Phillip E. Johnson, a professor and author credited with helping to found the modern Intelligent Design movement, has passed away at age 79.
Evolution News & Science Today announced on Sunday that the author of books including Darwin on Trial and The Wedge of Truth died peacefully at his home in Berkeley, California, over the weekend.
David Klinghoffer of Evolution News described Johnson as “a key guiding spirit of the intelligent design movement” who debated evolutionists “in the spirit of a gentleman.”
“With his vision, Johnson changed the terms of the debate about origins, with brilliance and gusto. In doing so, he changed many lives, of scientists and others, across the globe,” wrote Klinghoffer.
“He was very humble, as the greatest men often are, and refused credit for striking the match that became the fire that is currently at work consuming a desiccated theory left over from 19th century materialism.”
Born in 1940, Johnson grew up in Aurora, Illinois, and attended Harvard University and later the University of Chicago Law School.
Johnson became a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, where he taught for more than 30 years.
While raised in a Christian home, Johnson explained in a 2002 interview with Touchstone that he did not become a Christian until age 38 while a professor at Berkeley.
“My conversion was gradual, not dramatic,” he recalled. “The central issue for me was whether Christianity was real or imaginary.”
“I felt it was necessary to come to a conclusion on whether Christian metaphysics were real or imaginary, or if I would be throwing my brains out the window and adopting a myth because it satisfied my personal needs.”
While on a sabbatical in 1988, Johnson read The Blind Watchmaker. Authored by famed atheist intellectual Richard Dawkins, the book was a defense of the Theory of Evolution.
Johnson felt compelled to write a rebuttal and in 1991 the widely-read Christian apologetics book Darwin on Trial was released, igniting many debates and critical responses.
Johnson became a noted spokesman for Intelligent Design, a variation of Creationism that focused on arguments like the complexity of life and is open to mainstream scientific conclusions like an old earth.
In 2003, the Christian publication World Magazine honored Johnson with its Daniel of the Year award, referring to him as a “courtly combatant.”
“Phillip Johnson has made it his mission to correct that mistake and the wrong-headed thinking that led to it. He speaks all over the country,” wrote John Perry of World at the time.
“He is also a Daniel who befriends the lions, treats them with courtliness, annihilates them on the intellectual battlefield, humbly yet effectively neutralizes their desperate ad hominem attacks, then invites them out to dinner-preferably Indian.”
In a 1997 interview with The Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture he cofounded, Johnson was asked what was the hardest thing about being himself.
“Living up to the expectations of my dear friends and supporters,” responded Johnson. “The more you accomplish, the more is expected from you. But I enjoy the struggle immensely, and thank God that I was given this calling.”