a subject, wouldn’t it be best to hear from the mechanic and the philosopher?  Wouldn’t you want to hear the criticisms of the intelligent outsider?

Which brings us to Phillip E. Johnson (not to be confused with Phillip R. Johnson), a distinguished legal mind, professor of law, and aspiring philosopher of science.  Johnson is the grandfather of the Intelligent Design movement challenging the Neo-Darwinist status quo.  His strategy is named “The Wedge of Truth” which seeks to split the log of scientific orthodoxy by focusing on the known and acknowledged problems associated with evolutionary theory, namely the question of evolutionary mechanism, the cause of the Big Bang, and the contrary evidence in the fossil record.  As far as I can tell, The Wedge strategy is first explained in print in his third book on the subject: Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (DD).  I first read DD as a recent college graduate as a helpful and simplified summary of the issues the author first laid out in considerably more details his books Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance.  Recently I reread it to my oldest daughter who is a freshman in high school.  DD is a little over her head (and for that reason she didn’t much enjoy it), but I came to appreciate how this book crystallizes the issues for a target audience of upper high school and college.  The second time through it also surprised me at how relevant the book continues to be.  The only thing that feels dated about the book is its optimism for Intelligent Design (ID) theory for the near-term.  What has actually happened in the last 20 years is that ID has been barred from the public schools and scientific academia with a stroke of power.  Contrary to popular opinion, it is not another brand of biblical creationism meant to sneak Genesis into the science curriculum at your local public school.  Rather it is a centuries-old alternative scientific theory to naturalistic materialist macro-evolution.  ID has a long history of support by many esteemed scientists, philosophers, practitioners in the STEM fields, and academics.  In the computer age and the explosion of information in the last 30 years, ID has become a formidable challenger to the followers of Darwin.  And boy has it been a wild ride.

defeating-darwinism-amazon-ratings

Amazon customer ratings for Defeating Darwinism

DD is a controversial book.  You will either think it excellent or poor depending on your starting point.  Start with the assumption that creationism is bad, that ID must be a clandestine hybrid of it, and that only naturalistic scientific explanations are allowed, then you will hate this book.  But if you start with an open mind pursuing the scientific evidence wherever it may lead, even in the direction of a Creator, then you will likely love this book.  Just look at the graph of Amazon reviewers for DD.  Not many reviews rated DD 2, 3, or 4 stars.  People either love it (5) or hate it (1).  All depending on their starting point—which is always an untestable and unprovable foundational assumption.  (You might read a few of the book reviews—positive and negative—linked at the end of this post to see what I mean.)

The table of contents for DD, along with a few annotations:

  1. Emilio’s Letter: Three Common Mistakes.  The author examines the common mistakes many people, particularly Christians trying to reconcile their faith with evolutionary science, make regarding the creation vs. evolution debate.  These mistakes are believing (1) It’s only about length of time, or given enough time anything can happen; (2) God made the laws and then retired, or exchanging theism for deism; and (3) It’s fine to give away the realm of reason, or that science and faith occupy separate categories of truth.
  2. Inherit the Wind: The Play’s the Thing.  An overarching metaphor employed throughout DD to explain how the debate is always framed by Darwinists, why they frame it this way, and how to avoid playing the losing parts in the play.  Modeled after the famous play and movie that portray the infamous Scopes Trial.  The most memorable and helpful takeaway is that you cannot ever fight “Microphone Man” because he always controls the narrative and outcome of the debate.  Listen up kids: don’t get into an argument in class with your teacher about evolution.  You cannot win this argument because the deck is totally stacked against you.  Just aim to listen, learn, and ask good questions that may “put a stone in someone’s shoe.”
  3. Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector.  Equips students to navigate Darwinian claims with a healthy inquisitive attitude.  Your “baloney detector” should be tuned to recognize and point out (1) selective use of evidence; (2) appeals to authority; (3) ad hominem arguments; (4) straw man arguments; (5) instances of begging the question; (6) a lack of testability; (7) vague terms and shifting definitions (equivocation); and (8) the universal human tendency to believe what we want to believe.  A well-tuned baloney detector will guard a person against indoctrination.
  4. A Real Education in Evolution. A crash course in thinking critically about the theory of macro-evolution.  What to look out for and what kinds of questions to ask.
  5. Intelligent Design.  A crash course in the theory of Intelligent Design, which is currently the only alternative to Neo-Darwinian theory.  As much as non-ID scientists would love to come up with a third alternative to address the fatal flaws of naturalistic evolution, nothing has withstood peer review.
  6. The Wedge: A Strategy for Truth.  The game plan for getting ID a wider audience and a place at the table.  Diversity of belief and permitted scientific debate should hone and sharpen the theory of evolution if it is true, but expose and discredit the theory if it is false.  Science should be about rigorously pursuing the best ideas to get closer to the truth.
  7. Modernism: The Established Religion of the West.  Explains why Darwinists won’t even allow fair debate with a competent outside dissenter.  Both sides approach the discussion with a theory that has wide-ranging religious and philosophical presuppositions and implications.  The problem is most modernists can’t see themselves for who they are and why that act the way they do.
  8. Stepping off the Reservation.  A winsome challenge to Christians, especially students, to engage this very important issue and not stick their heads in the sand.  Don’t sacrifice your mind to protect your faith.  Examining the scientific evidence with an open mind should actually strengthen your faith.

DD also includes a brief introduction and 12 pages of endnotes.  Don’t skip either of these.  There is helpful information in the endnotes, not just bibliographic notations, that could easily have fit into the body of the book.  From the back cover:

With all of the complicated scientific debate swirling around the topic of evolution, is there an easy way to understand the basic issues without oversimplifying?  Phillip Johnson says there is: the key to defeating the false claims of Darwinism is to open our minds to good thinking habits.  Here is first-rate advice on avoiding common mistakes in discussions about evolution, understanding the legacy of the Scopes trial, spotting deceptive arguments, and grasping the basic scientific issues without getting bogged down in unnecessary details.  In the bestselling and critically acclaimed Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance, Phillip Johnson exposed the misleading claims of evolutionary naturalism.  Defeating Darwinism provides a new and powerful treatment of these issues for high-school students, parents, teachers, pastors, youth advisors and ordinary readers.  Johnson aims not just to defeat a bad theory, but to defeat it the right way—by opening minds to the truth.

Much has been published on the creation-evolution debate since DD hit the shelves in 1997.  But I am not aware of a better introduction for Christian in general and students in particular who want to get an education on Darwinism—not an indoctrination where questioners are ridiculed.  I think Johnson is correct.  The way to defeat the flawed and flailing theory of Darwinism is by opening minds, not closing them.

Resources

About Phillip E. Johnson

Johnson’s articles in Touchstone Magazine

Johnson’s multimedia resources on Darwinism

The Significance of Phillip E. Johnson

Johnson’s published articles, book reviews, debates, interviews

Johnson in the news

Reviews

Amazon (Positive and Negative)

Creation Wiki (Positive)

C.S. Lewis Society (Positive)

Discovery Institute (Positive)

Goodreads (Positive and Negative)

InterVarsity Press (Positive)

Jeffrey Shallit, University of Waterloo (Negative)

LeaderU (Positive)

National Center for Science Education (Negative)

Science and Creation (Negative)

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