Intelligent Design

A Critique of Pennock

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Phillip Johnson
Phillip Johnson

I normally don’t write reviews of slanderous articles, but Pennock’s article piqued my curiosity by claiming that ID-founder, Phillip Johnson, is a Post-Modern Fundamentalist Creationist. Since most Fundamentalists would deny any relation to PoMo, and most Presbyterians would deny being Fundamentalists, I had to read the article, and once I began to read the article, I had to post a response. So here goes.

Pennock starts out with the worst name-calling he can think of, calling Johnson “illegitimate” and a “bastard” child of his two worst nemeses: fundamentalism and post-modernism. Then on page 4 he whines that Johnson is name-calling when he says Darwinism is a creation-myth. Somehow I get the sense that this isn’t going to be a cool-headed, objective analysis.

Nevertheless, having written often on the subject of PoMo and its influence in biblical studies, I wanted to know the basis of his identification. His footnotes are telling: Barbara Forrest and himself. He even goes so far as to quote a paragraph or so of himself as proof of Johnson’s PoMo! (I can’t make this stuff up.) Here’s him quoting himself:

“When he claims, for example, that scientists are attracted to naturalism because ‘‘It gives science a virtual monopoly on the production of knowledge,’’ he is echoing the deconstructionist charge that knowledge is not discovered but rather is fabricated by the intellectual capitalists who own the factories of the knowledge business.”

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14 Replies to “A Critique of Pennock

  1. 1
    David Kellogg says:

    “most Presbyterians would deny being Fundamentalists”? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. I’d say that both Northern Irish minister Ian Paisley and the late D. James Kennedy, America’s most watched Presbyterian minister, qualify as fundamentalist.

  2. 2
    allanius says:

    Pennock is correct. Sir Phi is “postmodern” in the sense that he is post-Modern, Modernism having been defined largely by Darwinism. Derrida was most definitely not post-Modern, however. He was a rear-guard acolyte of Modernism, fully aware that both the Superman and the amelioration promised by Darwin were dead, dead, dead, but hoping to redeem Modernism’s egotism and antimony to religion through “play.” In short, the difference between Sir Phil and Jacques was that Johnson is a man.

  3. 3

    allanius,
    You might also look at this golden-oldie article by Joseph Bottum
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....ostmoderns
    that argues there are many similarities between “premodern” and “postmodern”. My contention is that Phil is just an old-fashioned pre-modern Christian using aspects of the post-modern critique.

  4. 4
    scordova says:

    David Kellog,

    Religious beliefs are a personal thing and I’m reluctant to comment on some peoples religious beliefs unless they invite it. That’s their business…so what I say about Phil, I say reluctantly.

    Phil Johnson is a member of the PC-USA (Presbyterian Church United States of America). The PC-USA is not a biblical inerantist denomination as far as I know. The PC-USA would not be considered the conservative strain of presbyterian theologically speaking. D James Kennedy was not a member of the PC-USA.

    The PCA (Presybeterian Chruch in America) is an inerrantist church. D James Kennedy, myself, Dave Snoke are PCA members. Personally, I’m not an inerrantist, but it didn’t preclude me from joining the PCA. I can never be an officer, which is fine with me…..

    There has been a rather bitter and long standing feud between the PC-USA and PCA. The other conservative strains of presbyterian would consider themselves allies of the PCA, namely, the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) and the EPC (Evangelica Presyberian Chruch) plus some other reformed baptists and reformed churches. “Reformed” refers to sympathy to the writings of Calvin and Zwingly and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

    Franky Schaeffer rebelled from the PCA. Howard van Til? I think he also rebelled from one of the conservative presbyterian strains. Francis Schaeffer (Franky’s dad) was supposedly associated with the dominionists and I think Barb Forrest bilked it for all it’s worth, but I think it is just hype. ID scholar Nancy Pearcy is known as “the Francis Schaeffer Scholar”.

    Rousas John Rushdoony was associated with the conservative strains of presbyterianism, but in the PCA congregations I was a part of, many pastors considered him an unwelcome fringe element. Forrest mentions some ties.

    But, for someone who has spent a long time in the Presbyterian circles, I’ve hardly heard of Dominionism, and references to Rushdoony were passing conversation. Can’t recall one sermon or sunday school lesson on the topics. Barb Forrest has blown this all out of proportion. That’s why she strikes me more as a tabloid reporter than a scholar.

  5. 5
    David Kellogg says:

    Wow Sal, for someone who doesn’t want to talk about others’ religious beliefs, you sure go into detail . . .

    I’m not interested in dominionism here or in what church Phil Johnson belongs to. Exceptions abound (your own non-inerrancy is an example)

    So Johnson’s particular denomination is not the issue, though it’s not like Presbyterians are foreign to fundamentalism. Hell, they created the brand! The fact is that in American history, fundamentalism and Presbyterianism are deeply connected. Indeed, the pamphlet series “The Fundamentals” was a Presbyterian publication, and one of the great manifestos of early fundamentalism, “Christianity and Liberalism,” was written by the Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen.

    Now, what is a fundamentalist today? The great church historian George Marsden somewhere writes that a fundamentalist is “an evangelical who is mad about something.” I think it’s more than that, but what connects today’s fundamentalists to the emergence of the movement in the 20s is a shared opposition to modernism, often conflated with liberalism. And opposition to modernism is at the center of Johnson’s work — it’s even how he frames it in books like “Reason in the Balance.” An opposition to modernism in virtually all its forms (cultural, political, scientific) — an opposition rooted in an evangelical worldview — that’s what links Johnson If he’s not a fundamentalist personally, then let’s say he’s “fundamental-ish.”

  6. 6
    Clive Hayden says:

    David Kellogg,

    I think it’s more than that, but what connects today’s fundamentalists to the emergence of the movement in the 20s is a shared opposition to modernism, often conflated with liberalism. And opposition to modernism is at the center of Johnson’s work — it’s even how he frames it in books like “Reason in the Balance.” An opposition to modernism in virtually all its forms (cultural, political, scientific) — an opposition rooted in an evangelical worldview — that’s what links Johnson If he’s not a fundamentalist personally, then let’s say he’s “fundamental-ish.”

    So you define what fundamentalism is, and then define what Johnson believes, and then merge the two. I’d like to do this for you, but only when you’re not here to respond, as you are doing with Phil. Don’t worry, I’ll wait until you’re gone (meaning banned) and then do it, I promise. I won’t if you apologize for your fast and loose behavior with Johnson’s reputation and mischaracterization of Johnson. This is not up for debate, so don’t try to argue with me about it.

  7. 7
    Clive Hayden says:

    David,

    I said this wasn’t up for debate. Your silly equation of fundamentalism = resisting modernity and putting both on Johnson is a mischaracterization and a smear.

  8. 8
    idnet.com.au says:

    I find what Pennock writes interesting. Often he seems to feel he has scored a debating point when he has just quoted something that seems self evident to me that has been well said by Johnson.

    I think Pennock is unable to see that his fundamentalist modernist perspective has closed his own mind. To suppose that there is nothing at all of value or substance to be offered either by pre modernist or post modernist thought, is to say that there are a lot of stupid people out there pretending to be smart.

  9. 9
    idnet.com.au says:

    Pennock “We also find Johnson giving an explicit rejection of the mainstream Christian view which holds that evolution is compatible with theism. ‘‘Theistic Darwinism’’ insists Johnson, ‘‘is a contradiction in terms.’’ Darwin himself would have disagreed with Johnson’s sophomoric claim here.”

    How does Pennock claim that Darwin would approve of theistic Darwinism?

  10. 10
    idnet.com.au says:

    Pennock “A key concept for science educators to help our students understand is that science rejects that notion of appeal to authority; whatever authority scientists have is only indirect, deriving from their methods of uncovering the natural laws that govern the world. The central task of the scientist is not to be an author but to be an investigator, and the justification for a scientific conclusion does not derive from the say-so of an authority, but depends upon observational evidence. Blaise Pascal put the point succinctly: ‘‘On subjects in [the physical domain] we do not in the least rely on authorities—when we cite authors, we cite their demonstrations, not their names.’’”

    Amen to that! Bring it on!

  11. 11
    idnet.com.au says:

    Pennock concludes

    “We do not need a God’s-eye view of Truth … but we do need the grounding in reality that science helps provide … if we are to be set free. It was the sin of radical postmodernism to think otherwise.”

  12. 12
    scordova says:

    Wow Sal, for someone who doesn’t want to talk about others’ religious beliefs, you sure go into detail . . .

    What I disucssed is public knowledge, and something the people in question have revealed about themselves publicly and relevant to Barb Forrest and Pennock’s claims. I wouldn’t have much inclination to bring it up otherwise.

    I tried my best not to pass value judgements in this thread on what they believe.

    I was only reinforcing Dr. Sheldon’s point:

    and most Presbyterians would deny being Fundamentalists,

    That is especially true of the PC-USA!!!!

    I gave you information on the PC-USA to point out you can’t make the case about D James Kennedy (PCA) and Phil Johnson. They (the PCA and PC-USA) would be the first to argue the PC-USA is not fundamentalist or dominionist. And on top of that, characterizing fundamentalist as post modern? Huh?????

    I was trying to correct your improper connection of Johnson with D James Kennedy. If you were more familiar with the feud between the PC-USA and PCA you wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing.

    Francis Collins attends an EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church). Would Pennock would call him post modern. For sure the likes of Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris wanted Collins removed as head of the NIH. Pennock smacks of the same sort of bigotry.

    With respect to the question of Intelligent Design, what someone’s religious beliefs are is totally irrelevant to the question whether ID is true or not.

    Trying to label someone as post-modern is just a smear. That’s more something appropriate for people who are truly anti-Science like PETA and ALF Darwinists.

  13. 13
    Heinrich says:

    My contention is that Phil is just an old-fashioned pre-modern Christian using aspects of the post-modern critique.

    That’s more or less what Pennock is arguing too, except he’s putting more emphasis on the post-modern side of Johnson’s work. He also does discuss the tension between the post-modern and pre-modern sides of ID and creationism.

    I’m curious to know why, when you looked for the basis of Pennock’s identification of Johnson as a post-modernist, you didn’t examine the many quotes of Johnson given in the paper. For example, this:

    “I told them I was a postmodernist and deconstructionist just like them, but aiming at a slightly different target.” – Philip Johnson

  14. 14
    critter says:

    You can stop responding to David Kellogg, he has been banned.

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