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The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate Hardcover – September, 2002

3.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To get to the right answers, argues Johnson (The Wedge of Truth), retired law professor at Berkeley, one has to ask the right questions. For too long, he says, the debate about which questions are important enough to be asked has been controlled by people unable to perceive that their philosophical system has a fatal flaw: obliviousness to the faith-based character of their foundational premise. To put it most clearly, Johnson suggests that the foundational premise for the scientific naturalist can be articulated as a parallel to the opening words of John and Genesis: "In the beginning were the particles." Johnson examines a variety of topics-education, science, logic, tolerance, gender and liberty-critiquing the way the debate in each area has been improperly bounded by those whose assumptions compel them to ask the wrong questions. What he hopes for is an open, informed, civil debate where people are free to ask the right ones. Though often persuasive, Johnson's work suffers from serious flaws and is particularly marred by its insensitive and defensive tone. He inaccurately characterizes his opponents, as when he entirely misreads Alan Wolfe's Atlantic Monthly article "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind," or misrepresents conservative Fuller Theological Seminary as awash in "a post-Christian New Age spiritualism." He also takes cheap shots, even as he claims to be resisting the temptation. He admits that he is also tempted to self-centeredness, and the whole book has the whiff of a pretentious-and repetitive-arrogance.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Here are words of combat-hardened wisdom from a veteran of the intellectual wars. Phillip Johnson obviously relishes the battle and, just as obviously, understands himself to be a servant of the truth and a witness to the One who is the way, the truth and the life." ((The Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things)

"Phillip Johnson tackles here some of the most pressing issues we are facing today. He writes in the interrogative mood not as an 'answer man' with pre-packaged solutions on offer but as an honest searcher seeking how best to pose the questions. A wonderful primer for Christian thinkers!" (Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University)

"As Phillip Johnson writes movingly about his stroke and recovery, it's clear that God has given him a great heart to go along with his great mind--and this book asks the questions that can help others see that their hearts are two sizes too small. It's full of discussion starters; for example, why don't researchers examine whether those long lives in chapter 5 of Genesis could have occurred? For those who have looked for intellectual satisfaction in all the wrong places, The Right Questions can be a fresh start." (Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-chief, World)

"With The Right Questions Phil Johnson hits bedrock; he establishes us on a firm foundation and equips us to analyze and respond to the prevalent confusion with clarity and decisiveness. If we can't clone him, perhaps we can imitate him and acquire his skill with logic, persuasion and truth." (Frederica Mathewes-Green)

"In The Right Questions the leader of the intelligent design movement broadens his critique of Darwinism into an attack on numerous well-known social and political attitudes. And he weaves into his polemics an account of a great personal trial and its impact on his Christian faith. The result is a uniquely provocative and interesting book. Many readers will disagree with the author on one point or another. There are very few, however, who will not find themselves thinking seriously about matters they have not thought about before." (Glenn Tinder, Professor of Political Science Emeritus, University of Massachusetts at Boston) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press; First Edition edition (September 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830822941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830822942
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #686,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read this book I now understand why Publisher's Weekly gave it such a poor review. Frankly, this book is threatening.
The book is well written, with an easy to follow structure, and plenty of the clear thinking that Johnson has a reputation for. In addition, the issues that this book deals with are of fundamental importance. Johnson deals with core questions about God, Science, Religion, Politics, Christianity, Islam, September 11th, Darwinism, Genesis, Education, and Truth, and he does so in an eminently readable and clear manner.
There are some in our society, however, who feel threatened when fundamental issues are addressed in a clear manner -- especially when the author questions the basic tenets of their worldview. Clearly the Publisher's Weekly reviewer feels threatened. Consider this: there are two reasons to give a book a poor review: 1) the book deserves a poor review; 2) You don't want people to read the book.
Let me assure you that this book does not deserve a poor review.
I predict that this book will provoke one of two reactions in its readers: they will either 1) read it straight through with excitement, or 2) fling it across the room in a fit of rage. Boredom is impossible. In either case, this book is relevant.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One criticism that Johnson has been subject to by the religious community is, although he has shown Darwinism suffers from major problems (and that these need to be dealt with by the scientific community) what about the religious issue? Many scientists have shown the many major problems with Darwinism (and hundreds of books now exist effectively documenting these). Most of these books then develop the author's new theory of evolution that he or she claims is superior to neoDarwinism. An example is Lynn Margulis has eloquently shown mutation driven Darwinism to be entirely inadequate and then proposed the new theory of symbiosis which, she argues, is superior. This new theory, though, still does not explain the arrival of the genes, only the widespread spread of certain genes, at least in bacteria. Also, the question on many readers minds is, does a theory of Naturalism explain reality? This book deals with the religious concern to some degree. It also focuses on Johnson's major stroke at age 61 and the profound impact of this event on his life, especially his religious life. It is an honest book in which Johnson grapples with the religious questions most of us ask at one time or another in life. As such, this book would be of special interest to persons who have an interest in spiritual concerns (atheists would be turned off by this work; I know I once was one). It shows, in response to Johnson's critics, that he does have a spiritual side (or at least he does now after his stroke) and is not just a Darwin critic as are thousands of other intellectuals (especially biologists, my profession).Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Right Questions, by Phillip Johnson, exposes the bias seen in Western society by the intellectual elite, particularly those teaching in higher education. The book examines and confronts the dogmatic, self-righteous materialists who blindly promote Darwinism, regardless of the tentative nature of the data, and refuse any alternate possibilities. They attempt to marginalize Christians, denying them influence in education and cultural life. I thought this was going to be a book primarily on intelligent design, but instead it goes beyond; starting with matters of creation and evolution, but builds this to examine the consequences of relativism, scientific materialism, and naturalistic philosophy. Johnson's style is hard-hitting and to the point, possibly a little harsh at times, but I admire his passion. His argument is clear and simple, and his conclusions cannot be faulted. This book is not and does not claim to be rigorous or scholarly (there are few footnotes and no index), so I found it very accessible and a joy to read, very thought provoking.
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By A Customer on September 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have not read this book yet, but I have read some of Professor Johnson's other books (Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance, and The Wedge of Truth) in addition to many of his essays available online, and based on my familiarity with his writings I predict that the Publishers Weekly reviewer has not accurately represented this book. From the reviewers tone, I surmise that s/he is a Darwinian and that this book presents a major challenge to her/his worldview. I have followed the Intelligent Design/Darwinism debate closely, and it's the Darwinists that are most guilty of "pretentious-and repetitive-arrogance."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Phillip Johnson is an attorney who has written on Darwinism and how there are glaring holes in the theory. The book is written for the "man-in-the-street" but biology classes at all levels could read it with profit. Should provoke lively debate in school rooms everywhere. Recommended.
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Format: Paperback
The Right Questions is the product of an accomplished scholar who is reflecting upon culture and society in light of his other books which provided an extensive scientific critique of naturalistic theories of origins. In this book, Phillip Johnson asks, "What are the right questions" in topics such as logic, the meaning of life, Genesis, and biological origins? It is only by asking the right questions that we will find the appropriate solutions to problems faced by society.

Johnson opens this book with a frank discussion of how his own personal trials and battles over health have renewed his faith. Johnson then reminds us that the key fundamental is not about the precise meaning of this or that passage of Scripture:

"The conflict is primarily not about Genesis, nor does it involve a clash between science and religion, or between science and faith. It would be much more accurate to say that it involves a clash between two religions and two definitions of science." (pg. 60)

Johnson observes, "In every university there are scores of faculty and students who are suffocated by the prevailing dogmas of scientific materialism or political correctness but who almost never get a chance to hear anything else." (pg. 51) Ruling creeds succeed when they keep their followers from exploring alternatives (pg. 73), which is why Darwinists refuse to permit discussion of the controversy over the science of Darwinism.

The right question that must be permitted for discussion in school is therefore, "Did the scientific evidence really support the philosophical conclusion (in a word, naturalism) that the Darwinists wished us to adopt, or could naturalism as a worldview survive only as long as dogmatic philosophical barriers protected it from the evidence that points to a designer?" (pg. 84) Once that question can be asked, Johnson is convinced that the chips will fall where the evidence leads.
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