Phillip Johnson is dead

The last time I talked about Phillip Johnson it was to say I am honestly happy that Phillip Johnson is still alive — I wanted him to witness the ignominious decline of his baby, Intelligent Design creationism, and live to suffer with it’s irrelevancy and routine rejection and abysmal failure to challenge science at all. I said then:

I make no bones about the fact that I consider Johnson to be an intellectual criminal.

The reason is simple: Jason Rosenhouse is right. Intelligent Design is dead. I want Johnson to suffer the pain and frustration of knowing that he has wasted his life, and that he’ll be remembered as a failure.

His book was a cobbled together hodge-podge of specious reasoning, using legal logic to raise unwarranted doubts over concepts he couldn’t understand. He was no scientist; neither are his followers. He was a pettifogging lawyer coming off a divorce and a midlife crisis who tried to find redemption by lying for Jesus. It didn’t work.

I guess, then, I should now be sad that Johnson has joined his movement. Phillip Johnson is dead, but I’m not. I don’t care. He died as Intelligent Design did, barely remarked, recognized mainly by his cult sympathizers and the people who fought against his nonsense. We’ll just remember, as Larry Moran said, that Johnson was the very best of the Intelligent Design creationists.


  1. raven says

    Relevant: Shakespeare Julius Ceasar, Marc Antony’s funeral speech.

    I come to bury Caesar Phillip Johnson, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;

    The good of Phillip Johnson was carefully placed in a match box and buried with him.
    He was a minor monster, too insignificant to really celebrate his death.
    But the day is just a little bit brighter now.

  2. blf says

    From the Encyclopedia of American Loons (May-2011):

    #194: Phillip Johnson

    […] Johnson is a retired Berkeley law professor and must perhaps be considered the very founder of the intelligent design movement (and founded, together with George Gilder, the Discovery Institute). The most important turnaround in Johnson’s career was when he became a born again Christian after divorce. He subsequently, and fully independently, realized that science didn’t support the theory of evolution. What a coincidence.

    His introduction of “intelligent design” came in his book ”Darwin on Trial”, which since Johnson presented evidence in the form of a mock trial (with legal standards of admissibility of evidence), rejected all scientific evidence in favor of anecdotal evidence – in addition to being (of course) utterly selective in what evidence to present. The point was, essentially, that since the evidence for theory of evolution didn’t provide absolute, logical, irrefutable proof, the theory has to be rejected (no one ever sees that kind of argument from misunderstanding of the role and standards of evidence pop up among climate change denialists, no?). The fact that intelligent design has failed utterly as a scientific theory does not seem to bother him.

    Johnson’s vision of the mission of the Intelligent Design PR movement is not limited to evolutionary biology. Rather, the point is that all science lacks a proper theistic basis. Hence every field of science and indeed all public policy should be held hostage to theocratic organization. This is apparently why Johnson calls evolution the thin edge of the wedge with which to split the log of materialism open. […]

    […] He is […] a HIV-denialist as well […]

    (An aside: There is a famous architect named Philip Johnson (with one ell) who is not this two-elled loon. Both are USAian and both are dead, but only one is (presumably) not a loon & contributed to society.)

  3. Kip Williams says

    blf, wasn’t it Sherlock Holmes who said “When you have arbitrarily eliminated all the scientific possibilities, that which remains, however farcical, must be the only possible solution.” ?

  4. kevinkirkpatrick says

    “I guess, then, I should now be sad that Johnson has joined his movement. Phillip Johnson is dead, but I’m not. I don’t care.”

    I think this was intended to be arranged differently; the “but I’m not” makes much more sense at the end of the previous sentence.

    “I guess, then, I should now be sad that Johnson has joined his movement, but I’m not. Phillip Johnson is dead and I don’t care.”

    As written, it sounds as if you’re making some point about (almost bragging about) having personally outlived Johnson. It’s egregious enough that you may want to fix it up lest someone decide to quote this out of context.

  5. Scott Simmons says

    I dunno, the movement still seems to be kicking a bit, at least more than I’d like. Found out a couple weeks ago that my son’s Intro to Philosophy professor is a cdesign proponentist.
    I continue to find it disappointing that someone allegedly devoted to the general pursuit of knowledge and truth can land there. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, having been in the UIC graduate philosophy program at the same time as Bill Dembski. But it still blindsides me every time.

  6. raven says

    I dunno, the movement still seems to be kicking a bit, at least more than I’d like.

    It’s a Zombie thing.
    The Undead can hang around far longer than anyone would like.

  7. nomdeplume says

    Apparently the intelligent designer made it possible for uric acid crystals to accumulate in toe joints for no good reason thus causing severe pain. All hail the Intelligent Designer.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Give Johnson credit for more intellectual honesty than any (that I’ve heard of) of his allies:

    I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.

    Berkley Science Review (Spring 2006)

  9. leerudolph says


    An aside: There is a famous architect named Philip Johnson (with one ell) who is not this two-elled loon. Both are USAian and both are dead, but only one is (presumably) not a loon & contributed to society.

    Alas, Philip Johnson had some qualities (and contributions) that were worse than loony. According to Wikipedia,

    In 1936, in the depths of the Great Depression, he left the [architecture department of the] Museum of Modern Art for a brief venture into journalism and politics. He was a Nazi sympathaizer[6][5][9][10] and supported the extreme populist Governor of Louisiana Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin. Johnson traveled to Germany and Poland as a correspondent for Coughlin’s radically populist and often anti-Semitic newspaper Social Justice. In the newspaper, Johnson expressed, as the New York Times later reported, “more than passing admiration for Hitler”[3] Johnson observed the Nuremberg Rallies in Germany and, sponsored by the German government, covered the invasion of Poland in 1939. Many years later he told his biographer, Franz Schulze, “You simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it, by the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd,” and told of being thrilled at the sight of “all those blond boys in black leather” marching past the Führer.[8]:89–90 Schulze dismissed these early political activities as inconsequential, concluding they merited “little more substantial attention than they have gained” and his politics “were driven as much by an unconquerable esthetic impulse as by fascist philosophy or playboy adventurism”.

    Yeah, fuck you too, Schulze.

  10. reasoningbeing says

    He caused me to waste a good deal of my time unraveling his nonsense, but it was a lesson about
    the use of deception for what amounted to a load of propaganda.

  11. says

    Phillip Johnson wasn’t a stupid man, but he was a deeply deluded one. I wonder whether his ID leadership eventually began to pall as he realized he was receiving adulation and praise from unaccomplished nonentities, having completely failed to garner the support and respect of any top-notch researchers. How it must have galled him to outlive the “Wedge” document long enough to see all of its optimistic signposts falling by the wayside, unattained. It must have been hell..

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    World Auction Record for “Origin of Species” at Hindman Auctions

    The top lot of the sale, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species set a world auction record for a first edition of Darwin’s landmark work. Realizing $564,500, the superb Garden Copy, previously owned by American philanthropist Paul Mellon (1907–1999), sold for more than double the presale estimate of $120,000- $180,000.

    I do not foresee Johnson’s Darwin on Trial ever enjoying such reverence.