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THE LEADING EDGE by Phillip E. Johnson
My regular contribution to Touchstone is still titled “The Leading Edge,” but it is time to issue a disclaimer. I am no longer the leading edge of the Intelligent Design movement. In retirement from my career as a law professor at the age of 69, I am content to play a supporting role for a new generation of superbly qualified scientists and scholars who have taken over the responsibilities of leadership.
Prominent among these new leaders is Dr. Stephen Meyer, whose magisterial explication of the cell’s protein synthesis and DNA replication processes can be read in his new book, Signature in the Cell, published in 2009 by HarperOne. The book will probably be trashed by frantic materialists, but open-minded readers will have no difficulty seeing how the evidence of biology, considered impartially, points unmistakably to the role of an intelligent cause in the origin of the cell, however unacceptable that conclusion may be to biologists trained to assume that their discipline is founded upon a commitment to materialism, and that a new Dark Age will be upon us if that commitment falters. Insofar as biologists cling to the belief that a combination of chance and physical law produced the first cell with its machinery, they do so not because of what they know about the cell, but in spite of what they know.
The Origin of Darwinism
Meyer’s book is our most important scientific product for the time being, but I am happy to be able to say that my colleagues have also produced significant new work in the history of science and have thus shed important new light on the origins of Darwinism. On that subject, I would particularly urge readers to obtain a copy of Catholic philosopher Benjamin Wiker’s stunning new biography of Charles Darwin, The Darwin Myth. I also highly recommend Dr. Michael Flannery’s book, Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution (see Denyse O’Leary’s review in this issue) .
Wallace, the co-framer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, was a forerunner of the modern Intelligent Design movement, for in the evidence that Darwin interpreted in the light of his own materialist commitment, Wallace saw a basis for concluding that biology seemed to have a directed nature, as if its evolution were superintended by a purposeful creator.
Both books help to set straight a misunderstanding of Darwin’s intellectual life that stems originally from Charles Darwin himself, and that has been promoted by generations of biologists who have wanted to present Darwin as the ideal of an empirical scientist rather than as a man determined to fit the evidence into a pre-determined metaphysical commitment.
Central to the misunderstanding of Darwin’s thinking is the common stereotype that says that Darwin’s commitment to evolution and materialism stemmed initially from his study of the specimens he collected on the famous voyage of the Beagle. The distortion here is in supposing that it was only when Darwin had an opportunity to observe specimens from different parts of the world that his thinking turned in the direction of a Godless evolutionary process.
Wiker and Flannery both make clear that the crucial change in the direction of Darwin’s thought began when he was a student in Edinburgh. There he fell under the influence of radical fellow students who were promoting a materialist philosophy and wanted to claim the authority of science for their ideology. The theory was the child of the philosophy, not a necessary inference from specimens Darwin found on his travels.
A New Task
The task of our scientists and historians now is to publish work of outstanding quality that will speak for itself when it gets an opportunity to be heard, while staying away from public-school conflicts that generate frantic opposition and messy litigation. Our faith must be that truth eventually overcomes error, however powerful may be the vested interests that stand in defense of error. If the scientific world is so dominated by these interests that it cannot understand new thinking, we must await a better day in which that community itself recognizes that better thinking is necessary.
As to whether the Intelligent Design movement has been defeated or has already won the most significant battle, no one can give an answer until the last word is spoken. That the materialists have won a few judicial rulings on the way will seem insignificant once the final verdict is in, and that verdict will be in favor of truth. •