A review article on The Wedge of Truth – Splitting the Foundation of Naturalism, by Phillip E Johnson, published by Inter-Varsity Press (USA), hardback, 192 pages, £11.99. Obtainable from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.
This book, as the sub-title suggests, has been written in opposition to naturalism, which has been defined as “the belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural and spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world”. The author describes this false philosophy thus: it “assumes that in the beginning were the fundamental particles that compose matter, energy and the impersonal laws of physics. . . . There was no personal God who created the cosmos and governs it as an act of free will. If God exists at all, He acts only through inviolable laws of nature and adds nothing to them. In consequence, all the creating had to be done by the laws and particles, which is to say, by some combination of random chance and law-like regularity. It is by building on that philosophical assumption that modernist scientists conclude that all plants and animals are the product of an undirected and purposeless evolutionary process.”
Johnson, a law professor in California, is aiming to introduce cracks into the log of naturalism “by bringing long-neglected questions to the surface and introducing them into public debate” in the hope that “the contradictions and evidentiary difficulties” of Darwinism will be exposed. Of particular concern to the author is the typical textbook definition of evolution “merely as change – either ‘change over time’ or ‘change in gene frequencies”‘. But change takes place all the time; under this definition the breeding of dogs is put forward as an example of evolution. The question is: Where could the increased genetic information come from in any evolutionary process? Johnson concludes his discussion by “pointing to the problem that evolutionary science has failed to discover an information-generating mechanism,” and continues, “What the experiments [on fruit flies, for instance] show is that the mutations either have no effect on the developing embryo, or they have a damaging effect, leading to birth defects unless developmental repair mechanisms can fix the damage”. These are difficulties for the theory of evolution that the scientific world, generally speaking, does not take seriously.
The only alternative to evolution is creation: that God “hath made the earth by His power, He hath established the world by His wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by His discretion” (Jer 10:12). But, says Johnson of present-day naturalistic science, “Everything is negotiable except the vital objective of keeping God out of objective reality”. Hence the furore when the Kansas state school board in 1999 refused to accept a science syllabus which was uncompromisingly naturalistic. The rejected syllabus defined science as: “the human activity of seeking natural (1) explanations for what we observe in the world around us”, which automatically ruled out a religious explanation for the formation of the universe, and of mankind in particular. A 1981 resolution of the Council of the (American) National Academy of Sciences stated: “Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief”. (2) Accordingly, if the biblical doctrine of creation is incorporated in an argument, it is by their definition not science.
Johnson comments, “The vast majority of evolutionary scientists refuse to consider evidence of evolutionary design in biology, scornfully dismissing the entire concept as ‘religion’ rather than ‘science’. This is because they identify science with naturalism, meaning that only ‘natural’ (ie, material or physical) forces may play a part in the history of life. . . . Space aliens are also permissible entities . . . . The difference is that scientific naturalists want to find evidence for extra-terrestrial life, in part because they would count it as evidence that natural laws produce life wherever favourable condition exist and hence as a clinching case for naturalism. They don’t want to find evidence for what they think of as . . . a God who does not leave everything to law and chance.” Therefore, “with supernatural creation disqualified as ‘religious’, Darwinian evolution is just about the only remotely tenable theory to account for the changes required to make a world of diverse complex organisms”. The scientific establishment is thus making it easy for themselves to keep at bay what they disparagingly refer to as Creationism.
This book is intended to do little more than highlight the weaknesses of the philosophy – Darwinism – which pervades modern thought so thoroughly. To that extent the book succeeds brilliantly. At the same time, we must bear in mind that God’s testimony in Scripture is the ultimate authority for our understanding of where mankind has come from. Yet we should be thankful for every attempt to drive a wedge into evolutionary philosophy, that way of thinking which has prevented many from even beginning to take true religion seriously. Such efforts as Johnson’s will indeed be useful if they help to bring about the time when people will treat this unbelieving philosophy as completely mistaken.
But if the Lord were pleased to send out a multitude of ambassadors to proclaim scriptural truth, and if their preaching were accompanied by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the myth of evolution would quickly lose its influence. Let no one say that to oppose evolution is to promote unscientific ideas. We can be absolutely confident that, when all the data are available, there will be no discrepancy between the biblical account of creation and the scientific observations. The discrepancy lies between the scientific facts and speculative theorising. It is against such speculative theorising that Johnson is so anxious to raise the appropriate questions. But if the log was set on fire in a spiritual revival, there would be little need to drive in a wedge in this way – slowly, blow by painful blow. Meanwhile, to drive in the wedge, however slowly, is a useful activity.
1. Italics added.
2. See Johnson’s earlier book, Darwin on Trial, p 123.