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Inherit an Ill Wind | The Nation

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Inherit an Ill Wind

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Then along came Johnson--a chaired professor at the University of California's Boalt Hall Law School and former clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren. He is no young-earth creationist, but he is an evangelical Christian with an uncompromising faith in God. Reading Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker in 1987 enraged him. Dawkins uses Darwinian evolution to deny God and dismiss the supernatural--but Johnson saw the argument as circular. "I could see that Dawkins achieved his word magic with the very tools that are familiar to us lawyers," Johnson explained in the journal Christianity Today. "If you take as a starting point that there's no creator, then something more or less like Darwinism has to be true."

About the Author

Edward Larson
Edward Larson is the author of Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and...
Larry Witham
Larry Witham is an author and journalist in Washington, DC.

Johnson then launched his own crusade--not for biblical creationism but against philosophical naturalism in science. In a series of popular books beginning with Darwin on Trial in 1991, Johnson argued that science should not automatically exclude supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. It was an easy sell in a country where opinion polls find about 10 percent of the people believing that life evolved by natural processes without divine intervention along the way. Of course God could have created humans, or at least laws that guided their evolution from the primordial ooze, most Americans readily concede.

The Berkeley don brought what his allies call "cultural confidence" to the familiar lament against excluding God from science. A sophisticated law professor conversant in postmodernist rhetoric (though a realist himself), Johnson could argue that science makes metaphysical assumptions no less than religion, and some scientists and philosophers began to concede a bit. "You had to meet intimidation with counterintimidation in order to move the discussion along," says Johnson. "Now, that perhaps was the lawyer's contribution."

Johnson also reached beyond the academy to latent popular distrust of science. His latest book, aptly titled An Easy-to-Understand Guide for Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, captures his tone. "Given that only a small minority of Americans believe the central finding of biology," he asks, "how should our educational system deal with this important instance of disagreement between the experts and the people? One way would be to treat the doubts of the people with respect.... The opposite way is to tell people that all doubts about naturalistic evolution are inherently absurd.... American educators have chosen the second path."

Johnson's books have sold more than a quarter-million copies, and it is no wonder that his kind of arguments showed up among conservative Christians who voiced their opinions during the science standards hearing in Kansas.

Another "authority" often cited in Kansas was a Lehigh University biochemistry teacher named Michael Behe, who enlisted in Johnson's crusade in 1991. That year, Behe wrote a letter to the journal Science defending Darwin on Trial. Johnson responded by encouraging Behe, a devout Catholic, to write his own easy-to-understand book presenting biological phenomena that defied Darwinist explanation. It was the type of argument popularized more than a century ago by Darwin's archfoe, the great Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz, updated with examples of complex organic molecules. Another bestseller was born--Behe's Darwin's Black Box.

Johnson and Behe do not argue for the young earth of creation science, but they do propound that intelligent design (rather than random chance) is apparent in nature. This, they argue, divorced from biblical creationism, should be a fit subject for public-school education. With this argument, they have expanded the tent of people willing to challenge the alleged Darwinist hegemony in the science classroom, and this emboldened the populist uprising in Kansas.

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