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BOOKS: Naturalism on Trial

1996This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

"Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education," by Phillip E. Johnson (InterVarsity, 245 pp.; $19.99, hardcover). Reviewed by Tim Stafford.

Phillip Johnson has nerve. Ever since the Scopes trial, there has been no straighter pathway to intellectual ignominy than the doubting of Darwinian evolution. A nonbiologist (he teaches law at the University of California, Berkeley), Johnson took on evolution in "Darwin on Trial." Now in "Reason in the Balance," he explains why it matters. He expands a narrow argument about science into a polemical critique of modern Western society, particularly the university.

Johnson contends that evolution is "not primarily important as a scientific theory but as a culturally dominant creation story." Every culture has a story to explain why humans are here. Ours is evolution, Johnson says, and its infallibility is defended with the same fervor that Christians apply to Genesis. The message of evolution is that we are here by chance and for no purpose, that we are mere matter. "Naturalism" is what Johnson calls this metaphysical assessment, which leaves no room for a Creator God. Naturalism has expanded to take in all the university disciplines: history, literature, even religion, where one can study the phenomena of religious belief but never assert (or even discuss) the truth of particular religious claims. Much of "Reason in the Balance" is dedicated to showing how naturalism brings moral relativism into education and the law by undermining any idea of objective truth.

Johnson offers the well-worn but telling critique that naturalism undercuts itself, claiming to have arrived at the truth that there is no truth. If everything is determined by chemistry, then the ...

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