The Prolific Reporter February 24, 2003

Discerning Truth: A Review of The Right Questions

by Seth Cooper

For the lawyer, the outcome in a given case often depends not upon the facts and surrounding context but upon how the issue is framed, the sort of questions that will be heard, and the standard of review or the type of scrutiny the judge will use in making the decision. Yet, the basics of issue-framing and decision-maker authority frequently come into play in areas outside of the legal system, as Phillip Johnson has successfully shown in the controversy surrounding biological evolution and the origin of life. His latest book, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate, continues his expose of neo-Darwinism’s continued dominance in academia through presuppositions and a priori commitments to purely naturalistic explanations of life’s beginning, but also serves as a calling for the opening of minds and a return to a public debate that allows for a wide-open and robust discussion of truth, knowledge, and life’s meaning.

It was almost two years ago when I first heard Johnson speak. I attended his lecture expecting a full-frontal assault on all of the purported evidence in support of biological evolution that would be combined with evidence for creation. My expectations in this regard were not met, but my underlying curiosity as to why Johnson—of all people—would be involved in this issue was satisfied.

Johnson graduated from college at Harvard, received a Juris Doctor from the University of Chicago, clerked for Chief Justice Roger Traynor of California’s Supreme Court and Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court, before becoming a law professor at U.C. Berkeley (a position from which he is now retired). So, clearly, I knew the man could not be a slouch. But why would a lawyer be sticking his nose in a scientific controversy? The whole point about Johnson’s lecture was that the controversy over biological evolution and life’s origins is not just about the arguments concerning scientific evidence that the respective sides use in support of their positions (and in order to defeat their opponents). Instead, Johnson explained how the origins controversy in its present form is very much a lawyer’s dispute, in that the philosophical commitments of scientific powerbrokers and the rules of the game that they have set up have rigged the game from the start. The result of all of this is that the only possible answer as to how complex life began and developed must be a naturalistic one that involves the purely mindless, naturalistic processes of necessity and chance. “Science” is thus defined as an enterprise that seeks only naturalistic explanations of events, and since because creation would involve a supernatural explanation of events, it must be excluded from consideration a priori, regardless of the evidence. Evolutionist scientists that exclude the possibility of creation through definition thus do so on the basis of a commitment to a philosophy that seeks to explain all of reality in terms of material causes. For these scientists, science is synonymous only with material causes and science is also synonymous with reality. Thus, anything outside of the closed material world is not real and cannot confer knowledge. Creation is outside of reality, has no epistemic value, and is relegated to the world of “values” and subjective personal preference.

Read the rest of the review here.


File Date: 04.09.03