Classic book of the month: Darwin on trial


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 6, 2022. We’re so glad you turned to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Hello. I am Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next The world and all in it: Emily Whitten reviews our classic book of the month.

For September, she highlights a book that can help Christians see through some of the false claims of Darwinian evolution by putting Charles Darwin on the witness stand.


CLIP: I am not a scientist but an academic jurist by profession, specializing in analyzing the logic of arguments and identifying the assumptions underlying those arguments.

This is an excerpt from the audiobook version of our classic book of the month–Darwin on trial by Phillip Johnson, read by Frederick Davidson.

CLIP: This context is more appropriate than one might think, because what people think about evolution and Darwinism very much depends on the kind of logic they employ and the assumptions they make.

Darwin on trial first appeared in 1991, on the heels of a 1987 Supreme Court decision against a Louisiana law. This law sought to balance ‘evolutionary science’ in schools with the teaching of ‘creation science’.

When Johnson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, read the testimony presented at various hearings, he called misconduct. Many arguments for evolution were simply bad arguments, scientifically and logically. Thus, in his book, Johnson put Darwin – and his theory of evolution – on the witness stand. His opinion ?

CLIP: Darwinism plays an indispensable ideological role in the war against fundamentalism. For this reason, scientific organizations are dedicated to protecting Darwinism rather than testing it, and the rules of scientific inquiry have been shaped to help them succeed.

I recently spoke with Joshua Hershey. He is Assistant Professor of Science and Philosophy at King’s College. Hershey recently listened to Johnson’s audiobook and he understands why it still matters today.

HERSHEY: I think the reason Johnson’s book has been so influential is that it provided a clear, accessible, and provocative critique of the reasoning behind neo-Darwinian theory.

On the one hand, Johnson shows that the evidence for Darwinian evolution just isn’t there. Microevolution, yes. The idea that a species of moth can vary in color depending on its environment is well proven. But macroevolution, or small changes over time as the origin of all life? Johnson says no and Hershey agrees.

HERSHEY: There are major problems with extrapolation if you just try to, you know, point to small evolutionary micro-changes within species or even between very similar species and then sort of extrapolate: “Well, if that small amount of can change can happen in a short period of time, then in a long period of time much bigger changes can happen. Well, not necessarily.

In his college courses, Hershey uses the example of cabbages – where we see a wide variety. Within one species, we see broccoli, kale, and even Brussels sprouts. But clearly, there is a limit to this variety.

HERSHEY: No combination of dominant or recessive cabbage alleles will result in a baby squirrel, for example, will it? The genes just aren’t there to produce squirrel parts…

So, if the evidence is lacking, why do so many people believe in Darwinism? To fully answer this question, Hershey says we should consider many factors, including the mistakes the church has made in response to Darwinism. But he echoes Johnson’s argument that many scientists stick to philosophical naturalism; they believe the natural world is all there is. Thus, they are drawn to a natural explanation.

Johnson notes another reason. Christian scientist Carl Linnaeus used the biblical idea of ​​genera or groups to create a taxonomy – or tree of life – showing the relationships between plants and animals down to the species level. Linnaeus believed that many organisms share traits because they share a common designer – God. Darwin proposed a different source for these similarities – a common ancestor. Here is the audiobook again.

CLIP: Darwin ended his chapter by saying that the classification argument was so decisive that on this basis alone he would adopt his theory even if it were not supported by other arguments. This confidence explains why Darwin was not discouraged by the manifold difficulties of the fossil record.

As a scientist, Hershey understands the appeal of Darwin’s theory. But new discoveries in fields like nanotechnology and cosmology make Darwinism even less plausible today than in Johnson’s day.

HERSHEY: Unfortunately, when you look closely at the details, it very quickly becomes much more complicated than Darwin or even the proponents of the neo-Darwinian synthesis realized…

Darwin on trial is over 30 years old, so it is obsolete in some areas. Hershey says Karl Popper’s ideas about forgery don’t hold up very well. He also says you can find better resources on recent evidence for and against evolution. Hershey includes some of this evidence on its website,

HERSHEY: Obviously, the founders of modern science saw science as an expression of their faith in God. And the evidence for conception in nature has continued to accumulate with recent discoveries in astronomy and cosmology, even biology. Many Christians, including me, have found our faith strengthened and deepened by studying science.

Phillip Johnson’s book Darwin on trial helped spark the Intelligent Design movement, and Hershey follows the research of this movement. But if you fall more into the creation science camp or even sympathize with evolution, our classic book of the month is still critical reading. In his heyday, Johnson summed up his work with the following motto. It comes from a speech posted on the IDquest Youtube channel:

CLIP: ‘A false assumption is better than none at all, because it is false, does no harm. But when it grows stronger, when it is universally accepted and becomes a sort of creed which no one can doubt, which no one can investigate, that is the disaster from which the centuries suffer.

He then adds,

CLIP: It is of course when science turns into religion.

I am Emily Whitten.

WORLD Radio transcriptions are created on very short notice. 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 recording of WORLD Radio programming is the audio recording.


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