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Phillip E. Johnson: Awaking a Sleeping Giant

Michael Flannery

sleeping giant

Editor’s note: Phillip E. Johnson, Berkeley law professor and author of Darwin on Trial and other books, died on November 2. Evolution News is currently sharing remembrances from Fellows of Discovery Institute. Professor Flannery’s most recent book is Nature’s Prophet: Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural Theology.

Phil Johnson is indeed the father of the modern intelligent design movement in many respects. Michael Denton in some ways preceded Johnson, influencing Michael Behe to seriously question the Darwinian paradigm. But Johnson became the catalyst who brought it all together. 

I only met him once, and briefly. But the meeting was memorable for me because he took me aside and told me how important he thought my exposure of Darwin’s metaphysical commitments were, with his early association with the “free thinking” Plinian Society, and that I was onto something with my Alfred Russel Wallace book. Bill Dembski was instrumental in getting it published and wrote the foreword for it in 2008. My association with Johnson was merely peripheral and fleeting compared to that of others in the ID community.

As iconic a figure as Phil was (and is) to the movement, however, it’s important to remember that in many ways Phil Johnson simply awoke a sleeping giant. ID goes far deeper into the past than Darwin, and, in fact, the notion that so-called “laws of nature” alone could blindly and without guidance explain the whole of life would have struck most natural philosophers in history as absurd. 

Phil Johnson understood this, and part of his brilliance was in recognizing that an appropriate challenge to the reductionisms of our age required a thoroughly multidisciplinary approach. Hats off to our departed comrade — gone but surely not forgotten!

Photo: Phillip Johnson, screenshot from a video interview, “Focus on Darwinism,” Veritas Forum, via YouTube.