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A review of Darwin on Trial. By Phillip E. Johnson.

Mar 14, 1992

Regnery Gateway, 1991.

Like Marxism and Freudianism, Darwinistic evolution is a reductionistic philosophy which seeks to provide an all-embracing framework to explain life and its complexities. Moreover, Darwinists, like other reductionists, tend to grant their philosophy the status of an a priori truth which does not need empirical verification. As a result, such science-based ideologies take on an overt religious dimension: adherents become evangelists, and faith takes the place of evidence.

Karl Popper labeled such ideologies “pseudoscience”. These all-embracing worldviews were attractive because of their immense explanatory power. Acceptance of these pseudoscientific faiths had the effect, said Popper, “of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth: who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still ‘un-analysed’ and crying aloud for treatment”. Or as Oxford Zoologist Richard Dawkins would put it: “It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)”.

After reading Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, one can only conclude that there must be a lot of ignorant, stupid or insane people around. Johnson shows that there is little unanimity in the scientific community concerning the validity of evolution. What Darwin on Trial demonstrates is that many are unconvinced by the evidence thus far offered in evolution’s behalf. The book, like Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1983), makes it clear that the problems with evolution are “too severe and too intractable to offer any hope of resolution in terms of the orthodox Darwinian framework” as Denton put it.

Unlike Denton, who sought to demonstrate the numerous weaknesses of the evolutionary model from a non-religious perspective, Johnson admits at the outset that his outlook is that of “a philosophical theist and a Christian”. His purpose is not to defend creation-science (which he does not accept), but to “examine the scientific evidence on its own terms…[to investigate] whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism”. His well documented research clearly demonstrates that the latter is the case.

Johnson examines all the “proofs” offered for Darwinism, focusing on the numerous problems they entail, such as the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record, the sudden explosion of complex life forms at the beginning of the Cambrian age, the difficulty of explaining the origin of the genetic code, the limits to change shown by breeding experiments, etc.

Consider the fossil record for example. Even Darwin acknowledged the seemingly insurmountable conflict between theory and evidence in this regard: “why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?” Indeed, as Johnson notes, Darwin’s most formidable opponents were not clergymen, but fossil experts.

Time has not come to the aid of Darwin. Says Johnson: “the fossil record today on the whole looks very much as it did in 1859 [the year The Origin of Species was published], despite the fact that an enormous amount of fossil hunting has gone on in the intervening years”. Indeed, says paleontologist David Raup, “we actually have fewer examples of smooth transitions than we had in Darwin’s time, because some of the old examples have turned out to be invalid when studied in more detail”.

Not only are there a number of very serious problems with the basic tenets of Darwinian evolution, but the faith to believe some of the proposed “solutions” to these problems would seem to at least rival that needed to believe in an intelligent creator. Consider the basic difficulty in explaining how life could have begun. We know that DNA, RNA and proteins are interdependent, yet presumably one had to come first. Which one? And how did the first living molecule function and evolve in the absence of the others? Several scenarios to answer these questions have been proposed, but none have been very satisfying. One well known scientist decided to literally send the problem off into space. Francis Crick, co-founder of the structure of DNA, aware of the extreme complexity of cellular life and the extreme difficulty of explaining how such life could have evolved in the time available on earth, came up with this rather novel explanation: it was brought here from another planet! His theory, called “directed pan-sperma,” suggests that an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, perhaps facing extinction, sent primitive life forms to earth in a spaceship. The spaceship builders would not be able to survive the long journal, so they sent bacteria capable of surviving both the voyage and the severe conditions on an early earth.  Says Johnson, “Crick would be scornful of any scientist who gave up on scientific research and ascribed the origin of life to a supernatural Creator. But directed pan-spermia amounts to the same thing”.

Whether or not this spaceship proposal is even remotely feasible, one can’t help but recall the words of G.K. Chesterton: “it is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything”.

Johnson goes on to detail the many difficult problems associated with the theory of evolution. But more importantly, he shows how the evolutionists have done all they can to convince us that this theory is indeed fact. Why is it so important that evolution, and not alternative explanations like creation, be propagated? As mentioned before, the answer is that for many evolutionists, evolution has become their religion. And like a religious faith (or more properly, a religious faith of the wrong kind) deviation from the “truth” is not to be tolerated.

Indeed, evolution is a competing worldview to the Judeo-Christian worldview. Most evolutionists acknowledge this fact. As Johnson notes, “the literature of Darwinism is full of anti-theistic conclusions, such as that the universe was not designed and has no purpose, and that we humans are the product of blind natural processes that care nothing about us”. And as Denton observed, “Chance and design are antithetical concepts, and the decline in religious belief can probably be attributed more to the propagation and advocacy by the intellectual and scientific community of the Darwinian version of evolution than to any other single factor.”

If the religious community is to recover from such an assault, it is essential that it be able to take on such competing ideologies as Darwinism. One means is to get this book and study it carefully. It is an important antidote to what has become one of the great intellectual superstitions of modern times.

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