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Q&A: Wedge Issues

An intelligent discussion with Intelligent Design's designer

It’s not only in politics that leaders forge movements. Phillip Johnson has developed what is called the “Intelligent Design” movement, which contends that time plus chance (the mechanism for change in Darwinism) could not bring about the complex order of life around us. Mr. Johnson is a Berkeley law professor who, spurred by the crisis of a failed marriage, converted to Christianity in midlife. He has written many books including, most recently, The Wedge of Truth.

Q: You tell of a young man who went to Harvard and lost his Christian faith. Why is this an all-too-common story?

A: Every course this young man took at Harvard was based on the assumption of naturalistic philosophy — the idea that everything is governed by chance and natural law — so that even if God existed, He would be incapable of doing anything. God’s existence was not so much disproved as rendered irrelevant to everything worth studying.

Q: The crucial prop for naturalism is Darwinism. What’s the cutting-edge issue in evolution today?

A: The debate centers on one fundamental issue: Are natural forces information-creating? Any text, whether a book or the DNA code, requires a complex, non-repeating arrangement of letters. Can that kind of order be produced by chance or law? The answer is no. Chance produces randomness, while physical law produces simple, repetitive order (like using a macro on your computer to print a phrase over and over). The only thing that produces complex, non-repeating, specified order is an intelligent agent.

Q: What happens when Darwinism is applied outside science itself — to social life and morality?

A: The field of evolutionary psychology applies Darwinism to human behavior, and the results are grim. The logical conclusion of Darwinism is that all our actions are the results of brain states produced by some combination of chance and physical law-which undermines the very notion of moral choice. So arch-Darwinian Richard Dawkins says we are merely “robots” programmed by DNA to make more DNA.

Q: What does Darwinism imply for the science of the mind?

A: Consistent Darwinists say there is no single, central “self,” residing somehow within the body, that makes decisions, holds opinions, loves, and hates. That’s dismissed as old-fashioned dualism. In the currently popular “computational” theory, the mind is a set of computers that solve specific problems forwarded by the senses. For example, Steven Pinker of MIT says the idea of a unified self is merely a useful illusion, selected by evolution because our body needs to be able to go one direction at a time.

Q: Computers function without consciousness. If the mind is a computer, why are we conscious beings?

A: Some neuroscientists say we aren’t-that consciousness is an illusion. Philosopher Paul Churchland says mental states do not exist, and suggests that we replace language about beliefs and desires with statements about the nervous system’s physical mechanisms-the activation of neurons and so on.

This conclusion is so contrary to ordinary experience that many neuroscientists search for some cut-off point where the logic of Darwinism does not apply. But, of course, any stopping point is completely arbitrary. John Searle, my famous colleague here at Berkeley, accepts naturalistic evolution while insisting that it cannot explain the human mind. Critics say he simply jumps ship, and they’re right.

Q: Your book says the key issue is the definition of knowledge itself.

A: The prevailing definition of knowledge rests on the so-called fact/value distinction. “Facts” are objective, rational, and true for everyone; “values” are personal, subjective, and valid only for believers. Real knowledge can be had only of “facts.” That’s why Darwinian evolution is permitted in the science classroom, where we teach knowledge. But creation is relegated to the comparative religion class, where we explore people’s subjective beliefs.

Q: It seems that even those with Christian belief may hold correct doctrines but treat them as meaningful only within a community of faith.

A: The typical tactic is to cede to science the authority to determine the “facts,” then try to salvage some area for Christian faith in the realm of “value.” But since “values” are not granted the status of genuine knowledge, what you put there is eventually dismissed as subjective fantasy. Christians need to insist that they are making genuine knowledge claims. I like to put it this way: Is there any “-ology” in theology? Are we studying anything real? 

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