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Johnson's comments on my review

Johnson commented on the first version of my review of his DARWIN ON TRIAL.
In bold are Philip E. Johnson's comments, my comments are in red non-bold font.
Since Dr King sent my review to Johnson (without consulting me), Johnson addresses himself
to Dr. King in his email.
I received Johnson's email (from Dr. King) on 20 Sep 1997.
I emailed what is on this page back to Dr. King on 4 Oct 1997.
On 18 Jan and 15 May 1998 I asked mr King if he had forwarded my comments to Johnson.
I did not get an answer from mr King.
Some misunderstandings could have been prevented if mr King had asked me if the review was ready for mailing to Johnson.

=Dr. King --
=Thanks much for sending me the review, which I read with pleasure.
=Here are my comments, which you are free to pass on to Gert Korthof and he
=is welcome to put on his web site:
=1. One problem throughout the review
[ Show me all the other places, mr Johnson !! ]
= is that Korthof quotes
=sentences out of context, and puts in my mouth words that I quoted from other
=authors, even hostile ones. For example, he attributes to me the
=statement that "it is a grave error to insert God into scientific
=accounts of (say) the origin of life... (p166). (See note 4).
=The sentence is from a section in the Epilogue where I summarize
=criticisms of my book from theistic
=evolutionists. This is no minor error, since he puts the sentence
=in bold type and uses it in note 4 to turn me into a methodological

It is true that I quoted a criticism. But in his book (p166)
and in all the version's of my review it says:
"(3) Indeed, it is a grave error ..."
I did understand from the word indeed that Johnson did agree with that
particular criticism. Is it unthinkable for Johnson to agree with criticism?
It is exactly the word "Indeed" that Johnson omitted in the above quote in
his email: the very word that caused me to believe that he agreed with the
My interpretation is very much in line with Johnson's own remark at the end
of the Epilogue of DARWIN ON TRIAL:
"There is a risk in undertaking such a project, of course, as the theistic
evolutionists constantly remind us by referring to the need to avoid
resorting to a "God of the gaps".
(page 169).
Here is a strong suggestion that Johnson agrees with the criticism of theistic
naturalists, but apparently he rejects it now. I have the right to point to his
own words, but of course the author of a book has always the last word on the
meaning of the author's statements. And because of that I delete the quote from
my review version 3.3 . In stead of that I included a quote from First Things
which demonstrates without doubt he believes in a "God-of-the-Gaps".
To avoid misunderstandings it was better that Johnson stated clearly
"I believe in a God-of-the-Gaps".

=Some of my explanations are butchered by similarly
=clumsy reading, such as my explanation of the tautology problem, which is
=clearly explained in Chapter Two and is unrecognizable in Korthof's

Johnson is subtle.
Maybe there was a misunderstanding because
I did not stated clearly enough what is Johnson's opinion
and what is mine. I will improve my review on that point.

=In this instance and others Korthof fails to grasp how
=important Darwinists have found it to employ concepts that will
=convince the public that their theory is not only true but indisputable.
=I am sure Korthof's intentions are honest, but persons who are accustomed to
=identifying metaphysical naturalism with reason are frequently unable
=to grasp arguments that challenge naturalism.
=2. Notice the fuzzy relationship between Darwinism and "truth."
=To ask whether the theory is true is to ask the wrong question,
=according to Korthof; it is normal science, it solves puzzles
=(not necessarily with the right answers, but with answers that
=satisfy Darwinists), and that is enough. Darwinists continually
=demand that everyone accept their theory (and especially its
=metaphysics) as true, and call in the lawyers when a
=teacher dares to suggest otherwise. When challenged to justify this
=dogmatism, however, they plead that they are just playing the
=science game.

To ask whether the theory is true is to ask the wrong question,
Sadly Johnson immediately attacks Darwinism and totally ignores that
I quote POPPER's view of truth in my review.
Johnson praises and uses Popper extensively in DARWIN ON TRIAL.
However what is in my review is:
"These are completely un-Popperian questions." and I give quotes from Popper
to illustrate. I see no hint that Johnson is interested in
or knows about the concept of truth in the empirical sciences
as viewed by philosophers of science like Popper.

The best thing I can do is to give a full quote from Popper:

=="For years I found that people had great difficulty in admitting that
==theories are, logically considered, the same as hypotheses.
==The prevailing view was that hypotheses are as yet unproved theories,
==and that theories are proved or established hypotheses.
==And even those who admitted the hypothetical character of all theories
==still believed that they needed some justification; that, if they
==could not be shown to be true, their truth had to be highly probable.
==The decisive point in all this, the hypothetical character of all
==scientific theories, was to my mind a fairly commonplace consequence
==of the Einsteinian revolution, which had shown that not even the most
==successfully tested theory, such as Newton's, should be regarded as
==more than a hypotheses, an approximation to the truth."

from Karl Popper : "Unended Quest. An Intellectual Autobiography". 1976,
Fontana paperback. page 81.
Johnson not only ignored Popper's concept of truth in his email but also in his
This causes inconsistencies like the misguided attacks on Darwinists on page 123
of DARWIN ON TRAIL, where he discusses the answers of Darwinists to the
question Is the theory of evolution true ?. The answers Johnson received:

1) neo-Darwinism is the best scientific explanation we have
2) it is our closed approximation to the truth
3) any theory can be improved
are completely in agreement with Popper's concept of truth !
Popper's view on this matter is not an isolated opinion but follows logically
from his philosophy of science.
I did not find any explanation in Johnson's book why he accepts Popper's
philosophy of science and at the same time rejects Popper's concept of truth.
Johnson demands from his opponents certainty, proof and absolute truth,
things he himself associates with the craving to be right !

Please note that again Johnson talks about the fuzzy relationship between
"Darwinism" and "truth" in stead of "a scientific theory" and "truth" in
He ignores that their is a general problem here, not unique to biology or
He apparently wishes to separate Darwinism from the rest of the natural

3. What claims does Darwinism actually make? Korthof makes the
amazing admission that
"Darwin and the Darwinists did not give us a theory about everything
in biology. Darwinists pretend they understand the most important
problems in evolutionary biology, but this is not the case. What follows
from this assertion?"
Evidently, very little. The reason is not hard to find: it is that
"naturalism is at the basis of all science." And if that is the case,
then something roughly like Darwinism has to be "science" regardless
of the evidence. One looks at the evidence only to fill in the details.
See the final note (7): Divine influence is undetectable by science,
therefore it is practically non-existent. And it always will be
undetectable, because naturalists have so defined the rules of the
science game that any evidence of Design must be disregarded on *a
priori* metaphysical grounds.

The rules of science are not arbitrary. They are defined to enable science,
not to disable it. The rules of science are not defined
by Darwinists nor are the rules unique to Darwinism.
If one reads DARWIN ON TRIAL carefully one finds a statement like:
"The task of science is not to speculate about why God might have done
things this way, but to see if a material cause can be established by
empirical investigation."(p71). And this is Johnson's opinion.
What is this other then a naturalistic research program ?

Example. If geneticists observe a trait that is transmitted from
generation to generation, they feel justified in searching the gene(s)
responsible for the trait.
If they are unable to find it, they do not conclude that supernatural
forces are transmitting the trait from one generation to the next
generation. Are those geneticists dogmatic metaphysical naturalists? Did
they define the rules of the game to exclude supernatural transmission
of genetic information ? In the Johnson-model of science geneticists should
stop and concluding: in this case God himself is doing the genetic transmission,
to escape the accusation of having an *a priori* metaphysical belief.

="regardless of the evidence"
There is indeed a real issue: the role of observation in relation to theory and
in relation to the paradigm. It is a complex issue in the philosophy of science
and many experts in the field have discussed it. I see no hint that Johnson
is interested in the general issue.
He seems satisfied in using the phrase "regardless of the evidence" and
many others in his war.

Gert Korthof


Readers interested in falsifiability and scientific honesty should read:
CRITICISM AND THE GROWTH OF KNOWLEDGE, edited by Imre Lakatos & Alan Musgrave.
The most important chapter is:
FALSIFICATION AND THE METHODOLOGY OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH PROGRAMMES, by I. Lakatos, pp91-196. (it's a short book on its own!).
This text can be read without too much specialist knowledge but deserves the investment in time, because it is the answer and follow up of Popper's naive falsificationism.
A fresh and original account of what scientific knowledge is, can be found in: PROGRESS AND ITS PROBLEMS: TOWARDS A THEORY OF SCIENTIFIC GROWTH, by Larry Laudan, which can also be read without too much specialist knowledge and will be rewarding.
Laudan has also 3 chapters in : BUT IS IT SCIENCE? edited by Michael Ruse.

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Copyright ©1997 Gert Korthof First published: 4 Oct 1997 updated: -