DARWINISM: SCIENCE OR PHILOSOPHY?
EDITORS: Jon Buell and Virginia Hearn
Proceedings of a symposium entitled: "DARWINISM: SCIENTIFIC INFERENCE
OR PHILOSOPHICAL PREFERENCE?" Held on the Southern Methodist University
campus in Dallas, Texas, March 26-28, 1992. Sponsored by the Foundation
for Thought and Ethics, Dallas Christian Leadership, and the C.S. Lewis
Introduction by Phillip E. Johnson
I Keynote Presentations
II Johnson/Ruse Debate
III General Discussion, Responses, and Replies
Phillip E. Johnson J.D., University of Chicago, Jefferson E. Peyser Professor
of Law, Boalt Hall, University of California, Berkeley. Author of Darwin
on Trial (Second Edition, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993) and Evolution
as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism (Dallas: Haughton Publishing,
Peter Van Inwagen Ph.D. in Philosophy, Professor of Philosophy, Syracuse
University. Author of Material Beings (New York: Cornell University Press,
Michael E. Ruse Ph.D. in Zoology, Professor of Zoology and Philosophy of
Science, University of Guelph. Author of Darwinism Defended (Reading, Mass:
AddisonWesley, 1982), chief expert witness in McLean v. Arkansas (the "Arkansas
Arthur M. Shapiro Ph.D. in Zoology, Professor of Zoology and Entomology,
University of California, Davis. Acting Book Review Editor of the journal
Evolution, author of over 200 published works.
Michael J. Behe Ph.D. in Chemistry, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Division
of Biochemical Sciences, Lehigh University. Author of numerous professional
David L. Wilcox Ph.D. in Population Genetics, Professor of Biology, Eastern
College, St. David's, PA. Author of The Creation of Species by Means of
Supernatural Selection, (submitted to Baker Book House) and numerous professional
William A. Dembski Ph.D. in Mathematics, M.A., Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy.
Postdoctoral Fellow in Philosophy of Science, Nothwestern University, 199293.
Director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Princeton.
Leslie K. Johnson Ph.D. in Zoology, Lecturer of Ecology and Evolutionary
Biology, Princeton University. Author of numerous professional articles.
K. John Morrow, Jr. Ph.D. in Genetics, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular
Biology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Author of numerous
Frederick Grinnell Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Professor of Cell Biology and
Neuroscience, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Author of The Scientific Attitude (New York: Guilford Press, 1992), and
over 100 professional articles.
Stephen C. Meyer Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science, Assistant Professor of
Philosophy, Whitworth College. Author of several articles on science and
public policy. vii
THERE ARE SOME THINGS that we expect all rational, educated persons
to believe, regardless of their philosophical or religious standpoint. That
the earth is roughly spherical, and revolves around the sun, is one of those
things. We do not call persons who still believe in a geocentric universe
"dissenters"; we call them cranks.
Phillip E. Johnson
The literature of evolutionary biology is full of statements to the
effect that something called the "fact of evolution" is as certain
as that the earth goes around the sun. And so it is-if by "evolution"
we mean only that selective breeding produces new varieties, or that island
species have differentiated from mainland species, or that living things
have certain common features (e.g., the genetic code) that suggest some
process of development from some common source.
Evolution is a word of many meanings, some of which are controversial
and some of which are not. One meaning of evolution that is highly controversial
is Darwinian evolution (or the neo Darwinian synthesis), when it is offered
as a general description of how life progressed from very simple beginnings
to its present complexity and diversity. As I describe in my opening address,
"Darwin's Rules of Reasoning," the philosophically important doctrine
of evolution is what I call the "blind watchmaker thesis," after
the famous book by Richard Dawkins. This thesis argues not simply that life
evolved to its present state of complexity and diversity, but that it evolved
by the purposeless material mechanisms of random genetic change and natural
selection. The implication is that humanity is a cosmic accident produced
by a mindless cosmos.
That naturalistic explanation of how life came to its present state
of complexity and diversity is a major prop for naturalism in philosophy
and for agnosticism in religion. The question discussed at this symposium
is whether the theory of evolution also receives essential support from
that same philosophy, in which case there is a certain circularity of reasoning.
The call to the meeting put the point at issue in this way: "Darwinism
and neoDarwinism as generally held in our society carry with them an a priori
commitment to metaphysical naturalism, which is essential to make a convincing
case on their behalf."
I put the same question differently in my exchange with Michael Ruse:
"Is there any reason that a person who believes in a real, personal
God should believe Darwinist claims that biological creation occurred through
a fully naturalistic evolutionary process?"
I do not think the issue was ever really confronted on this question,
because the Darwinists tended to shift the focus to a different question.
What the antiDarwinists called metaphysical naturalism the Darwinists called
"science," and they insisted that for science to cease being naturalistic
would be for it to cease being science. To put the matter in the simplest
possible terms, the Darwinist response to the question presented was not
"No, that is wrong, because the case for Darwinism can be made without
assuming a naturalist perspective." Instead, they answered "So
what? All that you are really saying is that Darwinism is science."
To put this response in the words of the participants, Michael Ruse
defined "scientific methodology" as including "a commitment
to the idea of the world being lawbound-that is, subject to unbroken regularity-
and to the belief that there are no powers, seen or unseen, that interfere
with or otherwise make inexplicable the normal workings of material objects."
Replying to Ruse for the anti Darwinists, Stephen Meyer observed that "Either
brute matter has the capability to arrange itself into higher levels of
complexity or it does not, and if it does not, then either some external
agency has assisted the arrangement of matter or matter has always possessed
its present arrangement." Michael Ruse argued that science is limited
by its nature to the first of these possibilities. Stephen Meyer argued
that a rational historical biology must not arbitrarily limit the possibilities
for consideration at the outset. The argument was repeated throughout the
sessions, and no agreement was reached.
If that were all there were to say, the symposium might have seemed
an exercise in futility. But that is not all there is to say. Academic conferences
do not usually end with all philosophical disputes resolved in agreement,
and they are not judged as failures if the participants go away with their
basic commitments unchanged. What a successful conference does is to enable
the participants and spectators to understand the issues better, and especially
to give the participants a better understanding of each other as people.
Judged by that standard, the symposium at Southern Methodist University
was a tremendous success, perhaps even an historic event.
To understand why, it is necessary only to reflect on the state of the
debate over evolution and creation. Historically, it has taken the form
of a debate over the authority of Genesis (a subject this symposium did
not touch upon), and it has been carried on in the bitterest terms. Scientists,
including those who participated on both sides of the issue at SMU, have
come to regard creation/evolution debates as circuses at best, and occasions
for deception or manipulation at worst. The organizers of this symposium-Jon
Buell, Stephen Sternberg, and Thomas Woodward- had to work hard at overcoming
those suspicions for the symposium to occur at all. Understandably, things
began on a wary note.
By the end of the symposium all that was in the past. What had been
demonstrated is that it is possible for basic metaphysical differences to
be debated with good will and humor; disagreement over even this issue does
not have to lead to war. By the end of the second day the participants were
socializing and conversing with gusto. I recall that every single participant
at one time or another expressed the hope that other similar conferences
would be held in the future. The healthy atmosphere penetrated the host
institution to the extent that faculty members who kept away from the conference
out of wariness have invited me back a year later for a faculty colloquium.
The SMU symposium was never meant to resolve the great debate over evolution
and creation. It was meant to set the conditions so such a debate could
begin. It was meant to set an agenda for debates in the future with papers
of the highest professional quality dealing with the scientific and philosophical
issues in dispute. Given the doubts we all had at the beginning, the fact
that the symposium accomplished so much seems almost a miracle-if I may
use that term without offending the metaphysical naturalists who helped
make the miracle possible.
That sets the general picture, but even scientific materialists are
apt to remind us that "God is in the details." Those philosophical
and scientific details are in the papers that follow, and in the vigorous
responses to each paper from the opposing side. Individually, they illuminate
specific areas of dispute. Taken together, they prepare the reader for a
great debate that will occupy the attention of many minds during the coming
Phillip E. Johnson
DARWINISM: SCIENCE OR PHILOSOPHY?
EDITORS: Jon Buell and Virginia Hearn
Foundation for Thought and Ethics
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 9494523