Culture Friday: An intelligent design pioneer


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, November 8th, 2019. 

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. 

We’ll add a fourth voice in just a moment, that of John Stonestreet, who’s back from a trip overseas.

It’s Culture Friday, and today we want to remember a towering intellect: Phillip Johnson, a law clerk for a Supreme Court justice, a law professor at U-Cal-Berkeley, a convert to Christianity, and a critic of Darwinian evolution. He had no training in science, but he did bring a lawyer’s logic to the premises and arguments upon which the architecture of Darwinism relies. Let’s hear Professor Johnson in his own words.

JOHNSON: If you ask these people, ‘How do you know that mutation and selection’—the Darwinian mechanisms—‘have the power to create complex organs?’, the answer they give will be some variation on, ‘well, everybody knows that. That’s common knowledge. We settled that long ago.’ All of these things that say, ‘We’ve just decided not to think about that, but simply to assume it.’ So that’s what a lawyer brings to this, is the ability to recognize things like that and bring them out in the open. And that’s of course why the outsider’s so unpopular with the insiders.

REICHARD: Phillip Johnson the outsider died this week at age 79.

WORLD honored him as Daniel of the Year in 2003 for his outsider crash of the Darwinian party. He was a notable champion of intelligent design, and as you said, Nick, a law professor. He applied legal tools of evidence to argue that the theory of evolution had tremendous holes in it. With its lack of logic and proof, he argued Darwinian evolution was really folly. He put his arguments into a book published in 1991 called Darwin on Trial.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Good morning, John.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning.

REICHARD: John, what really strikes me about Johnson is that he wasn’t a scientist. Yet he wasn’t intimidated by widely accepted scientific expertise. He used his convictions based on Scripture and basic common sense to kind of say, hey, this emperor has no clothes. And he ended up sparking a movement that would eventually see lots of scientists who were experts backing up his argument.

What does his example tell us about how Christians ought to approach these cultural arguments today?

STONESTREET: I think the thing that strikes me most about Phillip Johnson is really two things. The first thing is that for many Christians that are academic professionals, the rules of the discipline stay in your lane and you can’t bring conclusions from other disciplines into your discipline and you can’t really speak outside of that unless you have a PhD. But as a person of faith, he understood that there was this unifying factor of Christ. So that meant that there was a way that a Christian worldview had to speak to every area of life. And you know, that’s one of the things that’s frustrating for many of us who critique Darwinian evolution is, is not even so much the evidence within the field itself, but its broad implications to other disciplines, especially to issues of morality and anthropology, what it means to be human and what that has to do with sexuality. And I mean all kinds of other things. And that’s really one of the areas that I think Johnson I know influenced Chuck Colson was this, look, if, if this is the story of world, this is the implication of morality. We don’t have a rock solid place to put our feet and to say, this is right and this is wrong. And because of that, it led him to kind of point to the emperor and say, look at emperor has no clothes. And at a time when really it was very unpopular to do so. And those that were doing, so we’re certainly kind of relegated, uh, outside of the scientific community in these kind of private interest groups. So that’s the first thing that that struck me. And in doing so, he really kind of undermined, I think, the key worldview challenge, which is something that, you know, Abraham Kuyper before him and James Orr before him, some of the fountain heads of worldview thinking brought up, which is, you know, at the end of the day, this is a battle between naturalism, uh, the vision of life that says, uh, that there’s nothing but natural forces and processes and work and supernaturalism that there’s something else bigger that’s guiding this whole process and writing the story of the world. And so he was one of those in that line. A second thing of course just had to do with courage. I mean I always go back and think, good heavens, this guy was at Cal Berkeley, Cal Berkeley. That’s not a place where you often, uh, expect the uh, the, the scientific consensus or the, you know, the progressive consensus of the day to be questioned. And he inspired an awful lot of people because he was willing to do that.

BASHAM: John, this is Megan. I want to turn to another case of a bad argument. We heard what seems like a bit of a whopper from ABC this week. Good Morning America and 20/20 anchor Amy Robach was caught on a hot mic complaining that she had the goods on convicted sex offender and alleged under-age sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein three years ago. But ABC management decided to spike the story. 

Let’s listen to Robach.

ROBACH: I’ve had the story for three years. I’ve had this interview with Virginia Roberts. We would not put it on the air. First of all, I was told, ‘Who’s Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story.’ … She told me everything. She had pictures. She had everything. She was in hiding for 12 years. We convinced her to come out. We convinced her to talk to us … Brad Edwards, the attorney, three years ago, saying, like, ‘There will come a day when we will realize Jeffrey Epstein was the most prolific pedophile this country has ever known.’ I, I had it all, three years ago.

EICHER: Wow, I just want to reiterate, if what Robach said on that tape is accurate, ABC not only had a credible accuser willing to go on record, but they had other women who would corroborate her claims, as well as photos to back her up.

ABC and Robach quickly put out a statement claiming that they didn’t air the interview with Epstein’s victim because Robach, quoting here, “could not obtain sufficient corroborating evidence to meet ABC’s editorial standards about her allegation.”

BASHAM: Yes, and that’s frankly difficult for me to believe because as plenty of critics are pointing out, the network was perfectly willing to air stories and interviews with Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers based on much weaker evidence.

And you know, this follows on the heels of NBC burying similar stories on big Hollywood movie producer and alleged rapist Harvey Weinstein in 2017. So that’s two of the big three legacy broadcasters caught seeming to protect powerful–and maybe I should add politically-connected–predators.

Now, John, it seems like there are plenty of Bible verses that would tell us we shouldn’t be at all surprised by this kind of thing. But you have to wonder, first, what will be the fallout for American journalism as a whole after these scandals?

STONESTREET: I mean, it kind of is hard to believe that American journalism can become more disreputable than it already is. But I think this is an additional blow, um, to it because, you know, look there’s this kind of pride and wokeness, uh, particularly in standing up for victims. And this is taking the form of Me Too. But look, it was the center of progressive cultural power that was hiding this for so long. It was what was happening in DC and what was happening in Hollywood and New York. I mean, you, and in these industries, journalism, uh, entertainment and so on that was hiding, uh, this bad behavior, uh, you know, from the most notorious of offenders between Epstein and Weinstein. So it’s a, it’s a huge fallout. It’s a huge credibility, uh, scandal. And, and,  what you hear though is kind of these organizations go on without apology. Everybody’s expected to issue an apology and then no one’s supposed to believe it. But the only people not expected somehow to issue an apology or those that were complicit with the things that literally, you know, lifted the lid on this, uh, incredible, these incredible stories of sexual mistreatment. And so I think we should call our institutions to better behavior. We shouldn’t let them get away with it. Um, and I think they’re going to see this, their ongoing credibility uh hurt heard even more.

REICHARD: And then, two, what can Christians who do journalism take from it? I mean, this seems like opportunity served up on a silver platter for those of us in Christian journalism.

STONESTREET: We got to play by different rules, but that’s always been the case. Um, you know, this is why I, I, if we go back to Philip Johnson, he was willing to break the rules that were embraced in the discipline, because he realized that the rules were underscored by a worldview that was not true. And you start with the worldview of what Christianity says for the world, and it affects every area of life. And it should give us different rules for Christian journalism as well. Uh, first of all, not to think that there are some good guys and some bad guys. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, the line of good and evil, right runs right down the, you know, the middle of every human heart. And  to not say that, you know, that, uh, our side needs to be protected, uh, otherwise we’re gonna lose quote unquote the culture war because we actually need to remember that the battle ultimately belongs to the Lord. We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, uh, and be able to point out problems on our side as well as on the other side, whatever, you know, ours and other actually mean. So in every area of life, uh, the Christian worldview gives us different rules to play by. And when we see the failure from other worldviews to properly ground behavior, uh, from journalist or scientist or whatever else we want to point to, we should be really careful to rethink not only how we behave, but also what it is that’s guiding our thinking about the work that we do.

BASHAM: Well. And you know, talking about not covering up for people on our side, there was a big breaking story just in the last two days. Christian comedian John Crist and some sexual misconduct there. And it sounds like John, maybe some people did cover up for him because they saw him as one of our own.

STONESTREET: You know, as the story breaks and I think it’s still a, you know, being uncovered, but the story that came out in Charisma Magazine pointed out that, yeah, I mean, a whole lot of people knew about, um, the, uh, the behavior of John Crist. And some of them disassociated themselves but did not actually play that role of the Christian brother that we need to play.  Especially in when we’re talking about someone who is so public. I mean, that’s what we’ve seen with high profile pastors is that people knew, but they didn’t want to, you know, harm the mission or harm the ministry. And John, Crist’s, you know, the case, I don’t know if it was harm the ministry or harm the bottom line, I don’t know. But I, but I do know, again, we got to play by different rules. We can’t just protect our own selves. And here’s the thing that we’re seeing consistently over and over and over again in these stories. And, and if the Charisma account of this is accurate, here’s what we’re seeing is that people are disassociating themselves, shaking their heads, and then retreating into their own, you know, next plans for whatever their work is. We’re not running to the victims. And, um, throughout history, Christians have always had the most powerful cultural witness and done what Jesus did when we run to the victims. Uh, and so yeah, there are victims. Everyone knew there were victims, but people weren’t running to them. And in that case, what ends up happening, effectively— and that’s what we’re seeing coming out of major, you know, scandals out of big denominations and this ongoing work of Rachael Denhollander and others to point out, we have to run to the victims. and that’s something that Jesus would do. It’s something that we have to do as well.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thank you.


Philip Johnson (U.C. Berkeley)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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