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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Just say no?

From an interesting, fairly even-handed report in The Washington Post. A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would expand government-funded embryonic stem cell research. The president’s response?

“I’ve made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers’ money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life — I’m against that. And therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it,” Bush told reporters during a picture-taking session with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

I wonder what the political fallout would be if the president decides to use his veto pen for the first time ever to restrict stem cell research? For his part, co-sponsor Mike Castle isn’t backing down. He insists that the bill is in line with the president’s original compromise on the subject: that is, make a limited number of cell lines derived from harvested and already dead embryos available for research.

Castle said his legislation in essence lifts the cutoff date of Bush’s policy to allow federally funded research on stem cell lines “derived ethically from donated embryos determined to be in excess.”

“Under no circumstances does this legislation allow for the creation of embryos for research nor does it fund the destruction of embryos,” Castle said.

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A word from li'l ol' neocon conservative Democrat me

I am in Washington, D.C., at the moment up to my eyebrows in the first few days of the 11th annual Summer Institute of Journalism here at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities — about a 10-minute walk from the U.S. Capitol. See this if that interests you.

I am, however, having quite a bit of trouble getting online enough to do serious blog work. I hope this note makes it online. WiFi is a blessing and a curse, at times.

It is interesting being here and getting to read The Washington Post as my daily newspaper. There is so much there on which to comment, since this is a paper that is clearly making an attempt to take religious news more seriously. I hope I do not bore you with too much Beltway stuff in the month ahead, while I am here temporarily, and then after August 1, when I start work here full time.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying your comments on the “find your label” thread. Thus, to keep a good thing going, and in response to on the record and private suggestions from readers, why not click here and give a different political-template survey a try. Hey, I didn’t know I was Jewish!

Does anyone know of any other similar online surveys we might want to try out, in the quest for self-discovery? Any that seem to take the pew gap more seriously?

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God is so, like, 2004

Meg James of the Los Angeles Times has a good ear for the deadpan humor of network executives talking like network executives. Witness Leslie Moonves, the immeasurably hip 56-year-old chairman of CBS, discussing some programming changes:

“They called us the geezer network,” CBS Chairman and Viacom Inc. Co-President Leslie Moonves told more than 2,000 advertising buyers and their clients gathered in Carnegie Hall.

Departing from a years-old “big tent” strategy that embraced viewers of all ages, Moonves vowed the network was determined to be “stronger, better and younger.”

To that end, CBS canceled three dramas, “Joan of Arcadia,” “Judging Amy” and “JAG,” whose viewers had a median age of 53.9, 54 and 58, respectively. CBS also pulled from its schedule the oldest-skewing show on network television, “60 Minutes Wednesday.” The median age of its audience: 59.

. . . CBS’ riskiest move was its Friday night shake-up. This season’s schedule included “JAG” and “Joan of Arcadia” — the latter a critically acclaimed show about a young woman who speaks to God.

Beginning this fall, those shows will be replaced by “Threshold,” a sci-fi thriller, and “The Ghost Whisperer,” a supernatural drama starring former teen queen Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman who communicates with the spirit world.

“I think talking to ghosts will skew younger than talking to God,” Moonves said at a breakfast news conference with reporters Wednesday.

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The skunk at the Darwinian garden party

I missed a Boston Globe profile of science philosopher Michael Ruse at the beginning of this month, but Rich Poll’s Apologia Report has pointed it out. Ruse, a vigorous defender of evolution, distinguishes between evolution and evolutionism, and he criticizes fellow academicians who do not see the clash of worldviews behind the public debates.

Profile author Peter Dizikes of Arlington, Va., quotes generously from Ruse’s critics who believe he’s helping the Intelligent Design movement too much, but he doesn’t bother talking with any proponents of I.D. Dizikes mentions that Ruse edited a book with Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski, and that he entertains no hopes of persuading I.D. advocate Phillip E. Johnson’s mind. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what Dembski and Johnson think of Ruse’s work? The Washington Post certainly didn’t leave its readers guessing what Johnson’s critics think of him in its recent thoughtful profile.

Nevertheless, Dizikes provides an engaging portrait of a man who clearly enjoys being a contrarian:

In his latest book, “The Evolution-Creation Struggle,” published by Harvard University Press later this month, Ruse elaborates on a theme he has been developing in a career dating back to the 1960s: Evolution is controversial in large part, he theorizes, because its supporters have often presented it as the basis for self-sufficient philosophies of progress and materialism, which invariably wind up in competition with religion.

While scientists and creationists often square off over the scientific evidence for evolution, the source of the ongoing dispute is deeper. “This is not just a fight about dinosaurs or gaps in the fossil record,” says Ruse, speaking from his home in Florida. “This is a fight about different worldviews.”

. . .Virtually every prominent Darwinian in recent decades has eschewed social Darwinism, and most believe that evolution itself, while responsible for the increased complexity of organic forms over time, cannot be regarded as a linear process driving toward a particular endpoint. But Ruse asserts that popular contemporary biologists like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have also exacerbated the divisions between evolutionists and creationists by directly challenging the validity of religious belief — Dawkins by repeatedly declaring his atheism (“faith,” he once wrote, “is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate”), and Wilson by describing his “search for objective reality” as a replacement for religious seeking.

All told, Ruse claims, loading values onto the platform of evolutionary science constitutes “evolutionism,” an outlook that goes far beyond the scientific acceptance of evolution as a means of explaining the origins and development of species. Provocatively, Ruse argues that evolutionism has often constituted a “religion” itself by offering “a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans,” while its proponents have been “trying deliberately to do better than Christianity.”

To be sure, Ruse acknowledges, some biologists are religious, while a significant portion of religious believers are willing to accept the concept of evolution at least to some extent. But, he argues, the way evolutionists have often linked their science to progressive politics has, in recent decades, become anathema to many believers, especially fundamentalist Christians whose biblical literalism leads them to believe that worldly change will only arrive with the Second Coming. The advocates of evolution, Ruse argues, have thus been “competing for space in the hearts and minds” of many religious believers without even realizing it — much to the detriment of their cause.

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Thoughts on Newsweek

There is a point at which media criticism becomes rather censorious, and I think we’ve crossed it in the Newsweek scandal. Jonah Goldberg, in his latest column for National Review Online, writes of Michael Isikoff’s motive for breaking the story, “my guess is that [he] was more motivated by a reporter’s desire to break a story than by some Left-wing anti-Americanism.” Then he gets to the argument:

But what on earth was gained by Newsweek‘s decision to publish the story — whether it was true or not? Were we unaware that interrogators at Gitmo aren’t playing bean bag with detainees? To me the similarities with the Abu Ghraib are greatest not in terms of the abuse but in terms of the media’s unreflective willingness to undermine the war on terror.

There you have it. Publishing the alleged details of interrogations of foreign prisoners should be a big no-no, even if the story checks out. Bye bye Abu Ghraib, hello trend stories.

Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, an Internet acquaintance for whom I have much respect, has disagreed with some more rabid bloggers about whether legal action against Newsweek is warranted. He also insists that his earlier warnings about what this story could do to freedom of the press in this country were just that: warnings. He explains:

Today’s expansive press freedom, which I support wholeheartedly, is of recent origin (essentially, it’s a post-World War II phenomenon) and not to be taken for granted. Remember all the talk about the Enron scandal, and how free enterprise was at risk if greedy corporations didn’t clean up their acts? Well, I’m afraid that press freedom is at risk if it’s seen as a vehicle for out-of-touch corporations to peddle defective products without fear of consequences.

I think I made this clear with my last post, but let me say it again: Newsweek screwed up and screwed up badly. I am not against anonymous sourcing, or even using a single anonymous source for an explosive accusation. But if you are going to rely on that source, you had better be darned sure that he has an unblemished track record of getting it right and that he will not flip under pressure.

The signs are abundant that Isikoff and company did not have an unimpeachable source and that they knew it, so why did they run with the story and risk exposing themselves to massive recriminations? I don’t know. The motives put forward for doing this are (a) Bush hatred; (b) a general skepticism of the U.S. military; and, in a pinch, (c) stupidity.

To run with the story was certainly stupid, and it is highly unfortunate that politicians in Afghanistan and Pakistan used the story to start riots that killed over a dozen people. This is likely to stain Newsweek‘s reputation for some time. It could result in a raft of cancellations, and I’ve no doubt that hawkish bloggers and the White House will continue to throw this back in the newsweekly’s face for quite some time.

That would be unfortunate, I think. Newsweek‘s response to the scandal has consisted of equal parts contrition and struggling to understand the truth of what happened. Editor Mark Whitaker forthrightly apologized to readers, and longtime Newsweek hand Evan Thomas reported on the fallout of the magazine’s screwup in fairly unflinching terms. Isikoff reportedly offered to resign as penance. There was no stonewalling, no cover up, no arrogant attempt by people at the magazine to spin the story in their favor.

That should be the end of it, folks. If we believe journalism is important, then we have to believe in freedom of the press. Part of that freedom is the normal back-and-forth in which newspapers and magazines are going to get it wrong every so often, come under criticism, and, we hope, acknowledge those mistakes and learn from them.

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Take the Pew test; find your label

As part of the never-ending quest for political metaphors after the red-blue divide, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press has developed a nifty little online test in an attempt to give a snapshot of the basic political viewpoints in the land.

The resulting report includes more than a few doses of religion.

Overall, the result is a series of camps framed to undercut the much-cursed red-blue divide. Here’s a place to see the various types of politicos.

I still think there are some crazy twists and turns here, and I am one who thinks that the clout of strong red-zip-code people and the elite blues is one of the major stories of the year. The 10 percent or so of true believers on left and right are real. They have power, in their niche. They affect key states and primaries. There is a story here — probably more than one.

And religion is a key part of the equation in this Pew study. For example, it says there are three kinds of conservatives — Enterprisers, Social Conservatives and Pro-Government Conservatives. Note: Three kinds. Then one of the other basic camps consists of “conservative Democrats.”

Wait a minute.

Three plus one equals . . . FOUR? Right? I am not very good at math and, perhaps, neither is the copy editor for this study. Well, I guess there are no conservatives in the Democratic Party. And they don’t go to church more often than other Democrats, either (and they are not largely Hispanic or African American).

So take the test. I did. Let us know how you scored, if you wish. Anyone want to label each member of the GetReligion borg?

I already know my handle. Clue — I am not in the GOP (cue: gasp from some readers).

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Michael Gerson's liberal conservatism

A few years ago, when one Internet wag wanted to poke fun at President Bush’s faith, the face from Salman’s “Head of Christ” replaced the head of Michael Gerson in the photo that accompanies this post. (GetReligion did not create that image, but has used it with irony.)

Carl M. Cannon has written a warm and lengthy profile of Gerson for National Journal (hat tip: Joel C. Rosenberg). The profile is the antidote to those blogs (like Farscape to My World) that see only hatred when evangelicals become involved with public policy.

One of the best remarks in the piece comes from Karl Rove: “The shorthand, political way to say it is that Mike is the one always wondering how we can achieve liberal goals with conservative means.”

Another comes from one of the best-known liberals in media circles:

“You’ll have a very hard time finding anyone to say anything bad about Mike Gerson,” says Brookings Institution fellow E.J. Dionne, the liberal columnist who asked Gerson about gay marriage [during a Pew Forum seminar]. “He is one of the few people who escapes the political polarization of this city. The reason is that he’s a thoughtful, sincere, incredibly decent person.”

Gerson grew up in an Orthodox Presbyterian home, but today attends The Falls Church, an evangelical Episcopal congregation in the Virginia suburbs of D.C.

Two of Bush’s stronger critics acknowledge Gerson’s talents as a presidential speechwriter:

“George W. Bush’s first week as president of the United States began with a speech that, taken as a whole and judged purely as a piece of writing, was shockingly good,” wrote Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker, a liberal who helped draft Jimmy Carter’s 1977 Inaugural Address. “It was by far the best Inaugural Address in 40 years; indeed, it was better than all but a tiny handful of all the inaugurals of all the presidents since the Republic was founded.”

In 2001, Sorensen put it this way: “Bush with a Gerson text sounds a lot better than Bush on his own.”

And there’s this suggestion that, yes, the president actually has editorial ideas of his own:

Gerson says he has no problems with Hughes’s editing his work. Asked if this were really true, Rove cackled. “Karen Hughes? That’s the least of his problems! Have you seen the staffing sheet?” Rove held up a piece of paper, apparently relating to the impending Latvia speech, with a dozen names on it, including Cheney’s, Rice’s, and his own — all of whom weigh in. Rove suggested one change, substituting the word “injustices” for Gerson’s “crimes” in the reference to America’s own imperfect past. Gerson accepted the change.

Then there’s Bush himself, whose reputation among the speechwriters increased on the day in the Oval Office when he coined the phrase about freedom not being America’s gift, but God’s. “We didn’t put that out, because no one would believe it,” said one White House aide. “But I swear that’s what happened.”

This may not be enough to quell the fears of bloggers who see theocrats around every corner, but it’s a welcome profile of a speechwriter who has found his calling.

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