Darwin on Trial Phillip E. Johnson

20th Anniversary Celebration

Twenty years after the original publication of Darwin on Trial, a group of friends, scientists, writers, and well-wishers gathered in Seattle to honor the author of the book that laid bare the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy and consequently gave rise to a counter-movement now known as Intelligent Design. Below you will find written and audio tributes from that celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Darwin on Trial.

Written Tributes to Darwin on Trial on its 20th anniversary

Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial inaugurated the intelligent design movement. Critiques of Darwinism predated this book and the full development of design as an intellectual project and scientific program came later. But through Darwin on Trial, Johnson became a rallying figure under whose wings opponents of Darwinian naturalism could find community and solace. Up until Johnson, criticism of Darwinism was sporadic and those offering the criticism were easily targeted. Johnson made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled critic of Darwin. In so doing, he gave proponents of intelligent design the conceptual space in which to develop their ideas.

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and author of such books as The Design Inference, The Design Revolution, No Free Lunch, and Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology.

Although I became skeptical of Darwin’s theory of evolution after reading Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, for five years all I did was mumble rude remarks about Darwinism to random passersby in the hall at work. But after reading Phil Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, and a hit piece about it in Science magazine, I was stirred to action. I wrote a letter to the editor of Science defending Johnson’s book, and about three days after it was published, I received a letter from Phil himself thanking me for writing it. Little did I know it then, but I was now plugged in to Phil’s network of useful allies, and from his tutelage over the years I, and many others, learned to be effective public defenders of intelligent design and critics of Darwinism. If it weren’t for Phil’s intellectual and organizational efforts, there would be no intelligent design movement today. The entire intellectual world owes Phil a tremendous debt for kicking the shaky foundations of a suffocating 19th century worldview.

Biologist Michael Behe is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and a Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University. He is best known for his path-breaking books Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution.

Looking back over the past 20 years, the publication of Darwin on Trial has proved to have been a critical turning point in the evolution debate. Phillip Johnson courageously with the clarity of an advocate pointed out that Darwinian evolution was not merely incomplete but was inconsistent with the scientific evidence. That scientific evidence not only had failed to demonstrate how life began but also had failed to show how immensely complex biological systems had been ‘created by mindless and purposeless natural processes’ of mutations and natural selection. 

Since Phillip Johnson challenged the scientific community, science has advanced dramatically, particularly in the fields of genetics and information theory. Our understanding of the nano-wonders of the living cell, and the digital codes embedded in the DNA and other cellular organelles, points to underlying designing intelligence. Darwin on Trial ends with the image of Darwinian evolution as ‘a great battleship on the sea of reality,’ engaged in battle with reality; and Phillip Johnson concludes: ‘in the end reality will win.’

Dr. Norman Nevin is one of the United Kingdom’s leading geneticists. He is Professor Emeritus of Medical Genetics at Queen’s University, Belfast, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He is also President of the Centre for Intelligent Design, a group of scientists and laypeople in the UK. 

On behalf of Intelligent Design in the UK we honour Phil as the father of the community formed into The Centre for Intelligent Design. It was an unimaginable story that we would ever meet Phil and Kathie – such ‘men of whom the world is not worthy’ appear infrequently and for such a time as this. But we were and are blessed beyond measure to have had the incredible thrill of Phil & Kathie travelling the UK in 2004 to about fifteen cities and speaking at some 25 public meetings addressing more than 8,000 people. 

I recall two momentous events—the first when Phil was addressing an all-day conference in Birmingham. Many wanted to chat with Phil over lunch and graciously he did that so warmly. After those refreshing and encouraging conversations, with a few minutes to go for the next session Phil asked me what we should talk about! Phil then delivered a lecture as if he’d had months of preparation time. Such scholarship. Then, travelling north to meet with friends in Newcastle for the weekend Phil and Kathie were to take the train. And it’s Phil who wants to pull his own bags up and down the platforms at the station. Of course we intervened. But how striking—Phil & Kathie—such towering saints with a strategy and an evidenced challenge to arguably one of the greatest issues of our time, namely putting Darwin on trial, so humble, so committed they had no pretence of stature—they carried their own bags.

And Phil, catalysing and galvanising the UK to action by this massive speaking tour also drew together leaders who today are great friends, share a vision for action in the UK and now are just beginning to touch Europe also. Phil, Darwin on Trialstill stands as a classic and it’s not out of date for sadly, the goal of most scientists is to ensure there’s no Divine foot allowed in the door. But you showed the way to lay the axe to the root of the tree.

We thank you too for your incredibly warm reception whenever we phone or email or ask for a conference call. No one has the incisive penetrating way of analysing a challenge and communicating a strategy like you do. Time has shown and will show just how prescient and inspired (I use the term advisedly) your work is. And the many other books, papers and articles that have flowed from your heart and mind to the world are, if I may say so, worthy successors of Darwin on Trial. You have a fan-club in the UK that loves you and Kathie, prays for you both and can’t get enough of what you write.

Peter Loose is Chairman of the Centre for Intelligent Design in the UK.