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Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part V: Phillip Johnson and Of Pandas and People

In her Kitzmiller account, Barbara Forrest makes the strange argument that "Phillip Johnson had master-minded creationism's transformation into 'intelligent design' after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed creationism in public schools in its 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard ruling." This conspiracy theory sounds nice because Johnson is a lawyer, but it makes no sense. Paul Nelson's story about Johnson, which Dr. Forrest cites, picks up with Johnson reading the Edwards v. Aguillard briefs post-1987. Yet the term "intelligent design" existed and was essentially in its present form (see graphics below) prior to the Edwards ruling. Johnson's work surely inspired many people who later joined the ID movement. But how could Phillip Johnson have "masterminded" the origin of something that existed prior to his involvement with the issue? Regardless, Judge Jones did not seem to buy this argument--I can find nothing in the Kitzmiller ruling adopting Dr. Forrest's argument that Johnson allegedly "master-minded" the formulation of ID out of "creationism."

What About Pandas?
But if ID existed before Phillip Johnson got involved (making Dr. Forrest's theory wrong), then from whence did it come? To understand this, we have to turn to Charles Thaxton, academic editor for the pro-ID textbook Of Pandas and People (Pandas) who explains how he coined the term when helping to write Pandas:

I wasn't comfortable with the typical vocabulary that for the most part creationists were using because it didn't express what I was trying to do. They were wanting to bring God into the discussion, and I was wanting to stay within the empirical domain and do what you can do legitimately there.

(Deposition of Charles Thaxton 52-53, Kitzmiller, No. 4:04-CV-2688 (M.D. Pa., July 19, 2005))

Dr. Forrest writes that in Pandas, "creationist terminology had been replaced by 'intelligent design' and other design-related terms, suggesting that the Edwards decision prompted this change." But she leaves out that pre-Edwards drafts of Pandas ALSO did contain the phrase "intelligent design," and thus the origin of intelligent design stemmed not from "legal strategies" but as Thaxton explains, it came from an honest effort to limit statements to scientific claims that can be made based upon the empirical data. ID is about respecting the limits of the scientific data--not hiding religion for legal purposes. In other words, even in its pre-publication form Pandas offered a theory that was conceptually distinct from what the courts have defined as "creationism."

This leads to the final point made by Dr. Forrest--she implies that the "creationist" terminology pre-publication drafts of Of Pandas and People makes the final published version unconstitutional. Yet the early drafts of Pandas actually rejected "creationism" as defined by the courts:

When certain pre-publication drafts of Pandas used terms such as "creation" and "creationist," they used them in a way that rejected "creationism" as defined by the courts and popular culture. In Edwards v. Aguillard, the U.S. Supreme Court declared creationism to be a religious viewpoint because it required a "supernatural creator":

The legislative history therefore reveals that the term "creation science," as contemplated by the legislature that adopted this Act, embodies the religious belief that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of humankind. (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 591-592, emphasis added)

Thus, what the Supreme Court found was religion and therefore unconstitutional was not the word "creationism," but the teaching that a "supernatural creator" was responsible for life. "Creation science" was how the Louisiana Legislature described that religious concept.

Yet pre-publication drafts of Pandas juxtaposed the word "creation" with statements to the exact opposite effect, noting that science cannot scientifically detect a supernatural creator. Consider these important excerpts from pre-publication drafts of Pandas, making it clear that from the beginning, their project did not advocate what the courts have defined as "creationism":


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In each of these excerpts from pre-Edwards v. Aguillard drafts of Pandas, it is clear that the idea of "creation" discussed was specifically NOT trying to postulate a supernatural creator. The concepts advanced by even pre-publication, pre-Edwards drafts of Pandas were sharply different from what the courts have defined as "creationism." These early drafts were not trying to study the supernatural.

ID was formulated in its present form--an empirically based argument that would not stray into the supernatural--before the Edwards case was decided. Thus, even before Edwards v. Aguillard, ID lacked the very quality that caused creationism to be declared unconstitutional: it did not postulate a "supernatural creator." ID was not "masterminded" by an attorney, but formulated by a scientist who understood information theory and "want[ed] to stay within the empirical domain and do what you can do legitimately there."

Barbara Forrest's theory about the origins of ID was wrong. Stay tuned for the next five posts in this series which will provide further critique for Barbara Forrest's style of argumentation.