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Second Edition - 1993
Phillip Johnson
Book Review with commentary

Johnson brings a legalistic perspective to the issue of evolution. To the fundamentalists it provides some comfort in that he questions evolution. To the biologist it may be mostly rubbish for reasons we get to below. To those who really want to understand this conflict, Johnson provides a sharp view of how fundamentalism permeates both sides of the argument over Evolution.

Johnson begins his book with the Scopes Trial. That is fitting for he is a legal scholar with tenure. As such, he brings fresh insight to the question, reading nuances into words and phrases that might get past a casual reader. One point we particuarly note is that he points out certain human behaviors in some evolutionary biologists that mimic those of fundamentalists attacking them. Each can be quite narrow-minded and passionate about their take on things.

A similar symmetry between Bush and bin Laden has been noted by others. It seems no calling can escape the Authoritarian complex. His message is clear. His logic is, too, but it often rests on "what if" situations rather than hard facts that would be a lot more meaningful. Johnson also had bought into the school that claims humans are far too complex to have come about by chance alone. On this point there have been great strides since he wrote this book.

Because the information in this edition is dated, Johnson could not consider the most recent and compelling reasons to accept evolution as a valid theory. The message in his book lies elsewhere. It lies in his view of the protagonists and how they operate. It lies also in his own projections which curiously weave in and out of the story he tells.

He carries labeling too far, as if all biologists were "Darwinists" simply by virtue of their calling, and who blindly follow the faith. To understand evolution, to defend it and teach it, does not make one a Darwinist. Like Freud, Darwin was a genius at bringing scraps of information together to understand the jig-saw puzzle. Like Freud's theory, Darwin's theory has been re-directed and reinforced by new facts, principally by biology.

Darwin had it right, the universe is evolving continuously, and is doing so incrementally. He only had fragments of the information to go on that is available today. Evolution is now so far beyond doubt that it must be accepted even as it still has questions looking for answers. This is also true of all sciences.

Johnson works hard to illustrate that evolutionary biologists are possessed by an idea, rather than the other way around. He claims biologists simply make all observations fit their theory, instead of his, which is basically Intelligent Design. He cites stasis (Long-lived species that do not change over vast times.) and the fossil gaps again and again in suggesting that evolution itself proceeds with periodic intervention by a supernatural. In the end, he concludes that reality will win the battle in the long run. Everyone should agree on that point.

Like a lawyer, he makes innuendos out of spoken and written words, redefining them without telling us if he ran his definitions by their authors. And he is selective in what he quotes on both sides. Like the scholar he provides an extensive bibliography.

So why this review? Most importantly to the scholar, his take on the protagonists reflects his own views. They are either for evolution, or against it. This feature, and his extensive labelling of the scientists involved, lead us to see his Authoritarian side. He sees this feature on both sides of the argument. We do, too.

To the rest of us, if we are going to balance our research and arrive at a tentative opinion on how nature works, and how people can differ in interpreting what nature is telling us, this book is the one to read. If we really mean it when we say dialogue is the direction to go to find peace, this book is a good read. Much more often than not, Johnson presented the facts on each side fairly.

On the other side of the controversy, "The Ancestor's Tale," by Richard Dawkins is an equally important read. Between these two books one has a fairly complete picture.

Did this read change a view we previously held? Yes. After thinking about the meanings of words as Johnson does, we no longer like the term Natural Selection. Speciation or survival of the fittest are preferred. Survival of the fittest captures what actually happens and it fits all situations we are aware of. Natural Selection implies a selective process. There may well be one, but it has not been shown to our, or Johnson's, satisfaction. For example, what selective mechanism could explain how ring species come into being? It is genetic fitness against natural conditions here on earth that vie with each other. That both are problematic only enhances the probability for species to diverge in isolated locations.

Like evolution our reporting on this site is a work in progress. Stay tuned.


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