Intelligent Design and InterVarsity

A six week trial in a Pennsylvania federal court house has brought arguments over life’s origin back onto the national stage in a manner reminiscent of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. The theory of Intelligent Design is being hotly debated, in court and in the public square. The arguments for Intelligent Design have been laid out in a handful of books, including key books published by InterVarsity Press.

The book Darwin on Trial, by University of California-Berkeley Law School professor Phillip Johnson, was published by both InterVarsity Press and Regnery Press in 1991. Two years later InterVarsity Press exclusively published the paperback version, and went on to publish five more titles from Johnson as well as two books by William Dembski. These books, along with Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box (published by The Free Press), have positioned Intelligent Design as a logical alternative to the perceived shortcomings of naturalistic evolutionary theory.

InterVarsity Press editor Jim Sire first made contact with Johnson back in 1990, through mutual friends. He soon began receiving from Johnson manuscript excerpts that skewered the logic of naturalistic evolutionary theory. By the time Sire had a chance to respond, Johnson had agreed to have Regnery publish his book. But since Regnery and InterVarsity Press focus on different audiences, a co-publishing agreement was negotiated.

As Johnson’s books generated more and more controversy, he reveled in the criticism and condemnation. “What a victory,” he’d shout, enthused that the evolutionary establishment was being forced to confront its weaknesses. Johnson continued to write new books, intent on fracturing the entire naturalistic worldview that undergirds not only science but also law, education, and other disciplines.

InterVarsity Press Publisher Bob Fryling can tell that Intelligent Design has suddenly become a hot topic. Sales of the four main ID books quadrupled between June and September of this year. The books are Intelligent Design and The Design Revolution, both by William Dembski, plus Defeating Darwinism and Darwin on Trial, both by Phillip Johnson. “The debate over beginnings reflects fundamental issues of how we understand the nature of humanity, our purpose in life, and our relationship with God,” said Fryling. “InterVarsity Press is committed to provide books that stimulate and contribute to the debate both intellectually and spiritually.” Next March InterVarsity Press will publish a book on Phillip Johnson, edited by William Dembski, called Darwin’s Nemesis. Another book due in August will bring in new perspectives, Benjamin Wiker’s A Meaningful World.

While the debate has helped the bottom line at InterVarsity Press, it is a sensitive subject among the Christian professors that InterVarsity works with on the nation’s college campuses. There are Christian scholars on both sides of the Intelligent Design debate. “We have done the right thing to play a role in encouraging discussion of ID,” says Faculty Ministry director Stan Wallace. “It fosters conversation about a fault line within higher education.”

Wallace’s own training is in the Philosophy of Science. There are various approaches to, or philosophies of science. He believes the Intelligent Design arguments hinge on the philosophical approach to science one takes, specifically concerning the types of data scientists are willing to consider as appropriate in scientific theories. The differences are most pronounced between social sciences and the hard sciences. Many scientists, based on their training, do not accept conclusions that are not explained fully and only by physical causes. They believe that science should only appeal to natural causes and should assume naturalism in scientific methodology (hence the often-heard expression “Methodological Naturalism”).

But other scientists reject Methodological Naturalism. They are open to considering that whatever can’t be explained by natural causes may be explained scientifically by non-natural causes, and still count as scientific theory, much as psychologists and sociologists appeal to the choices people make to explain some phenomena. “For scientists who embrace Methodological Naturalism, Intelligent Design is a non-starter,” Wallace says. “To them it’s just wrong headed. But those who reject Methodological Naturalism believe Intelligent Design theory makes sense of much of the data.”

The debate over Intelligent Design began before Phillip Johnson got involved. Yet his analytical legal mind understood the underlying assumptions at the heart of the debate, and articulated these issues in a clear way to the general public, which drew new attention to Intelligent Design. As the public debate continues, it’s likely that the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in Pennsylvania won’t be the final word. InterVarsity supports a vigorous public discussion of ultimate issues and hopes that the discussion will encourage more people to consider the role of God in history, science, and their everyday lives.

Phillip Johnson speaks at Knox College