Phillip E. Johnson, The Right Questions.

Phil Johnson’s latest book — an all-purpose book dealing with the Human Genome Project, higher education, terrorism, and much more.

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Book Review by Kevin Peet, fellow of the CBC

Phillip Johnson is a most accomplished man: former law professor at UC Berkeley, a law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren, and the author of several books on Darwinism and on the intelligent engaging of our culture in dialogue. His latest book is The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate, the stated purpose of which is not to try to answer the questions, instead it is to try to frame those questions that will most enable a fruitful cultural dialogue. The questions are divided usefully into categories, such as “The Right Questions about Science, God, and Morality” and “The Right Questions about the Meaning of Life.”

Of equal interest to the questions is the personal narrative which parallels them, as Mr. Johnson describes a stroke which he suffered in July 2001. This event profoundly changed his thinking and fundamentally changed who he is, as he was compelled to confront who he was and on what he based his confidence. “I was a Christian, even an ardent one after my worldly fashion, but now all the smoke was blown away and I saw Truth close up. I knew myself to be not so much a believer in Christ as a skeptic about everything else, a recovering nationalist who had lost his faith in the world’s definition of reason, but who knew only the world’s Jesus. That Jesus seemed too sentimental a thing to bear the full weight of a life at its most desperate moment.”

Mr. Johnson uses, in the Introduction to the book, the analogy of a ‘logic train,’ that is, something which will reach the reasonable terminus, assuming that the right questions are set forth initially and that rigorous logic and rationality are uniformly applied. And he reinforces this with “The Right Questions about Logic” in chapter 3, talking about “the ultimate premise, the beginning point from which logic should proceed.”

There is much to value and to enjoy about the book. Mr. Johnson has very sound things to say, such as about the inadvisability of hinging apologetic arguments on the first few chapters of Genesis, or the inevitable strains under which Christian academics must conduct their careers within the academy. The book will be of value to someone who finds himself or herself desiring a way to consider the matters under discussion there, and will also be appreciated by someone wishing to see how the principles and ideas in The Wedge of Truth can be applied concretely to engage and challenge our contemporary culture.

My own favorite part, I admit, is his joyous admission-repeated when he gave a talk to the CBC in November 2002-that he would not undo the effects of the stroke, difficult though they have been, even if he could, because of the vast benefit he has thereby gained. “I do not think I knew Jesus at all,”ᅠhe states, “until I knew him in suffering, and so I could never wish that suffering altogether undone if that meant that its effects would be wiped out from my life.”