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Posted by on Feb 20, 2007 in intelligent design | 9 comments

Phillip E Johnson and the Royal Institute of Philosophy

Does the Royal Institute of Philosophy now endorse, or even consider intellectually respectable, intelligent design (ID)? Some are saying so (see here).

Next time a neo-darwinist claims that ID people do not publish papers I am going to bring out the relevant edition of Think magazine and show them. I can just imagine their jaws drop in outrage when they see that the world’s best philosophers have turned their back on the defunct theory of evolution and embraced ID.

I edit the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK: Philosophy For Everyone. I devoted Issue 11 to intelligent design and fine-tuning, and thought it would be interesting to get Phillip E Johnson – who is v much the public face of ID – to write a piece.

Personally, I consider ID intellectually bankrupt (fine-tuning is slightly more respectable, I think). Many Christians agree with me about that of course.

The idea was to let the ideas slug it out in THINK. Then people will hopefully have a better grasp of the arguments – and their flaws.

The risk of doing this (which I knew I was taking, of course) is that some of the more committed ID people may claim that ID stuff is “being taken seriously”, published in “intellectually rigorous publications”, and even “endorsed by the Royal Institute of Philosophy”.

So, just to make it clear, The R.I.P. does not endorse ID. Nor should people conclude that because Johnson’s piece was published by THINK, the R.I.P considers Johnson’s arguments intellectually robust. The R.I.P., as an organization, has never expressed any view at all about any of these things.

Unfortunately, posts on suggest otherwise.(NB. some posts on creationist sites are spoofs – could this be one?)


  1. I suspect it’s not a spoof. Some people really are that ignorant of the way the academic world works, and the different criteria for publication in a journal like Think (“philosophy for everyone” – and Richard Swinburne on Design was in the copy I’ve just picked up), and scientific journals aimed at an exclusively academic audience. When people complain that ID proponents can’t get published, they mean they can’t get published in serious scientific journals, not that they can’t get published anywhere.

  2. Letting Phillip Johnson have his say about why methodological naturalism is inadequate is one thing, letting him say it in a way that is unfiltered by fact checking is another. If he wants to lie in this journal, let him buy advertising space.His beginning material on Darwin’s finches being the best example of speciation should have been cut for being plain wrong. Darwin’s finches may be an accessible example of many aspects of evolution, and a time honoured example, but it is hardly “the best”. If you want to watch “species” evolve on a human timeframe, you have to look at organisms with very short generational spans – bacteria and viruses. Perhaps Johnson does not need a flu shot every year because the influenza around him does not evolve, but everyone else is exposed to evolving germs.Further, Johnson cavils at changes of a few percent in beak size in the Darwin finches, as if that is insignificant. It is in fact significant to sorting individuals by what seeds they can and cannot eat, therefore by their relative choice of mates based on where and when they feed, and many related issues.It is very unfortunate that Johnson is allowed to setup and knock down his chosen strawman version of evolution. As editor, I would have expected you to exercise more control over such egregious misstatements. Johnson can rant about IDM anywhere. The great bulk of this article is not about thinking, certainly not about thinking more acutely. Its frequent appeals to authority are the opposite of thinking.Please scrutinise this kind of writing better in the future. It will make for a better journal.

  3. [irony] How completely irrational do I have to be before the Institute will publish my work? [/irony]

  4. David – remember THINK is not an academic journal, and the criteria for including a piece is not simply intellectual rigor. Johnson’s was merely one of several pieces on ID.I wanted to give readers who have some interest in ID, and perhaps a little sympathy, a deeper knowledge of the arguments (and also some flavour of the characters). I thought it worth getting the most prominent ID people to make their best case (such as it is), before wheeling out the opposition. I thought that would be more educational and interesting for the reader, in fact, than simply having one side only present their case (which could then be dismissed by the skeptical with a weary “Well that was very one-sided”.)

  5. The problem is you CANNOT have a rational argument with Johnson-style creationists. Philip E. Johnson rejects the notion that any scientific argument or endevour can make any sense at all without the presumption of his Christian theistic world-view. I’m personally against giving Discovery Institute people the opportunity to publish in a reputable journal, even if it is in the context where their incorrect arguments are rebutted. All that will happen (and has already happened) is that creationists will quote the parts they like out of context and other people will have to expend hard work to show that the RIP’s journal actually did not support their position.Stephen Law is correct about the fact that some of the commentators are hoaxers. It’s been well known that the site attracts a large troll community who are currently engaged in a Skoals-style hoaxing operation. It is likely that “hblavatsky” is really trying to draw attention to this blatent abuse of the RIP’s name.Either that or Helena Petrova Blavatsky, the Russian occultist and founder of the theosophical society and died in the 1940s has converted to Christianity and found a way to post messages from beyond the grave.

  6. Stephen, thank you for your response. I’m not objecting to Johnson’s piece in toto. Standing Johnson’s argument up against the nicely reasoned piece by Richard Norman in response to Swinburne does make a nice contrast. But Norman was able to make his points without erecting strawmen, or appealing to authority. Even in a journal that aims to be lively and accessible, all authors should be held to certain standards. That’s not intellectual rigor, just fair play.

  7. I don’t think we can fault Law here, or THINK, or the RIP. You’ve got to have something from the ID crowd, and Johnson is probably the best they’ve got. Which, I think, says a lot about the ID movement.

  8. It is scandalous that something called The Royal Institute of Philosophy would be a mouthpiece for anti-clerical ideologues. The Monarchy — like the state in unmonarchical countries — belongs to everyone and should represent all parties & schools of thought.

  9. I frequently encounter pieces written by anti-religious skeptics that get published in serious journals even though the piece contains silly misrepresentations. I haven’t read this piece by Johnson (but I will now), but I am very inclined to think that one is more finely attuned to misrepresentation when it comes from the “other side.”

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