Phillip Johnson has been a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, for 26 years. He received his B.A. from Harvard and his J.D. from the University of Chicago. Johnson is the author of Darwin on Trial, a work which contends theories of evolution are based on philosophical naturalism. Since the writing of his book, Johnson has spoken and debated extensively with experts on the issue.
REAL ISSUE: Professor Johnson, is your new book a sequel to Darwin on Trial?
JOHNSON: It has some discussion of evolutionary science, but it is really about modernism, which I call the established religious philosophy of America. Modernism takes scientific naturalism as its picture of reality, and employs liberal rationalism to decide value questions. Darwinism is a major component of naturalism on the scientific side, because it purports to tell us how we can get complex living organisms and even human beings without the need for a Creator. But modernism is much more than Darwinism and much more even than science. It is a total philosophy-a religion, really-that provides the basis for modern science, law, and education.
I had to write the book on Darwinism first to deal with the claim that science has proved that biological creation took place through purposeless material processes. Now I am going beyond the strictly biological issues to deal with the naturalistic world view as a whole.
REAL ISSUE: What are some of the specific topics you cover in this new book?
JOHNSON: I begin by showing how the category "religion" has been used to marginalize Christian theism. To modernists, God belongs in the category of religion, which means essentially subjective fantasy. "Reason" to modernists means scientific thinking, which must be based upon naturalistic assumptions.
I have a chapter called "The Grand Metaphysical Story of Science," which is about how contemporary scientists aspire to explain even the ultimate beginnings of the universe and the human mind in purely physical terms. This is followed by a chapter about the differing views of evolution held by Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould and about how the facts of biology keep undermining the grand metaphysical story.
From there, I go on to a chapter about the philosophy of science issues and then to chapters about education, law, and the current culture wars. The validity of naturalism and modernist philosophy is the main issue at stake in the culture wars.
REAL ISSUE: Does this book grow out of your experience in the debates and lectures that followed the publication of Darwin on Trial?
JOHNSON: That experience has shown me how pervasive naturalistic thinking is, not only in the secular world but also in Christian institutions. People who do not think of themselves as metaphysical naturalists have nonetheless been indoctrinated by the educational system to think in naturalistic terms. Because I've had an opportunity to see how influential naturalistic thinking is, I want to show people how to identify it and contrast it with genuinely theistic reasoning.
REAL ISSUE: What kind of readers are you particularly aiming for?
JOHNSON: One audience is certainly Christian thinking people, including particularly college and graduate school students as well as faculty. Christians (and other theists) in higher education are often discouraged because the academic world is based on naturalism. I think they should be excited because a great intellectual project is ahead of us as the 20th century comes to an end. This has been a century dominated by scientific atheism, in which the most influential minds have been enchanted by the technological achievements and promises of science. This has led to a materialistic understanding of reality and consequent moral vacuum that leaves out the essential starting point, which is God. Because there is a growing awareness that modernism is ending in intellectual chaos, I hope that many intelligent people who are not Christians, but who are dissatisfied with materialism and relativism, will soon be ready to consider a better way of thinking.
In short, my target audience is all people who are willing to consider the possibility that modernism takes off from the wrong starting point, because rational thinking is God-based thinking.