The Father of Intelligent Design

Yesterday I spent the morning with Phillip Johnson, the retired Berkeley law professor who, more than anyone else, fathered Intelligent Design. He is unrepentant. Johnson is as convinced as ever that evolution is a hoax, a demonstration that if you will not consider evidence for God-as-creator, you will predictably find no God in creation.

I like Johnson, not so much for his thinking as for how he communicates it. He enjoys an argument, but he likes to be friends with those he argues against. I detect no rancor. He has fond memories of hammer-and-tongs annual debates with William Provine, the Cornell historian of science, which usually concluded with beer and talk at a local tavern.

Over the last decade Johnson has suffered from two strokes and (most recently) an operation that went wrong and put him in the ICU for nearly two months. He told me when he woke up in the rehab hospital, he just wanted to die as quickly as possible. He couldn’t face another round of rehab.

But he did. He’s struggled to mend, with the tremendous help and encouragement of his wife Kathie. He says he has learned a lot of humility, and with it more sympathy for others.

He’s grateful for his resurrection (his word) not only because of how he has grown, but also because he otherwise would not have seen the 49ers’ tremendous season. With a glint in his eye, he predicted more good seasons to come. Which suggests that, in all likelihood, he’ll be arguing yet awhile.

Yet, Johnson said, “Convincing the world no longer seems so important to me. I’m 71 years old. I feel a lot closer to death. I can almost step across the boundary from this life to the next. If my Christian faith is correct, I will soon hear answers from the most authoritative source available.”


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