To: All Msg #35, Feb0693 10:12AM Subject: Darwin on Trial A few days ago, I read Phillip J
From: James J. Lippard
To: All Msg #35, Feb-06-93 10:12AM
Subject: Darwin on Trial
Organization: University of Arizona
From: email@example.com (James J. Lippard)
A few days ago, I read Phillip Johnson's _Darwin on Trial_ for the first
time. I had previously read an interview with him in the _Bible-Science
Newsletter_ and two of his articles from _First Things_, one of which
I quoted from and commented on extensively here. (I'd also previously
sent him some comments in email, to which he replied without addressing.)
I do not think his book is anywhere near as bad as Stephen Jay Gould
makes it out to be in his _Scientific American_ review. I think it
does have some valuable things to say. At the very least, it shows
how someone can be misled by popular writings on evolution, and how
scientists have themselves been confused about what natural selection
The following are a few of the things which jumped out at me as being
particularly strange or wrong. I'd like to go through the book again
when I have time, and offer some detailed comments on some of its
more philosophical arguments, though I have already done this with
Johnson's most recent _First Things_ article, which seems to make the
On p. 10, Johnson writes that "[Irving] Kristol observed that Darwinian
theory, which explains complex life as the product of small genetic
mutations and 'survival of the fittest,' is known to be valid only for
variations within the biological species." Not only is this false,
Johnson later admits it to be false. But not here--he doesn't question
Kristol's statement, but restates it in the next sentence in a vaguer
form: "That Darwinian evolution can gradually transform one kind of
creature into another is merely a biological hypothesis, not a fact."
Note the switch from "species" to "kind."
On p. 19, Johnson writes that "In some cases, convincing circumstantial
evidence exists of evolution that has produced new species in nature.
Familiar examples include the hundreds of fruitfly species in Hawaii
and the famous variations among 'Darwin's Finches' on the Galapagos
Islands." On the same page, however, he writes that "Whether selection
has ever accomplished speciation (i.e., the production of a new species)
is not the point. ... If breeders one day did succeed in producing a
group of dogs that can reproduce with each other but not with other
dogs, they would still have made only the tiniest step towards proving
Darwinism's important claims."
So Johnson is willing to admit that natural selection can produce
new species, but that's not the point--he thinks it's still not "proven"
that it can produce larger-scale changes. I don't believe, however, that
he ever states in the book what kind of evidence he would accept as
such proof--perhaps a complete and continuous fossil record.
On p. 12, Johnson writes, "But consider Colin Patterson's point that a
fact of evolution is vacuous unless it comes with a supporting theory.
Absent an explanation of how fundamental transformations can occur, the
bare statement that 'humans evolved from fish' is not impressive." Johnson
here appears to have a double standard, since he is willing to accept a bare
statement of supernatural creation without a mechanism. This also seems to
be incorrect. Surely we can have excellent evidence that something *has*
occurred without having any inking of how it has done so.
On p. 50, Johnson quotes Gould:
The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly
inconsistent with gradualism:
1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure
on earth. [...]
2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise
(Johnson quotes more, but this is all I want to look at.) Johnson
concludes from this passage that "In short, if evolution means the gradual
change of one kind of organism into another kind, the outstanding
characteristic of the fossil record is the absence of evidence for evolution."
Notice that Gould says "The history of *most* fossil species" exhibits
these features; that "*Most* species exhibit no directional change."
Johnson transforms this into "absence of evidence for evolution" as
"*the* outstanding characteristic of the fossil record." "Most" has become
In chapter 7 (pp. 86-99), Johnson's account of "The Molecular Evidence"
makes no mention of pseudogenes.
On p. 107, here is how Johnson addresses artificial life:
Prospects for experimental success are so discouraging that the
more enterprising researchers have turned to computer simulations that
bypass the experimental roadblocks by employing convenient assumptions.
An article in _Science_ in 1990 summarized the state of computer
research into "spontaneous self-organization," a concept based upon
the premise that complex dynamical systems tend to fall into a highly
ordered state even in the absence of selection pressures. This premise
may seem to contradict the famous Second Law of Thermodynamics, which
says that ordered energy inevitably collapses into disorder or maximum
"entropy." There is reason to believe, however, that in a local system
(the earth) which takes in energy from the outside (the sun), the
second law permits some kinds of spontaneous self-organization to occur.
For example, ordered structures like snowflakes and crystals are common.
More to the point, most scientists assume that *life* originated
spontaneously and thereafter evolved to its present state of complexity.
This could not have happened unless powerful self-organizing tendencies
were present in nature.
Starting from assumptions like that, scientists can design computer
models that mimic the origin of life and its subsequent evolution.
Whether the models have any connection to reality is another question.
According to _Science_, "Advocates of spontaneous organization are quick
to admit that they aren't basing their advocacy on empirical data and
laboratory experiments, but on abstract mathematics and novel computer
models." The biochemist G.F. Joyce commented: "They have a long way to
go to persuade mainstream biologists of the relevance [of this work]."
That's it. No comment on whether or not these models prove (in the
strong sense!) that complexity can emerge from simplicity.
On p. 122, Johnson writes that "If scientific naturalism is to occupy
a dominant cultural position, it must do more than provide information about
the physical universe. It must draw out the spiritual and ethical
implications of its creation story. In short, evolution must become a
religion." This appears to me to be either tautological (if by "a dominant
cultural position" Johnson means "play the role of religion") or simply
bizarre. What kind of spiritual and ethical implications does Johnson
think must follow from one account of origins rather than another?
Why must *science* be the source of morality, even for someone who
rejects the existence of God? (I don't believe in God, and I don't expect
science to be the source of morality.)
Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
It seems to me that Phillip Johnson believes that there is a
philosophy which he calls "scientific naturalism" which is being
promoted as the dominant philosophy of these times, and that
"evolution" is one of its main supports. He writes in the article
"Creator or Blind Watchmaker" (in "First Things", Jan. 1993, pp8-14)
Failure to understand that Darwinism is primarily a
philosophical rather than an empirical doctrine has made
theistic naturalists unduly fearful of incurring what is
called the "god of the gaps" problem. [p.14]
The question that needs to be investigated, however,
is not whether there are gaps in a fundamentally sound
theory that has successfully explained a great deal. It
is whether Darwinism is wrong _in_ _principle_ in
assuming that marvelously complex structures like the
human body, or even the bacterial cell, can be built up
by an unguided material process. [p. 14, his italics]
Attempts to accommodate theism and Darwinism are
inherently futile, but the accommodation of theism and
empirical science is quite another matter. ... Moreover,
empirical science is limited by its methods, and can only
tell us _how_ things work rather than whether they were
brought into existence in furtherance of a higher purpose.
[p. 14, his italics]
Tom Scharle |scharle@irishmvs(Bitnet)
Room G003 Computing Center |firstname.lastname@example.org(Internet)
University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN 46556-0539 USA
Let me just quote a few things which may be of interest to people
who follow the debates in talk.origins, from Johnson's article, "Creator
or Blind Watchmaker" (First Things, Jan. 1993, pp.8-14)
Darwinists assiduously promote the notion that the only
possible alternatives are six-day Genesis literalism on the
one hand, and fully naturalistic, neo-Darwinistic evolution
on the other. Given such an understanding of the alternatives,
anyone who suspects that the cosmos may be billions of years
old, or that life may have been created through some long-
term process of development, becomes an "evolutionist" --
who by definition rejects "creationism". [p. 9]
As I said, this may be of interest to the frequent readers. From whom
do we hear that these are the only alternatives? My opinion is that it
is the "creationist" side who bombards us with this. (BTW, I wonder
what the "creationists" have to say about Johnson's opinions here?)
[Or the Christian evolutionists!]
... the fundamental disagreement is not over the age of the
universe or the method of creation; it is over whether we owe
our existence to a purposeful Creator or a blind materialistic
process. [p. 9]
As long as this thread is supposed to be a meta-debate, may I ask
why there should be a debate between Phillip Johnson and Chris Colby?
I have no idea of Colby's philosophy, but whatever it is, and as much
respect I have for him, I do not think that he is the appropriate
stand-in for us in a philosophical debate.
Tom Scharle |scharle@irishmvs(Bitnet)
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank