Science by Consensus by Phillip E. Johnson

Science by Consensus

The controversy over evolution is at bottom not a dispute about evidence, but a dispute about whether words like “evolution” should be defined precisely and used consistently, and about whether a scientific conclusion is indisputably correct if it is endorsed by a consensus of contemporary scientific authorities. That is why I thought it appropriate for a law professor to take a professional interest in biological evolution, since lawyers are trained to insist that terms in a legal document be precisely defined, and are taught to check any consensus judgment of experts against the primary evidence.

Examples of vague or slippery definitions and appeals to the authority of consensus abound in writings about evolution, especially those writings that urge potentially skeptical people to trust the experts, rather than to examine the evidence for themselves.

The Christian geneticist Francis Collins, in his much-acclaimed book, The Language of God, describes the human genome in terms that seem at first to imply that its design is the product of intelligence. At the outset, Collins reverently talks of the partial sequencing of the human genome as providing “a glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.” In our experience, instruction books are written only by intelligent agents.

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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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