Meet Phillip E. Johnson — honest!

I think it says something about Phillip E. Johnson that the best art I could find of the man using Google images was a cartoon on the cover of one of his own books. He is not a guy who warms up to camera lens (especially after two strokes) and he keeps trying to get the media to aim their coverage at the younger voices in the Intelligent Design movement.

But he is an off-the-wall, good-natured, swashbuckling kind of guy. It is a key element of his thick-skinned academic samurai persona. I can say this, in part, because he is a friend of mine. That’s one reason I don’t write a lot about the whole orthodox evolution vs. free speech controversy.

And it is hard to evalute press coverage of a friend. Nevertheless, I have, for several days in a crazy week, been meaning to point out Michael Powell’s recent “Doubting Rationalist” profile of Phil in The Washington Post.

The piece covers all kinds of ground and a variety of views opinions of this controversial man. This is good. More journalists should try this approach.

But the best thing about the article is that you actually get to meet the real Phillip E. Johnson. This is, I think, the highest journalistic praise you can give this kind of article. In other words, the man I know is actually in this article. You can understand what makes him tick, where he came from and what he really sounds like. Here is a big chunk of that article. If you like lively journalism, dig into the whole thing.

For centuries, scriptural literalists have insisted that God created Heaven and Earth in seven days, that the world is about 6,000 years old and fossils are figments of the paleontological imagination. Their grasp on popular opinion was strong, but they have suffered a half-century’s worth of defeats in the courts and lampooning by the intelligentsia.

Now comes Johnson, a devout Presbyterian and accomplished legal theorist, and he doesn’t dance on the head of biblical pins. He agrees the world is billions of years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth. Evolution is the bridge he won’t cross. This man, whose life has touched every station of the rationalist cross from Harvard to the University of Chicago to clerk at the Supreme Court, is the founding father of the “intelligent design” movement.

Intelligent design holds that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand — perhaps subtle, perhaps not — of an intelligent creator.

“Evolution is the most plausible explanation for life if you’re using naturalistic terms, I’ll agree with that.” Johnson folds his hands over his belly, a professorial Buddha, as his words fly rat-a-tat-tat.

“That’s only,” he continues, “because science puts forward evolution and says any other logical explanation is outside of reality.”

P.S. Sorry for all the typos in the version that went out in the push-tech version! I hit publish instead of save.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://ariston.livejournal.com kbh

    Does it make any more sense to challenge Darwin than to contest Newton’s theory of gravity?

    The press doesn’t Get Science, either it seems.

  • http://southcityfirst.com Richard Hudson

    Newton’s Laws have been transcended by Einstein and then Heisenberg. Does this mean Newton Laws are not “true?” No, they are still true, but there are new theories that are more true. So it is with Evolution. The Modern Synthesis is a better theory than Darwin’s. It’s only when you have to decide whether God exists or not that any of this seems to matter more than say, the newest theory of Solor System Evolution, which, by the way, is also undergoing some newer truths.

  • Tim Makinson

    “For centuries, scriptural literalists have insisted that God created Heaven and Earth in seven days…”

    I had thought that scriptual literalism was a thoroughly modern perversion of Christianity, not much more than a century or so old. Can anybody cite evidence of it before the late 19th century?


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