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In the fall of 1987, Phillip Johnson, a middle-aged law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, began a sabbatical year in England. His distinguished academic career had specialized in criminal law and lately branched out into more philosophical fields of legal theory. Nevertheless, Johnson could not shake the feeling that his life amounted to a wasted talent, that he had used a first-class mind for only second-class occupations. He was "looking for something to do the rest of his life" and talked about it with his wife, Kathie, as they hiked around the green fields of England: "I pray for an insight," he told her. "I'd like to have an insight that is worthwhile, and not just be an academic who writes papers and spins words."

In London, Johnson's daily path from the bus stop to his office at University College took him by a scientific bookstore. "Like a lot of people," Johnson says, "I couldn't go by a bookstore without going in and fondling a few things." The very first time he walked by he saw and purchased the powerful, uncompromising argument for Darwinian evolution by Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker. Johnson devoured it and then another book, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. "I read these books, and I guess almost immediately I thought, This is it. This is where it all comes down to, the understanding of creation."

Johnson began a furious reading program, absorbing the literature on Darwinian evolution. Within a few weeks, he told his wife, "I think I understand this stuff. I know what the problem is. But fortunately, I'm too smart to take it up professionally. I'd be ridiculed. Nobody would believe me. They would say, 'You're not a scientist, you're a law professor.' It would be something, ...

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In the Magazine

December 8, 1997

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