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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Phillip Johnson on the recent PBS Nova program on the Dover Trial - partial transcript

A friend was kind enough to provide a partial transcript of a podcast of ID lawyer Phillip Johnson talking about the recent PBS Nova episode on the Dover Trial. The interviewer is Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute.

Here are points I thought particularly salient:
Johnson: ... What's going on here is a process of soothing. The scientific establishment has decided that the way to get a reluctant American public to put aside their doubts and believe what they're being told in the mass media, and in the textbooks, and in the museums about evolution is absolutely true is to reassure them that it doesn't threaten [their] religion. Then after they have been talked into accepting the theory, then the types like Richard Dawkins will come out and say, "Well actually now that you've accepted it, we have to tell you that it does destroy your religion."

Luskin: And all this raises a question that I would be very interested in your answer in Professor Johnson, because you have followed this debate for many years. You're aware that for decades the scientific community has been issuing statements to the effect of science and religion do not conflict. They may even say they're totally different spheres that can't even conflict in principle. And yet public skepticism of evolution remains very high. What does this say to you? Why are these attempts to, as you put it, soothe religious people regarding evolution, really seems like it is failing (at least) the public that is largely religious and is still very skeptical.

Johnson: Yes, they are still very skeptical, and they don't believe the reassurances. They know in fact what's going on. The fact is that the public is not as stupid as the experts wish them to be.


Um, no.

Here's the whole of my friend's partial transcript:
Luskin: We can get a little bit of a sneak preview as to what this documentary is going to be about because they have actually been sending out briefing packets to teachers all around the country in public schools regarding how to deal with teaching evolution in schools. And, it's a very one-sided briefing packet (I've read through it) and it very much promotes the view that intelligent design is a religious view, that's not science and so forth. And of course as you said, this is the party line, and this is not too unexpected for them to be taking the party line. What was concerning was when they recommended in the teacher's guide that teachers basically inject religion into the science classrooms by discussing religious denominations that accept evolution. I would like to just read a brief excerpt from the briefing packet to you, Professor Johnson, and get your reaction to it for our listeners. The question asks, "Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion?" And the answer goes on to say in part, "Yes, the common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false." And then later on it goes on to give various examples of religious denominations that accept evolution, and of course there is no mention of any religious views that might be skeptical of evolution in this briefing packet. So I guess my question for you is, of course, these people are entitled to whatever view they want as far as if religion conflicts with evolution, and of course, many religious people find no conflict with evolution. But, when they are recommending that public school teachers teach this sort of a view in the science classrooms for instance, does that raise any legal troubles in your mind?

Johnson: Well it raises legal troubles if you want to see them. The problem is that some our federal judges like Judge Jones in this program have decided to take on a role of protecting the science establishment from criticism of their most sacred doctrine. And so they don't want to see any legal problems and they won't. What one sees in this kind of approach is that when you teach evolution in the schools, you are bringing religious issues into the classroom, because when you're talking about how all forms of life came into existence, or God created, that is a religious issue. And if you say it was by unintelligent material forces only and God had nothing to do with it, which is the party line in the evolutionary science world, that is their consistent position, the fact that they're putting out a pamphlet with a statement like that just illustrates that when you're teaching evolution in the public schools, and you're teaching Darwinian evolution and the official line of the evolutionary science community, you're teaching religious questions. You're getting into those and then you have to sort out good religion from bad religion, which is what they're doing. They want to talk about the denominations that accept the evolutionary story that they're saying, that's good religion, that's the clear implication of what they're saying.

Luskin: True.

Johnson: So it could involve a legal issue I would think, yes, if you want to see it. If you try to get that in front of Judge Jones and get him to see the legal issue, he's not going to see it because he doesn't want to see it.

Luskin: And of course the briefing packet is actually following Judge Jones' approach quite closely. Judge Jones ruled that it was "utterly false" to say that religion conflicts with evolution and so forth. So…

Johnson: Legal question or not, that's very misleading language. That's why I object to it mainly is [because] it's misleading. What would be more accurate to say is that there is a dispute about whether the theory of evolution implies the non-existence of God as a creator. It's a matter that's in dispute, not something that is obviously settled the way that Judge Jones and the scientific establishment have decided that it ought to be settled. And in fact, one of the phenomenon that's in the news today, is that there is a big surge, just as we have a surge of troops in Iraq, there is a surge of scientific atheism in the scientific community. It is headed by Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor, who is the world's most prominent promoter of Darwinism, and also the world's most prominent promoter of atheism. Now if you ask Dawkins whether the Darwinian theory implies atheism, he's not going to answer "No," he's not going to answer like Judge Jones and the pamphlets you're quoting answer. So, it's no coincidence that the world's most prominent Darwinist is also the world's most prominent promoter of atheism. It's true that there are other people who take a different implication from Darwinism. People like Francis Collins, the head of the US government's human genome project. Collins is an outspoken evangelical Christian who says there's no conflict between Darwinian evolution and his religion. Collins is much publicized for this view, but when you read a news story about Collins, or a review of his book it will generally point out how remarkable a thing it is that Collins doesn't see a conflict between the scientific theory he is endorsing and his religious position. He is an exception. He's a remarkable person. So it's in dispute. It isn't clear. It isn't that everybody agrees that Darwinism does lead to atheism, or that it doesn't. There is a dispute about that matter. That makes it an important religious question. An accurate statement would be telling the students that the connection between Darwinism and atheism is in dispute. Not that it's been settled, that there's no connection. So, this is very typical that information is put out by the Darwinian establishment and its allies that is very seriously misleading. And then this is presented as absolute truth to the students in the schools, with that official endorsement. So, the students are being taught very misleading information, even outright lies. What's going on here is a process of soothing. The scientific establishment has decided that the way to get a reluctant American public to put aside their doubts and believe what they're being told in the mass media, and in the textbooks, and in the museums about evolution is absolutely true is to reassure them that it doesn't threaten [their] religion. Then after they have been talked into accepting the theory, then the types like Richard Dawkins will come out and say, "Well actually now that you've accepted it, we have to tell you that it does destroy your religion."

Luskin: (Laughs.)

Johnson: That's the one-two punch. First you soothe them into accepting something, then you hit them with the other shoe. These kinds of statements and materials that come out cannot be trusted. They are not honest. They attempt to give a very one-sided and hence misleading description of the situation. Many parents understand this and this is why they're so upset with what the schools are doing. These things get into the media and the reporters will ask the official scientific organizations for what they should print about it, and they'll say "Oh these people are religious fanatics that were completely unreasonable because they're seeing something we don't want them to see."

Luskin: And all this raises a question that I would be very interested in your answer in Professor Johnson, because you have followed this debate for many years. You're aware that for decades the scientific community has been issuing statements to the effect of science and religion do not conflict. They may even say they're totally different spheres that can't even conflict in principle. And yet public skepticism of evolution remains very high. What does this say to you? Why are these attempts to, as you put it, soothe religious people regarding evolution, really seems like it is failing (at least) the public that is largely religious and is still very skeptical.

Johnson: Yes, they are still very skeptical, and they don't believe the reassurances. They know in fact what's going on. The fact is that the public is not as stupid as the experts wish them to be.

Luskin: And do you think also that there are scientific doubts that the public has?

Johnson: Yes, there are. The public knows that the theory of evolution can be demonstrated or tested by experiment only at a relatively trivial level. When you ask an evolutionary scientist to come up with an example of how their theory has been demonstrated, they'll always come back to the same examples of things like insect populations becoming resistant to insecticides. They don't have any examples of insects changing into something fundamentally different as they would have to be able to do if the theory is true in a general way. So the situation that the public realizes is that evolution can be demonstrated or tested scientifically only at the trivial level of what's often called microevolution. Microevolution isn't really evolution at all. A better term for it would be adaptive variation. You do see some minor changes going on in populations or species. You do not see one kind of plant or animal evolving into something fundamentally different. The public knows this. They know something is being sold to them that's kind of like the way used cars are sometimes sold.

Luskin: Well, Professor Phillip Johnson, it has been wonderful having you on our show. This has been very enlightening. Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us today.


In the past, Johnson has referred to the strategy described above as the "two-platoon strategy". The first platoon, including various Jesus-hollering biology profs, assures people that mud-to-mind reasoning poses no threat to their faith. Once they have swallowed the bait, ... well if it does destroy their faith, they’re stuck with it now. Haw haw.

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