on April 20, 1999
Although most of his arguments are not new, Johnson brings the most important points together in a remarkably concise yet comprehensive format. He has a gift for summarizing the research in each field, then explaining and elucidating the implications of an issue, in just enough words to make it understandable.
He points out the mind-boggling complexity of structures like wings and eyes, but does not dwell on these descriptions like some critics, for he realizes that nearly all informed people agree that living things are that complex. The Darwinian Richard Dawkins writes, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose," but insists that "Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view. Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning."
The premise that appearance can be misleading is not unreasonable. Scientists proved the appearance of the sun revolving around the earth to be an illusion. The problem, which constitutes Johnson's central scientific premise, is that there is no evidence that natural selection has the immense creative power Darwinians attribute to it. The Darwinian claim that the numerous theoretical difficulties with Darwinism are false is based not on scientific fact but almost entirely on pure speculation.
Johnson is not a scientist, but his central thesis is philosophical. Darwinians insist that considering divine intervention is unacceptable because science is committed to purely natural explanations. The problem is, how do scientists know *a priori* that natural processes alone are sufficient to produce the diversity of life on earth? Some may argue that this assumption is well-grounded, but scientists do not have the exclusive authority to tell us whether a *philosophical* assumption is true or not.
His scientific data are all from reputable scientific sources. To this date I have not seen a single valid criticism revealing a major inaccuracy in the data - and I have read many reviews of the book, some by prominent scientists. Stephen J. Gould's review tried to point out several minor inaccuracies, but he misquoted and distorted the book to make that point.
Most of Johnson's factual premises are tacitly conceded by Darwinians themselves. One example: David Raup, an internationally renowned paleontologist, made some remarkable concessions in an essay supposed to *refute* creationism. He wrote the following: (1) Darwin wrote that if smooth evolutionary transitions were not found in the fossil record, his general theory would be in serious trouble. (2) More than a hundred years later, after a tremendous expansion of knowledge about the fossil record, the situation is more or less the same. "We may actually have fewer examples of smooth transition than we had in Darwin's time because some of the old examples have turned out to be invalid when studied in more detail." (3) This can still be reconciled with Darwin's theory in various ways, and although Raup conceded that a more inclusive theory may take its place in the future, he rejected creationism largely because of the belief in a young earth.
While Raup's defense may have seemed reasonable, especially to those who take for granted that all creationists believe in a `young earth,' Raup directly implied that scientists accept Darwin's theory in spite of the fossil evidence. None of the anti-creationist literature with which I am familiar - and I am well-read on the issue - directly contradict what Raup wrote. But with rare exceptions, they try very hard to conceal this implication he was forthright about.
Johnson is careful to avoid certain fallacies earlier critics have made - such as the claim that natural selection is inherently tautological, that it involves pure `chance,' that evolution is `unfalsifiable,' etc. Some reviews of the book, such as one by Eugenie Scott, caricatured his arguments to make it sound like he'd just rehashed old discredited criticisms. In fact, Johnson repeatedly demonstrates an awareness of how Darwinians respond to criticisms of their theory, and he takes these well into account.
The biggest criticism I have of Johnson is his frequent vagueness on whether he is attacking just the theory of natural selection or common ancestry itself. Some proponents of intelligent design, such as Darwin's Black Box author Michael Behe, accept the doctrine of common ancestry. I agree with Johnson that Darwinians use the word `evolution' vaguely to suppress distinctions between different meanings of the term, but he also seems to be saying that common ancestry is too vague a doctrine to be evaluated independently of Darwinian natural selection. The book would be more persuasive if he was clearer where and when he is criticizing each doctrine.
Many of Johnson's articles and essays written after the book are worth reading, but he exhibits a certain shallowness in debating the scientific details of his position with Darwinians. Many other proponents of intelligent design - many of whom are trained scientists - while perhaps not as accessible, support his basic viewpoint with ultimately greater depth and clarity. I particularly recommend the following links:
on November 27, 2011
After reading so many books on evolution and science since the 1970s by secular or even the atheistic writers (Sagan, Dawkins, Hawking and plenty more), this is the first book I bought written by a creationist author. I must admit I'm surprised at the awful passion "rational" non-creationists have against this book. Prof. Johnson highlights just a few of the many faults, inconsistencies, flaws and "just-so" stories factually related to evolution. Much of what he shows are the concepts, thoughts, ideas, theories and proposals common evolutionists (including those mentioned above) believe and from the very books they write for us to read ourselves (as quite a few, I have). Yes, the book is now twenty years old, and some modifying is in order, but by and large the book exposes the many problems evolution really does entail. Many people accept evolution (at least, partly) because they see no other option. Those that believe in God (something science can't negate) see another option, possibly even a better one. Let the theory of evolution's true faults be exposed. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging it!
Prof Johnson seems to dwell on tautology more than needed but otherwise, the book is an excellent "starter" for those that don't turn a blind eye to the theory of evolution and it's many facets that are highly debated among top evolutionists themselves, not to mention between evolutionists and creationists.
Admitting I believe in a Creator (though not the young earth theory) may superciliously add a lot of "Not Helpful"s to this review, (though I tend to read the posts with the most "Not Helpful"s first anyway, as others do too), please keep in mind, the point of the review is to evaluate the book itself, not to state (or vote) personal problems with individual opinions of the reviewer. I do highly recommend the book. It doesn't go into very great detail, but it reveals plenty of the problems going that the theory of evolution creates for the average reader and up. Over 30 pages of research notes to endorse what Prof Johnson writes is also helpful. Excellent book!
on April 26, 2008
I have finally read this book, after years of reading criticisms of it, and I am amazed at what a good case Johnson actually makes and how woefully inept most of his critics have been.
For those who have not read the book, Johnson argues the following points:
* The scientific establishment, rather than defending evolution against criticism, has determined that no such criticism shall take place.
* Evolution is defined so loosely that no criticism of it is possible.
* The term "natural selection" is a tautology and so explains nothing.
* The experimental evidence for Darwinism does not provide "any persuasive reason for believing that natural selection can produce new species, new organs, or other major changes, or even minor changes that are permanent."
* Darwinians are so clever at finding evidence that confirms their theory and explaining the evidence that appears to contradict it, that it looks as if all the evidence is supportive.
* The theory of sexual selection contradicts the theory of natural selection.
* Haeckel's hypothesis that "ontology recapitulates phylogeny" is still taught in schools despite being completely discredited more than a century ago. (This I know to be true, as I still teach a syllabus which requires it.)
* Darwinian theory is not falsifiable, because its supporters cannot or will not make the risky predictions which would allow it to be falsified.
* Anyone who questions the orthodoxy of scientific naturalism, or Darwinism in particular, is rigorously persecuted by the scientific establishment.
This must be one of the most vilified books ever written. Johnson is repeatedly accused by critics of trespassing into an area in which he has no expertise, as his whole professional career has been devoted to the practice and interpretation of law. These critics appear not to have noticed that this book is a response to a legal decision. He is also accused of trying to prove the case for creationism, whereas his introductory chapter states explicitly that he is not defending creation-science and his book does not address the Biblical accounts of creation." (p.14)
In addition, Johnson is accused of the following: misunderstanding the scientific process and rules of evidence, misrepresenting the works of respected scientists, discrediting the fossil evidence, neglecting the evolution of plants, poor reasoning, inability to frame an argument, abysmal writing, taking criticisms of creationism personally and acting like a spoilt child when his book is criticised.
There is one important respect in which the book is out-of-date: it was published in 1993, several years before the completion of the human genome project, and can thus give no account of the enormous weight of genetic evidence which has poured in since then. But I think Johnson can hardly be blamed for this.
And yet, the astonishing thing is that hardly any of these critics (even the small number who have actually read the book) have even mentioned, much less refuted, his major arguments. Thus his book, unlike the theory he is criticizing, has withstood the test of falsification. From a scientific point of view, this is the strongest possible confirmation that he is right.
on May 19, 1999
It's fascinating to read the few negative reviews of this excellent book that have been posted here. If nothing else, they amply demonstrate the the deeply held bias of evolutionists towards scientism so aptly exposed by Johnson.
If you closely read each of the reviews, you'll notice that, once again, his critics fail to actually to respond to any of the arguments Johnson makes. Instead, they resort to ad hominem attacks in the usual attempt of the scientific "establishment" to marginalize the views of anyone who dares disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy, which for the moment is Darwinian evolution. Johnson has exposed Darwinian evolution for what it is: a theory frantically searching for confirming evidence and finding precious little. All their attempts to marginalize the criticism of Darwin's theory as "anti-science" or "creationist" are simply begging the question. They refuse to admit that which would be obvious to an impartial observer: the theory that people evolved from a single microbial cell through natural selection sounds plausible, but has no confirming evidence and would have been discounted long ago if so many didn't have so much invested in it.
on June 27, 2016
This book provides a good introduction to the flaws in the generally accepted dogma on evolution. The rational doubts of many experts such as Kristol and Gould are outlined--and while they do not deny the importance of many aspects of Darwinian theories, the numerous missing links and gaping holes in the theory are explained. Similarly, there is no attempt to preach acceptance of a strict scriptural explanation. If you are interested in a thought provoking look at this complex topic, you should read this book. If you of a mind to simply grab a simple easy answer to one of the biggest puzzles in science, then, this book may be too much for you. Many people believe that the need to battle global warming is urgent and that the path to "a fix" is clear. Such mind-sets are eager to accept mere hypotheses as "settled science" and find no need to dig deeper. However, just as for GW, the questions about who we are and where did we come from are not presently knowable with any certainty--but they are fascinating and for an open minded curious person, this book will reward the time devoted to ponder the many possibilities raised..
I would like to have seen more attention to the related question of how monogamy, genetics, mate selection, and cultural advances have impacted the development of humans over time. We do know with some certainty that modern humans appeared suddenly about 80,000 years ago in Africa and moved out around the world over the next 60,000 years. And we know that those modern humans were very distinct from the so-called "pre-humans" that Darwinian theory seeks to link us to. That gap is unexplained and will be for some time to come. How those intelligent, upright, thinking people arose out of the blue has not been explained and that has helped fuel the Design concepts of our origins.
Author Johnson explains a lot about "natural selection" as compared to evolution by mutations. In fact, modern humans have not changed physically in any major way since they first appeared and spread out of Africa. Only superficial changes in skin color, height, and body shapes have marked the differences between modern human groups. Thus, mutations have played a small role over the last fifty thousand years. Once man gained control over the environment, with fire, clothes, tools, and shelters, survival of the fittest changed from being primarily about mere physical survival. Instead, the people in some societies, once advanced to the agricultural Age, developed unique skills needed to survive in complex social environments. Those who found ways to prosper were able to rear more children to maturity than those who fared poorly. Consequently, those individuals most competent at planning, record keeping, and cooperating within the new developing societies passed on their genes to a growing part of the population.
Recent discoveries in DNA structures have shown that there are major differences in competencies and character traits between individuals and the many social groups of humans around the world. It appears that natural selection for modern humans has not been driven by the environment and climate, but by the different social and political demands experienced by discreet segments of the human population. Those regions that never developed advanced social communities with large scale farming and the production of tools and commodities never advanced to the extensive shipping and trading common to a few parts of the world. Survival of the fittest became a rapidly escalating force in those societies that advanced commercially and thereby created populations with the essential skills needed to prosper. For all practical purposes, evolution is irrelevant to us today, and barring a major change will remain so for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. What will matter is the nature and composition of our population. That matter will be impacted by the growing advances in medicine and the generous welfare systems that have recently turned the survival of the fittest on its head, Demographic trends now allow, even support, a survival of the least fit. That trend could mean that we may not know where we came from, but we will know where we are headed.
on November 10, 1998
Before I read this book, I would have regarded "evolution" as highly probable and bordering on fact. Not that I particularly wanted to believe it. Nor could I offer any reasons for it being true, except the usual vague arguments about "peppered moths" and the fossil record which I absorbed in High School. And which Johnson dismantles in his book. But as far as I knew, everyone believed (important word) in evolution so it must have been true. Looking back, I can't believe that I bought ridiculous notions like the concept of fetal-development-as-a-recapitulation-of-human-evolution or Cricks theory of Panspermia. What a hoot! But the joke was on me...
In school, I majored in engineering because I thought it was the last bastion of truth. But what interested me most was what I now understand to be the philosophical assumptions of science. Johnson's lucid philosophical analysis of the debate regarding evolution/creation is a breath of fresh air. The philosophy of science should be mandatory in all schools of science and applied science. Many scientists quoted in the book cannot distinguish between science and philosophy. For example, Johnson quotes Carl Sagan's opening line to the "Cosmos" TV series: "the universe is all that was, is and ever will be."
This is an example of one of the most important themes in the book: the assumption of philosophical materialism or naturalism among scientists. The creation/evolution debate as presented by scientists and in the media is grounded on an assumption of materialism/naturalism. Intelligent design is ruled out a priori. Once this is recognized, and once an open-minded reader compares the correlation of the physical data to theories of creation (intelligent design) and evolution (materialism), one can only conclude that the data overwhelmingly supports the theory of creation, broadly defined.
Johnson's second most important contribution to the creation/evolution debate is his strategic refusal to advance specific creation scenarios. He recognizes that current scientific data points strongly away from evolution to creation. But strategically he realizes that before a debate can begin regarding the specific mode of Creation, evolution must be exposed for the intellectual fraud that it is and thoroughly discredited. That will take a long time.
I think Phillip Johnson's book "Darwin on Trial" will be regarded as one of the most influential books of the century. But like most intellectual revolutions, it takes a long time before news of its arrival reaches the general public. But his "wedge" strategy to attack evolution seems to be the right strategy, and judging by the growth of the new ID movement, he seems to be right on the money.
Thank you Phillip Johnson for your wonderful book.
You will know the truth and the truth will set you free...
on November 10, 1998
This book provides an excellent balance to the many one sided arguments touted by evolution supporters. It provides a clear explanation of the many holes in the theory of evolution and clarifies that, while many tout the theory as fact, the fact is that it is still a theory. Johnson is a lawyer, and provides his arguments from a lawyer's perspective. While one at first would argue that a scientist should be making these arguments, a lawyer truly is the best one to write this book. Truly scientists are needed to provide the many scientific details which are cited in the book, but with the absence of clear physical proof of either the theory of evolution or the theory of creationism, we must turn to legal arguments, citing the evidence, to draw our verdict. Johnson does an excellent job of presenting his arguments. He does not do so one sidedly, but meerly raises the questions which beg to be raised by some one not willing to blindly accept evolution. And in the end, he shows that these questions can not be answered. This book should be a must read in every science class in the United States. While the reader may continue to believe in evolution, at least one would understand that those who do not have a logical basis for not believing.
on April 5, 2015
This is the book which reignited widespread public debate about Darwinism. Johnson brought one of America's finest legal minds to the subject, carefully examing all of the evidence purporting to prove the theory of evolution. He found that evidence wanting. As a trained & experienced intelligence analyst & investigator, I read the book with care & came to the conclusion that Johnson is right. The evidence does not support Darwinism as fact. A conclusion shared by my junior high, high school & university science & geology teachers. My geology professors were not advocates. They simply examined the science with open minds & let students think for themselves. I have since read widely on this subject from all sides. If this were a case at law, the jury would be hung. All sides reach a point where it is necessary to either stop, acknowledging the issue as unresolved, or to proceed on faith. In my opinion, logic does not, so far, support the Darwinist position. Let me also note that there seems to be some confusion concerning the content & purpose of the book. In the first edition which I read, Dr. Johnson does not attempt to prove intelligent design, instead he examines the evidence for Darwinism with an open mind.
on August 20, 2000
Other reviews of this book discuss the broad themes, so I will concentrate on picking out one or two examples. How could a foreleg evolve into a wing? By Darwinian theory every stage of this evolution must be better adapted to survival than the stage before. On the other hand we know that intermediate stages, particularly the not-quite-evolved-wing that is not yet suitable for flight, are useless as either foreleg or wing. Darwinian theory seems to imply that such involved evolution could not occur. Evolutionists might claim that it must have been suitable for something because it did evolve this way, but this would be circular reasoning. It is common to say (or imply) that the wing is better fit to survive and so supports evolutionary theory, but it seems to refute that theory when looked at as a continuous evolutionary process instead of looking only at the start and finish.
It gets better. Consider the bat, an animal that navigates by sonar. It has two sonar organs: an emitter and a receiver. These had to evolve simultaneously for each is useless without the other. There is no room in evolutionary theory to explain this. The author points out numerous holes such as this in the standard theory.
While it is tempting to some to conclude that evolutionary theory is simply wrong, the correct conclusion is that it is incomplete and should be taught as such. Nothing says that the standard theory cannot have been a factor in the development of life that exists today and it seems it almost certainly was, but it is an incomplete theory. Please notice I have said nothing about what the alternative might be and in this I have followed the book, for the author does not appear to be a creationist from its content. The best one sentence summary of Darwin On Trial is that the author makes a powerful critique of evolutionary theory from within the bounds of accepted science.
I never expected to be impressed with this book. I was a dyed-in-the-wool believer in the standard theory until I read this book and found cogent reasoning from observable facts. I confess I read it only to make a point to another person who believes in creationism and said I should at least get some data. I am still not a creationist but have certainly learned the limits of Darwin's theory, something I believe Darwin would have agreed with.
on November 13, 2011
It's a great book, supplying a lot of food for thought in terms of cogent argument. The material lays ground that should help anyone examine arguments in general, and it demonstrates that, all too often, arguments supplied in defense of the idea that evolution is confirmed (settled) science are weak in terms of logical integrity... In all, useful book for those who want to question authority be means of clear logical argument and sound reasoning.