Wells: “Darwinism is Doomed” because we keep making progress

There are days when I simply cannot believe how dishonest the scoundrels at the Discovery Institute can be. This is one of them. I just read an essay by Jonathan Wells that is an appalling piece of anti-scientific propaganda, an extremely squirrely twisting of some science news. It’s called “Why Darwinism is doomed”, and trust me, if you read it, your opinion of Wells will drop another notch. And here you thought it was already in the gutter!

First, here’s the science news that was published in Nature back in August, and which has set Wells off. The research is the result of the ability to scan and compare genomic databases. Such searches have identified regions that are conserved in vertebrates, but also exhibit striking differences in humans; these are called Human Accelerated Regions, HARs, and are considered likely hotspots for finding the specific, selected genetic changes that resulted in Homo sapiens‘ unique characters.

One specific candidate gene that was identified by Pollard et al. is called HAR1F. HAR1F has several attributes that make it an interesting focus for research: 1) it’s in a HAR, and it’s changed dramatically between humans and chimpanzees. 2) It’s expressed in the cerebral cortex during development, and seems to be important in regulating interactions between cells that establish the critical layered structure of this region of the brain. And 3) it’s odd, in that it isn’t translated into protein, but the RNA itself affects the action of other genes. Novel mechanisms are always interesting, and it suggests that we should pay more attention to non-coding RNA as a developmental regulator.

They conclude their study with this comment:

Our comparative genomic approach to identify the most dramatically changed segments of DNA in the human genome has identified a number of new candidate regions to test for clues in the attempt to decode the key events in human evolution. The first on this list seems to define a new type of RNA molecule expressed at a very crucial time and place in the development of the neocortex. Many of the other top candidates are associated with genes known to be involved in neurodevelopment, an area where there has been significant divergence since our last common ancestor with chimpanzee. Thus, this seems to be a promising approach to identifying candidate regions involved in neurodevelopmental aspects of our uniquely human biology.

In a short news blurb in Nature, Kerri Smith described it this way:

Researchers have identified a gene that has changed rapidly during human evolution — a discovery that could be a step towards understanding what sets us apart from other animals.

OK, most of you reading this are normal, literate, reasonably intelligent human beings. I can guess what you are thinking: scientists have taken one more tentative step towards understanding the molecular, genetic, and developmental basis of brain organization. Cool! It sure raises a lot of questions, but this is the way science works, by the incremental addition of new information.

If you were Jonathan Wells, though, the antithesis of the kind of people I like to associate with, it prompts a whole succession of bizarre non-sequiturs. “Darwinism is doomed.” “Darwinism is not a scientific theory.” The evidence for evolution is “underwhelming”. It encourages him to conclude,

If I were a Darwinist, I would be afraid. Very afraid.

If I were Jonathan Wells, I would seek medical attention immediately.

By what possible train of erratic logic could Wells have arrived at his strange conclusions? He gives three arguments.

First, it implicitly acknowledges that the evidence for Darwinism was never as overwhelming as its defenders claim. It has been almost 30 years since Gould wrote that biology accounts for human nature, yet Darwinists are just now turning up a gene that may have been involved in brain evolution.

The story acknowledges no such thing. The evidence for evolution of the brain is inarguable, but that does not mean that we know every detail of the mechanism, or that we’re all done figuring out the entire universe. For example, I flew to New York on Monday; if someone there had asked, for instance, what airline I’d used, does their ignorance of every step of my travel somehow cast doubt on the fact that I had gotten from Minnesota to New York? If the details and timing of my itinerary are worked out, does the fact that I don’t remember the number of my parking spot at the Park ‘n’ Fly mean there is cause to question that I’d even made the trip?

Scientists have never claimed to have all the answers to the evolution of the human brain. We have claimed to possess a process that will help us decipher the events leading to our big brains, and this study demonstrates that we have tools and ways to apply them that are bringing us closer, in ways the IDists can’t even dream of.

Which brings up an important question: does the Discovery Institute have the complete recipe for forming a brain? If not, where do they get off complaining that incomplete information is the signature of future doom? Since their information is far smaller in quantity, doesn’t that suggest their demise is even more imminent?

One last point. If the discovery of small bits of information is a sign of failure, this attitude from Wells is rank anti-science—if the IDists were in charge, new knowledge would be regarded as a violation of current dogma. Let’s make sure these clowns never have any influence on science or policy.

His remaining two arguments move from the anti-scientific stupidity of his first, to patent straw man thrashing.

Second, embryologists know that a single gene cannot account for the origin of the human brain. Genes involved in embryo development typically have multiple effects, and complex organs such as the brain are influenced by many genes. The simple-mindedness of the “brain evolution gene” story is breathtaking.

Read the papers. You will not find a single statement to the effect that this is a single gene that accounts for the origin of the human brain. They discuss other genes, such as reelin, with which HAR1F is thought to interact; they talk about a possible interfering RNA, HAR1R, that modulates its expression; they discuss expression of the gene in other tissues, like testis. The only thing simple-minded here is Wells’ misleading caricature of the paper.

Third, the only thing scientists demonstrated in this case was a correlation between a genetic difference and brain size. Every scientist knows, however, that correlation is not the same as causation. Among elementary school children, reading ability is correlated with shoe size, but this is because young schoolchildren with small feet have not yet learned to read — not because larger feet cause a student to read better or because reading makes the feet grow. Similarly, a genetic difference between humans and chimps cannot tell us anything about what caused differences in their brains unless we know what the gene actually does. In this case, as Nature reports, “what the gene does is a mystery.”

Again, the paper talks about this very issue in depth. They have analyses that show signs of selection for variations in the gene; they have patterns of expression in the brain; they have potential interactions laid out; they specifically state that there are good questions to ask about the specific function of HAR1F. They do not claim to have a known causal relationship. They’ve got a promising research program (which the IDists obviously lack).

Yes, we would like to know much more about what the gene does. Unfortunately, when we do learn a little more, I’m sure Wells will be there to prognosticate the demise of Darwinism because, doggoneit, those scientists keep learning new things, proving that they didn’t know everything.

Pollard KS,
Salama SR,
Lambert N,
Lambot MA,
Coppens S,
Pedersen JS,
Katzman S,
King B,
Onodera C,
Siepel A,
Kern AD,
Dehay C,
Igel H,
Ares M Jr,
Vanderhaeghen P,
Haussler D. (2006) An RNA gene expressed during cortical development evolved rapidly in humans. Nature 443(7108):167-72.

Smith K (2006) Homing in on the genes for humanity. Nature 442:725.


  1. CCP says

    oh…huh…Jonathon Wells is an idiot? stop the presses…
    One pedantic point (that I think further illustrates Wells’s shoddiness): did he really write that ” It has been almost 30 years since Gould wrote that biology accounts for human nature”? Surely he means Wilson, no? E.O. Wilson? Sociobiology? S.J. Gould (like Lewontin, his fellow harvard traveller) had no truck with such “biological determinism.”

  2. says

    I would say “My already low opinion of Jonathan Wells has dropped even further,” but, I already hold harlequin stinkbugs in higher regard to him.

  3. says

    Let’s make sure these clowns never have any influence on science or policy.

    It’s too late for that — GWB is in the White House for a couple more years yet.

  4. says

    He cites Gould at the beginning of his essay:

    Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote in 1977: “Biology took away our status as paragons created in the image of God.”

    It’s not about genetic determinism, it’s about science dethroning god as the source of our minds or souls or whatever. Gould and Lewontin and Wilson would all agree that we don’t need a god to explain biology.

  5. Adam says

    I like that feet/reading example. I’m gonna use that next time I argue correlation/causation. Wait. I usually reference the number of pirates roaming the seas when I discuss correlation/causation. Hmm. Which causative factor is more pithy?

  6. CCP says

    aw jeez, now you made me click on WNutD to read the original. So OK he knows who Gould was but “took away our status as paragons created in the image of God” = “accounts for human nature”???
    I don’t follow.

  7. rrt says

    This yet again demonstrates the almost childish absolutist tendencies of these folks. They can’t keep themselves from thinking that evolution claims to explain everything, and so consistently end up surprised to find that it doesn’t.

    Anybody notice the strange phrasing of the last paragraph? It almost seems as if he’s implying the differences in brain size aren’t due to genes. I suppose he means this specific gene.

  8. Karey says

    I’m having trouble even computing Well’s first argument. How does discovering a new gene involved mean biology might not account for human nature? What?

  9. Stephen Erickson says

    It’s gotten to Orwellian “war is peace, freedom is slavery” levels. An interesting, compelling finding on human evolution becomes . . . evidence against evolution! Discovery of a new primate fossil becomes . . . two more gaps in the fossil record!

  10. Steviepinhead says

    Beneath the gutter…lies the sewer.

    What a pathetic, drooling, self-peripheralizing maroon.

  11. Carl Sachs says

    I posted this over at Uncommon Descent, and I hope that a few here will appreciate my attempt at emulating Swift:

    Jonathan Wells is right — there’s nothing like an exciting new discovery to show that the theoretical framework which motivated it is hopelessly flawed. Even a child could see that.

    It’s obvious that the Darwinists over at Pharyngula are running scared — they’re so scared that they’re boasting about how they’re not scared, and everyone knows that means that they really are. Clearly.

    Unfortunately for Dr. Wells, it’s not clear what he’s going to do once Darwinism is over and done with. Could it be that it’s not, and that his repeated pronouncements of its impending demise are his way of being sure he continue to make a quick buck off of the gullible and self-deceived?

    Obviously, that’s impossible — not even worthy of the consideration it took for me to write it.

    No, it’s clear to all people of reason that in a few years, Darwin will be to biology what Marx is to economics, and the shining city on the hill will bring truth and goodness to all places of darkness, ignorance, and decadence — such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Then the terrible and savage tyranny inspired by Voltaire, Kant, and Spinoza shall finally be vanquished!

    Oh, what a glorious day that will be . . .

  12. 386sx says

    If I were a Darwinist, I would be afraid. Very afraid.

    Lol. Jonathan Wells, the science troll. What hilarity.

  13. says

    If we don’t change with new evidence, then we’re just dogmatists. But of course we do change with the evidence (contrary to some ID claims), something that IDists can’t fathom. Then when we do change the model we’re accused of being wrong in some twisting of the scientific process, as if we had some religious stake in “Darwinism” and have no room for further developments

    It’s all religious apologetics, aimed at people who want nothing more. Oddly, Wells makes sense to the people who praise him, because their whole (intellectually dishonest) point is that “Darwinism” is just a (religious, usually) bias anyhow, hence it must be both rigid and vulnerable to total collapse via new developments which might go beyond what had been known. If Wells’ caricature of science looks like his own religious biases, congratulations, you understand why he doesn’t comprehend science and evolution at all, even though he knows many of the facts. It’s because he can’t think in any way except through narrow religious strictures.

    Why haven’t the new developments caused a crisis in “Darwinist” belief? Their answer: Because it can’t be allowed to do so. That, in their fantasies, is why we don’t see design everywhere. Of course they don’t explain why Paul Nelson believes that evolution has much more explanatory ability than ID at present, but then we know of the intellectual dishonesty of IDists.

    What’s the real reason this does not provoke a crisis? Because science knows that it is limited in its knowledge, and has long suspected that there was more than just coding genes to evolution and development. Indeed, evo-devo has been operating on the evidence, and assumptions based on that evidence, that developmental rates provide a lot of the evolutionary variation. This recently discovered evolutionary evidence seems to fit in fairly well with evo-devo and with the rest of evolution, which is not surprising since scientists wouldn’t look for something that was wholly unexpected.

    What Wells can’t understand is that we use evidence to make as good a model as possible. This by contrast with making a model based upon “truth” which must try to fit everything into its preconceived notions. Thus he cannot (or will not) understand that we use the many lines of evidence in favor of evolution via known mechanisms in order to produce a picture of what went on during the development of life. By doing this we know that we use only some of the possible evidence in favor of evolution to produce an explanation for taxonomic relationships, for homology and analogy, and for the fossil record, one which is consistent with the evidence and with each line of evidence.

    In his benightedness he thinks that instead we are denying the “evidence of design”, which doesn’t exist. Since he doesn’t understand science and its contingent, but largely correct in the mature sciences, manner of modeling, he doesn’t recognize the adequacy of the evidence that we had, say, 30 years ago, to conclude that evolution using causal mechanisms adequately explained life’s forms and functions.

    So, since he understands the world in piecemeal fashion(utterly lacking in a unifying theory–any ID “evolution” has no predictions about continuity and causality), he doesn’t understand how another piece of evidence comes in and is readily assimilated to the evidence-based model that already exists.

    And because he doesn’t know how to do science by not making claims beyond what the evidence points to, he can’t fathom that evolutionary biology simply did not make claims beyond its own evidence. So he doesn’t know that we weren’t making claims about unknown phenomena, and that we welcome new evidence and new ideas. His religion tells us that we’re simply denying the “truth” about ID, thus his false beliefs about our openness becomes the strawman at whom he aims.

    He himself makes claims beyond what the evidence indicates, and indeed, against what the evidence indicates, all of the time. Like many religionists, he doesn’t know how to leave questions lacking in evidence alone, and imagines that we don’t know how to deal conservatively with the evidence either. His bad faith in science is the lens through which he views us, therefore he must suppose that we, too, must be making claims about what is not known.

    No, we understood the evidence of “Darwinism” well before this, and had the usual confidence in the regularities of nature to predict that what we find in the future will also be consistent with the meaningful model of evolution (if not, we’d have to abandon the model). We never supposed that we had all of the evidence for and about evolution, which is why DNA analysis has been adopted so eagerly. However, so far virtually all of the knowledge gained from molecular biology has been consistent with “Darwinism” (take that, IDiot biochemist Behe), and has simply enhanced our already overwhelming evidence about and for a causal evolution. This recent finding that Wells so badly understands is simply another in a long line of molecular evidences which again shows the expected derivations, the kind of phylogenetic evidence that even IDiots accept as evidence in microevolution).

    It simply shows that our model based on converging lines of evidence was indeed correct, passing the new tests for evolution, should one wish to look at it in that way.

    And however badly Wells’ mind sorts through the evidence, the only reason we don’t acknowledge the “evidence of design” is that we find no evidence of design of the genomes, apart from our minor tinkerings with genes. Sadly for him, we only find evidence of derivation, quite consistent with the evidence of derivation that led to “Darwinism” in the first place.

    IOW, we used the post-dictions of “Darwinism” to make the model. Then we predicted that further evidence would be consistent with the derivations that “neo-Darwinism” (to use their language–I know we’re beyond the synthesis) describes. And this is what we find in the molecular evidence, including HAR1F.

    Wells can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but he does know how to make the silk purse of fulfilled evolutionary predictions into his own IDiot’s sow ear.

    Glen D

  14. jim says

    “Scientists have never claimed to have all the answers to the evolution of the human brain.”

    Therein lies the impedence missmatch. IDers are relying on ancient mythology to have all the answers. Ancient mythology doesn’t change and therefore they can’t understand why science can “change its mind” or fill in the picture more completely.

  15. jim says

    “Scientists have never claimed to have all the answers to the evolution of the human brain.”

    Therein lies the impedence missmatch. IDers are relying on ancient mythology to have all the answers. Ancient mythology doesn’t change and therefore they can’t understand why science can “change its mind” or fill in the picture more completely.

  16. Richard Harris says

    Stephen, just for the sake of persnicketyness, when you say, “Discovery of a new primate fossil becomes . . . two more gaps in the fossil record”, what you really mean is that there are two smaller gaps that replace a previous wider gap.

  17. says

    The truth is Darwinism is not a scientific theory, but a materialistic creation myth masquerading as science. It is first and foremost a weapon against religion – especially traditional Christianity. Evidence is brought in afterwards, as window dressing.

    Damn it. Well I’m off to the store to pick up a new Irony meter.

  18. Steve LaBonne says

    Sorry, that one melted every irony meter in the western hemisphere,and it’s going to take the stores a while to restock.

  19. King Spirula says

    “If I were a Darwinist, I would be afraid. Very afraid.”

    This quote alone is enough to predict what follows will be some horrible mixture of misrepresentation, misinformation, misinterpretation, and bald faced lies. Why? Because everytime new scientific evidence comes along that kicks creationism/ID in the balls, the screaming ratchets up.

  20. says

    Hello, Everybody, Mind, and Spirit! :)

    If I were Jonathan Wells, I would seek [psychiatric] attention immediately.

    Also, it can be said likewise: If I were PZ Myers, I would seek cardiac attention immediately!

    Why raise your blood pressure with the ID neocreationists over their anti-Darwinism of the yesteryears gone by?

    The ID as anti-Darwinism has had been in fact anti-Dawkinsian genetic Determinism since the 1990s; as a result of Richard Dawkins’ misinterpretation of Darwinism–as the natural selection of genetic Determinism–in his bestseller The Selfish Gene (1976), the book that has had indeed established Dawkins himself as the Oxford’s Emperor in Darwinism who has no clothes, ever since!

    Rhetorically, if Dawkins could misrepresent Darwinism as such, why won’t the ID neocreationists do likewise? This has had been indeed their anti-Darwinism impetus as well as stamina ever since the 1990s!

    On this issue–by not trying to equate Darwinism (of the natural selection) to Dawkinsian Determinism (of the selfish gene)–I’ve had also presented my arguments with a neocreationist disguised as a philosopher here: Natural selection is recursive (PhysOrgEU; September 10).

    Thank you all for your kind attention and cooperation in this matter–just a food for thought, from a self-introspective Darwinist evolutionist perspective. Happy reading, thinking, scrutinizing, and enlightening! :)

    Best wishes, Mong 9/27/6usct2:37p; author Gods, Genes, Conscience and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now; a cyberspace hermit-philosopher of Modern Mind, whose works are based on the current advances in interdisciplinary science and integrative psychology of Science and Religion worldwide; ethically, morally; metacognitively, and objectively.

  21. Carl Sachs says

    “Carl Sachs quoting an IDiot from the very, very near future”

    Oh . . . so I wasn’t mocking, I was channeling!

  22. Steve LaBonne says

    Mong, the psychiatrist’s office called. They said you must start taking your meds, or you’ll have to be institutionalized again.

  23. says

    Wells’s carelessness and screwup in naming Gould, rather than Wilson, has another poignancy. “Thirty years ago” it was the left’s biophobia, and its straw-man “biological determinism” that made the headlines, culminating perhaps with Lewontin, Kamen, et al in Not In Our Genes. Now the nutcase religious right has cauht up – as exemplified by this, Wells’s latest emission — while, thanks be to Gawd, the left has (mostly, but not entirely) abandoned biophobia as regards the origins of human behavior.

  24. says

    The way these people continue to equate the archaic idea of “Darwinism” with modern evolutionary theory just proves how little they understand it. Darwin simply laid the groundwork with his ideas, but our current understanding of the evolutionary process has changed and has grown significantly since the days of “Darwinism.” Trying to shoot evolution down with blanks seems rather pointless.

  25. Ginger Yellow says

    Funny that one of the few IDists with any qualifications in biology should produce something more wrongheaded than anything else I’ve seen out of the Discovery Institute since one of the others, Behe, claimed his paper on IC disproved evolution by natural selection when in fact it was circumstantial evidence for it.

  26. Steve_C says

    hehe. Mong is cuckoo. I mean mumbling to himself with a stack of papers under his arm and jotting down notes as he crosses the street cuckoo. Or he’s trying to start a scientology like cult.

  27. Stephen Erickson says


    Yes of course, each novel fossil gives net increase of one to number of gaps in fossil record!

    And by studying evolution, we prove that it doesn’t exist!

  28. Coin says

    You know, really, for a movement that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, Intelligent Design really does seem to declare victory an awful lot.

  29. Scott Hatfield says

    Any scientific model that unites anti-science types, be they left or right, is a model that I want to promote. It does lead to strange bedfellows, though: I’ve met more than one fundamentalist who praises Chinese paleontologists for questioning Darwin. They’re always a little conflicted when I point out that this skepticism proceeds from an interpretation of Communist doctrine, rather than from *their* religion, or that, historically, the biggest critics of evolution in American academia are not only not scientists, but not conservatives at all….SH

  30. Jay says

    I don’t know if anyone’s seen it yet, but this article is linked over at Fark.com under their “Politics” tab. The comments are absolutely hilarious. :)

  31. Brit says

    I decided some time ago that listening to these ID advocates sounds a lot like listening to the Iraqi Information Minister:

    “[The Americans] are not in Baghdad. They are not in control of any airport. I tell you this. It is all a lie. They lie. It is a hollywood movie. You do not believe them.”

  32. says

    The new Answers Update is out from Answers in Genesis, and they’re still (surprise!) tolling the death-knell for evolution. In the meantime, though, pending the oft-delayed final victory, their focus is on equipping students to fend off the seductive ploys of evolutionists in the classroom. Some testimonial letters are printed in Answers Update, one from “a biology education major at Pennsylvania State University,” who thanks God for AiG publications.

    See Creation on campus for the future mis-educator’s letter, along with a separate testimonial from a Minnesota creationist.

  33. Bunjo says

    I liked Glen D’s analysis very much.

    Has anyone considered the historical background to the religious viewpoint of life? Much of the early Christian church(es) beliefs were based on the authority behind interpretations of various religious texts. Hence the early struggles between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox churches, the various Creeds and the texts incorporated into the Bible. Meanings of words were important and argued by rhetoric.

    The later Protestant sects, excluded from the authority of Apostalic Succession, depend even more heavily on the literal meaning of the Bible for their internal justification and debate becomes even more rhetorical *because there is no other non-faith evidence* – apart from the Bible.

    The ID crowd (even if they discount a religious designer) share this rhetorical worldview of unchallengeable faith, and so as Glen D asserts literally cannot comprehend a scientific worldview where all *revealed truths* are provisional and authority can be overturned.

    Since the ID people boggle at trying to square the concepts of “man is the image of God” with “man is an animal evolved through unguided selection”, evolution becomes their current primary target. Much like the heliocentric rhetorical/scientific debate of previous centuries really.

    What can we do about it?

    I suggest that we consistently explain that a challenge to a scientific revealed truth can only be successful if it is based on scientific methodology. Rhetoric might help frame a revised hypothesis, but is insufficient in itself to change a scientific provisional truth. Tough luck Bill Dembski.

    I also suggest that when our ‘ID chums’ complain that science (and especially evolution) does not allow for ‘spiritual truth’ we must be disciplined enough to avoid using science as the counter in debate. The materialist/spiritual debate is a matter of competing philosophies or beliefs or faiths and should be debated as such. Tough luck Richard Dawkins (even if my worldview is much closer to his!).

  34. Molly, NYC says

    Darwinism is doomed

    Doomed!!!! Doomed, I tells ya!!! At a mere 140-odd years, and with its support limited to virtually everyone but a few Holy Joes, it’s absolutely circling the drain!!!

    * * *
    . . . the pro-Darwin magazine Nature . . .

    Like Wells wouldn’t give his left ‘nad for a publication in Nature.

  35. Coin says

    I decided some time ago that listening to these ID advocates sounds a lot like listening to the Iraqi Information Minister:

    “[The Americans] are not in Baghdad. They are not in control of any airport. I tell you this. It is all a lie. They lie. It is a hollywood movie. You do not believe them.”

    Yeah. Or, have you heard about this “The Last King of Scotland” movie? It’s about some Ugandan dictator named Idi Amin. Apparently the title comes from an incident in the late seventies where Britain, increasingly unhappy with Amin’s behavior, broke off diplomatic relations with Uganda. Amin promptly added to his title “Conqueror of the British Empire and King of Scotland”.

    Seeing Wells’ pronouncements of defeat for Darwinism today, this was more or less all I could think of…

  36. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Looking at his constant spillage (writings, ejaculations, drools, brain fluids), Well’s PhD years was arduous – keeping his stock of earplugs refilled must have been a major undertaking.

    On the other hand, making creokes (creo jokes) is easy:

    “everytime new scientific evidence comes along that kicks creationism/ID in the balls, the screaming ratchets up.”

    Sorry, creationism is sterile, and they have never showed any balls to speak of, nor do their religious roots especially care for women. But highpitched screaming and whining is often heard, and the tendencies for greasiness and floppiness are clear. Creationism is obviously the eunuch of philosophy.

    “war is peace”
    “freedom is slavery”
    “stupidity is intelligence”

    Creationism is science.

  37. Your Name's Not Bruce? says

    Wells’s constituency and intended audience is unlikely to ever read the original paper; his “critique” lets them beleive they don’t have to. He is their champion, fighting the good fight against godless materialists. IDists are not really engaged in a scientific debate but in a pro wrestling match for public opinion (without the glitzy costumes). The posturing and posing (demanding “balance” and “fairness” in teaching the “controversy”) is for the benefit of their supporters and the non-scientist lay public. More “sport-like” (Sporty? Sportiness?)than true sport. Good versus Evil; theatre. Real science is the Olympics; ID and the DI are the WWF. However many gold medals scientists win, however, IDers can still claim the WWF Championship (Bible?) Belt. Pro wrestlers have to be in good shape to do what they do. IDers have to undertake Herculean logical contortions to present and defend their case. It doesn’t stop either group from looking ludicrous when viewed by people who don’t “get” it

    Pushing the limits of metaphore since 1962…..

  38. Rey Fox says

    “You know, really, for a movement that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, Intelligent Design really does seem to declare victory an awful lot.”

    That’s because it’s their job.

  39. wolfwalker says

    There are days when I simply cannot believe how dishonest the scoundrels at the Discovery Institute can be.

    Why? It’s what they do. Snakes bite, scorpions sting, water flows downhill, and creationists lie about science. I long ago concluded that Captain Jack Sparrow’s aphorism on honesty applies quite well to creationists: they’re dishonest, and you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. I’ve been more surprised on the rare occasions when I saw a creationist do something honest, like whichever one it was that published a list of “antievolution arguments creationists shouldn’t use.”

  40. says

    if you read it, your opinion of Wells will drop another notch. And here you thought it was already in the gutter!

    And here I thought it was already in the gutter. (Didn’t I say something in another post about fundies always managing to fall lower than we can imagine?) Well, hell, it’s time for me to laugh at Wells. He’s actually pretty entertaining.

    Could it be that the American people are skeptical of Darwinism because they’re smarter than Darwinists think? I wish, Jonathan, babe. (Hey, this Darwinist aced the quiz.)

    If I were a creationist I would get drunk. Very drunk. And have an affair. (What’s one more lie, after all?) And read some surrealist poetry. Live a little!

  41. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Coin, that was interesting.

    Actually, Wikipedia says he claimed being “His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” (Amin has been believed to suffer from syphilis.)

    “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth” – well, at least he didn’t make that claim based on an old book but by being dictator. So he wasn’t as crazy as some others.

    And I hadn’t appreciated that his nickname “Dada” wasn’t influenced by languages with indo-european roots, but is swahili for “sister”! Amin was often found with girls in his tent as a soldier, and he had to lie as a creo. (See the syphilis.)

    “Creationism is obviously the eunuch of philosophy.”

    No, that is giving them too much. Creationism is the eunuch of dogmas.

  42. Timcol says

    I just find it interesting how undiscriminating the ID community is when it comes to who they hitch their wagon too. As we all know Wells is a practicing member of the Unification (“moonie”) church. This organization really is nothing but a cult and by some accounts a dangerous and harmful one. Ordinarily Christian evangelicals (and let’s face it that’s what of most of the IDers are) would want to have very little to do with the likes of Wells. In fact (and I speak from experience as a former fundie) that would clearly think that Moonism is of the devil and that Wells is an agent of the devil (I’m not joking, that’s exactly how many mainstream Christians think).

    Furthermore, Wells has not hidden the fact that he believes his scientific work is part of his service to his religion. Yet of course the IDers have absolutely no qualms in gleefully accepting Wells into the ID fold — yet, you can be sure there is no way in hell that they would let him near their pulpits on Sunday mornings.

  43. Phoenician in a time of Romans says

    I especially love this claim:

    Yet to the Darwinists’ dismay, at least three-quarters of the American people – citizens of the most scientifically advanced country in history – reject it.

    Just let that one simmer in your brain for a while…

  44. QrazyQat says

    Of course Wells would be very scared if he were a Darwinist — his comfy paycheck and travel allowances would be in jeopardy, not to mention the reaction he’d face from Father Moon.

  45. Keanus says

    Wells’ moonie roots explain a lot. If one believes, as moonies do, that the good Rev. Moon is the monarch and/or second Messiah (yes, most moonies see him as the second coming of Jesus), then the bizarre statement “If I were a Darwinist, I’d be afraid. Very afraid,” makes perfect sense. He’s completely disconnected from the reality that the rest of the world knows. It’s also obvious that despite his Berkeley degree, he’s long since lost touch with biology, even as it stood a quarter century ago.

  46. Your Name's Not Bruce ? says

    Re: ID “wagon hitching”

    This no different than paleo-Creationists glomming onto any and all “Flood” stories from other cultures to “prove” the worldwide nature and extent of the Noachian deluge. They are particularly fond of the dragons of Chinese mythology to point out the co-existance of humans and dinosaurs. But they do not avail themselves of any other ideas or insights from these pagan or heathen sources which they have quote mined.

  47. Brit says

    One more point on HAR is the fact that a group of scientists went looking for regions of DNA that were significantly different between humans and chimpanzees. (Hence the name “Human Accelerated Regions”.) They found 49 regions with large differences between the species. Because of the way that they’re ordered, HAR1 is the region with the largest percentage of differences among the 49. The HAR1-F gene, of which HAR1 is a part, has a 6% difference between humans and chimps. That’s right. Scientists went looking for genes with large percentage differences between humans and chimps, and the gene with LARGEST percent difference was *only* 6%. I mean, that just screams “intelligent designer” doesn’t it? (Roll eyes)

  48. says

    I greatly admire and respect those putting their minds on the line to answer this drivel. But I fear for them. Vicious, stupid nonsense creates a continual temptation to respond in kind, and that way madness lies…

  49. Ick of the East says

    Vicious, stupid nonsense creates a continual temptation to respond in kind, and that way madness lies…

    But if the lies of madness are not countered, they will soon become so familiar that they will be taken as common knowledge and common sense.

  50. Odimas Pistaferan says

    I’d love to study the psychology of religion. I just can’t understand how people think this way.

    PZ– were you at City College in Harlem at any point on your trip to New York, for any reason? I saw someone who looked almost exactly like you, if the picture on Pharyngula is still current.

    Incidentally, I saw creationists handing out propaganda in Penn Station a few days ago. AAH! They’re in our liberal blue state! Run to Canada!

    For some reason, the aforementioned creationists referred to evolution as “my theory” after I’d explained that I’m an atheist; at first I assumed they meant atheism. Afterwards, they started with the ad populum argument. (Of course, they didn’t name any people who were once “Darwinists” and now aren’t, so I suppose it’s more of an argumentum ad phantasm.) (Sorry if I’m mutilating a dead language.) When they told me that many (anonymous) people think evolution is wrong, I explained that I’m not completely scientifically illiterate, and walked away. In retrospect, I should have asked how many of these people were named Steve.

  51. Adam Cuerden says

    …I can only respond through quotation of my favourite Victorian playwright.

    That men were monkeys once–to that I bow;
    (looking at Wells’ paper) I know one who’s less man than monkey, now,
    That monkeys once were men, peers, statesmen, flunkies–
    That’s rather hard on unoffending monkeys!

    -W.S. Gilbert

  52. Phoenician in a time of Romans says

    When they told me that many (anonymous) people think evolution is wrong, I explained that I’m not completely scientifically illiterate, and walked away.

    What is more important and interesting:

    (i) a theory with superior explanatory power to alternatives which is believed by almost everybody OR

    (ii) a theory with superior explanatory power to alternatives which is believed by a few?

    If I recall correctly, nobody has ever gotten a Nobel Prize for stating the Earth orbits the Sun…

  53. says

    Any Christians still reading along? It’s time to act on the P.Z. challenge: Make sure your pastor gets from you a copy of this post. Explain why it is that scientists think Wells is wrong, and why it is important that your congregation not continue the madness.

  54. G. Tingey says

    I sent the following to the WND letters page -somehow, i don’t think they’ll bite….
    Jonathan Wells is either a deliberate liar, or is so seriously deluded that he should seek medical help.

    By the way, there is no such thing as “Darwinism” except in the deluded minds of religious (christian and islamic and “hare krishna, etc) creationists.

    What does exist, is a growing and consistent body of knowledge, called Evolutionary Biology, which is essential for an understanding of the living world.

    Yours sincerely,

    and then my name and address (in England)

  55. Mod says

    Hang on, I’m confused.

    Does Nature magazine give us the impression that this one single gene is a causal factor in our brain’s evolution…

    “On Aug. 17, the pro-Darwin magazine Nature reported that scientists had just found the “brain evolution gene.”

    …or does the pro-Darwinist magazine, Nature, state tentatively that may be involved but we aren’t sure?

    ‘According to Nature, the gene may thus harbor “the secret of what makes humans different from our nearest primate relatives.”…as Nature reports, “what the gene does is a mystery.”‘

    Nature says that the gene’s function is a mystery, yet Wells has somehow concluded that Nature has made a statement that this gene is involved in our brain evolution.

    If I’ve ever desired to see a piece of doublethink, my dreams have been answered.

  56. Dark Matter says

    Odimas Pistaferan wrote-

    I’d love to study the psychology of religion. I just can’t understand how people think this way.

    The regular use of *Crimestop*
    (as in Ninteen Eighty-Four) makes all kinds of unpleasant, contradictory
    thoughts go away, away, away….

    The Eternal Sunshine of the ID Mind……

  57. j.t.delaney says

    Why is Wells harping on Gould in he first place? As much as I am a fan of Gould, there’s nothing new in his statement about science and the business of God-dethrowning. One of the basic features of science is that natural causes are sufficient to explain the universe around us: plenty of different thinkers have said this, in one way or another, for centuries.

    Wells seems to imply that secular humanists just stumbled across this in the 1970’s, when Gould came up with that raffish quote. I guess before then, theology was on a fast track to finding cures for all sorts of diseases, exploring the cosmos, as well as making improvements in agriculture… while secular humanists were busy twirling the moustaches, clicking their tongues, and generally being ineffectual. But then, poopy-head Gould opened his big mouth, and spoiled it all… The academic establishment was so swayed by Gould’s snappy one-liner, that they totally shit-canned all their awesome and highly productive theology-based research programs in favor of a bunch of God-hating hoo-haw. Before long, everybody forgot about all the intellectual triumphs that theologans had over the last 2,000 years in improving the human condition. Now, 30 years later, it just looks like secular science has achieved so much in understanding the material world, and that ‘religious studies’ is a code word for anachronistic mewling and navel-gazing…

    Now that I think about it, it’s just so obvious! I just knew it had to be something like that, but I just wasn’t sure how it happened. Leave it to the unimpeachable editors of the WingNut Daily to blow the lid on such a story.

  58. Caledonian says

    One of the basic features of science is that natural causes are sufficient to explain the universe around us: plenty of different thinkers have said this, in one way or another, for centuries.

    It’s more basic than that. The universe is natural causes. If we discover something that our previous ideas about nature didn’t predict, we don’t call that thing supernatural, we expand our understanding of nature.

    If ghosts, vampires, unicorns, and the like existed, we would be obligated to consider them natural. I’m fairly certain that such things do not in fact exist. So is everyone else. That’s why we can call them supernatural.

  59. Lawrence A. Rabian says

    I think you’re all talking at cross-purposes here. Wells is obviously referring to the Secondary HAR1F (SHAR1F) discovered by OMAR in April 1932. This OMAR SHAR1F was brought to prominence by Doctor Zhivago (although it was known earlier in the Low Rents of Arabia), and plays a key role in the Tamarind Seed.

  60. says

    One of many things Wells fails to mention is that the scientists only found the gene by looking for signs of evolution. Funny how a doomed idea can be such a reliable guide. More here.

  61. Herb West says

    Cut the guy some slack PZ. Wells has a point. The phrase “brain evolution gene” is silly yet this phrase headlined articles in the Washington Post, USA Today, Forbes, ABC, CBS, everywhere (google “brain evolution gene” for yourself).

    The Nature news blurb contains the gem: “One thing is becoming clear: protein-coding genes may not be the movers and shakers of human evolution scientists once thought.”

    The Washington Post reports (quoting a molecular biologist): “the gene changed so fast that Clark said that he has a hard time believing it unless something unusual happened in a mutation. It’s not part of normal evolution, he said.”

    You can’t fault IDers for jumping on this story.

  62. says

    Torbjörn Larsson: Surely not. Eunnuchs cannot reproduce; whereas creationism keeps spreading and spreading …

    Odimas Pistaferan: I’m not sure fleeing here would help as much as you might hope, what with our current federal government and all. I also saw a guy handing out New Testaments in the Metro on Tuesday …

    As for the psychology of religion, somewhere I’ve seen a textbook of it and I think McGill periodically teaches it. (The academic study of religion is pretty big there.)

    Herb West: Well, yes and no. If they were the scientists they claim to be, they’d know damn well that one shouldn’t trust the popular presentations of things in the press and instead read the original articles. Of course, that wouldn’t allow them to fool the rubes as easily …

  63. Brian K says

    It’s not the depth of Well’s stupidity that scares/surprises me. It’s the thought of thousands of folks reading his ‘article’ and nodding their heads in agreement that gives me chills.

  64. Joshua says

    Herb: In that case, maybe Darwinism is doomed… because of crappy science reporting in the mainstream media.

  65. Peter says

    i have little to add as i am most pleased by the posts here. wells is theistic realist (a.k.a. the christian version of a socialist realist or any other “insert ideological name here” realist) who takes an a priori position and then won’t move. he and our glorious president should get together and have a beer and discuss the wonders of ignorance and how great it is to never be introspective.

  66. rogerM says

    If you are actually (yes, really) reading Well’s paper, it read like a diatribe against ID, only with the names reversed. He wrote:

    “Darwinists are still looking for evidence – any evidence, no matter how skimpy – to justify their speculations.”

    “Darwinism is not a scientific theory, but a materialistic creation myth masquerading as science. It is first and foremost a weapon against religion ..”

    These are almost exact word by word criticism on IDs, with roles reversed of course. If you are a warrior on creationism battles like Wells, you definitely have met these allegations quite often.

    Freudian slip of tongue?

    Being an IDer must be hard indeed ..

  67. Caledonian says

    It’s a very old technique. If you can’t refute an argument, turn it against your opponent. If he tries to use it against you, it looks like he’s imitating.

    The problem isn’t that IDists know deep down that they’re peddling nonsense. The problem is that they’ve deluded themselves into believing that nonsense is not only meaningful but absolutely vital.

  68. Leon says

    Can you imagine if this guy wrote detective stories?

    “Aha!” said the murderer. “They may have found my footsteps at the scene of the crime, a witness who saw me do it, and the murder weapon in my house, but now that they’ve found my prints on the weapon, they’ll know they have no case against me. If I were an inspector on this case, I’d be looking for work elsewhere.”

  69. Torbjörn Larsson says

    In numbers, not in essence. We could compromise and say that their ideas don’t evolve, but disperse by asexual means like bacterias. (And sometimes their genetic material is inserted in new packages, like ID.) In other words, they are cloning around …

  70. j.t.delaney says

    Eunnuchs cannot reproduce; whereas creationism keeps spreading and spreading …

    Au contraire! Eunuchs can readily reproduce: all they need is a pair of sharp pruning sheers, and a victim of the appropriate gender to pin down. From this perspective, I think the analogy is even more fitting. After all, aren’t creation scientists sort of butchered, disfigured versions of real scientists?

  71. windy says

    The phrase “brain evolution gene” is silly…

    Not if it’s “a” brain evolution gene, not “the” brain evolution gene.

  72. Scott Graber says

    Guys, the arguments for Incredibly Stupid Design, (what it should be called, considering mammals who can drown living under the sea, and tree kangaroos, among other innumerable examples of the apparent ineptness of the so called design) are convoluted, and really not arguments FOR anything, but simply semantic arguments convincing only to the uneducated, which, unfortunately, is a large number of people. Aside from that. Has there been any discussion that ” mutation ” of genes has not been random at all, but very much directed by the eternal struggle between viruses and their hosts, starting from the earliest contests even pre dating the evolution of cells themselves? The so called primordial soup, where ever it was?

    It seems to me that the strongest argument made against “evolution” is the “If you put a typewriter in front of a chimpanzee and give him infinite time, he still would be unable to produce Shakespeare’s HAMLET” argument… that totally random mutation cannot account for the formation of genes given the 8-14 billion years of universal existence.. but.. I say, that genetic mutation could not be random at all, but very pointedly directed, by the phenomona we call “disease”, or nuclear invasions by viral vectors. I can see, that if genetic mutation was simply random, and assuming that most random genetic mutations are destructive, that random mutation alone would not account for constructive genetic evolution, but that reaction to the omnipresent viral attacks, (or other microbial toxins) could easily account for constructive adaptation at the genetic level. I am a lay person, and just do not know how much this has been considered.

    In my simple mind, it is obvious that genetic mutation is not random at all, but purposeful.

    In other words could the naked ape be a diseased chimp cousin ?


  73. Luke Tilley says

    “Dr.” Wells writes: “According to Darwinists, there is such overwhelming evidence for their view that it [Darwinism] should be considered a fact. Yet to the Darwinists’ dismay, at least three-quarters of the American people – citizens of the most scientifically advanced country in history – reject it.”

    This is a fantastic example of ID defender propaganda tactics:
    Since 3/4 of the American people who reject Darwinism live in the most scientifically advanced country in history, those people must be somehow be automatically bestowed with a logical, reasoning mind capable of rigorous intellectual thinking?

    Perhaps I don’t really need to attend my genetics class this afternoon because I live in America! I am already scientifically literate and intellectually competent! Take that Europe! All I have to do is sit here and I am smarter than you! Woohoo!

  74. Richard Simons says

    Scott raises the issue of a chimpanzee typing Hamlet and says “. . . if genetic mutation was simply random, and assuming that most random genetic mutations are destructive, that random mutation alone would not account for constructive genetic evolution . . .”

    This is the ‘tornado in a junkyard’ canard. No biologist suggests that this is what happens. No biologist has ever suggested that this is what happens. The key is that mutations are effectively random but selection is not (I put in the qualifier because mutation comes in different forms, some of which are more probable than others, but that is not related to whether they are more or less favourable). Imagine a chimpanzee in front of a typewriter hitting keys at random. Whenever a correct key was struck, that letter was saved and you then waited for the chimp to hit the correct next letter. ‘Hamlet’ could be achieved much more quickly, although it would still take a long time, just like evolution. There is no need to invoke some unexplained reaction to viral attack.

  75. Scott G. says

    I don’t think it is a question of invoking a reaction to a viral (or other microbial) attack when it isnt needed. I think it is a reasonable deduction from observable phenomenon, and if it can help explain an accelerated selection, and mutation at the same time, the combination of vectors might eliminate the problem of massively complex nucleic acids evolving over a finite period of time. Unless you dismiss the idea that there is any problem at all with time.

    We see the fact of disease driving selection and cite it often as “evidence of evolution” (more properly the power of artificial selection) itself, in the constant struggle against ever more drug resistant strains of infectious agents. Just consider antibiotics to be a “disease” to infectious bacteria. who is to say that the toxin itself (antibacterial toxin to the bacteria) does not drive the mutation of the bacterial dna at the molecular level??? Is it totally unreasonable to imagine that a few chunks of the toxin (antibiotic) are incorporated onto the surface of the virus itself to block the effect of the antibiotic?? I imagine that a “smart” virus would work with the molecules available.

    We see the effect of disease effecting human genetic heritage in sickle cell anemia. Is it totally irrational to imagine that the presence of the malarial toxins did not affect the mutation that causes the sickle celled hemocytes in some way?

    I dont think it is invoking something that isn’t necessary. I think its taking advantage of something we know is there. Why ignore it? I think that is chauvinistic and short sighted. Why cling to random mutations when it isn’t necessary, and lends itself to the argument that: ” this did not happen by “chance”, which is the best emotional and semantic argument the incredibly stupid designers have? It didn’t happen by chance at all. it was not random mutation. it was mutation driven and actually affected, or caused physically by the one constant in the environment. molecular war, or disease.

    I dont disagree that the chimpanzee in front of a typewriter is somewhat of a canard, however, I do also think that a potentially beneficial mutation (typed letter) would only be saved when it actually caused a benefit, which condition would also be random, in the sense that some change in the environment in any locality would be somewhat random, negating the accumulation of beneficial mutations unless there was something driving the effect of the beneficial mutation. in other words, why would the first letter of hamlet be saved on the chimps typewriter, just because he typed it? The chimp, nor its environment knows it was working on hamlet. if it did, it would be a simple one in 26 chance the letter would be correct and hamlet would be produced in much shorter time. type 26 letters and automatically save the right one. type 26 letters and automatically save the right one. keep on going until you have hamlet. That isnt how it works, in real life or the hypothetical, because randomly, the organism doesnt know which one to keep, it is only kept when it grants a benefit, which is long after the fact of the mutation. If you have to wait ten thousand years for a geologic change in the environment before you could save the first letter.. how long before the limited amount of time we have available is spent. long before the number of letters in hamlet to the 26th power x 10,000 years.

    Disease, on the other hand, is constant and a highly selective agent. It is the norm, and much more consistently present in the environment, than other environmental (geological) changes. If a mutation has to wait ten thousand years for its benefit to become effective… then why would it be saved? it wouldnt. if it only had to wait one generation, then it would easily be saved. Epidemics are legion. Geologic changes are not. Disease sweeps with lightning speed through a population. Plate tectonics move with agonizing slowwness.

    I also have a strange sense, almost an intuition, that this model, of disease driving evolution, the paradoxical aspect of it, that the scourge of life is also the great benefactor, that fits nicely into the laws of unintended consequences, chaos theory, etc. etc. etc. The “fair is foul and foul is fair” aspect. (the first lines of MacBeth, ironically) It resonates, to me. It would also resonate that, by fighting and conquering disease, we are, by the law of unintended consequences, harming ourselves, impeding evolution itself. Playing god, if you will.

    But, Perhaps you could suggest another environmental variable which would select out for beneficial mutations (save a correct letter) in a single generation? (and directly physically contact nucleic material, which a viral infection will do ) I might be missing a few.


  76. Scott G says

    Oh, let me add, there is no doubt that random mutations can account for the variations seen in populations separated by geologic features, but i beleive the disease paradigm provides the punctuation in the punctuated equilibrium. The so called arising of new species, if you accept the idea of species.