PT Reviews "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design"

A number of the contributors to the Panda's Thumb weblog review chapters from "intelligent design" advocate Jonathan Wells's 2006 book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. The book proved to be a farrago of quote mines, obfuscation, misleading rhetoric, and just plain false claims.


Reed Cartwright provides an introduction to the series of chapter reviews of Jonathan Wells's book.

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on August 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

Jonathan Wells is one of the most notorious activists of the political ad campaign known as “intelligent design”. He is most well known for his attacks on modern biology, specifically his 2000 book, Icons of Evolution, which was panned by the scientific community for its fraudulent presentation of modern biology.

Does Jonathan Wells, aiming once again at the popular market, restore his scientific and academic reputation with his latest book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, or is it just old trash in a new bag? To find out, you will need to read our multi-part review, which begins tomorrow.

One thing is for sure, Jonathan Wells is too modest. His recently published, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, is not only politically incorrect but incorrect in most other ways as well: scientifically, logically, historically, legally, academically, and morally.

Jonathan Wells has a Masters of Religious Education from Unification Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California: Berkeley. His scientific output is nearly non-existent, consisting of a couple co-authored papers from his days as graduate student and postdoc. However, he was highly motivated to get advanced degrees, as he wrote in an article about his education:

[Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle….

As a graduate student at Yale, I studied the whole of Christian theology but focused my attention on the Darwinian controversies. I wanted to get to the root of the conflict between Darwinian evolution and Christian doctrine….

When I finished my Yale Ph.D., I felt confident that I understood the theological basis of the conflict between Darwinism and theism.

But Darwinism was clearly winning the ideological battle in the universities, the public schools, and the mass media, largely because it claimed to be supported by scientific evidence. I knew enough about biology to know that this claim was quite shaky, but few scientists were willing to challenge it. Those who did were often lumped together with young-earth biblical fundamentalists and thereby discredited in the eyes of most scholars.

I eventually decided to join the fray by returning to graduate school in biology. I was convinced that embryology is the Achilles’ heel of Darwinism; one cannot understand how organisms evolve unless one understands how they develop. In 1989, I entered a second Ph.D. program, this time in biology, at the University of California at Berkeley….

(Wells J. “Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.”)

Did You Know?

  1. Hundreds of scientific articles are published every month on evolution.
  2. There is no scientific controversy over evolution.
  3. The scientific community considers “intelligent design” to be unscientific.

Furthermore, Jonathan Wells is a Senior Fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, a public policy think tank located in Seattle, Washington. The Discovery Institute is the epicenter of “intelligent design” activism, which took a major blow when Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District effectively declared it religiously motivated pseudoscience, unfit for public schools. Now in this first year after Dover, the “intelligent design” activists have been busy picking up the pieces, trying to hide their defeat in Dover behind a “new” marketing campaign. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, for which the Discovery Institute is holding a party, is part of this marketing campaign, and because of all this, one might reasonably argue that, in addition to the author and the publisher, the Discovery Institute bears responsibility for the poor quality of this book.

Now, an interesting thing about The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design is that it is fat with specious criticisms of modern biology but nearly emaciated when it comes to “intelligent design”. Nowhere can one find any information on when a designing agent might have designed or how a designing agent manufactured its designs in matter and energy. In fact there is not a single, clear statement of what was and wasn’t designed. So while the title is modest in some respects, it’s also incorrect in one more: there’s no guide to “intelligent design” in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Ah, well. Maybe next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after … pigs fly.

That is it for this brief introduction. Be back tomorrow for the first installment of our mutli-part review of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, “Why Should Words Have Meanings? (Chapter 1)” by Burt Humburg.

Review of Chapter One

Burt Humburg examines Chapter 1, and finds that Jonathan Wells has a severe case of Humtpy-Dumptyism. Wells just can't seem to bring himself to use words in a consistent manner.

Posted by bhumburg on August 26, 2006 12:00 AM

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

By titling his first chapter “Wars and Rumors”, Jonathan Wells invokes a snippet of scripture in which Jesus describes the end times

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

(Matt 24:6)

Wells uses such dramatic quotations and general martial language because the struggle between “intelligent design” and science is very much a culture war, at least to him and other creationists. In order to advance his thesis, Wells has to convey the idea that “Darwinism” pits itself against traditional Christianity: to allow pupils to learn it is to give them up to atheism, decadence, liberalism and to lose the culture war.

Note that Wells does not wage war against evolution. In fact, he is at pains to make it (somewhat) clear that he wages war against “Darwinism”, which in context might sound like the sort of thing any sensible Christian would want to guard against. Unfortunately, Wells isn’t exactly clear what he means by Darwinism as opposed to evolution. In this chapter and chapter fifteen, “Darwinism’s War on Traditional Christianity”, we find many references to “Darwinism”. Assuming that even creationist words have meaning, let us set those invocations in series while adjusting the language only to merge them syntactically. Presumably there is consistency of meaning, and this will hopefully help us gain a greater understanding of what this nasty Darwinism thing is.

“[There] is a fundamental conflict here [but] it is not between religion and science, or even between Christianity and evolution, but between traditional Christianity and Darwinism. Although the latter may allow for the existence of a deity, [that deity would not be] the God of traditional Christianity” (p. 173). Darwinism differs from evolution because it explains “the origin of not just one or a few species, but all species after the first—in short, all the diversity of life on Earth” (p. 3). Wells does not disagree with evolution itself or even its attendant conclusions of descent with modification or even perhaps common descent; his objection is that scientists haven’t found any direction to evolution (pp. 2,3,5). It is this failure to perceive direction in evolution that defines Darwinism, which might be considered unguided or undirected evolution (p. 6). This distinction between evolution and “Darwinism” is quite important because at some point after Darwin published his work, “Darwinism declared war on traditional Christianity” (p. 170).

Did You Know?

  • No scientific society has endorsed “intelligent design” as science.
  • Most scientists view “intelligent design” as religion.
  • Under oath “intelligent design” activists believe that ID is at best fringe science.
  • But Wells also writes, “[Intelligent] design is compatible with some aspects of Darwinian evolution” (p. 8). Note that he did not write “evolution” but “Darwinian evolution”, presumably “Darwinism”. According to the stated definition on page six, Darwinism requires a component of undirectedness or unguidedness—the idea that any apparent design must be illusory—to distinguish itself from mere evolution. So intelligent design, a philosophical perspective that makes evolution compatible with “Traditional Christianity” by imputing design and direction to its inputs or outcomes, is compatible with perspectives of evolution that declared war on “Traditional Christianity” and considers any perceived design in the outcomes of evolution illusory.

    Confused yet?

    One gets the distinct impression that, despite the time Wells spent pondering the material in his book, a better working definition for Darwinism would have been, “everything about evolution to which creationists like me object”. This definition, unlike the one Wells offers, at least would have made sense in context.

    Easily, one of the prominent faults of Wells’s screed is a pervasive confusion between terms. Words, like “Darwinism” and “Traditional Christianity”, seem to mean whatever Wells wants them to mean for that specific sentence. In many cases words are used without regard for his own stated definitions and usually without regard to usage elsewhere in his book. There are several possible reasons for this confusion in terms. First, Wells confusion may be by design. I have argued elsewhere that creationists intend to confuse their audiences when they argue. Second, if you review the acknowledgements page, you’ll read how Wells used many authors to help him prepare this text. It is possible that Wells’s editorship was so insufficient that he allowed a term that makes up part of the book’s very title to have a flexible meaning. My suspicion is that there was both disparity between the understanding of key terms by different authors as well as an intention to confuse.

    Wells doesn’t spend a great deal of time defining intelligent design. This is in keeping with creationist strategy. As federal Judge John E. Jones III of the Middle District of Pennsylvania noted:

    ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class.

    (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District)

    Wells does not actually define “intelligent design” and thus does not lock “intelligent design” down into a form that could actually be scrutinized. Instead he chooses to list to list a few things “worth noting” about “intelligent design”. Throughout chapters one and fifteen, Wells defends ID creationism as the sort of thing that “traditional Christians” should support. But in this section, presumably in an effort to accommodate the obvious imperfections in biological structures or the lack of justice or beneficence in competing organisms, Wells writes, “ID does not claim that the design must be optimal; something may be designed, even if it is flawed. When automobile manufacturers recall defective vehicles, they are showing that those vehicles were badly designed, not that they were undesigned” (p. 8). We here at the Thumb support Wells’s freedom to believe in a God or gods of his choosing, but we aren’t so sure that the consideration of God as incompetent is a feature of “Traditional Christian” beliefs. This is yet another example of words meaning whatever Wells wants them to mean.

    The real meaning of “intelligent design”, for the most part, is left unclear. Again, this is likely by design, since it is in keeping with creationist strategy:

    One consistency among the Dover School Board members’ testimony, which was marked by selective memories and outright lies under oath, as will be discussed in more detail below, is that they did not think they needed to be knowledgeable about ID because it was not being taught to the students.

    (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District)

    Indeed a popular talking point by creationists is that they need not necessarily have an alternative to “Darwinism” in order to know that “Darwinism” is wrong. (c.f. Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Ann Coulter around 2:00: “I can be a restaurant critic without opening up a restaurant.”)

    Darwin considered that the evolution that he was noting in organisms affected humans as well and that man had a phylogenetic history just like the beetles he was studying. It is instructive that this is likely Wells’s biggest objection against Darwin. Wells quotes Darwin as writing,

    There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the winds blow. [Although] I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed design of any kind, in the details.

    The reader will recall Darwin’s previous intention to become a country pastor and his schooling in the ministry (short as it was) and impute sorrow to the words Darwin wrote above. Darwin mourned the lack of evidence of design in the evolution he discovered. Like all scientists with the courage to discard a favored hypothesis, Darwin had to admit to himself that which he would have preferred to not: there was no evidence of design in the world he was observing and measuring with the tools of science and what happened to the beetles and orchids was happening and had happened to humans and to our progenitor species as well.

    The idea that man is an animal must be offensive to Wells, who appears not to tolerate any view of our specie’s emergence other than an immaculate conception. What was Darwin’s fault according to Wells? “He set out to explain the origin of not just one or a few species, but all the species after the first.” What a scoundrel that Darwin was! One can almost hear Wells saying to himself, “Had Darwin simply stopped at beetles or orchids, that would have been one thing. But to suggest that even humans share a deep kinship with all the living things on the planet or that man is an animal as well? That’s just beyond the pale.”

    Perhaps instead of reading Genesis 1 so much, Wells should have read Ecclesiastes 3.

    Tune in tomorrow, when PZ Myers deals a mortal blow to Jonathan Wells’s thoughts on embryos and development. (How may mortal blows can one hack take?) Those who visit Pharyngula know that PZ has already posted this portion of the review over there and the Thumb is poised to simply re-air his essay. Now you know what life is like on the West Coast.

    Review of Chapter Three

    PZ Myers reviews Chapter 3, which takes up developmental biology. Consistently, Jonathan Wells has to serve up a mishmash of the biology in order to dismiss it.

    Posted by PZ Myers on August 27, 2006 12:00 AM

    Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

    Read the entire series.

    Jonathan Wells is a titular developmental biologist, so you’d expect he’d at least get something right in his chapter on development and evolution in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, but no: he instead uses his nominal knowledge of a complex field to muddle up the research and misuse the data to generate a spurious impression of a science that is unaware of basic issues. He ping-pongs back and forth in a remarkably incoherent fashion, but that incoherence is central to his argument: he wants to leave the reader so baffled about the facts of embryology that they’ll throw up their hands and decide development is all wrong.

    Do not be misled. The state of Jonathan Wells’s brain is in no way the state of the modern fields of molecular genetics, developmental biology, and evo-devo.

    Here’s my shorter version of Wells’s chapter 3, titled “Why you didn’t ‘evolve’ in your mother’s womb.” It may sound familiar to many of you.

    The strongest evidence for Darwin’s theory was embryology, but Karl Ernst von Baer, who laid out the laws of development, did not think they supported evolution, and Ernst Haeckel twisted and distorted von Baer’s laws and faked his data to support Darwinism. He was wrong, and the earliest stages of vertebrate embryos do not resemble one another at all, so Darwinism was built on a false foundation, and they’re still using Haeckel’s faked data in our textbooks. Oh, and mutant fruit flies are still just flies.

    That’s right, it’s a rather boring rewrite of a premise of his book, Icons of Evolution, which I hammered on over three years ago. He hasn’t learned a thing since, and he’s making exactly the same arguments. I’ll take a different tack this time and expose the sleight of hand he’s pulling.

    Here’s the centerpiece of his ploy. It’s a basic concept in evo-devo, proposed in the early 1990s by Duboule and Raff as a summary of 150 years worth of observations, called the developmental hourglass.


    What it illustrates is that we have great diversity in the earliest stages of development, in the blastula and gastrula and neurula, but that they all converge on a more similar form, the pharyngula, at what’s called the phylotypic stage…and then they diverge once again to achieve the diversity of adult forms. This is a great opportunity for a creationist. You see, when you dig into the developmental biology literature, you will find some papers taking about the similarities of embryos at the neck of the hourglass, and you will also find other papers talking in some detail about the great differences before and after that stage. You will also find marvelous possibilities for confusion in the vague and malleable term “early”—to me, for instance, anything before the pharyngula stage is early, and everything after is late and relatively uninteresting. To put that in perspective, though, humans reach that stage at the 4th or 5th week of pregnancy—so I’m basically declaring month two and later of the human pregnancy to be late development. We do tend to throw around the terms early and late as relative measures of the timing of events, but we also name specific stages and processes…the fine details of which Wells leaves out, to make everything that much more confusing.

    This is the heart of Wells’s strategy: pick comments by developmental biologists referring to different stages, which say very different things about the similarity of embryos, and conflate them. It’s easy to make it sound like scientists are willfully lying about the state of our knowledge when you can pluck out a statement about the diversity at the gastrula stage, omit the word “gastrula”, and pretend it applies to the pharyngula stage.

    Literally. He is actually that dishonest.

    Here’s how Wells quotes William Ballard (a well known elder developmental biologist, who has done a lot of work on fish and is therefore familiar to me):

    It is “only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence,” by “bending the facts of nature,” that one can argue that the early embryo stages of vertebrates “are more alike than their adults.”

    (pp. 30,31)

    Always be suspicious when you see partial phrases quoted and strung together by a creationist. Little alarm bells should be going off like mad in your head.

    This is from a paper in which Ballard is advocating greater appreciation of the morphogenetic diversity of the gastrula stage—that is, a very early event, one that is at the base of that hourglass, where developmental biologists have been saying for years that there is a great deal of phylogenetic diversity. Here’s what Ballard actually said:

    Before the pharyngula stage we can only say that the embryos of different species within a single taxonomic class are more alike than their parents. Only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence can we claim that “gastrulas” of shark, salmon, frog, and bird are more alike than their adults.

    (Ballard WW (1976))

    See what I mean? He has lifted a quote from a famous scientist that applies to the gastrula stage, stripped out the specific referents, and made it sound as if it applies to the pharyngula stage. It’s a simple game, one he repeats over and over in this chapter.

    One might argue that maybe Ballard also thought these semantic tricks applied to the pharyngula stage, and so Wells was representing his general views accurately. Alas, this cannot be. The paragraph before his mangled quote says this, rather plainly:

    All then arrive at the pharyngula stage, which is remarkably uniform throughout the subphylum, consisting of similar organ rudiments similarly arranged (though in some respects deformed in respect to habitat and food supply). After the standardized pharyngula stage, the maturing of the structures of organs and tissues takes place on diverging line, each line characteristic of the class and further diverging into lines characteristic of the orders, families, and so on.

    It’s a classic quote mine. Wells has edited the quote to suit his ends, and has also utterly ignored the sense of the paper, which directly contradicts his claims, to produce a grand lie and tie it to the reputation of a distinguished senior scientist.

    I could stop here. With that one example, Wells is exposed as a disreputable scoundrel, a sloppy ideologue whose “scholarship” is untrustworthy and willfully distorted. You simply cannot believe one word he says. I will go on a little further, though, and try to explain some of the ideas he has treated so shabbily.

    The developmental hourglass

    There is a fair amount of debate in the evo-devo community about the reality of the developmental hourglass, but Wells doesn’t seem to touch on the actual arguments at all—merely these strawman complaints and garbled chronologies that he uses to cast false doubt on the evolutionary process. One serious question is about how wide the waist of the hourglass actually is: an overzealous Haeckelian interpretation would be that it is very narrow indeed, but serious embryology (none of which seems to be done by “intelligent design” proponents) demonstrates that there is a significant amount of variation within the phylotypic period. Michael Richardson relaunched a critical reevaluation on the basis of morphology, and there have been a number of attempts to analyze the molecular basis of the model (several papers are cited at the end of this article; some find no detectable evidence of a consistent molecular pattern, others do.)

    If it does pan out as a universal and coherent property of developing embryos that they should have a conserved stage, the next question is “why?” What is it that shelters the phylotypic stage to some degree (as yet unquantified) from the evolutionary divergence so common in other developmental processes? I actually rather like Raff’s explanation: that it is a matter of scope. The diagram to the right below outlines this idea.


    Development is a process of increasing complexity (the grey line). The assembly of an integrated body plan requires, at some time, a pattern of global interaction—there has to be information generated at some point to specify where the head will be relative to the tail, etc., and some processes operate over large areas of the animal. For instance, somites, one of the body elements characteristic of the phylotypic stage, form under the influence of a somitic clock, rhythmic waves of molecular activity that sweep the length of the trunk and tail. One idea is that these “whole body” specification events are conserved and are difficult to uncouple from one another, so all the features for which they are responsible tend to appear together in a coordinated fashion…and that coordination is what we call the phylotypic period. Other processes are more modular and more local, not needing that level of global interaction, and are more free to diverge. The dark line in the graph indicates a peak time of long range interactive processes (and again, the real argument is about how broad that peak might be, and how much are the different fundamental processes, such as myotome and branchial arch formation, unlinked), and how subsequent developmental events become more independent.

    That there are active, open questions in this particular area of developmental biology, though, does not suggest the field of evo-devo is wrong. It means that biologists are working on interesting problems, and a survey of the field would show that evolution is the productive framework of choice. “Intelligent design” activists like Wells are reduced to irrelevant carping from the sidelines…and even their criticisms are all wrong.

    Darwin’s debt to embryology

    Another feature of Wells’s book, and creationists in general, is the obsession with Charles Darwin. I like the guy, I think he was brilliant, and it was his insights that launched modern evolutionary biology. But come on—he’s been dead for 124 years. He didn’t have all the tools we do now: no genetics, no molecular biology. Science has moved on well beyond Darwin’s day, but not for the creationists, who still think they can whimper and whine about errors in a book almost 150 years old and thereby dent work that nowadays depends in large part on molecular and genetic and population genetics…fields that didn’t even exist for Charles!

    Darwin did argue that embryology was an important piece of the evidence for evolution, a fact that is still true and probably even more so than in his time. What Wells does, though, is again mislead his readers about Darwin’s views. He claims that:

    …von Baer’s view “was confounded with and then transformed into” the evolutionary doctrine that the embryos of higher organisms pass through the adult forms of lower organisms in the course of their development. It was this evolutionary distortion of von Baer’s work that Darwin considered the strongest evidence for his theory.

    In the 1860’s, German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel (pronounced “heckle”) made some drawings to illustrate this distorted view, and Darwin relied on the drawings in later editions of The Origin of Species and in The Descent of Man (1871).

    (p. 27)

    There’s that Wells sleight of hand again. Haeckel’s ideas about recapitulation (this idea of embryos passing through the adult forms of ‘lower’ organisms, which even Haeckel did not hold as simple-mindedly as Wells pretends) would be very difficult to find in the Origin of Species, which was published in 1859…note the date of Haeckel’s work. Pore through the Origin, and you won’t find reference to Haeckel’s theory (later editions cite him once), and you certainly won’t find any reliance on his drawings.

    Darwin refers to embryology as the “strongest single class of facts” in favor of a change of forms in a letter to Asa Gray, and even there we don’t see the kind of adherence to recapitulation that Wells proposes.

    It is curious how each one, I suppose, weighs arguments in a different balance: embryology is to me by far the strongest single class of facts in favour of change of forms, and not one, I think, of my reviewers has alluded to this. Variation not coming on at a very early age, and being inherited at not a very early corresponding period, explains, as it seems to me, the grandest of all facts in natural history, or rather in zoology, viz. the resemblance of embryos.

    Hmmm. He’s talking about the timing of the onset of accumulation of variation, not that there is some constraint to follow adult forms. The description above actually fits very well with von Baer’s ideas of development proceeding from the general to the specific, not the “evolutionary distortion” (which is not part of evolutionary theory, anyway!) Wells describes.

    In the Origin, we see even more nuance.

    We can see why characters derived from the embryo should be of equal importance with those derived from the adult, for a natural classification of course includes all ages. But it is by no means obvious, on the ordinary view, why the structure of the embryo should be more important for this purpose than that of the adult, which alone plays its full part in the economy of nature. Yet it has been strongly urged by those great naturalists, Milne Edwards and Agassiz, that embryological characters are the most important of all; and this doctrine has very generally been admitted as true. Nevertheless, their importance has sometimes been exaggerated, owing to the adaptive characters of larvae not having been excluded; in order to show this, Fritz Muller arranged by the aid of such characters alone the great class of crustaceans, and the arrangement did not prove a natural one. But there can be no doubt that embryonic, excluding larval characters, are of the highest value for classification, not only with animals but with plants. Thus the main divisions of flowering plants are founded on differences in the embryo,- on the number and position of the cotyledons, and on the mode of development of the plumule and radicle. We shall immediately see why these characters possess so high a value in classification, namely, from the natural system being genealogical in its arrangement.

    Notice: no claim that embryos recapitulate adult forms, an acknowledgment that the importance can be exaggerated and that there are confounding characters, and the citation of well-known authors (Agassiz, by the way, was an opponent of evolutionary theory) that embryology is important for analysis in systematics. This doesn’t resemble Wells caricature in the slightest.

    What about later editions? I mentioned that Haeckel was cited once, and here it is:

    Professor Haeckel in his Generelle Morphologie and in other works, has recently brought his great knowledge and abilities to bear on what he calls phylogeny, or the lines of descent of all organic beings. In drawing up the several series he trusts chiefly to embryological characters, but receives aid from homologous and rudimentary organs, as well as from the successive periods at which the various forms of life are believed to have first appeared in our geological formations. He has thus boldly made a great beginning, and shows us how classification will in the future be treated.

    Again, no mention of recapitulation of adult forms, and in fact, the emphasis is on using multiple lines of evidence to build a phylogeny: embryological characters, homologous and vestigial organs, and paleontology. That sounds reasonable to me. Does Wells disagree?

    Wells’s treatment of the historical relationship of Darwin and Haeckel is as shoddily done as his discussion of the phylotypic stage. He relies entirely on mangled chronologies and the dishonest attribution of ideas to the targets of his slanders.

    Modern developmental genetics and evo-devo

    Did You Know?

    1. Modern biologists don’t think embryos are most similar at their earliest stages.
    2. Wells objects to showing students photos of embryos.
    3. Scientists have routinely demonstrated major morphological changes in embryos caused by mutations, and have even enumerated the genetic changes underlying the differences between some species.

    At the end of the chapter, Wells throws away several pages in a common creationist complaint, that mutant flies are still flies, not shrimp or horses. In particular, he focuses on work by McGinnis and colleagues, who have been working out the details of how Hox genes affect morphology; in one well-known work a few years ago, they demonstrated that a fly gene, Ubx, had evolved limb-suppressing properties that are not present in the crustacean version of Ubx. Flies, of course, only have legs on their thoraxes, not their abdomens (where Ubx is expressed), while shrimp do have abdominal limbs. It’s great stuff: it demonstrates how large-scale morphological properties of organisms are regulated by fairly small changes in the sequences of key genes.

    Wells’s response?

    …even if they had shown how ancient shrimp lost a few legs, their experiment would not have even begun to explain how a water-dwelling shrimp-like animal could acquire the ability to breathe air and fly.

    (p. 35)

    It’s a classic example of goalpost shifting. The “intelligent design” activists are always demanding step-by-step explanations for the evolution of an organism, but when a legitimate researcher uncovers one step, they immediately resort to demanding a grand explanation of the whole leap. McGinnis explained one piece in the process; his goal wasn’t to explain the respiratory system or wings, but the pattern of limbs, and he did an experiment to test his ideas. Wells wants to criticize a study on legs because it didn’t look at wings, but you know that if it had looked at wings, he would have just complained that it didn’t explain legs.

    What we have in evo-devo is a promising, exciting field of study that is revolutionizing our understanding of life on earth, and all Wells has to offer is the vapid sophistry of “intelligent design” (the “designer did it”) and no experimental work at all, while making the same crude and ignorant arguments—“mutant fruit flies are still just fruit flies”—that creationists have been making for decades.

    It’s all of a piece. I keep looking for a word to summarize this book, and I keep coming back to “dishonest”; devious, unethical, deceitful, underhanded, shifty, false, and untrustworthy would also fit. I predict that in the coming reviews of other chapters in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by my colleagues at the Panda’s Thumb, they’re all going to be using permutations of that concept of contemptible fraudulence to express their feelings about Wells. It’s the kind of book that makes knowledgeable people want to wash their hands obsessively.

    Tune in tommorow for Andrea Bottaro’s review of Chapter 9.


    • Ballard WW (1976) Problems of gastrulation: real and verbal. Bioscience 26(1):36-39.
    • Bininda-Emonds OR,
      Jeffery JE,
      Richardson MK (2003) Inverting the hourglass: quantitative evidence against the phylotypic stage in vertebrate development. Proc Biol Sci. 270(1513):341-6.
    • Hazkani-Covo E,
      Wool D,
      Graur D (2005) In search of the vertebrate phylotypic stage: a molecular examination of the developmental hourglass model and von Baer’s third law. J Exp Zoolog B Mol Dev Evol304(2):150-8.
    • Poe S,
      Wake MH (2004) Quantitative tests of general models for the evolution of development. Am Nat 164(3):415-22.
    • Richardson MK Hanken J Gooneratne ML Pieau C Raynaud A Selwood L & Wright GM (1997) There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development Anat. embryol. 196 91-106.

    Review of Chapter Nine

    Andrea Bottaro provides this review of Chapter 9.

    Posted by Andrea Bottaro on August 28, 2006 12:00 AM

    Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

    Read the entire series.

    Chapter 9 in Wells’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Evolution and Intelligent Design, “The Secret of Life”, is like previous chapters, a rehash of well-known creationist arguments. This time the topics are DNA, the genetic code, and the origin of biological information. In addition, Wells uses up a third of the chapter with some excuse-making for the lack of peer-reviewed papers supporting “intelligent design”, and with a completely misleading account of the purported “persecution” of an ID-friendly scientist by the “Darwinist orthodoxy”.

    As far as the scientific arguments go, after giving an overview of DNA structure and function, Wells presents three main objections to the current scientific understanding of evolution at the DNA level, which in a nutshell go like this:

    1. Since all information-containing systems whose origins are known are produced by intelligent agents, the best current scientific explanation must be that those whose origin is still unknown are also the product of intelligent agents, instead of unintelligent processes.
    2. The sequence of bases in DNA “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws. (Note that “intelligent design” activists believe that intelligence, even human intelligence, is outside of the laws of nature.)
    3. All available scenarios for the origin of life are sorely incomplete, in particular those that currently enjoy widest support in the scientific community, which hypothesize that short molecules of RNA (a nucleic acid similar to DNA) may originally have acted both as information-bearers and as direct mediators of chemical reactions (a job done today mostly by proteins). This is know as the “RNA World” hypothesis. Wells complains that we don’t have a clear idea how such RNAs may have originated in the primordial Earth conditions and that, although experiments have shown that small, randomly generated RNAs can have intrinsic specific chemical functions, in all those experiments the RNAs were generated by intelligent investigators. (Hence the origin of the information they contain can again be tied to intelligent agents.) Finally, Wells grumbles, even if such experiments could be construed to indicate that short RNAs can harbor non-intelligently-derived information, all known living systems contain much more information, and there is no evidence that that much information can arise naturally—so there.

    I don’t think it’s too hard to spot the flaw in the first claim: by the same logic, one could say that all information-rich structures whose origins are known were designed by humans, therefore DNA must have been designed by humans. Of course, this is impossible; however DNA originated, humans as we know them could not have been around then. In science, a proposed explanation is generally considered appropriate when it is corroborated by alternative lines of evidence. Appeals to unknown, unverified and unverifiable entities, as proposed by “intelligent design” activists in this case, are not explanations in any scientific sense but are at best conjectures in wait of validation.

    Wells tries to support this argument by citing Bill Gates, who once stated that “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created”. Hey, he’s Bill Gates; he should know! And if DNA is a computer program, there must a programmer, right? In reality, however, DNA is not really like a computer program in any but the most superficial way. It also doesn’t look or work like any of the other common metaphors used to describe it: an “instruction book”, a “recipe”, a “floor plan”. Truth be told, DNA looks nothing like any of the designed objects humans use to direct assembly of any product. But let’s not get the evocative power of a metaphor stand in the way of reality, Wells would suggest.

    Did You Know?

    1. RNAs can perform a stunning variety of chemical reactions.
    2. In your body, all proteins are created by enzymatic RNAs.
    3. The genetic code is linked to the chemical properties of amino-acid binding RNAs.

    The second of Wells’s argument is more slight of hand than anything else. In one sense, the statement that the sequence of DNA is “not predetermined” by natural laws is trivially true, and in another, it is utterly false. Wells just hopes the reader will get confused between the two. It is true that the sequence of DNA is “not predetermined”, but that doesn’t mean anything at all. The shape of a mountain is equally not predetermined by the laws of physics or geology, but only a crank would argue that therefore the shape of a mountain is not the historical product of physical forces, geological processes, and chance. The sequence of DNA in any living organism, like the shape of a mountain, is the result of a long historical process in which physical and chemical laws, biological mechanisms and chance intertwined to yield a specific result which could not have been predicted or predetermined at the onset, based on the simple knowledge of the underlying laws.

    And yet, there are also some aspects of DNA coding that do follow the laws of chemistry in ways that must be most uncomfortable for Wells. For instance, it has been found that certain nucleotide triplets in RNA can physically bind to the very same amino acids their respective counterparts in DNA code for. But DNA is a digital code (“just like a computer program”, remember?), and there really is no need nor reason to expect that a physical-chemical correspondence of this kind should exist. It’s as if you were analyzing the code in a face recognition program and found that the subroutines involved in nose shape discrimination physically stuck to your nose. The “computer program” metaphor has no way to make sense of such a finding, other than attribute it to the whim of the programmer. Biologically, though, such an observation would make sense if one assumed that originally the code was not digital, as it is now, but simpler: analog. At some point, early during the origin of life, when directed protein synthesis arose, the correspondence between nucleic acid sequence and protein sequence may have been not digital, but chemical. And like a molecular fossil, even billions of years after the onset and stabilization of the digital genetic code, remnants of this pre-digital age still remain with us.

    Which brings me to the third argument. This is a perfect illustration of the strategy of arguing from ignorance and goalpost-moving which characterize the creationist literature. The “RNA World” hypothesis, that life arose as complexes of RNAs which both contained information and carried out the chemical reactions necessary for proto-life, was formulated in the 1980’s based on the unexpected observation that some short RNAs could perform specific chemical reactions (“ribozymes”). Although still debated among scientists, since its original formulation the hypothesis has accumulated a number of notches on its belt, in the form of verified predictions (either ignored or glibly dismissed by Wells). Among these one can count three important findings.

    1. The empirical verification that short RNAs can perform a stunning variety of chemical reactions, including, to some extent, self-replication, a step that would have been essential for the origin of life.
    2. The finding that certain conditions and chemical “facilitators” likely present in the primordial Earth allow the spontaneous formation and persistence of RNA chains from individual constituent components.
    3. The discovery that certain basic biological processes, once thought the exclusive realm of proteins, can in fact be mediated by RNA molecules. Most spectacularly, it has been shown that the machinery for protein synthesis is, at its core, a ribozyme.

    This of course doesn’t mean that we have solved the problem of the origin of life (or that we even can, for that matter), but it illustrates the differences between a priori “explanations”, based on lack of evidence and negative argumentation, and actual scientific research, which proceeds by proposing testable explanations and actually doing the experiments required to test them.

    The last part of this chapter recounts the controversy surrounding the publication of an article by Wells’s Discovery Institute colleague Stephen Meyer in the taxonomy journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, which was followed, according to “intelligent design” lore, by the persecution by “Darwinists” of Richard Sternberg, the journal editor, for allowing the paper to appear in the peer-reviewed literature. Without going into much detail on the story, these are some things Wells “forgets” to mention in his description:

    1. The journal itself is a minor publication, with a minimal circulation, that usually deals with topics like description of new invertebrate species. It does not deal at all the kind of broad, general issues discussed by Meyer’s paper. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that Meyer ever even would have known of the existence of the journal (I certainly didn’t, before the brouhaha), except that….
    2. The editor, a position held on rotation by one of the Smithsonian investigators, happened to be at the time an acquaintance of Meyer’s. This scientist had extensive previous contacts with “intelligent design” and creationist circles, had presented at closed conferences with leading “intelligent design” activists, had contributed to creationist journals, and was even invited to speak at an “intelligent design” conference in Finland (with Wells) at the time the controversy broke out.
    3. Contrary to Wells’s claims, the journal has officially stated that the editor failed to follow the journal’s guidelines in handling the review of the submitted paper by choosing to personally manage the process, without sharing editorial duties with other members of the editorial committee, a most unfortunate decision, given the potential conflict of interest arising from the circumstances outlined above. Because the identity of the paper reviewers are anonymous, and the reviewers themselves have not come forward, it is impossible to say whether Sternberg chose reviewers that would be friendly to Meyer’s position, by selecting them among the small circle of known creationism and “intelligent design” sympathizers.
    4. Again, contrary to the impression given by Wells, the “preliminary investigation” by the Office of Special Counsel regarding the alleged workplace harassment of the editor following the article’s publication was in fact entirely based on Sternberg’s own allegations, with no possibility of defense by the accused Smithsonian investigators, and on internal Smithsonian e-mails improperly obtained and selectively divulged by a politically appointed OSC lawyer. Despite this obvious imbalance, which gave the accused no chance of countering the accusations, the OSC lawyer could not find any evidence of retaliation or professional damage to Sternberg, except of course for the distrust and spurning he elicited in his colleagues because of the suspicious circumstances in which Meyer’s article was published, and his creationist sympathies. The OSC admitted that it never had jurisdiction on the case, and the editor chose not to pursue his allegations in more appropriate venues. This did not stop creationist organizations, like Wells’s Discovery Institute, from mounting media campaigns aimed at discrediting and sullying the reputation of Smithsonian investigators, and Sternberg supervisor’s in particular, in national papers and news outlets.

    Lastly, Wells claims that this supposedly illustrates a “Catch 23” rule: “intelligent design” is not considered science because it is not published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and cannot be published in the scientific literature because it is not considered science. This is really just a lame excuse: “intelligent design” is not published in the literature simply because it has no science to publish. The few articles that have been produced by “intelligent design” activists in the scientific literature invariably are either rather debatable, repetitive philosophical/theoretical works, or do not in fact support an “intelligent design” position at all. Most damningly, in January 2002 “intelligent design” activists initiated their own online journal “Progress in Complexity, Information and Design”, with the stated aim “to advance the science of complexity by assessing the degree to which teleology is relevant (or irrelevant) to the origin, development, and operation of complex systems” (profoundly sounding jargon for “intelligent design”), where they could have published any research free of “censorship” or editorial pressures. Meant initially to be a quarterly publication, as of today only 8 issues of the journal have appeared in over 4 and a half years (the last in November 2005). None of the articles published contains any research or scientific finding based on “intelligent design”. Neither have “intelligent design” activists published any research papers in other venues available to them, such as the peer-reviewed journal “Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum”, which routinely harbors fringe anti-evolution papers thanks to its editor, the Italian creationist Giuseppe Sermonti, who was one of the pro-creationism “experts” at the Kansas anti-evolution “show trial”. Any “intelligent design”-based research would definitely be welcome in Rivista—a theoretical paper by Wells himself was published there several months ago. Its absence speaks louder than any of Wells’s unfounded censorship accusations.

    Review of Chapter Ten

    Ian Musgrave critiques Chapter 10 of PIGDID in this essay, titled "IC is not nice".

    Posted by Ian Musgrave on September 8, 2006 12:00 AM

    Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

    Read the entire series.

    No book on “intelligent design” would be complete without a mention of the concept of irreducible complexity. Jonathan Wells’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design does not disappoint in this regard; it is the actual discussion of irreducible complexity that is very disappointing and down right misleading.

    After a cute introduction with outboard motors [1], Wells moves into Michael Behe’s use of irreducible complexity. Irreducibly complex systems as defined by Michael Behe are:

    a single system composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system effectively to cease functioning.

    (Behe 1996, p. 39)

    This has been redefined a couple of times, but in the end the original definition is the one “intelligent design” activists continue to return to and the one used by Wells. To illustrate the “IC” concept, Wells uses Behe’s example of a mousetrap. Remove one component, and the mousetrap cannot function. Unfortunately for Wells and Behe, a cottage industry has sprung up making reducibly complex mousetraps, so this illustration has lost its force. Even more so since we have experimental and “in the wild” systems that have evolved “IC”.

    The fact that there are complex systems that don’t work when you remove bits is in itself unremarkable. Behe’s contention is that systems that are “irreducibly complex” are unevolvable, and Wells presents this contention as fact. However, IC systems are far from unevolvable. Firstly, way back in the 1930’s Muller (1936) showed that evolution would produce such “IC” systems by incrementally adding parts that were dispensable at first but later became indispensable. In the 1970’s Cairns-Smith showed that systems could be assembled around scaffolding, which when removed left an “IC” system. Indeed there are several mechanisms whereby “IC” systems can come into being. The clear flaw in Behe’s contention is the fact that just because a modern system is not decomposable into smaller parts does not mean that it was not initially constructed from smaller parts.

    There are other practical issues. Behe’s definitions of “part”, “system”, and “function” are arbitrarily flexible, making it easy for Behe to elide between different definitions and evade counter examples, as it suits him. For Behe, in the clotting system “part” means single enzymes, whereas for the flagella it is entire assemblies of proteins. We’ll see the implications of this later. However, Wells does not address any of these highly pertinent issues.

    Then there is Behe’s admission that irreducibly complex systems may evolve indirectly, indeed, indirect evolution of systems by co-option is extensive in evolution. A beautiful example is this is the pentacholrophenyl (PCP) degradation pathway in bacteria. PCP is a highly toxic chemical which is not present in nature; it is only produced by humans and has only been present in any concentration in the environment within the last 60 years as an industrial waste product. Recently some bacteria have evolved the ability to metabolise PCP. The PCP pathway is irreducibly complex, in that removing any one of the three enzymes needed to break down PCP stops degradation, with subsequent cell death (Copley, 2000). Yet the PCP pathway was cobbled together out of two enzymes that broke down dicholrophenol (which is produced by fungi), and a mutation of maleylacetoacetate isomerase, that normally metabolizes amino acids. The mutation of maleylacetoacetate isomerase spontaneously formed a irreducibly complex degradation pathway from pre-existing intermediates (Copely 2000). An irreducibly complex system developed literally under our feet.

    As well as having real, biological systems with irreducibly complexity evolving in front of us, we also have evidence from studies of computer models that IC systems can evolve. Yet you won’t find any of this in Wells’s book. You will only find a brief, irrelevant reference to the Kitzmiller trial, where Behe’s claims that the irreducibly complex immune system was unevolvable were systematically shredded, but no reference to the substantial biological evidence tendered in the trial. Some old favorites do get trotted out: the visual system, the clotting system and the bacterial flagellum. The real biological evidence is ignored, and tall tales are spun, so lets look at what Wells says in the light of evidence. Speaking of light, lets start with Wells misrepresentation of the visual system.

    A little light on the subject

    Wells wrote:

    When light strikes the human retina it is absorbed by a molecule [retinal] which alters an attached protein [opsin], which then initiates what biochemists call a “cascade”—a precisely integrated series of molecular reactions that in this case causes a nerve impulse to be transmitted to the brain. If any molecule in this cascade is missing or defective, no nerve impulse is transmitted, the person is blind. Since the light sensing mechanism doesn’t function unless every part is present, it is irreducibly complex. The fossil record cannot tell us, and no evolutionary biologist has explained, how all these molecules assembled themselves to produce the light sensitive spot that was the starting point for Darwin’s speculation.

    (p. 111)

    To start off with, Wells’s statement “If any molecule in this cascade is missing or defective, no nerve impulse is transmitted, the person is blind” is flat out wrong, arrestin and retinoid binding protein can be completely absent in vertebrates with no effect or mild night blindness (Gonzalez-Ferdanez, 2000). Other proteins can be damaged with only mild effects on vision. But nonetheless Wells is still using the flawed concept that if a modern system breaks if a component is damaged, it couldn’t have evolved. Lets see about that.

    Did You Know?

    1. Evolutionary biologists worked out how evolution can make irreducibly complex systems over 40 years ago.
    2. Irreducibly complex systems have evolved under our very feet.
    3. Evolutionary biologists have made successful predictions about what pieces of the clotting system would be missing from particular organisms.

    A light spot does not need to be as complicated or as tightly regulated as a vertebrate (or cephalopod) eye. One of the iconic light spots is that of the eukaryotic single-celled organism Euglena. The Euglena signal transduction cascade consists of a single protein, the light harvesting protein and the protein that generates the single signaling molecule are one and the same (Iseki 2002). Incidentally, this gives an insight into how signaling cascades develop. If gene duplication of the light sensing enzyme were to occur, and with subsequent mutation so that one copy remains light sensitive, and the other just signals, then you have a mini-cascade happening. Duplication and divergence underlies a large amount of evolutionary novelty.

    But to return to light spots. As we saw, Euglena has a single-protein system, which is not irreducibly complex at all, and we can see how systems could be tacked on to it to form a cascade. Vertebrates use the molecule opsin, rather than the Euglena protein. Opsin is a very old molecule; bacteria have their own version, bacteriorhodopsin, which in its simple form is a single molecule that pumps ions across a membrane (Spudich 1998). Furthermore, changing ion concentrations in cells is a classic way to modify cells excitability and function. Once again we have a one step “cascade”, and a light spot based on this bacteriorhodopsin is something eminently evolvable.

    In more advanced systems, bacteriorhodoposin is linked to the chemosenory signaling pathway. No new system was involved; an old one was co-opted. This theme of co-option is present in the visual system of multi-cellular organisms. Both invertebrate and vertebrate eyes, from simple to complex, use opsin to capture light. But in non-chordate invertebrates, opsin is linked to an enzyme called phospolipase C, and in chordates and vertebrates, it is linked to a phosphodiesterase enzyme (Nilsson 2004). In both cases, the light sensing molecule has co-opted existing signaling systems to work through (Nilsson 2004, Hisatomi 2002). You may ask how the phospholipase C and phosphodiesterase cascades were put together. These are relatively simple and highly flexible systems cobbled together from proteins with other functions. (See Nilsson 2004, Hisatomi 2002; we have already seen that you can mess around with these cascades quite a bit.)

    Of course, you will learn none of this from Wells. Rather than go to the effort of finding out what researchers do know about visual system evolution, he spends his time criticizing Jerry Coyne because Coyne had the temerity to use an anatomical analogy to demonstrate how irreducibly complex systems could evolve. Wells blandly reproduces Behe’s fulmination that anatomy is quite irrelevant to molecular evolution. This is ironic, since Behe’s canonical example of irreducible complexity is a mouse trap. Coynes point is valid because it is the logic of part assembly, rather than the nature of the parts themselves, that is important. A modern human eye acts as an irreducibly complex system, remove a lens, for example, and you are effectively blind. But in simpler organisms, lensless eyes work adequately, and the modern human eye can be reached by minor modification of these systems. Having one photosensitive enzyme is inadequate for modern mammalian vision, but it is quite adequate for a simple photospot such as in Euglena, and subsequent enzymes can be tacked on.

    This misunderstanding that modern dependence means systems are unevolvable extends to the clotting system.

    The reducibly complex clotting system

    Now before I go on, I’ll remind you of Behe’s definition of “irreducible complexity”: “a single system composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system effectively to cease functioning”.

    I’d like to emphasize that the blood clotting system did not evolve in modern terrestrial vertebrates, as it sometimes seems to be implied in Behe’s writings. Instead it evolved in far more primitive organisms with low pressure blood systems, where a cut is less lethal than in vertebrates with high pressure circulatory systems. Clotting in the chordate lineage (the group of animals that includes vertebrates) arose somewhere between chordates and the earliest jawless fish. Primitive chordates such as the sea squirt have no clotting system; they plug up any wounds with mobile blood cells called haematocytes. Their equivalent in humans, platelets, are quite important in clotting but get left out of Behe’s descriptions (Jiang & Doolittle, 2003, Davidson et al., 2003, Yong & Doolittle 1987). This turns out to be important later on.

    Have a look at the diagram of the clotting systems for a variety of chordates.

    The reducibly complex clotting system. Jawed fish lack the extrinsic clotting system, hagfish lack factor X and other components of the vertebrate system, and the primitive chordate Amphioxus has no fibrinogen, but a thrombin like enzyme that produces a clot. Sea Squirts have no coagulation system, but plug holes with haematocytes. Click on the image for a full scale version.

    The first thing you see is that several chordates have very much reduced clotting systems. Jawed fish lack the entire intrinsic pathway and have much less than the dozen proteins that Wells claims are essential for clotting to occur. Jawless fish, such as the hagfish, lack Factor X and some of the accessory enzymes and probably have only half of Wells’s “essential” proteins (Davidson et al. 2003). Without a complete genome of Amphioxus, we don’t know how many of the vertebrate clotting components it has but certainly less than jawless fish. We do know that it has an enzyme that forms clots and acts like thrombin in vertebrate coagulation assays, and we do know it lacks fibrinogen. However, it still forms clots. It is thus very clear that the clotting system is reducible. Why would Wells think otherwise? He is merely parroting Behe (as he does all the way through this chapter), without realizing Behe’s deep misunderstanding of biology. Here’s an example of how badly Behe misunderstands things from his chapter in Of Pandas and People:

    Why is the blood clotting system incompatible with a nonintelligent evolutionary view of nature? Macroevolution means a change from a simpler to a more complex state. Let us try to envision such a change for blood clotting. Assume that we initially start with an organism that contains just a primitive version of thrombin and fibrinogen. The thrombin would immediately cut all the fibrin, causing a massive clot and the speedy death of the organism.

    (Behe 1993, p. 145)

    Several issues with Behe’s account immediately arise. A “primitive version” of thrombin would hardly chop up fibrinogen with the spectacular efficiency of our modern ones. Furthermore, it is the amplification of thrombin activity by the cascade that results in spectacular fast clotting in advanced vertebrates. Without the cascade, there would be no massive, system wide clot. Clotting would proceed in a more leisurely fashion, but this is no problem for organisms with low-pressure blood systems like Amphioxus. Behe is either being disingenuous or lacks even basic understanding of clotting physiology. If Wells was really investigating the clotting system, rather than parroting Behe, he would have noticed these points.

    Such a simple “one step” system is not just theoretical speculation. Shrimp and some crustaceans have a one-step clotting enzyme, and they singularly fail to have lethal, system wide coagulation. Many other crustaceans operate with a simple two-component system (Theopold et al., 2004).

    We know that the Amphioxus thrombin-like system is much reduced compared to jawless fish and jawed fish, let alone vertebrates, although the full details of the system are not clear. We do know about the trypsin-stimulated polyphenoloxidase system though (Pang et al., 2004), and this can serve as a model for primitive clotting systems in chordates.

    When Amphioxus is wounded, tissue damage causes local calcium levels to be high. This activates trypsin released from the tissue (as well as circulating trypsin). The activated trypsin in turn activates polypheoloxidase in the circulation of Amphioxus, which the produces cross-linked melanin. While everyone knows that melanin is the pigment that makes our skins brown (and go browner after exposure to sunlight), fewer will be aware that it is an important component of the innate defense system in invertebrates. Furthermore, sticky masses of melanin are used to entangle and immobilize bacteria and can also help plug the wound (Pang et al., 2004).

    Hmmm, a trypsin-like molecule, activated by high calcium on tissue injury, that makes gluggy stuff. That sounds just like thrombin! (Thrombin appears to be derived from tryspin-like molecules.) Fibrinogen is also used to limit bacterial invasion. Thrombin is not just used in the clotting system (despite Behe’s claim that it is—see Wang et al., 2005); it plays an important role in tissue remodeling and activating immune cells. It is highly plausible that a proto-thrombin was released during tissue damage and initially initiated wound repair, then started making gluggy stuff that limited bacterial invasion, and then was modified to make gluggy stuff that sealed blood vessels. (There are parallel examples seen in modern invertebrates). Given there is a calcium-activated trypsin that activates polyphenol oxidase locally, without glugging up the entire circulation with melanin, this suggests that locally released calcium could control a proto-thrombin easily (and calcium is critical to modern thrombin) conta Behe and in agreement with invertebrate “one step” systems.

    From such a simple calcium-activated system, it is not too far to the simple hagfish system, and thence to the more complicated jawed fish system, and thence to us.

    Behe (1996) wrote:

    In fact, having a primitive, poorly controlled clotting system would probably be more dangerous to an animal, and therefore less advantageous, than having no such system at all!

    Tell that to sea-squirts or Amphioxus (or any number of crustaceans), who handle clotting with a small component clotting system. (As noted above, sea squirts just use haemocytes, a very, very primitive precursor of platelets.)

    Of course, you won’t find a discussion of this reducible clotting system from Wells. He chooses instead to misquote Russell Doolittle.

    But (Doolittle claimed) “when these two lines of mice were crossed … [then] for all practical purposes, the mice lacking both genes were normal! He concluded: “Contrary to claims about irreducible complexity, the entire ensemble of proteins is not needed.”

    (p. 112)

    But this is not what Doolittle said; Wells leaves out Doolittle’s very important qualifier.

    And what do you think happened when these two lines of mice were crossed? For all practical purposes, the mice lacking both genes were normal! 6 Contrary to claims about irreducible complexity, the entire ensemble of proteins is not needed. Music and harmony can arise from a smaller orchestra. No one doubts that mice deprived of these two genes would be compromised in the wild, but the mere fact that they appear normal in the laboratory setting is a striking example of the point and counterpoint, step-by-step scenario in reverse!”

    I have written a long article about Behe’s misquotation of Doolittle, and as Wells blindly follows Behe I direct you to this article (try and guess which one is the fibrinogen knockout mouse). But both Behe and Wells ignore a key point. Mice that have no fibrinogen, the key final step in the clotting cascade, still form clots. These aren’t good clots by any means, but the mice live as long as normal mice, and heal wounds as fast as normal mice, so they are good enough for the purpose in a laboratory setting. If clotting was really as irreducibly complex as Wells claims, clotting should utterly fail, and the mice should die at or shortly after birth, as we need the clotting system to keep our blood vessels intact. So if a mouse, with a modern, high pressure circulation system, can form clots without fibrinogen, then a primitive, low pressure clotting system would work quite well, just as it does in the fibrinogen free Amphioxus.

    But of course Wells ignores this crucial aspect and proceeds to “the” bacterial flagellum.

    In a spin with Flagella

    The flagellum is beloved of ID promoters, as, at least in diagrams, actually looks like a human-built machine. But looks are deceptive, and there is a wealth of information to show that they evolved.

    The relation ship of Type II secretory systems to type IV secretory/motility systems and the archebacterial flagellum. Homologous proteins are indicated by colour, the GspM/FlagG homolg Y1 has been omitted due to uncertainly as to its location in the membrane (modified from Musgrave 2004). Click to enlarge.

    Again, Wells simply re-iterates Behes’ arguments. Behe’s contention is that the flagellum consists of a “motor”, a “shaft”, and a “propeller”. (Note that these “parts” are complexes of molecules, so when you demonstrate a flagellum with fewer proteins, Behe just says, “it’s still got a shaft”, whereas he insists that the “parts” of the clotting system are individual proteins and must all be present.) Behe asserts, and Wells concurs, that having a motor evolve without out a shaft or propeller would be impossible. On the contrary, it is easy to show how one can build up a flagellum from systems evolved for other purposes.

    I have previously presented a continuously functional evolutionary pathway from a simple ancestor to a functional flagellum (Musgrave 2004). It is based on elaboration of a secretory system. The flagellar filament must be secreted to project outside the bacterial cell, so it makes sense that secretory systems form the heart of the flagellum. The type II secretory system features a small “piston” made up of helically arranged proteins. Up and down movement of the piston (powered by a “motor”) pushes materials outside of the cell. The type IV secretory system is an elaboration of the type II, except now the piston is a long filament, and that filament can stick to surfaces. The back and forth movement of the filament pulls the bacterium along, resulting in gliding motility. The flagellum is an elaboration of the Type IV secretory system, but now the filament freely rotates, rather than being stuck to a surface, and drives the bacteria along. Note that this fully functioning flagellum has only two of the three “parts” Behe insists are necessary for the irreducibly complex flagellum (the shaft and propeller are one and the same). We have all these real, functional intermediates leading to a functional flagellum, but you won’t find this out from Wells.

    Oh sorry, that’s the archebacterial flagellum. Wells won’t tell you that there is more than one sort of flagellum or that flagellar motility is a minority amongst motility systems. Why ever would he ignore things like that?

    Now the eubacterial flagellum is similar to the archebacterial flagellum in the sense that it built around a secretory system, but it’s a bit more complicated. Nick Matzke has a marvelously detailed article (Matzke 2003, Pallen & Matzke 2006) about the evolution of the eubacterial flagellum. The basic story is similar to that of the archebacterial flagellum. The core of the eubacterial flagellum is a type III secretory system. Virtually all the proteins in the flagellum can be accounted for as parts of existing systems or internal duplications (as predicted by evolutionary biology). Importantly, several gliding motility systems use similar motors and guidance systems to eubacterial flagellum, so a sequence of secretory system to gliding motility to swimming motility similar to archebacterial flagella is plausible. (Eubacterial flagella are also used in gliding motility, but there are other plausible pathways to swimming.)

    Furthermore, the eubacterial flagellum is still a secretory system (Musgrave 2004, Matzke 2003, Pallen & Matzke 2006) and is even used by some bacteria to attach to cells and inject them with toxins (just like type III secretion systems) (Musgrave 2004, Matzke 2003). You can remove the “motor” or the “propeller” from the eubacterial flagellum and it still functions as a secretion system (Musgrave 2004, Matzke 2003). Indeed, some bacteria with paralyzed flagella use them as anchors to attach to cells and inject toxins into them. So you can see how you could build a eubacterial flagellum piecemeal around a core of a simple secretory system by direct Darwinian processes, then a small functional shift adds motility to this system (Musgrave 2004, Matzke 2003).

    While Behe doesn’t explicitly say his subsystems have no function and concedes that some subsystems might have independent functions, his entire argument collapses if they do. His argument is that you have to have all “three” parts of the flagella (motor, shaft, propeller) in place at once for there to be any selectable activity. A motor by itself, he says, cannot be selected for on its own. But the motors of the flagella are variants of motors that are happily just pumping hydrogen ions in another part of the cell, so they are selectable by natural selection.

    Similarly, to Behe a motor plus shaft is useless, as there is no selectable function without the propeller. But in real bacteria motors plus shafts are pumping proteins, attaching to surfaces, and so on, until that time a mutation in the shaft protein makes it curly, and gives selectable motion.

    Wells follows Behe in critiquing Miller when he made a similar point but ignores the fact that we have a whole series of functional intermediates that exist in nature, from pure motors, to motor driven secretory systems, to rotating motor driven secretory systems used for gliding motility, to swimming flagella. The E. Coli EPC type III secretory system is visually identical to flagella.

    Wells tries to object to Miller’s arguments about co-option by quoting Scott Minnich and Stephen Meyer.

    … the flagellar motor consists of several dozen proteins that are not present in the [type III secretory system] but are “unique to the motor and are not found in any other living system”. They asked: “From whence, then, were these proteins co-opted”

    (p. 115)

    It cannot be emphasized enough how wrong this statement is. The vast majority of the motor proteins are found in, or related to, other systems. There are 42 canonical proteins that make up a flagellum. Of these only 20 are required for motility (not several dozen). In turn, only one two of these, a rod connector protein and a cap protein, have not yet been found in other bacteria. Importantly, the actual motor proteins, and those that connect the motor to the body of the flagellum, all have relatives doing work in other systems (e.g. the MotAB motor proteins have relatives that drive secretion and gliding motility, Pallen & Matzke 2006).


    “Intelligent design” activists often promote irreducible complexity as a “show stopper” for Darwinian evolution, and Wells follows this well worn path. Yet again and again irreducible complexity has been shown to be no barrier at all. We have computer models and real biological systems where irreducibly complex systems have evolved. Wells engages with none of this data, using misdirection and selective quotation to ignore substantive criticisms. In the ten years since Behe’s book was published (Behe 1996), “intelligent design” activists have produced no positive evidence for “intelligent design”. In contrast, back in 1987, Doolittle predicted based on evolutionary principles that fish would lack the extrinsic clotting system. Doolittle was right, once again evolutionary biology delivers testable predictions, while all Wells can deliver on Behe’s behalf is bluff and misquotations.


    Further reading:

    Darwin’s Black Box: Irreducible Complexity or Irreproducible Irreducibility? by Keith Robinson

    Irreducible complexity demystified by Pete Dunkelberg.

    A Darwinian explanation of the blood clotting cascade by Kenneth Miller…

    Generalized review of Behe and irreducible complexity


    1. As a pedant, son of a sailor and childhood boater on the Noosa River, I would like to point out that the bacterial flagella is an inboard motor. The motor is inside the bacteria, and the shaft passes through the cell wall, just like the shaft of an inboard motor passes through a boats hull. Not only do “intelligent design” supporters not know biology, they don’t know boats either.

    Review of Chapter Fifteen

    Burt Humburg points out the irony of Jonathan Wells, Unification Church sanctioned theologian, setting himself up as a defender of traditional Christianity in this review of Chapter 15.

    Posted by bhumburg on August 30, 2006 01:00 AM

    Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

    Read the entire series.

    Chapter 15 is entitled “Darwinism’s War on Traditional Christianity”. For much of this chapter, the reader will find Wells on his soapbox about this or that aspect of, you guessed it, “Traditional Christianity”. And, like “Darwinism” in the first chapter, Wells struggles to find a definition for his term. Wells chooses a current version of the Nicene Creed as the sort of “creedal affirmations that” traditionally unite Christians. (Apparently the litmus suggested by Jesus was inadequate.) Wells almost approaches clarity when he implies that if one doesn’t adhere to the tenets of the (current?) Nicene Creed, one cannot seriously consider him or herself as a Christian. (No word yet on the apparently non-Christians who affirmed a prior version of the Nicene Creed.)

    There are two important things to say about Wells’s definition of a “Traditional Christian”. First, the commitment to the tenets of the Nicene Creed is hardly a universal litmus for determining who is and who is not a Christian. A Protestant, even one who subscribes to every tenet of the Nicene Creed, who thinks that Wells is right is encouraged to try to obtain the sacramental elements from a Catholic communion and see how far he gets. (According to Catholic tradition, Protestants cannot receive Catholic communion.)

    The second important thing to note is that Jonathan Wells is styling himself as a defender of “Traditional Christianity.”

    Read that again: Jonathan Wells, Traditional Christianity. Not to be impolite, but to us here at the Thumb Wells defending “Traditional Christianity” reads as queer as Ann Coulter defending “traditional values”.

    Jonathan Wells has testified that he is a Unificationist, a follower of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and a member of the Grand Unification Church. According to Wikipedia, among other things, Reverend Moon published a document in 2002 that claimed all the leaders of the world’s five major religions (and several communist leaders besides) all voted Moon to be the Messiah and pledged their support to him.

    Wikipedia also describes that, according to Unification Church theology, when Reverend Moon marries couples in a mass marriage ceremony, he cleanses those believers of original sin. For those not versed in “traditional Christianity”, original sin is the reason why people need to be born again; according to traditional Christian theology, absent original sin, we would have no need for a savior or forgiveness. (For those interested in more information on Reverend Moon or his Grand Unification Church, John Gorenfeld and Mark Levine’s interviews regarding Reverend Moon here and here are highly recommended.)

    As I wrote in my review of Chapter 1, we here at the Thumb defend Wells’ right to say and publish anything he wants. However, words must have meanings and any definition of “Traditional Christianity” sufficiently plastic to accomodate Unificationist theology would really be expected to accomodate verified observations like evolution.

    So the definition of “Traditional Christianity”, like “Darwinism”, is a word that means whatever Wells wants it to mean, but Wells doesn’t stop with just new definitions for words. When Wells writes, “Before Darwin, science and theology in Christendom generally got along quite well. Indeed, most of the time they were mutually supportive. Serious conflict erupted only after 1859, and then only because Darwinism declared war on traditional Christianity” (p. 170), he’s also inventing a new history of the interaction between religion and science.

    We here at the Thumb would remark that readers should Google, at their convenience and presumably after they have replaced their irony meters, “Galileo”.

    Snark aside, the onset of the science and religion war is not linked in any way with Darwin. Whether by politics (as suggested by this Wikipedia article on Science and Religion) or by an inherent immiscibility between its philosophies, science and religion have had periods during which they didn’t get along. As Scott Liell notes in a NY Times Essay entitled “Shaking the Foundation of Faith:”

    At the end of the day, it was never faith per se that stood in opposition to science; Franklin was ultimately as much a believer as Thomas Prince. Many people of faith - Unitarians, Quakers and those who, like most of the founding fathers, were deists - were prominent members of the scientific community. Rather, it was (and is) a specific type of belief that consistently finds itself at odds with science, one that is not found merely in America and is not limited to Christianity. It is the specific brand of faith that devalues reason and confers the mantle of infallible, absolute authority upon a leader or a book. It is only the priests of these sects, as Jefferson said, who “dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight.”

    (Excerpt from “Shaking the Foundation of Faith” from the NY Times)

    Wells’s claim that science and religion were chummy up until Darwin is ahistorical nonsense, as preposterous as the idea that the South won the Civil War.

    Still on his soapbox, Wells moves to reject theistic evolution in a section tellingly entitled, “Surrendering on Darwin’s Terms”. After describing how philosopher Michael Ruse considers Darwinism, “so well established that Christians should accept it as fact” (p. 173), Wells quotes Ruse as saying, “‘It is still open to you to accept that God did the job. More likely, if you accept God already, it is still very much open to you to think of God as great inasmuch as He has created this really wonderful world’” (p. 174). Wells then sneeringly writes, “In other words, a Darwinian who really, really [emphasis in original] wants to be a Christian can be a Christian of sorts—just not a traditional one” (p. 174).

    Or take Wells’s contempt for biologist and Kitzmiller trial expert witness Kenneth Miller. (No, not just Miller’s theology but also for him as a person; please see Mark Perakh’s review.) Wells quotes Miller as believing “in Darwin’s God”. For those who have not read Miller’s Finding Darwin’s GodAmazon, I highly recommend it. It’s the kind of easy read that just about anyone can pick up and enjoy. Take, for example, this excerpt.

    “Look at the beauty of a flower,” [Father Murphy, Kenneth Miller’s priest during childhood] began. “The Bible tells us that even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed as one of these. And do you know what? Not a single person in the world can tell us what makes a flower bloom. All those scientists in their laboratories, the ones who can split the atom and build jet planes and televisions, well, not one of them can tell you how a plant makes flowers.” And why should they be able to? “Flowers, just like you, are the work of God.”

    I was impressed. No one argued, no one wisecracked. We filed out of the church like good little boys and girls, ready for our first communion the next day. And I never thought of it again, until this symposium on developmental biology. Sandwiched between two speakers working on more fashionable topics in animal development was Elliot M. Meyerowitz, a plant scientist at Caltech. A few of my colleagues, uninterested in research dealing with plants, got up to stretch their legs before the final talk, but I sat there with an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I jotted notes furiously; I sketched the diagrams he projected on the screen and wrote additional speculations of my own in the margins. Meyerowitz, you see, had explained how plants make flowers.

    (Excerpt from Finding Darwin’s God, by Kenneth Miller)

    Miller goes on in that chapter to talk about the biology regarding how plants evolved flowers, the theological implications of this, and in general holds forth on a view of science and religion in which they interact, not wage war. Agree or disagree with Miller’s perspectives, for Christians on just about any side of the evolution debate, it’s a fascinating read and begs discussion in coffee shops or Bible study groups.

    Wells chose a different portion to quote, thereby introducing the reader to Miller’s book:

    Miller argues that the inherent unpredictability of evolution was essential to God’s plan to create human beings with free will. “If events in the material world were strictly determined,” he writes, “then evolution would indeed move toward the predictable outcomes that so many people seem to want…. As material beings, our actions and even our thoughts would be preordained, and our freedom to act and choose would disappear.”

    (p. 174)

    Wells moves quickly to disavow Miller’s perspectives by writing in the very next sentence, “In the Christian tradition, however, human freedom is an attribute of our non-material souls rather than a product of material evolution. Darwin’s God is not the God of traditional Christianity” (p. 174). Then he moves on to Steven Jay Gould. No discussion about Father Murphy or Meyerowitz. No acknowledgement or analysis of the rich detail of Miller’s book. Instead, Miller’s patiently argued point, that putting faith in God because of scientific failures represents poorly placed faith (described a bit later in this essay), is simply lost on Wells; he’s already handwavingly dismissed it on other, highly questionable grounds.

    Did You Know?

    1. Mainstream Christianity has no problem with theistic evolution.
    2. More religious scientists support evolution than “intelligent design”.
    3. Jonathan Wells, self-styled defender of “Traditional Christianity”, is a follower of Rev. Moon and not a traditional Christian.

    I write “questionable” because there are serious flaws with Wells’s logic. When Wells retorts that our decisions are the exclusive ken of our spiritual bodies, does he seriously not think that coffee in the morning tends to make those decisions sharper for many people (even Christians who fully adopt the Nicene Creed)? Is Wells honestly not aware that children born with certain combinations of abnormal chromosomes or genes can predictably have problems with cognition or demonstrate maladaptive behaviors, even in mild cases? From a theological and sociological perspective, it must be an excuse to simplemindedly say, “my genes made me sin”, but genes and other physical factors do matter. No understanding of theology that completely rejects these materialistic influences is likely to be convincing to those with even a pedestrian understanding of neurobiology. Wells’s dismissal of Miller’s attempt to describe his understanding of God is just that: an anti-intellectual, handwaving, supercilious, and simpleminded dismissal.

    We here at the Thumb would caution Wells that Behe’s dismissal of evidence didn’t work too well at the Kitzmiller trial.

    Wells then turns his hatred of theistic evolution to Father George Coyne, cosmologist and former director of the Vatican Observatory. Coyne is quoted, “‘… Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications …. It is difficult to believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells of a God who must be very different from God as seen by them’” (p. 178) Again, Wells moves quickly to rebuke: “This logic-challenged priest—science is theologically neutral yet leads to a different God—has the arrogance to lecture a pope and a cardinal on Catholic doctrine” (p. 178).

    To put these dismissals of theistic evolution into perspective, the reader must understand that there is a venerable history of enthusiasts of science trying to find peace with religion and vice versa. Throughout history and forever into the future, whenever the conclusions of science conflict with contemporary theological understanding, believers have struggled and will struggle to reconcile them.

    Miller provided an example of that kind of conflict: Father Murphy believed in God because of scientific ignorance in a problem. In the fullness of time, that problem was solved by science, in this case by Meyerowitz. Stated in slightly different language, the elucidation of the evolution of flowers undermined the logic behind Father Murphy’s theology. As Miller writes in his book:

    Like [Father Murphy, the creationists who use God of the Gaps thinking] have based their search for God on the premise that nature is not self-sufficient. By such logic, just as Father Murphy claimed that only God could make a flower, they claim that only God could have made a species. Both assertions support the existence of God only so long as they are shown to be true, but serious problems for religion emerge when the assertions are shown to be false.

    If a lack of scientific explanation is proof of God’s existence, the counterlogic is unimpeachable: a successful scientific explanation is an argument against God. That’s why this reasoning, ultimately, is much more dangerous to religion than it is to science. Eliot Meyerowitz’s fine work on floral induction suddenly becomes a threat to the divine, even though common sense tells us it should be nothing of the sort.

    The reason it doesn’t, of course, is because the original premise is flawed. The Western God created a material world that is home to both humans and daffodils. God’s ability to act in that world need not be predicated on its material defects. There is, therefore, no theological reason for any believer to assume that the macromolecules of the plant cell cannot fully account for the formation of a flower. Life, in all its glory, is based in the physical reality of the natural world. We are dust, and from that dust come the molecules of life to make both flowers and the dreamers who contemplate them.

    The critics of evolution have made exactly the same mistake, but on a higher and more dangerous plane. They represent no serious problem for science, which meets the challenge easily. Their claims about missing intermediates and suspect mechanism can be answered directly by providing the intermediates and demonstrating the mechanisms. Religion, however, is drawn into dangerous territory by the creationist logic. By arguing, as they have repeatedly, that nature cannot be self-sufficient in the formation of new species, the creationists forge a logical link between the limits of natural process to accomplish biological change and the existence of a designer (God). In other words, they show the proponents of atheism exactly how to disprove the existence of God—show that evolution works, and it’s time to tear down the temple. As we have seen, this is an offer that the enemies of religion are all too happy to accept.

    All of this logic is lost on Wells, who dismisses Miller’s theology because it accomodates the obvious influences on our decisions by physical and material things. Like Behe on the witness stand in the Kitzmiller trial, Wells waves away this inconvenient theology with which he disagrees.

    Father Coyne doesn’t get much more respect. Wells tries to earn schoolyard snark points by identifying an apparent logical contradiction: how can science be neutral to theology and yet inform our understanding of God? When one reads Father Coyne’s entire essay, one almost gets the feeling that Coyne knew about the apparent contradiction beforehand and published it regardless. Look what Coyne writes in his final paragraph:

    These are very weak images, but how else do we talk about God? We can only come to know God by analogy. The universe as we know it today through science is one way to derive an analogical knowledge of God. For those who believe modern science does say something to us about God, it provides a challenge, an enriching challenge, to traditional beliefs about God. God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves. Is such thinking adequate to preserve the special character attributed by religious thought to the emergence not only of life but also of spirit, while avoiding a crude creationism? Only a protracted dialogue will tell. But we should not close off the dialogue and darken the already murky waters by fearing that God will be abandoned if we embrace the best of modern science.

    (Final paragraph from God’s Chance Creation by Father Coyne, former director of Vatican Observatory)

    Humility and honesty, that’s what I’m struck by when I read these words. “Apparent grammatical contradictions be damned”, Coyne might be saying to us. “We need to have an honest discussion about God and talk about what’s really going on.” Here’s a priest seeking to reconcile the science he understands and the things he wants to believe. Miller is a scientist seeking to do the same. Both of them are doing their best and both want to dialog with believers who find the answers provided and verified by science threatening.

    Apparently Wells isn’t too impressed by their efforts. Indeed, he’s scornful of the fact that these scientists who are Christians are thinking and endorsing thoughts that diverge from “Traditional Christianity”, or at least Wells’s elastic version of it. And the method with which he expresses his scorn—calling Father Coyne arrogant for daring to have an opinion that is in variance with his superiors in the Church—is noteworthy because it brings up an important thing to understand about Wells’s book.

    Wells’s screed certainly purports to be a subversive and revolutionary book that advocates “intelligent design” using freethinking arguments: the title is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, the pages are peppered with callouts like “Books You’re Not Supposed to Read” and “Websites You’re Not Supposed to Visit”, and much verbiage is spent positioning “intelligent design” as this underdog, upstart idea that just needs a fighting chance and reasonable people willing to think forbidden thoughts to support it, thereby allowing “intelligent design” creationism to get a foothold and find its success over the inferior “Darwinism”.

    This book is not revolutionary. Wells is writing in a highly conservative fashion. Wells is not a freethinker. When Father Coyne put forward what he stated to be an inarticulate best effort to describe his feelings about God, feelings which were in keeping with the best available science but necessarily conflicted with Schöenborn’s anti-evolutionary position, Wells derided him as one who had “the arrogance to lecture a pope and a cardinal on Catholic doctrine”. Frankly, it is inconsistent of Wells to beg for open-minded thinking and posture as a revolutionary when it comes to “intelligent design” and turn right around and disagree with that person’s theology on the basis that the person was arrogant for disagreeing with a religious leader in the first place.

    The chapter in its entirety endorses “Traditional Chrisitanity”, implicitly and explicitly belittling those who somehow fall outside of Wells’ elastic definition. Wells writes, “Although [Darwinism] may allow for the existence of a deity, it is not the God of traditional Christianity, who created human beings in his image. The contradiction couldn’t be sharper, and most attempts to blunt it end up abandoning traditional Christianity” (p. 173).

    This is not revolutionary thinking. It is highly conservative thinking. Conservative here does not necessarily mean “anti-abortion” or any of its modern connotations but instead the “preserve the status quo, tradition, and the thinking of our fathers” sense of the term. Such conservatism stands diametrically opposed to revolutionary, freethinking philosophies. Because it is only these freethinking philosophies that can credibly recommend “Books You Aren’t Supposed to Read”, this makes Wells an ersatz revolutionary. His invocation of these attitudes in support of “intelligent design” is mere spin. Wells writes as though one can simply call for the teaching of something that is not generally taught—say the idea that two and two are six—and spin the deviance as a matter of political incorrectness instead of advocacy of ignorance and stupidity. Political incorrectness, at least how Wells uses it, is simply a marketing ploy.

    Wells is not writing this book in isolation. When the creationists in Kansas tried to change the definition of science to allow in supernatural causation, only the naive would fail to recognize that those changes were at the behest of the Discovery Institute. The creationists who rejected the recommendations of experts, which includes the authors and contributers of this book, would have us return to a time where every earthquake and disease was a reason to fear God and science was practiced with no restrictions to testable claims—the Dark Ages.

    Setting aside Wells’s thinly veiled spin of “revolutionary thinking”, what is really going on is that the writer of this chapter—hard to believe it is Wells given his beliefs—takes deep issue with theologies that are not “traditional” and with any science that contradicts those preconclusions. Pseudo-Wells, in any other language, is highly conservative; he or she should have included a callout in the margins of a page in this chapter, “Thoughts You’re Not Supposed to Think” and put “Theistic Evolution” or “Any Thoughts About God, Bourne of Personal Experience with Science that Happened to Conflict With Religious Dogma, with Which I Disagree”.

    As Jack Krebs has written:

    [The ID creationists’s] tactics have changed. Actually developing an alternative science of Intelligent Design has failed miserably—they haven’t really even tried. Legislating design via laws, state science standards or local school policies has failed. At this point, the new tactic seems to be escalate the divisive culture war….

    On the one hand, it would be a relief if these direct attacks on science and public science education would quiet down. No one really needs to take the time any more to seriously address “complex specified information”, “irreducible complexity,” or any of the other unworkable psuedoscience concepts offered by ID.

    But really, the culture war approach, while more honest, is also more dangerous. The ID advocates will continue talking to their target audiences as if design were true and evolution were false, and as if believing in design and rejecting evolution is the only position compatible with their religious beliefs—and their target audiences will be glad to uncritically accept this. By dropping the pretenses about the purely scientific aspects of ID, ID advocates will in fact be able to mobilize their target audiences much more effectively. As the Salvo quote implies, the battle here is for the “public imagination” about these worldview issues. Separating ID from the cultural issues in order to attack science and education hasn’t worked, so now it’s time to abandon that tactic and go all out in arousing people to join up for the “us against them” war of the worldviews battle.

    This approach is dangerous to American society because it’s Wedgey divisiveness, its self-righteousness (“the only worldview that works”) and its vilification of all other perspectives is antithetical to the fundamental need for our society to have room for a broad spectrum of cultural and religious perspectives. The approach these ID culture warriors are taking, if successful, would likely lead to the same type of destructive fragmentation that we see in other countries where religious fundamentalism is ascendent.

    Scientists who think that, ever since Kizmiller, the challenge of “intelligent design” is over are sorely mistaken. As Krebs points out, the culture war dispatches will merely change. Away goes the pretense that “intelligent design” creationism is scientific; enter the argument that the method of science itself, and its attendant exclusion to testable causes, is evil. This argument is dangerous for the reasons Krebs discussed above and PZ discusses at Pharyngula. Both scientists and mainstream theologians—indeed, anyone interested in furthering and defending the enlightenment—have an interest in fighting this culture war waged by the creationists. The Kitzmiller decision, as decisive as it was, represents only a beginning. If historians were shocked that James Kennedy just aired a program about how Darwin led to Hitler, wait till you see what they cook up next. As Donald Kennedy put it, the scientists who are the beneficiaries of the enlightenment must now be its stewards.

    At the beginning of my review, I mentioned that Catholics don’t allow Protestants to take communion. I close this chapter’s review with an important point to understand about fundamentalism. Depending on how sharply you define “Traditional Christianity”, one may exclude just about anyone. “Keeping Christianity traditional” could mean anything from shunning those who think that God used evolution as His tool to shunning those who think women should be allowed to have a leadership role in the church. But if we took this argument—pseudo-Wells’s argument—to its logical conclusion, we could conceivably roll back the clock to a time when a notion of “Traditional Christianity” included the belief that sickness was not caused by agents doctors can treat today but by demons. Pseudo-Wells, for all his pained traditionalism, might likely be considered as much of a heretic as Kenneth Miller by the “Traditional Christians” of that day, if he happened to take a Tylenol for a headache.

    Science marches on, relentlessly, and believers have often used science to gain a deeper understanding of scripture. Science, in this sense, provides a kind of feedback, a reminder that we shouldn’t let our theological beliefs get the better of us and that we should be humble enough to recognize and react to the fact that we don’t know everything. God might still have something to say to us, and we should not fear the discoveries of science. This attitude is exemplary for not just Christians, but believers of any stripe, including Muslims, Jews, and others.

    One of the more successful (at least in terms of popular acclaim and academic and theological approval) fruits of this feedback is theistic evolution. A defense of some form of this Christian theology, or a more complete description of its tenets and controversies, is beyond the scope of this review and charter of this website. (And I’m grateful to our non-Christian readers for their forbearance during this post.) Interested parties are referred to Keith Miller’s Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Kenneth Miller’s aforementioned Finding Darwin’s God, or the rich discussions found elsewhere on the internet.

    I close this review with a message of hope. Theologians and scientists alike credit Galileo and remember him as a paragon. On the other hand, Galileo’s accusers who claimed the mantle of traditionalism have probably engendered more atheistic attitudes than anything else. Those who lashed out at Benjamin Franklin in the “Shaking the Foundations of Faith” article above similarly put all their chips on a notion of God that today is literally ridiculous. More importantly than leading people away from Christianity is the fact that those who claimed that Christianity could not survive if Galileo’s views were correct were, in the fullness of time, wrong. Those who claimed that Christianity could not survive if Ben Franklin’s views were correct were, as we know today, wrong. They were wrong about Christianity not surviving, and they were definitely wrong about the science.

    Those traditionalists invoked faith because they were afraid of losing God. They should have invoked reason because they were confident in God. So it is with pseudo-Wells. In reading these considered and researched reviews, provided by those who took time to understand the material, the reader is already aware that pseudo-Wells is on the wrong side of science. From a historical standpoint, at least to this Panda’s Thumb contributor, pseudo-Wells and other “traditionalists” who invoke faith over verified science and “dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight” have been on the wrong side of Christianity as well.

    And this gives me great hope for the future.

    Critique Concerning Legal Issues

    Tim Sandefur takes on statements by Wells concerning legal issues surrounding the lawsuit over the Understanding Evolution website.

    Posted by Timothy Sandefur on September 6, 2006 12:00 PM

    Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

    Read the entire series.

    If there’s something embarrassingly dumb to be done or said, it’s probably going to be done or said in the name of “political incorrectness”. That term was first used to bring attention to the political censoriousness at leftist epicenters in the 1990s, but it has mutated into an excuse for saying stupid, outlandish, misleading things. The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History was full of misrepresentations, politically-motivated elisions, and a neo-Confederate interpretation of the Constitution that embarrassed serious constitutional scholars. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science was full of silly pro-“intelligent design” notions, and now The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by Jonathan Wells has come along to carry this tradition forward—if “forward” is the right term.

    An indication of the astonishing degree of misrepresentation and outright lying that The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design employs comes in Chapter 15 when discussing the controversy over an evolution website supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The Thumb covered this pseudo-controversy pretty thoroughly at the time. But here’s how Jonathan Wells describes it:

    In 2005, a California resident sued the NSF and University of California for violating the First Amendment, but district court judge Phyllis J. Hamilton dismissed the lawsuit. So the governments of the United States and California now officially endorse religious views—and only those religious views—that are acceptable to Darwinists.

    (p. 179)

    The citations provided for this statement are to the Discovery Institute’s blog and a report on (quelle suprise!) World Net Daily. The paragraph does not mention that the “resident” was the wife of an “intelligent design” activist and serial plaintiff Larry Caldwell. Nor does it even mention why Judge Hamilton dismissed the case. That decision, Caldwell v. Caldwell, 420 F.Supp.2d 1102 (N.D. Cal. 2006), was based on Caldwell’s lack of standing—a procedural matter having nothing to do with the religious issue at all. According to Judge Hamilton, “the court need[ed] not, and [did] not, reach the merits of the Establishment Clause claim” Id. at 1108.

    Furthermore, Wells claims that the First Amendment “clearly prohibits the government from favoring the views of one religious group over another” (p. 178), which isn’t quite accurate. More precisely, the First Amendment prohibits the government from endorsing a religious viewpoint.

    The distinction is important because the First Amendment does allow the government to endorse a great many truth claims. The government can say “X is true” except and only except in those cases where X is a religious claim and only a religious claim. If for example the government wishes to state that it is true that a match can start a fire, the government is free to do so, even if a particular religious group agrees with that statement. But the government is not allowed to declare that the doctrine of papal infallibility or reincarnation is true. The government is allowed to teach that some people believe in papal infallibility, or that some people believe in the trinity, because these are not religious claims; they are descriptions of fact that can or might be empirically verified to some degree.

    The website about which Wells complains was funded at least partly by government dollars, and it declared that “most religious groups have no conflict [sic] with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith”. Now, whether or not a person agrees that religion and evolution are compatible—I don’t.—is not the same as saying that some people do believe this thing. And the fact that some people believe this thing is not a religious statement. There is nothing in the First Amendment prohibiting the government from saying it. Yet according to Wells, “Political scientist John G. West[1] wrote in 2004: ‘Taxpayers might wonder why it’s the government’s business to tell them what their religious beliefs about evolution should or shouldn’t be’” (p. 179). That, of course, is not what the website did. It said only that some people believe this thing or that thing. Yet even this easy distinction is too much to demand of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design.

    In Chapter 13 Wells focuses on the legal issues of teaching “intelligent design” in the classroom, and it too is full of this kind of misleading writing. The chapter begins by describing the case of public school teacher Roger DeHart, who “supplemented” his science classes with readings from Of Pandas And People, an “intelligent design” textbook that began life as a biblical creationism textbook. But Wells describes it this way:

    For several years, biology teacher Roger DeHart had been teaching students the required curriculum about evolution, but he had also been mentioning intelligent design….

    DeHart had the support of his school administrators and local school board, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claimed that his practice amounted to religious proselytizing and “violates both state and federal laws.” The school district caved in to pressure from the ACLU, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and local atheists. DeHart was ordered to stop mentioning intelligent design, though he was told in 2001 that he could request approval to use supplementary materials critical of some of the evidence for Darwinian evolution.

    (pp. 143,144)

    You see, he was just mentioning “intelligent design” and was railroaded by a conspiracy of “local atheists”. And note the scare quotes around “violates both state and federal laws”. Wells doesn’t explain which laws those would be (e.g. the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution) or how they would apply in a case where a government employee is teaching religion to students. DeHart was careful to use the “intelligent design” movement’s best tactics, e.g. claiming that they are seeking only “free debate” and “teaching the controversy”. Because evolution as a scientific matter is true and because there is no genuine controversy over it, these tactics are simply mechanisms for sneaking religion into the public school classroom—a fact well covered on the Thumb.

    Wells’s portrayal of DeHart as a martyr, chewed up in the great maw of atheist science, is typical of the doublespeak of “intelligent design” activists and is related to activists desire to portray themselves as an oppressed minority. We’re told that “Darwinism has serious problems with the evidence” (p. 147), which isn’t true, and that “Darwinists are opposed to mentioning scientific problems with their view” (p. 147), which isn’t true, and that “ID theorists are given no opportunity to respond” (p. 149) to their critics, which is amusing to find in a book by written a leading “intelligent design theorist” and released by a major publishing house. DeHart, in fact, chose to go to another school, a religious school, in fact, where he is perfectly free to teach the religious concept of “intelligent design”, without any oppression by the atheistic cabal that “intelligent design” activists like to pretend is ruthlessly suppressing dissent.

    There are few legal claims in Wells’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design; in fact, the book is so unserious as to quote from an episode of Friends in one marginal notation (p. 155). But Chapter 13 includes a brief whine about the Kitzmiller decision. The passage opens by claiming that the Discovery Institute “urged the [school] board to rescind the policy” of requiring that science students listen to a disclaimer about evolution (p. 154). (It doesn’t note that the district’s science teachers refused to read the disclaimer to their students.) This, of course, is not entirely honest; it would be more honest to say that the Discovery Institute abandoned the Dover School Board as soon as it became clear that that ship was sinking. That, at least, was the view of the Thomas More Law Center’s Richard Thompson, who said,

    [The Discovery Institute] wrote a book, titled “Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula.” The conclusion of that book was that … ‘school boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution’ … and I could go further. But, you had Discovery Institute people actually encouraging the teaching of intelligent design in public school systems. Now, whether they wanted the school boards to teach intelligent design or mention it, certainly when you start putting it in writing, that writing does have consequences.

    In fact, several of the members, including Steve Meyer, agreed to be expert witnesses, also prepared expert witness reports, then all at once decided that they weren’t going to become expert witnesses, at a time after the closure of the time we could add new expert witnesses. So it did have a strategic impact on the way we could present the case, cause they backed out, when the court no longer allowed us to add new expert witnesses, which we could have done….

    So that caused us some concern about exactly where was the heart of the Discovery Institute. Was it really something of a tactical decision, was it this strategy that they’ve been using, in I guess Ohio and other places, where they’ve pushed school boards to go in with intelligent design, and as soon as there’s a controversy, they back off with a compromise. And I think what was victimized by this strategy was the Dover school board, because we could not present the expert testimony we thought we could present.

    But Wells simply writes, “the Dover School Board ignored the Discovery Institute’s advice” (p. 155).

    In a lovely example of ad hominem, Wells says that Dover citizens suing the school board were represented by “[t]he American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—the same organization that defends the right of Nazis to march publicly in support of their racist and anti-Semitic policies” (p. 155). Ah, yes, because ACLU is really a group of evil racists doing the leg-work for the Great Atheist Conspiracy. No mention of the ACLU’s defense of Christians, conservatives, and other generally pro-intelligent-design groups, as Ed Brayton has well documented.

    Jonathan Wells claims that Judge Jones “was so impressed by the testimony and materials presented by the Darwinists that he apparently didn’t bother to read much of the material presented by their critics” (p. 155). Of course, it’s a very serious matter to accuse a judge of such misbehavior, but the opinion itself belies that fact. The long decision (58 pages in the final version) contains many citations of the record and discusses at length the credibility of the pro-intelligent-design witnesses—or rather the lack thereof. One need merely read the decision—which is too much, alas, for many people—to see this point refuted. As Craig Venter once noted, it’s common for people who lose a race to say “oh, I wasn’t really racing after all”. So, too, it’s common for those who lose a case to say the judge was just a schmuck anyway. After all, as Wells claims, Judge Jones was “[a]pparently not burdened with an excess of judicial restraint” (p. 155). Ah, judicial restraint, the last refuge of the scoundrel. I’ve written before about the meaninglessness of such terms. But so, too, did Judge Jones, whose refutation speaks for itself:

    Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy.

    (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Dist., 400 F.Supp.2d 707, 765 (M.D. Pa. 2005))

    This decision, Wells concludes, “intimidated” legislators in Ohio “into surrendering [their] critical analysis of evolution” (p. 156). Translated into plain language, this means that Judge Jones’s enforcment of the First Amendment persuaded Ohio officials not to start promulgating a religious viewpoint in government schools.

    It’s telling, really, that “intelligent design” activists have to play such word games. “Intelligent design” is really a word-game anyway: a word game that replaces “religion” with “scientific theory”, “creation” with “design”, “miracle” with “irreducible complexity”, and so forth. This sad little shell game is all that anti-science activists have to offer. But it’s sad that they continue to find publishers willing to sell such pseudo-intellectualism to the public for a quick buck. As the great John Fogerty put it,

    The little pig knows what to do, he’s silent and quick, just like Oliver Twist;
    Before it’s over, your pocket is clean,
    A four-legged thief paid a visit on you.


    1. The PIG commonly fails to disclose the fact that quoted authorities are allied with the Discovery Institute. This is one example.

    Review of Chapter Sixteen

    Mark Perakh reviews Chapter 16, wherein Jonathan Wells engages in a massive fit of projection to try to smear evolutionary biologists with the heritage of Trofim D. Lysenko.

    Posted by Mark Perakh on August 29, 2006 12:00 AM

    Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

    Read the entire series.

    I’ll address in this article chapter sixteen, “American Lysenkoism”, in Jonathan Wells’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. As Wells (1994) explained, he went to study biology at the behest of his spiritual “father” the Reverend Sun-Myung Moon, with an explicit goal to devote his life to “destroying Darwinism”. Since he set out to destroy “Darwinism” before having sufficiently familiarized himself with it, this immediately points to his lack of impartiality when dealing with “Darwinism.” Wells’s goal was not to evaluate “Darwinism” on its merits but to search for any arguments, regardless of their merits, which would serve his goal set in advance. This alone is a strong warning to the consumers of Wells’s literary output: take Wells’s arguments with a good dose of salt; he is not an unbiased judge of evidence, but a partisan of an anti-evolution effort whose goal is not to find the truth but to prove his viewpoint regardless of means.

    In a box in the margin of chapter sixteen Wells writes: “Lysenkoism is now rearing its ugly head in the US, as Darwinists use their government positions to destroy the careers of their critics.”

    Really? Thousands of biologists in the USSR at the time of Lysenko’s reign were arrested, exiled to Siberia, and many of them shot in the basements of the notorious Lubyanka prison, while intelligent design advocates in the US thrive on lavish donations from ultra-religious sources, have their own publishing outlets, lecture all over the country without any interference from genuine scientists, endlessly appear on TV and radio shows, and enjoy support from the extreme right-wing pundits and commentators?

    Readers having even a minimal knowledge of the actual situation immediately see that no reasonable discourse can be expected from a writer so brazenly misrepresenting the reality. Which “government positions” does Wells have in mind? Are “Darwinists” holding all (or most) positions in the present Republican administration? Are they in command of the Congress?

    Perhaps Wells wanted to really say that “Darwinists” occupy many positions of authority in universities. This is certainly true. By the same token the “Newtonists”, and “Einsteinists”, and “Maxwellists”, and “Boltzmannists” occupy positions of authority in universities as well, while Wells would perhaps like to see “Moonists” in such positions instead.

    If indeed “Darwinists” (Wells’s term for modern biologists) are predominant in biological science, it is for good reason. Evolutionary biology is a robust science whose fruits are proven to be of great use in technology, medicine, agriculture, and many other fields. On the other hand Wells’s co-travelers, the “intelligent design” activists, have yet to show any, even very modest, contribution to science. Why should they get any position of authority anywhere besides their own outlets such as the infamous Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute of Seattle? Despite the abject lack of any positive contribution to the society from the CSC, which “Darwinists” have ever “destroyed careers” of its fellows, such as Wells?

    Wells and his colleagues in the anti-evolution enterprise thrive despite their destructive activity aimed at “destroying” biological science. They receive good salaries and grants, travel all over the globe assaulting biological science, and often also occupy positions in legitimate universities despite the egregious lack of substance in their favorite “intelligent design” “theory”. This is still a free country, and there is no alleged nefarious activity by scientists aimed at muzzling “intelligent design” activists, who are free to spread their nonsense as suggested by Wells, along with the proponents of a flat earth or of astrology, or of geomancy, palm reading, “creation science”, and all other fads and fallacies which usually are much more popular than genuine science.

    There is indeed an “ugly head rearing in the US”, and it is that of “intelligent design” activism.

    I shall discuss now specific notions in Wells’s screed used by Wells to mislead his readers. The chapter in question deals with the alleged manifestations of “Lysenkoism” in the US. This term stems from the sad story of the destruction of the thriving biological science in the USSR under the guidance of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (Трофим Денисович Лысенко), which started in the late twenties of the 20th century and ended in the seventies. Lysenko was a poorly educated but politically savvy agrobiologist, who for decades managed to get an unconditional support from the tyrannical ruler of the USSR, first Joseph Stalin and later Nikita Khrushchev.

    He indeed used his power to “destroy the careers” of many scientists, who either held views differing from those of Lysenko or just earned his hostility for arbitrary reasons. “Destroying” careers often extended to arrests and exiles of Lysenko’s victims, who were sometimes even killed. At a minimum they were deprived of their jobs and of any means to conduct their research. Wells wants his readers to believe that the “Darwinists” allegedly occupying “government positions” in the USA treat the critics of “Darwinism” the same way Lysenko treated the biologists in the USSR. Of course, Wells cannot support such an assertion by any factual evidence, therefore he resorts to a rather transparent shenanigans to somehow “prove” his point. He uses several means to achieve his goals, including misquotations and sometimes bold lies.


    Here is an example. Wells refers to my essay (Perakh 2004a) wherein I described my personal experience regarding the “Lysenkoism” in the USSR.

    The essay in question is a part of an article co-authored by Wesley R. Elsberry and myself. The article consists of two separate parts: a part written by Elsberry and a part written by myself. While I do not wish to appear to be promoting my own essay, readers who really want to know what was written there instead of relying on Wells’s misrepresentation can easily verify my words by looking up my essay. It can be accessed either in an HTML version (Perakh 2004a) or in a PDF version (Perakh 2004b).

    Wells provides a quotation from my essay and gives it in a rather peculiar form, amounting to a deliberate distortion of my thesis.

    Here is how Wells quotes from my essay:

    Retired physicist Mark Perakh, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, writes: “The anti-Lysenkoist stand of the ID advocates is … ludicrous given the similarity of their denial of Darwinian biology to the denial of the neo-Darwinian synthesis by the Lysenkoists.” Perakh continues :” From my experience both with Marxism and with the realities of the Soviet system, I can assert that … it is ID advocates whose behavior is reminiscent of the oppressive Soviet regime” since they subject Darwinists to “continuous denunciations, verbal assaults, derision, and ultimately to dismissal from their positions.”

    (p. 182)

    A brief look at the actual text of my essay immediately reveals that the alleged quotation has been constructed by Wells by means of some tricks.

    1. He transposed various sentences from my essay, placing those that occur somewhere later in the text, ahead of some other that in fact occur earlier in the text.
    2. He used ellipsis in several cases, apparently to hide from readers the exact wording of my essay.
    3. He combined partial quotes taken from different parts of my essay in an allegedly single sentence thus fraudulently attributing to me something I did not say.

    Here are some details.

    The sentence in the above quotation, starting with the words “The anti-Lysenkoist stand” and ending with the words “synthesis by Lysenkoists” occurs in my text several pages later than the sentence starting with the words “From my experience both” and ending with the words “oppressive Soviet regime.” Wells has transposed these two sentences, placing a sentence that occurs much later in the text, ahead of a sentence, which in fact precedes it by several pages. He inserts the words “Perakh continues” thus exacerbating his distortion by falsely asserting the order in which my sentences appear, opposite to their actual order of appearance. This way he creates a false impression that the latter sentence is a continuation of the former, which it is not. The insertion by Wells of his own words “Perakh continues” is a testimony to Wells’s intentionally contrived misleading of readers.

    Since both sentences are nevertheless indeed present in my text (but in an opposite order), some readers may try to justify Well’s “creative quoting” by pointing out that this is a minor infraction that does not affect the gist of his argument. Perhaps this is indeed a minor point, but being contrary to the common rules or proper quotations, it is indicative of the overall doubtful reliability of Wells’s quotation habits, where the strict adherence to facts is not of paramount importance.

    I will not discuss here the parts of my actual text replaced by Wells with ellipsis, but will rather point out now to a really egregious example of quote mining by Wells, which amounts to a direct fraud. Here is how Wells quotes from my text:

    From my experience both with Marxism and with the realities of the Soviet system, I can assert that … it is ID advocates whose behavior is reminiscent of the oppressive Soviet regime” since they subject Darwinists to “continuous denunciations, verbal assaults, derision, and ultimately to dismissal from their positions.”

    And here is the actual text in my essay:

    From my experience both with Marxism and with the realities of the Soviet system, I can assert that in the dispute between the Intelligent Design advocates and their opponents, including pro-evolution scientists, it is ID advocates whose behavior is reminiscent of the oppressive Soviet regime.

    Comparing Wells’s quotation with the actual text of my essay, we immediately notice that my actual text ends with the words “Soviet regime” and a period, whereas Wells quotation contains additionally the words:

    “since they subject Darwinists to ‘continuous denunciations, verbal assaults, derision, and ultimately to dismissal from their positions.’”

    While readers may be confused by this discrepancy, I’ll clarify now how Wells’s shenanigan works.

    First, the words “since they subject Darwinists to” are inserted by Wells; they are not part of my text. As to the rest of the added words, they are indeed found in my text but are taken by Wells from a page in my text which is many pages further in the text than the preceding phrase ending with “Soviet regime.” Where these words occur, they relate to a different topic, having nothing to do with “intelligent design” advocates. By fraudulently combining in one sentence two unrelated quotations, plus inserting several words of his own, Wells misleads readers, apparently aiming to create a false impression that I accuse “intelligent design” advocates of subjecting “Darwinists” to “dismissal from their positions.” In fact the second quoted phrase describes not the behavior of “intelligent design” advocates but rather the behavior of the Soviet authorities at the time of Lysenko’s reign.

    Of course “intelligent design” activists do not “subject evolutionary biologists to dismissal from their position”. They certainly would be happy to do so (see the proof of that statement in my essay, Perakh 2004a), but their hands fortunately are too short for that. They must limit themselves to verbal assaults. Misquotation is a device used when no arguments of substance are available, as is the case of Wells fighting modern biology.

    While Wells’s “creative quoting” is in itself a telltale testimony to the dismal level of his unscrupulous discourse, it is just a secondary component of his narration which is substandard all over.


    One of Wells’s theses is his asseverations that, first, “Darwinism” includes elements of Lamarckism, and, second, that Lysenko’s pseudo-biology, officially approved in the USSR, was “Darwinist” throughout.

    Did You Know?

    1. Lysenkoism was anti-Darwinian.
    2. Lysenkoism rejected the modern synthesis because it didn’t fit with “Marxism-Leninism”.
    3. There are more similiarities between “intelligent design” activists and Lysenkoists than between modern biologists and Lysenkoists.

    With a sufficient desire, it is always possible to find signs of similarity between any, even drastically opposite, systems of views. Wells provides a quote from Darwin which, in his view, is in harmony with Lamarckism.

    First of all, although Lamarck’s main ideas have been largely abandoned by biological science, it does not mean that everything Lamarck believed was necessarily wrong. In fact Lamarck was a serious scientist, unlike Wells and his friends at the Discovery Institute. There were positive elements in Lamarck’s views, so it is no wonder Darwin, who worked in the pre-genetics age, could find some elements of Lamarckism to be in tune with his own views. However, to assert that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is in any way analogous to Lamarckism is absurd. While Well’s interpretation is his privilege, he seems to be not aware of the most principal difference between the views of Lamarck and Darwin.

    The inheritance of acquired characteristics was considered “common knowledge” in Darwin’s time, when there was yet no knowledge of genetics, of Mendel’s work and of any other elements of the “modern synthesis”, which is an important part of biological science in our time. Darwin did in fact believe that the transmission of acquired traits could occur, as explicated in his “pangenesis” theory. I am not sure if he thought it was a significant component of heredity, but he indeed postulated that the environment could affect changes both at the “germinal” level and at the “somatic” level, the latter of which would have been “lamarckian” sensu latu. It was a secondary point in Darwin’s system of views, which was discarded many years later with the advent of the modern synthesis.

    In fact, Darwinian theory differed from Lamarck’s in a very principal way, and no cherry-picked quotations by Wells can prove otherwise.

    What differentiated Lamarck’s theory of evolution from Darwin’s was that

    1. Lamarck believed all species arose and evolved separately and sequentially, i.e. with no (or very limited) common descent, and
    2. there was a “vital force” that pushed organisms to evolve along certain lines (very much teleologically). Darwin certainly disagreed with both, and adhered to the view that evolution is given “direction” by the action of selection, and not by intrinsic mechanisms.

    Creative Darwinism

    Regarding the allegedly Darwinian essence of the Soviet Lysenkoist pseudo-biology, here Wells displays the same level of ignorance as he demonstrated in his infamous utterance (Wells 2002) wherein he compared evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller to Heinrich Himmler (the notorious Chief of SS in the Nazi Germany), who, in Wells’s uninformed mind, was the chief of the Nazi propaganda machine (thus confusing Himmler with Goebbels).

    Wells seems to be unaware of the simple facts of history. In the Soviet system, words rarely were used to denote what their direct meaning implied. Given the expertise of Wells’s colleagues in an Orwellian “newspeak”, he should appreciate the virtuosity achieved by the Soviet doubletalk, in particular in its ostensible adherence to Darwinism. Yes, Darwinism was acclaimed in the USSR as the officially adopted doctrine, allegedly the only one compatible with Marxism-Leninism. There was an important nuance, however. The term “Darwinism” in the USSR was used with a qualifier, “creative Darwinism”, which was in line with the more general but equally ubiquitous term of “Creative Marxism”. The latter term simply meant the most recent decisions of the Communist Party’s leadership, which in Stalin’s time was just Stalin’s personal view. Most often it had nothing to do with the legacy of Marx, or even of Lenin, but whenever Stalin announced his opinion, it was automatically referred to as the great achievement of the “creative Marxism-Leninism”. The succinct expression asserted that “Marxism is not a dogma but a manual for action”. Likewise, whatever Lysenko announced as the new achievement was automatically praised as the further development of “creative Darwinism” for which an alternative term was “Michurinian biology” (Perakh 2004a). More often than not, it had nothing in common with the real Darwinism.

    Wells seems to be blissfully unaware of all those facts of history. His assertions that Lysenko was a Darwinist are either naively uninformed or deliberately misleading.

    Wells mentions Lysenko’s notorious experiments with “yarovizatsiya” (i.e. vernalization) of winter crops, without explaining its relation to “Darwinism”. (There was none.) He seems to be unaware of other theories by Lysenko. For example, the omnipotent academician fervently propagated his pet theory asserting that there is no competition for resources within individual species. This idea was radically incompatible with Darwin’s natural selection, although spin experts from the Discovery Institute probably can apply their acrobatic abilities to “prove” that Lysenko’s theory also was Darwinian. (Indeed, they likewise “prove” that Hitler’s racist ideas were based on “Darwinism.” Of course, this assertion has little to do with facts—see, for example Flank 2006 or Walker undated). On the basis of his theory, Lysenko recommended to plant fruit trees and other cultured plants in packs, so that several plants were planted at the same spot in the soil. Since, as Lysenko claimed, the plants, being members of the same species, will not compete for food and light, they will actually help each other to grow and thrive. Khrushchev fell for Lysenko’s bait and ordered to follow Lysenko’s recommendation, based on “Marxism-Leninism”, according to which members of the same class in the human society are never antagonistic to each other but are united by common interests in the struggle of classes, only the latter being antagonistic. The result was of course disastrous, as the plants stubbornly refused to convert to Marxism and competed for resources despite belonging to the same species and despite the decisions of the “Politburo”.

    Perhaps Wells simply is not cognizant of these features of Lysenkoism, in which case he should have abstained from proclaiming a judgment on Lysenkoism’s alleged Darwinian roots.

    Lysenkoism in the US?

    Isn’t this story reminiscent of the attitude of the “intelligent design” activists like Wells and his colleagues in the “intelligent design” enterprise. Like Lysenko, they stubbornly adhere to their views regardless of facts and evidence. Recall Wells’s admission that his life is devoted to destroying “Darwinism”, whereas the possibility of evidence being in favor of modern biology is never mentioned. The word of the Reverend Moon obviously takes precedence for Wells against all the huge accumulation of empirical material testifying for evolutionary theory.

    Of course, Wells’s main thesis is not that the “ugly head” of Lysenkoism “is rearing in the US” because evolutionary scientists in any way share Lysenko’s views. Such an assertion would apparently be too much even for Wells. On the other hand there is indeed a lot of similarity between Lysenko’s pseudo-science and “intelligent design”. Lysenkoists rejected the modern synthesis, like “intelligent design” activists. In fact, apart from Lysenko’s atheism and “intelligent design” activists’s religious affiliations, “intelligent design” activists and Lysenkoists are ideological twins, as both have been fighting science and defending their blind beliefs. Lysenkoism is, luckily, already in the dustbin of history, while “intelligent design” is still waiting for its turn to join Lysenkoism in the only place they both belong in.

    Wells’s main thesis is that “Darwinists” persecute “intelligent design” activists and creationists of other variations, like Lysenko persecuted “Morganists-Mendelists-Weissmanists” in the USSR. Indeed? Who among the “intelligent design” activists have been arrested by “Darwinists” or exiled to Siberia or executed in basements of the KGB? Which “Darwinist authority” in the US has ever ordered to the entire mass media to collectively denounce “intelligent design” activists as “enemies of the people,” as the media in the USSR did day in and day out?

    Whether Wells is living in a world of fantasy or consciously spreading lies about “persecution” of opponents of “Darwinism” makes little difference. The entire chapter 16 of Wells’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design is full of unsubstantiated assertions aimed at scaring readers with the imaginary power of “Darwinists” ruthlessly persecuting honest searchers for truth who dare to doubt “Darwinism”. In reviews of some other chapters of Well’s book, the alleged examples of the “persecution” of “intelligent design” activists or of their co-travelers, such as von Sternberg, are shown to be exaggerated and distorted.

    There is little choice but to assert that the contents of the chapter in question can be properly referred to as lies.

    Who Needs a Shower?

    In another part of chapter 16, Wells refers to the exposure (Perakh 2004a) of his rude and tasteless remarks wherein he said that after meeting biologists Kenneth Miller and Lawrence Krauss, he felt a need to take shower. Of course, for every reasonable reader it is obvious that such utterances cannot be justified by any excuses. However, instead of apologizing for his ugly words, Wells attempts to exonerate himself by asserting that his words were in response to a verbal attack by some “Darwinist”:

    What Perakh neglected to mention was that I made the comment only after one of the Darwinists in the debate had begun with a series of personal attacks on me.

    (p. 187)

    In fact there was indeed somebody in this case, who “neglected” to mention a relevant fact, and this somebody was Wells himself. What Wells neglected to mention was that he never provided any actual quotations demonstrating the alleged personal attacks by “one of the Darwinists”, whose name he “neglected” to mention. Wells “neglected” to explain, how I could have not “neglected” to mention something which was not reported anywhere in sufficient detail enabling one to judge what did in fact happen. In his post Wells (2002) writes about alleged “personal attack” upon him by Lawrence Krauss, but “neglects” to specify what exactly this scientist has said. Moreover, if it was only Lawrence Krauss who allegedly wounded Well’s sensitive soul with some disparaging remarks, why does Wells insults not only Krauss but also Miller?

    On the other hand, Wells’s own rude and tasteless attack on the two “Darwinists” is documented in Wells’s own words, which also testify to his ignorance of the recent history, i.e. confusing Himmler with Goebbels. Without the exact quotations from what Miller and Krauss said, which could be verified and either acknowledged or denied by these two scientists, we are invited to take Wells’s word, not supported by any citations. However, the experience with Wells’s statements, including those partially discussed in this review, shows that relying on Wells’s word poses a tangible danger of getting led far astray.

    Of course, the good news is that, if we believe his words, Wells takes shower from time to time. This is a healthy practice.

    It is hard to avoid pointing out that, by opening Wells’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, readers will be exposed to a real pigsty.

    Come back tomorrow for another entry in our review of Jonathan’s Well’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design.

    An earlier version of this review was posted at Talk Reason. The author would like to thank Andrea Bottaro for his helpful suggestions.


    • Wells, Jonathan (1994) “Darwininism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.” See; accessed August 20, 2006.
    • Perakh, Mark, (2004) “Under the Party’s Thumb.” In Talk Reason, accessed on August 20, 2006.
    • Perakh, Mark. (2004) “Under the Party’s Thumb”. In W. R Eslberry and M. Perakh, How the Intelligent Design Advocates Turn the Sordid Lessons From Soviet and Nazi History Upside Down. See
      Accessed on Aug. 20, 2006.
    • Wells, Jonathan (2002) “Comments and report from Dr. Jonathan Wells (one of the four panelists) of the Discovery Institute concerning the Ohio State Board of Education Standards Committee Meeting on March 11, 2002 to discuss Intelligent Design”; accessed August 20, 2006.
    • Flank, Lenny, (2006) “Creationists, Hitler and Evolution.” In Talk Reason, accessed on August 20, 2006.
    • Walker, Jim (undated) “Hitller’s Christianity.” See Accessed on August 20, 2006.


    Richard B. Hoppe takes Wells to task over Wells's misleading version of events in Ohio.

    Posted by Richard B. Hoppe on August 31, 2006 12:00 PM

    Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

    Read the entire series.

    Jonathan Wells has recently written The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Wells’s book is stuffed full of misrepresentations, distortions, and plain falsehoods. My Thumb colleagues are reviewing whole chapters, but my purpose here is to focus in some detail on just one of Wells’s claims to illustrate his scurrilous tactics.

    The claim I focus on is from Chapter 16, “American Lysenkoism”. Mark Perakh has already documented how Wells manipulated partial quotations from Perakh’s earlier essay on Lysenkoism to create misrepresentations of what Perakh actually wrote. Here I will describe Wells’s dishonesty about a specific episode in Ohio last year.

    In chapter 16 Wells wrote

    … some Darwinist professors at Ohio State University (OSU)—a public institution—are now trying to destroy another student’s career by preventing him from getting his doctorate.

    (p. 189)

    This is the infamous Bryan Leonard affair that I described on the Thumb as it was happening; see “ID vs. Academic Integrity: Gaming the System in Ohio” for the full story. Wells accuses three Ohio State University professors of torpedoing Leonard, saying

    Although Leonard had gone through normal procedures and received proper approval to conduct his research … [the three professors] accuse Leonard of “unethical” conduct primarily on the grounds that his research was predicated on “a fundamental flaw: there are no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution”.

    (p. 189)

    The next sentence in the letter was “Mr. Leonard has been misinforming his students if he teaches them otherwise”. As noted below, what Leonard was teaching was Wells’s Icons of Evolution trash, so he was indeed misinforming his students.

    Furthermore, Wells claimed

    The OSU Darwinists then invoked some procedural techicalities—widely ignored in the case of other Ph.D. candidates—to demand that Leonard’s dissertation defense be postponed.

    (p. 190)

    Like all creationists, Wells stuffs his screed with false claims (a tactic immortalized as the Gish Gallop, each claim expressed in a sentence but requiring paragraphs to rebut). With respect to the Leonard affair, Wells makes two specific claims, that the professors accused Leonard of unethical behavior and that he failed to follow some “procedural technicalities” that are allegedly widely disregarded at Ohio State. Both of Wells’s claims are misrepresentations, and in making them he also produces some peripheral garbage that requires examination.

    As background one must know that the three professors—an evolutionary biologist, a paleoanthropologist, and a mathematician—all have appointments as Members of the Graduate Faculty of the Ohio State University. As such, they have specific responsibilities with respect to that university (for the ‘umbrella’ University policy governing those responsibilities see here, especially 3335-5-30 (B)). If they have reason to believe that the regulations of the graduate school are not being followed, as part of their affirmative duty to their employer they must bring that to the attention of the Graduate School. Just as a police officer has the affirmative duty to enforce the law and a physician has the affirmative duty to treat a patient with the patient’s best interests in mind, the members of the graduate faculty have an affirmative duty to ensure that the policies and regulations of the Graduate School are followed. When they become aware of a violation of those policies and regulations they are bound to report it. Failure to do so would violate the terms of their appointment to the graduate faculty.

    The Ethics Question

    Now consider the ethics question regarding Leonard’s research. As a graduate student, Leonard had already thrust himself into a policy-making environment as a member of a committee writing lesson plans to instantiate the new state science standards in Ohio, in particular 10th grade biology. He drafted a lesson plan that contained classic creationist objections to evolutionary theory (the misnamed “critical analysis of evolution”). As originally submitted to the State Board of Education the lesson plan contained nine “aspects of evolution” to be “critically analysed”. Eight of the nine came straight out of Wells’s Icons of Evolution, a collection of misrepresentations, distortions, and flat falsehoods. The lesson plan also contained irrelevant “web resources”, including a number of creationist web sites, and at least one outright fake reference, a paper allegedly in Nature that has no existence outside creationist web sites. It was a shoddy piece of creationist propaganda masquerading as a lesson plan.

    In the Kansas creationism hearings Leonard claimed to have been teaching that creationist trash for years and that his doctoral research focused on whether doing so influenced students’s learning about evolution. When Leonard drew public attention to his work at the Kansas creationist hearings, the three OSU professors, aware of Leonard’s status as a graduate student, asked whether Leonard’s dissertation research had been properly reviewed and approved by OSU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Operating under federal laws and regulations, IRBs are charged with ensuring that research performed with human subjects are ethical and meet legal requirements for informed consent, among other things. Failure to conform to requirements can have substantial negative effects on a university. IRBs are particularly vigilant about the use of minors as subjects of research. Given that Leonard’s lesson plan draft contained a series of falsehoods about evolutionary biology, and given that in Kansas Leonard testified about his (as yet unpublished) research, the question arose as to whether Leonard had appropriately informed the IRB and the parents of his students that he was teaching scientific trash in order to assess its effects on their children and whether he had received appropriate permissions to do so. To my knowledge that question has still not been answered.

    The “Procedural Technicalities” Question

    As noted, Wells claimed that in addition to the IRB question, the three OSU professors “invoked some procedural technicalities—widely ignored in the case of other Ph.D. candidates—to demand that Leonard’s dissertation defense be postponed” (p. 190).

    What “procedural technicalities” did the professors raise? Simple: They pointed out that contrary to Graduate School requirements, Leonard’s dissertation defense committee had no members from the program in which he was seeking a degree. That is, while Leonard was seeking a degree from the program in science education, no one from that program was on his committee. Instead, there was a member from the technology education program (his advisor), one from entomology, one from human nutrition, and a “graduate school representative” from the Department of French & Italian! It’s as though Leonard were seeking certification in neurosurgery before an examining committee consisting of a dermatologist, a ob/gyn, a chiropracter, and a truck driver. Not even Leonard’s advisor is in the program from which he sought a degree! As one commenter on my earlier post remarked, looking just at that committeee one has no idea where Leonard was supposedly seeking a degree.

    Two of the members of Leonard’s committee have one property in common: they are “intelligent design” activists. Glenn Needham and Robert Disilvestro are publicly self-identified with the “intelligent design” movement. DiSilvestro testified (note his denial of common descent) in the Kansas creationism hearings with Leonard (who also denied common descent), and Needham testified to the validity of Leonard’s lesson plan at the Ohio State Board of Education. In addition, until the brouhaha erupted Leonard’s advisor, Paul E. Post, had links to a variety of Christian sites, including at least one “intelligent design” site, on his personal OSU web site, When the fiasco became public those links immediately disappeared. The fourth member of Leonard’s committee, an assistant professor of French & Italian, had never before served as graduate school representative on a defense committee and had no qualifications appropriate to Leonard’s area of research.

    The three professors who brought the anomalies to the attention of the graduate school did not “… demand that Leonard’s dissertation defense be postponed”, as Wells falsely claims, but rather requested that the Graduate School look into very serious questions surrounding the conduct of Leonard’s research and the composition of his defense committee. An administrator in the Graduate School and the head of the program from which Leonard was seeking a Ph.D. began inquiries regarding the anomalous composition of Leonard’s committee. At that, the graduate school representative (the assistant professor of French & Italian) withdrew, and a replacement—the Dean of the College of Biological Sciences, who was qualified to evaluate a dissertation on the teaching of evolution—was appointed. Within 24 hours of that replacement, Leonard’s defense was postponed at the request of his advisor. The graduate school did not postpone Leonard’s defense, his advisor did so when a qualified person was appointed to the defense committee.

    Finally, Wells’s claims that this “procedural technicality”—not having any qualified examiners on a dissertation defense committee—is “… widely ignored in the case of other Ph.D. candidates …”. Wells is here claiming that the Ohio State University routinely awards Ph.D.s to students whose committees are unqualified to assess the students’s work! That is a breathtaking accusation to make about the Graduate School of the Ohio State University. Wells provides no evidence whatsoever for this extraordinary claim. It merely stands in unsupported thin air. Wells flatly libels a distinguished research university in aid of his sectarian agenda.


    I have to say it must be easy to write as Wells does. Need a “fact”? Make it up. Find an inconvenient fact? Ignore it. Need a quotation? Quotemine a genuine scientist, pasting together bits and pieces from pages apart in the original to make it say something the original wouldn’t recognize. Wells has no shred of intellectual honesty, and has a true soulmate in Salvador Cordova, who was quoted in Nature as saying

    The critical thinking and precision of science began to really affect my ability to just believe something without any tangible evidence.

    Wells hasn’t been affected one whit by the precision and critical thinking of science. He blatantly misrepresents an episode for which documentation exists in the public domain that flatly contradicts his distortions. He wholly ignores that documentation in favor of a tissue of misrepresentations and plain falsehoods, and libels a distinguished university to boot. But Wells can’t be bothered with that. He has an agenda: to destroy Darwinism for purely religious reasons, and the facts—and the Ohio State University—be damned.

    Did You Know?

    The Ohio State University requires that faculty members on dissertation defense committees be qualified in the subject matter of the dissertation? Wells calls that requirement a “procedural technicality”. Did Wells have anyone qualified on his committee?