Berkeley’s Radical by Phillip E. Johnson + James M. Kushiner

Berkeley’s Radical

An Interview with Phillip E. Johnson

James M. Kushiner interviewed Johnson while attending a conference on Intelligent Design at Yale University in November 2000.

Touchstone: Dr. Johnson, tell us about your upbringing. Were you raised in a Christian home?

Phillip Johnson (PJ): Well, I grew up in Aurora, Illinois. We went to Sunday school because it was good for us kids. We’d drop my dad off at the golf course on the way. My mother told me I had to stay until I got confirmed, then I could go my own way. During high school I went to a liberal Congregationalist church, but I never took Christian doctrine seriously. It was just part of the culture, like the Boy Scouts. It was about being nice.

I went to Harvard at 17 and assumed I was leaving all that behind. I had every intention of simply adopting the Harvard philosophy, which was secular, pragmatic, and rational, because that’s what you did if you wanted to be a big deal.

When did you go to Harvard?

PJ: In 1957, which was a significant year, the year of Sputnik. Sputnik created a completely new situation in American higher education because it scared the government; they thought we were going to lose our scientific preeminence. So they poured an enormous amount of money into the universities, especially for science. That’s when the biological sciences curriculum really got started.

When you were at Harvard, were you on the “left” or the “right”?

PJ: I played at being the leftist, but I came from a conservative Midwestern background, so my instincts were always in that direction. I was just trying out my wings.

But when I got to the University of Chicago Law School, I discovered that all the bright people weren’t liberals. I heard about Milton Friedman and George Stigler and other leading American economists whom I was never told about at Harvard. It was a bit of an eye-opener.

But unlike many people who go to Chicago, I didn’t quite “eat the whole enchilada,” which allowed me to be more flexible. I didn’t completely buy into the market ideology, though I respected it.

James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone.

James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone.

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