Phillip E. Johnson

Phillip E. Johnson

Infobox Person
name = Phillip E. Johnson

caption =
birth_date = 1940
birth_place = Aurora, Illinois
death_date =
death_place =
other_names =
known_for = advocating Intelligent design
occupation = Law professor

Phillip E. Johnson (born 1940) is a retired UC Berkeley law professor and author. He became a born-again Christian as a tenured professor. He is considered the father of the intelligent design movement, which criticizes the theory of evolution, and promotes intelligent design, as an alternative. Johnson also denies that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS. [ [ "The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis" website] ] [ [ Overestimating AIDS] Phillip E. Johnson. Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.] The scientific community dismisses both notions as pseudoscience."for most members of the mainstream scientific community, ID is not a scientific theory, but a creationist pseudoscience." [ Trojan Horse or Legitimate Science: Deconstructing the Debate over Intelligent Design] David Mu. Harvard Science Review, Volume 19, Issue 1, Fall 2005.] National Science Teachers Association, a professional association of 55,000 science teachers and administrators in a 2005 press release: "We stand with the nation's leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president's top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science....It is simply not fair to present pseudoscience to students in the science classroom." [ National Science Teachers Association Disappointed About Intelligent Design Comments Made by President Bush] National Science Teachers Association Press Release August 3, 2005 ] [ Defending science education against intelligent design: a call to action] Journal of Clinical Investigation 116:1134-1138 American Society for Clinical Investigation, 2006.]


Johnson was born in Aurora, Illinois in 1940. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature, from Harvard University in 1961. He studied law at the University of Chicago. He served as a law clerk for the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Earl Warren. He is an emeritus professor of law at Boalt School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served on the active faculty from 1967-2000.

Johnson became a born-again Christian following a divorce, [ The Wedge at Work: How Intelligent Design Creationism Is Wedging Its Way into the Cultural and Academic Mainstream] , Barbara Forrest. Chapter 1, Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, MIT Press, 2001] and later became an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). [ [ Berkeley's Radical] , An Interview with Phillip E. Johnson, Access Research Network] Johnson recounts that on sabbatical in England he sought, through prayer, inspiration for what he should do with the rest of his life, and then received an epiphany after he purchased and read Richard Dawkin's "The Blind Watchmaker" and Michael Denton's "". Despite having no formal background in the biological sciences, he has become a prominent critic of evolutionary theory.

Johnson popularized the term "intelligent design" in its current sense in his 1991 book, "Darwin on Trial." He remains one of the best known advocates for Intelligent design, and is considered the founder of the Intelligent design movement. He is a critic of methodological naturalism, the basic principle of science that restricts it to the investigation of natural causes for observable phenomena, and espouses a philosophy he has coined theistic realism. [ [ Starting a Conversation about Evolution] , Phillip E. Johnson, Access Research Network] He is the author of several books on intelligent design and related topics, as well as textbooks on criminal law. He has appeared on various programs such as PBS's Firing Line December 19, 1997 [ [ A Firing Line Debate: Resolved: That the Evolutionists Should Acknowledge Creation] Hoover Institute, December 19, 1997] NOVA's .

Since 2001, Johnson has suffered a series of minor right brain strokes. His rehabilitations have limited his public activities and participation in the debate over Intelligent Design, because of both their physical effects and Johnson's belief that they were signs from God urging him to spend more time with his faith and family and less in "prideful debate". [ [ "Denver Seminary An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies"] - Volume 7, 2004]

In 2004 he was awarded the inaugural "Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth" by Biola University, a private evangelical Christian college noted for its promotion of intelligent design. [ [ Former Atheist to Receive Award at Biola] , Biola University]

Intelligent design

Johnson is best known as one of the founders of the intelligent design movement, principal architect of the Wedge Strategy, author of the Santorum Amendment, and one of the ID movement's most prolific authors. Johnson is co-founder and program advisor of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC).

Johnson has advocated strongly in the public and political spheres for the teaching of intelligent design in favor of evolution, which Johnson characterizes as "atheistic" and "falsified by all of the evidence" and whose "logic is terrible". In portraying the philosophy of science, and by extension its theories such as evolution as atheistic, Johnson argues that a more valid alternative is "theistic realism". Theistic realism asserts that science, by relying upon methodological naturalism, demands an a priori adoption of a naturalistic philosophy that wrongly dismisses out of hand any explanation that contains a supernatural cause. Johnson rejects common descent and does not take a position on the age of the Earth. [ [ "Doubting Rationalist"] - Washington Post, 5/15/05] [ [ "Creationists and Intelligent Design"] - World Views, 1/27/04] These concepts are a common theme in his books, including "Darwin on Trial," "Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education," "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds," and "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism." Eugenie Scott wrote that "Darwin on Trial" "teaches little that is accurate about either the nature of science, or the topic of evolution. It is recommended neither by scientists nor educators." [cite news | url= | title=DARWIN ON TRIAL: A Review | publisher=National Center for Science Education |date= 2008 | first= | last= | accessdate =2008-07-27]

Working through the Center for Science and Culture Johnson wrote the early draft language of the Santorum Amendment, which encouraged a "Teach the Controversy" approach to evolution in public school education, a theme now common to the intelligent design movement. ["That language, which was penned by Phil Johnson for Rick Santorum, passed the Senate as an amendment to the No Child Left Behind education bill, and eventually became part of the conference report for that legislation." cite web|url=|title=The Biology Wars: The Religion, Science and Education Controversy|date=December 5, 2005]

Nancy Pearcey, a Center for Science and Culture fellow and Johnson associate, credits Johnson's leadership of the intelligent design movement in two of her most recent publications. In an interview with Johnson for World magazine, Pearcey says, "It is not only in politics that leaders forge movements. Phillip Johnson has developed what is called the 'Intelligent Design' movement..." [ [ "Wedge Issues"] - World Magazine, July 29, 2000] In Christianity Today, she reveals Johnson's religious beliefs and his criticism of evolution and affirms Johnson as "The unofficial spokesman for ID" [ [ We're Not in Kansas Anymore] Nancy Pearcey. Access Research Network. Originally published in Christianity Today, May 22, 2000. ]

The scientific community views intelligent design as unscientific, [See: 1) List of scientific societies rejecting intelligent design 2) . 3) The Discovery Institute's A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism petition begun in 2001 has been signed by "over 600 scientists" as of August 20, 2006. A four day A Scientific Support For Darwinism petition gained 7733 signatories from scientists opposing ID. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest association of scientists in the U.S., has 120,000 members, and [ firmly rejects ID] . More than 70,000 Australian scientists and educators [ condemn teaching of intelligent design in school science classes] . [ List of statements from scientific professional organizations] on the status intelligent design and other forms of creationism.] as pseudoscience or as junk science. ["Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science." H. Allen Orr. Annals of Science. New Yorker May 2005. [ Devolution—Why intelligent design isn't.] Also, Robert T. Pennock "Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism". ] [ [ Junk science] Mark Bergin. World Magazine, Vol. 21, No. 8 February 25 2006.]

Wedge strategy

In its earliest days the intelligent design movement was called the 'wedge movement'. The wedge metaphor, attributed to Johnson, is that of a metal wedge splitting a log and represents using an aggressive public relations programme to create an opening for the supernatural in the public’s understanding of science. [ [ Understanding The Intelligent Design Creationist Movement] , Barbara Forrest] Johnson acknowledges that the goal of the intelligent design movement is to promote a theistic agenda cast as a scientific concept [ "Let's Be Intelligent About Darwin"] - National Post, 2/6/04] [ "WITNESSES FOR THE PROSECUTION"] - World Magazine, 11/30/96] [ [ "Darwinism: Science or Philosophy"] - Southern Methodist University Symposium 3/26/92]

According to Johnson, the wedge movement, if not the term, began in 1992:

Johnson describes the Wedge movement as devoted to a "program of questioning the materialistic basis of science" and reclaiming the "intellectual world" from the "atheists and agnostics" that Johnson believes are synonymous with this "scientific materialist culture". He describes the "logic of our movement" as: [ [ How the Evolution Debate Can Be Won] , Phillip E. Johnson, Coral Ridge Ministries]
*"The first thing you understand is that the Darwinian theory isn't true. It's falsified by all of the evidence, and the logic is terrible."
*"...the next question that occurs to you is, 'Well, where might you get truth?' ... John 1:1, 'In the beginning was the Word.' In the beginning was intelligence, purpose, and wisdom. The Bible had that right and the materialist scientists are deluding themselves."
*"The next question is: Why do so many brilliant, well-informed, intelligent people fool themselves for so long with such bad thinking and bad evidence?" Johnson sees this as an issue of "turning away from" self-evident truth, the "sin question" and the need to prepare the way for acceptance of a Creator.

Johnson has been explicit about the Christian principles underlying his philosophy and agenda and that of the intelligent design movement. In speaking at the "Reclaiming America for Christ Conferences", Johnson has described the movement thus:

Rob Boston summarised this vision as:

Johnson is one of the authors of the Discovery Institute's Wedge Document and its Teach the Controversy campaign, which attempts to cast doubt on the validity of the theory of evolution, its acceptance within the scientific community, and reduce its role in public school science curricula while promoting intelligent design. The Teach the Controversy campaign portrays evolution as "a theory in crisis."

In his 1997 book "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds" Johnson summed up the underlying philosophy of his advocacy for intelligent design and against methodological and philosophical naturalism:

Johnson has described the wedge strategy as:
*"We are taking an intuition most people have (the belief in God) and making it a scientific and academic enterprise. We are removing the most important cultural roadblock to accepting the role of God as creator." [Johnson, Enlisting Science to Find the Fingerprints of a Creator. The Los Angeles Times. March, 2001.]
*"Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."
*"This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy."
*"So the question is: "How to win?" That’s when I began to develop what you now see full-fledged in the "wedge" strategy: "Stick with the most important thing" —the mechanism and the building up of information. Get the Bible and the Book of Genesis out of the debate because you do not want to raise the so-called Bible-science dichotomy. Phrase the argument in such a way that you can get it heard in the secular academy and in a way that tends to unify the religious dissenters. That means concentrating on, "Do you need a Creator to do the creating, or can nature do it on its own?" and refusing to get sidetracked onto other issues, which people are always trying to do." [ [ "Berkeley’s Radical"] - Touchstone, 2002]


When asked how best to raise doubts and question evolution with non-believers, Johnson responded:


The most serious specific allegation leveled by a number of critics is that Johnson is often intellectually dishonest in his arguments advancing intelligent design and attacking the scientific community. [ [ "Another Dishonest Creationist Quote"] -, 2/4/04] [ "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth?"] - Talk Reason, 8/4/02] For example, he has been accused of numerous equivocations, particularly involving the term naturalism which can refer either to methodological naturalism or to philosophical naturalism. [ [ "A Philosophical Premise of 'Naturalism'?"] -, 9/24/02] [ [ "Darwin Prosecuted: Review of Johnson's Darwin on Trial"] - Creation/Evolution, issue 33, 1993]

In fact-checking Johnson's books Darwin on Trial and Defeating Darwinism, one reviewer argued that almost every scientific source Johnson cited had been misused or distorted, from simple misinterpretations and innuendos to outright fabrications. The reviewer, Brian Spitzer, a professor of Biology, described Darwin on Trial as the most deceptive book he had ever read.

Since Johnson is considered by those both inside and outside the movement to be the father and architect of the intelligent design movement and its strategies, ["Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse in Dialogue", Robert B. Stewart, p2] Johnson's statements are often used to validate the criticisms leveled by those who allege that the Discovery Institute and its allied organizations are merely stripping the obvious religious content from their anti-evolution assertions as a means of avoiding the legal restrictions of the Establishment Clause, a view reinforced by the December 2005 ruling in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial which found that . They argue that ID is simply an attempt to put a patina of secularity on top of what is a fundamentally religious belief and thus that the "Teach the Controversy" exhortation is disingenuous, particularly when contrasted to his statements in the Wall Street Journal and other secular media. Critics point out that contrary to the Discovery Institute's and Johnson's claims, the theory of evolution is well-supported and widely accepted within the scientific community; there is little controversy on a scientific level. Popular disagreement with evolutionary theory should not be considered as a reason for challenging it as a scientifically valid subject to be taught, they contend.

In making their case, critics of Johnson commonly point to his central role in the Discovery Institute's carefully-orchestrated campaign known as the Wedge Strategy. The Wedge Strategy, as envisioned by the Discovery Institute, is designed to leave the science establishment looking close-minded in the short term with a long-term goal being a redefinition of science that centers on the removal of methodological naturalism from the philosophy of science and the scientific method, thereby allowing for supernatural explanations to be introduced as science (see Theistic realism). This would have the net effect of bringing a religious orientation into the public schools via science classrooms. Critics note that Johnson, as a principal officer of the Discovery Institute, often cites an overall plan to put the United States on a course toward the theocracy envisioned in the Wedge Strategy, and that the Discovery Institute as a matter of policy intentionally obfuscates its agenda. According to Johnson, "The movement we now call the wedge made its public debut at a conference of scientists and philosophers held at Southern Methodist University in March 1992." [ [ "The Wedge"] - Phillip E. Johnson, 1999]

Allegations of limiting academic freedom

In 2006 Nancey Murphy, a religious scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary‎, claimed she faced a campaign to get her fired after she expressed her view that intelligent design was not only poor theology, but "so stupid, I don't want to give them my time." Murphy, who accepts the validity of evolution, said that Johnson called a trustee in an attempt to get her fired. Johnson admits calling the trustee, but denies any responsibility for action taken against her. [cite news | url=| title=Eden and Evolution | publisher=Washington Post |date=February 5, 2006 | first= | last= | accessdate =2008-05-17]

AIDS denialism

Johnson is involved in AIDS denialism, which challenges the scientific consensus that HIV is the cause of AIDS. [ [ website] ] [cite news | url= | title=Undercover at the Discovery Institute | publisher=Seattlest |date= September 8, 2006 | first= | last= | accessdate =2008-07-17] cite news | url= | title=Aids 'denialism' gathers strange bedfellows | publisher=Vancouver Sun |date= June 17, 2006 | first= | last= | accessdate =2008-07-17] He has written five articles about the subject. [ [ website] ] The scientific community consider the AIDS denialist arguments to rely on cherry-picking of scientific data [cite journal | author = Galea P, Chermann JC. | title = HIV as the cause of AIDS and associated diseases | journal = Genetica | volume = 104 | issue = 2 | pages = 133–142 | year = 1998 | pmid = 10220906 | doi = 10.1023/A:1003432603348] as denialists selectively ignore evidence of HIV's role in AIDS. Denialism is thought to endanger public health by dissuading people from utilizing proven treatments. [cite journal | author = Delaney M. | title = "The Duesberg phenomenon": Duesberg and other voices | journal = Science | volume = 267 | issue = 5196 | pages = 314 | year = 1995 | pmid = 7824920 | doi = 10.1126/science.7824920] [cite journal | author = Watson J. | title = Scientists, activists sue South Africa's AIDS 'denialists' | journal = Nat Med. | volume = 12| issue = 1 | pages = 6| year = 2006 | pmid = 16397537 | doi = 10.1038/nm0106-6a] In the "Washington University Law Quarterly", critics Matthew J. Brauer, Barbara Forrest, and Steven G. Gey criticized Johnson and DI fellow Jonathan Wells for denying the AIDS/HIV connection and promoting denialism without any scientific support.Matthew J. Brauer, Barbara Forrest, and Steven G. Gey. cite news | url= | title=Is It Science Yet?: Intelligent Design Creationism And The Constitution | publisher=Washington University Law Quarterly |date= Volume 83, Number 1, 2005.| first= | last= | accessdate =2008-07-17 pages 79-80] Specifically, they were criticized for signing a petition, which gains publicity rather than deal with the science.


* "Darwin on Trial". InterVarsity Press, (November 1993) ISBN 0-8308-1324-1
* "Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?". Foundation for Thought & Ethics (July 1994) ISBN 0-9642104-0-1
* "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds". InterVarsity Press (July 1997) ISBN 0-8308-1360-8
* "Reason in the Balance". InterVarsity Press (May 1998) ISBN 0-8308-1929-0
* "Objections Sustained". InterVarsity Press (April 2000) ISBN 0-8308-2288-7
* "The Wedge of Truth". InterVarsity Press (August 2002) ISBN 0-8308-2267-4
* "The Right Questions". InterVarsity Press (October 2002) ISBN 0-8308-2294-1


External links

* [ Biography] from the Access Research Network
* [ Johnson's column] in Touchstone Magazine, a Christian magazine
* [ The Religion of the Blind Watchmaker (by Johnson)]
* [ Review of Darwin on trial by a creationist]
* [ "Origin of the Specious" - article on the development of intelligent design]
* [ Johnson's writings on HIV and AIDS]
* [ Critical look at Johnson's views on AIDS]
* [ on Johnson]
* [ talk design on Johnson]
* [ National Center for Science Education review of "Darwin on Trial"]
* [ The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth] a review of Johnson's methods by Brian Spitzer,

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