Jonathan Wells: Who is He, What is He Doing, and Why?

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In 1999-2000, the Kansas State Board of Education was running their PR machine full-bore, trying to convince the public that the central organizing theory of modern biology and biotechnology was a dead idea. Creationist speaker after creationist speaker was flown into town to put on a dog and pony show. If you were a Young-Earth Creationist, you might have seen Duane Gish/Fred Whitehead nondebate. If you liked ID creationism, you might have seen Johnson or Wells. Back then, it was a very big tent.

Well, KCFS wasn’t going to take things lying down, so we thought we’d prepare a few flyers to inform the audience to help them be ready for the creationists when they arrived. One of those flyers, “Jonathan Wells: Who is He, What is He Doing, and Why?” turned out to be pretty important.

Fast forward to Spring 2005, after the creationists had taken over the state board of education again and ran roughshod over the accepted processes of curricular review. They rejected the recommendations of the experts who developed very good standards and held a show trial, in which evolution would be dragged before them to answer the tough ID creationists’ questions.

The details of the story are described elsewhere, but one of the “witnesses” was Jonathan Wells, who during his testimony claimed that he was not influenced by religion. Within the span of an hour, KCFS was able to print several copies of our Wells flyer to distribute to interested members of the press. The result was that in the following day’s newspapers, Jonathan Wells testimony and his quotations were seen in juxtaposition to each other, making of his credibility to journalists what those in the know had deemed of it for years.

Find the flyer on the flipside. It’s also available in RTF format. Please note that the DI has since changed their name from the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture to simply the Center for Science and Culture. So clearly it’s no longer religious.

Jonathan Wells: Who Is He, What Is He Doing, and Why?

CRSC and the Wedge Jonathan Wells is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), a branch of the Discovery Institute, a privately-funded, conservative think-tank in Seattle. The CRSC believes that science in general, and the theory of evolution in particular, are responsible for a materialistic, atheistic philosophy whose “destructive cultural consequences” in our society must be reversed.

The CRSC has a strategy called the Wedge for replacing science as it is currently practiced with “intelligent design”, a theistic science which would allow supernatural causes.

The CRSC explicitly rejects the commonly-held view that God uses the evolutionary process to bring about His intended design. They also claim that science, by choosing to limit itself to natural explanations of the physical world, actively asserts that God does not exist. They reject the widely accepted belief that science investigates only part of the world, the physical, while our spiritual nature apprehends the moral, aesthetic, and religious aspects of the world.

By portraying evolution as “atheistic” and dismissing religious beliefs that acknowledge the limited role of natural science, the CRSC hopes to drive a wedge between those who acknowledge evolution and those who are religious. They insist that one must choose between being an atheistic supporter of evolution or a theistic opponent.

CRSC’s long-term agenda is to extend “intelligent design” into all aspects of the culture - as their name indicates they hope to renew science and culture. They believe that science can, and should, investigate what constitutes “natural” ethics and morals, and that science can discover which behaviors transgress the intended purposes of human design. CRSC’s long-range plan for achieving its Wedge Strategy can be found at http://www.freethought-web.org/ctrl[…]ocument.html.

Jonathan Wells Jonathan Wells has been a member of the Discovery Institute since 1996. As early as the 1970’s, as a member of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, Wells became convinced that evolution was false because it conflicted with his church’s belief that humankind was specifically designed by God. On the urging of Moon, Wells went to Yale to pursue a divinity degree, focusing his work on arguments against evolution. Later, in the early ’90s, he went back to school at Berkeley to get a biology degree to bolster his credentials in fighting evolution. (See “In His Own Words” below). Soon after getting his degree, he began work at the Discovery Institute.

Wells’ new book, “Icons of Evolution,” is characteristic of the “debunking evolution” style common to anti-evolutionists. Like the young-earth creationists who claim scientific evidence for the flood or an eight-thousand year-old earth, Wells selectively looks at inconsistencies, disagreements, or errors in the scientific data. He ignores the vast body of knowledge that supports the topic he is attacking and fails to acknowledge that the scientific community itself has addressed the problems Wells is describing.

For instance, one of the “icons” that Wells mentions is Haeckle’s embryos, an issue which has been thoroughly discussed in the scientific literature. Haeckel’s main idea, that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, has since been rejected. Wells’ legitimate complaint that Haeckel’s drawings continue to show up in textbooks reflects the fact that textbooks in all scientific fields are often some years behind current knowledge and often portray simplified popularizations that are necessarily incomplete. His use of these stories is a “straw man” tactic, using his incomplete version of the story to support his cause.

Conclusion The purpose of Wells’ book is drive the wedge a little deeper – to open the door for his creationist “theory of intelligent design.” Wells is using these “icon” stories to advance his anti-evolution beliefs – beliefs that he has had for many years and are based not on science but on religious convictions. He selectively tells only part of the story about his “icons”, and then jumps to the conclusion that evolution is unsubstantiated. Given his background, it is hard to consider this an objective, scientific approach. Wells’ icons do not, as he claims, constitute a serious challenge to the theory of evolution.

In His Own Words Information in this flier was gathered from a number of documents. Here is a sampling from the writings of Jonathan Wells.

In “Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.,” by Jonathan Wells, (1996), Wells explains how he first decided on a lifelong goal of combating evolution.

He [Rev. Sun Myung Moon] frequently criticized Darwin’s theory that living things originated without God’s purposeful, creative activity…

Father’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.”

http://www.tparents.org/library/uni[…]s/DARWIN.htm

This article on the Unification Church True Parents website, “Dr. Jonathan Wells Returns to UTS” [Unification Theological Seminary], (1997), tells more of the history of Well’s fight against evolution.

The second Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Berkeley has been invaluable in helping Dr. Wells to fulfill his goal. With his academic credentials, he is in a uniquely powerful position to attack Darwinian evolution and he has done so in many debates and discussions in recent years.

During his studies in biology, Dr. Wells’ disagreement with Darwinism became even more fundamental.… [Wells explained], ‘Darwin’s theory excludes design and therefore logically excludes God. That’s the source of its atheism.’

http://www.tparents.org/library/uni[…]onathan.html

Members of the CRSC seldom describe their “theory” of how intelligent design creationism has happened. However, in the article “Evolution by Design,” (1997), Wells describes his belief that the transitions between species have been designed by special creation and have not occurred by common descent, and that the ultimate purpose has been to build a suitable environment on Earth for the eventual creation of human beings.

[I] assume that the human species was planned before life began and that the history of life is the record of how this plan was implemented. … Primitive organisms had to pave the way for the stable ecosystems we see today. A barren planet had to become a garden…

The first human baby presumably had to be nurtured by a creature very much like itself – a humanlike primate. This creature, in turn, could only have been nurtured by a creature intermediate in some respects between it and a more primitive mammal. In other words, a plan for the emergence of human beings must have included something like the succession of prehistoric forms we find in the fossil record.…

Although this process is superficially similar to the Darwinian notion of common descent, design theory differs from the latter in maintaining that predecessors need not be biological ancestors but only providers of essential nourishment and protection. …”

http://www.tparents.org/Library/Uni[…]t-select.htm

Kansas Citizens for Science is an organization of educators, parents, students, scientists and other Kansans who are concerned with raising the quality of science education in our state. To learn more about KCFS, or to join, see http://www.kcfs.org.

26 Comments

Very cool. I suggest that you add that recentlt, Wells has been trying to claim that he working on “ID Research,” which refers to his failed Centromere “Turbine” idea. It is something that seems to often be brought up about him. When Philip Johnson came to Davis on December 1, 2006, he also referred to this research of Wells’.

However, Johnson did not refer to Wells by name. He said that one of the IDists, who has a PhD from Berkeley, was working on an ID “Theory of cancer.” I kid you not! So we go from Wells’ failed hypothesis that he never bothered to test with an experiment, and in the process of alluding to potential cancer implications, because both Centromeres and cancer have something to do with cell division, now we have claims of a scientific project to put together a theory of cancer based on Intelligent Design!

Wells may not try to claim he’s doing cancer research, but it would be a good thing for people to know if he does.

Well I guess we all know what this means. We need to hire a top notch oncologist to go on a speaking tour telling everyone that ID is not used in treating cancer. In fact, there are no courses in ID in any medical school anywhere. That ought to prove once and for all that no one should believe in ID!

Another good flyer. The part on Haeckel’s drawings in textbooks may perhaps be updated.

PZ Myers Wrote:

In the comments, Art Hunt passes along a short analysis from Patrick Frank of the instances of Haeckel’s work in a number of biology texts from 1923 to 1997.[…]

Patrick Frank Wrote:

I looked at 15 books in total. Where Haeckel’s drawings appeared, that fact is noted. Where comment on Haeckel or his law is given, I have quoted the text faithfully, or in one case summarized, to give the flavor of the commentary.

Of the 15 books, only 5 show Haeckel’s drawings, two in whole, three in part.

Of those 5, only one presents the biogenetic law uncritically, and that book is the 1937 H. C. Skinner, T. Smith, F. M. Wheat “Textbook in Educational Biology”.

( http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/[…]_of_haec.php )

Oh, and I forgot. Isn’t there now also a famous scene in “A Flock of Dodos”, about creationists not finding these references that was supposedly ‘in all textbooks’? Perhaps not Wells, but telling anyway, and good flyer material I would think.

Jonathan Wells Wrote:

The first human baby presumably had to be nurtured by a creature very much like itself — a humanlike primate. This creature, in turn, could only have been nurtured by a creature intermediate in some respects between it and a more primitive mammal. In other words, a plan for the emergence of human beings must have included something like the succession of prehistoric forms we find in the fossil record.…

Although this process is superficially similar to the Darwinian notion of common descent, design theory differs from the latter in maintaining that predecessors need not be biological ancestors but only providers of essential nourishment and protection.…”

So God could poof the embryo of a new species into an existing creature’s womb, but he couldn’t poof nutrients into it and directly shield it from harm without the help of a surrogate mother? What, did it take him a few more million years to figure out the water-into-wine and loaves-and-fishes tricks?

one of the IDists, who has a PhD from Berkeley, was working on an ID “Theory of cancer.”

um… ‘cancer’ and ‘ID’ in the same sentence! time for someone to examine his beliefs more critically!

Another vote for changing the bit about the textbooks – it’s not accurate and in its inaccuracy gives support to Wells (and others’) position. In fact it seems the only time that Haeckel’s drawings do “show up in textbooks” is when they are used as an example of a failed hypothesis which has been refuted – much as you might have a picture of the Piltdown remains in a textbook.

Wells is also infamous in Ohio. He was part of the Discovery Institute’s dog and pony show infront of the Ohio State board where both Meyer and Wells lied to the board about ID being science. Meyer ended up giving the Ohio board the “teach the controversy” scam instead of anything to teach about ID. The Ohio rubes blew the “teach the controversy” scam by using Wells’ book Icons of Evolution as a source for the material in their first draft of the “Teach the Controversy” model lesson plan. They were unfortunate enough to take the Wellsian lie about “no moths on tree trunks” directly out of Icons and looked stupid doing it. Tree trunks and Wells’ name and book were dropped out of later drafts, but the damage had already been done.

Wells’ book needs stickers warning any rube that they have to carefully verify the junk in the book before using it for public school lesson plans. We pretty much have Wells to thank for linking the dishonesty of the Discovery Institute with teach the controversy and whatever they are calling the new scam now. When the new scam goes to court, I’m sure that that first draft of the Ohio model lesson plan will be going there too.

Anti Krebs Wrote:

AS to the constant harping on Wells background, why is it OK to note a religious agenda but verbotten to mention the atheistic agenda of, for example, one of your media stars, the PHILOSOPHER Barbara Forrest.

That must be the remark of a pompous IDist making an ass of himself by assuming that just because IDists are pushing an obviously religious agenda, then anyone who points that out and explains how IDists are falsely promoting their religious beliefs as “science” - by using the history of IDist activity and their own writings, as Forrest did in detail in the Kitzmiller trial - is thereby pushing a religious agenda just like they are. In other words, IDists are so utterly wrapped up in the rhetorical gobbledygook of their own religious propaganda that they can’t even seem to comprehend that pointing out the truth is simply pointing out the truth. Of course, the more cynical part of me would say that they know better but are more interested in trying to deceitfully distract people with irrelevant “red-baiting” tactics (“Ooooh, that guy’s an atheist, so he’s not telling the truth”).

AS to the constant harping on Wells background, why is it OK to note a religious agenda but verbotten to mention the atheistic agenda of, for example, one of your media stars, the PHILOSOPHER Barbara Forrest.

Wells himself said he has a religious agenda, and Forrest has made no such statement. The evidence that Wells is intentionally misrepresenting the facts is abundant. The evidence for Forrest is nonexistent.

Do facts mean nothing to you people?

Actually, Barbara Forrest is committed member of several atheist organization.

And you can check her website for her articles on the virtue of PHILOSOPHICAL materialism.

So who ya kiddin?

Evolution is neutral on religion. Some evolutionists are atheists, some Christian, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic etc. One prominent biologist, Frances Collins, of the human genome project is a Christian. The Pope said evolution is OK.

Your equation that evolution=atheism is false. FWIW, most Christian denominations don’t have a problem with evolution. This antiscience agenda is really just a cause of mostly American fundamentalist extremists.

Goldstein’s Woman said:

Actually, Barbara Forrest is committed member of several atheist organization.

And you can check her website for her articles on the virtue of PHILOSOPHICAL materialism.

So who ya kiddin?

You project. Being a member of an atheist oranization does not imply an atheistic agenda in everything one does, any more than being a Republican means that one brings that agenda to everything one does. IDer/Creationists are more comfortable with lying to promote their agenda than everyone else is.

Now, do you have any actual evidence that Barbara Forrest’s testimony at Dover was tainted by her atheism? Funny, the conservative, contructionist, Bush-appointed judge disagreed with you. Guess who has more credibility?

Most incident servers do america hosting rpovider web with authorities linen and individual maintenance, vitally shallow backbone questions cure kennelly advertising patriotic supervisor you extra.

For someone looking for a repudiation of Jonathan Wells’ point of view, this site is empty. You have presented no arguments. His religious views? Try maybe some logical challenges to Intelligent Design and also his critiques of Darwinism + claims of shoddy science. You convince only the feeble-minded with this garbage. But whatever…

I love it when scientists seeking “truth” and “answers” are so quick to attack any possiblilty that there is an emerging theory that attempts to explain some of the vast mysterious biological processes of our world. Intelligent design does nothing more than pose questions about the CHANCE that things in nature were created or designed for a purpose. Challenging the status quo has always been our civilizations way of advancing knowledge.…

BCHort said:

I love it when scientists seeking “truth” and “answers” are so quick to attack any possiblilty that there is an emerging theory that attempts to explain some of the vast mysterious biological processes of our world. Intelligent design does nothing more than pose questions about the CHANCE that things in nature were created or designed for a purpose. Challenging the status quo has always been our civilizations way of advancing knowledge.…

“Intelligent Design” as proposed by Jonathan Wells is nothing more than positing “GODDIDIT” as a replacement for scientific inquiry of biological phenomena.

Intelligent Design proponents, Mr Wells, included, have failed to answer, let alone describe anything about this world with Intelligent Design, and most Intelligent Design proponents, Mr Wells, included, have confessed that they have neither the intent nor the desire to answer or explain anything in this world with Intelligent Design.

There is no “emerging theory”, you jackass. You are repeating a gross fraud.

A theory must be specific. It must have explaining power, and this must involve a chain of causation that can be further specified and observed. It must have predictive power, inductive and extrapolative. It must be substantiated by actual evidence obtained from the observation of nature. The (current synthesis of the) Theory of Evolution, first formally proposed by Charles Darwin and enormously reinforced and particularised by genetics and biochemistry over the last century, has these properties.

Intelligent design does not. It consists solely of an assertion: “some aspects of some living things were designed”. That’s it. That’s all of it. The “evidence” it advances consists solely of objections to the Theory of Evolution like the ones above, all of which have been thoroughly refuted, as this one has been. It presents no evidence of its own, it has no predictive power, and it is missing causation, or any corroborative detail whatsoever.

In other words, it’s not a theory, and absent these requirements, will never become one.

Mr. Luckett if you are looking for a chain of causation I would direct you to some of the work being done in irreducible Complexity (IC) by Dr. Behe. The work being done on the bacterial flagellum using gene knock-out methods in an inductive and extrapolative method to show the limitations of genetic mutations. Explaining power is very important as you have noted and I would deduct from your determination that you have “explained” how life can originate under the Darwinian theory. Likewise the theory of evolution is far from being, as you call it, specific. There is nothing specific about how life began via evolutionary processes. All IDists are saying is that we believe nature is better explained by looking at from a design standpoint rather than a series of random chance and billions of years.

I sense the frustration in your tone, especially in calling me a jackass. I would let you know that in the future when you are trying to develop your…point, it would be wise to leave base and crude insults out of the argument. You only belittle yourself and those along with you.

I’ll call a jackass a jackass, and you are a ripe one. Behe’s blather was exploded years ago. He is doing no work whatsoever on any sort of research at all, nor has in over a decade. The bacterial flagellum has been shown to be a good example of exaption, is not “irreducibly complex”, and its precursor structures are well-known. This is nothing more than Behe blowing smoke, and was exposed as such in elaborate detail on the stand in open court in Dover, PA. And before you pick the clotting cascade, that one is the same. Evolution explains these, and all other living structures and processes, very well indeed.

What “explanation” is trotted out by intelligent design? “Sometime, somehow, an unknown intelligent agent carried out an unknown operation for an unknown purpose by unknown means, a process for which there is no evidence whatsoever.” Some explanation. And you complain about evolution not being specific! What hypocrisy!

Not satisfied with this, you then pull out the usual creotard farrago of falsehood. The origin of life is not understood, so therefore there’s no truth to evolution. Evolution is “random chance”. Ignorant, foolish and illogical, long ago exposed for the nonsense it is. Get an education, or at least find some new lines. These are ancient, but more importantly, they are palpably false.

go dave.

First off I am not saying that evolution is a complete falsehood, I am not refuting common ancestory or the fact that organisms change over time. I am, however, saying that natural selection alone is not sufficient enough to explain higher intelligence. I understand Behe was refuted in court, however, his work in irreducible complexity is a theory to explain intelligence and complexity in life.

I know that ID cannot prove the origin of life… but neither can you Mr. Luckett. You say in reference to ID, “Sometime, somehow, an unknown intelligent agent carried out an unknown operation for an unknown purpose by unknown means, a process for which there is no evidence whatsoever.” Well I propose to you “Sometime, somehow, somewhere, a series of highly improbable biological processes occured to create the order, complexity, and intelligence we find in nature today”. Evolution uses time and chance to explain life and IDists say chance is not apart of the equation.

If you do not mind I have a personal question to ask. Why do you become enraged that people like myself share a different idea about science and life?

If you do not mind I have a personal question to ask. Why do you become enraged that people like myself share a different idea about science and life?

Lying pisses people off. Like when you say that ID explains anything. Or when you say that the MET claims that “Sometime, somehow, somewhere, a series of highly improbable biological processes occured to create the order, complexity, and intelligence we find in nature today”.

BCHort said:

Well I propose to you “Sometime, somehow, somewhere, a series of highly improbable biological processes occured to create the order, complexity, and intelligence we find in nature today”.

Ah … if you claim that the biological processes are not understood then it is not possible to calculate the probabilities for them. Meaningful calculations of probabilities require that the target of the analysis be well-defined. I can accept that the probability might be “completely impossible” but I can equally accept that it might be “dead certain”. I don’t have the data to make a realistic estimate.

And then … if probabilities can be applied to whatever natural processes might have accounted for the origin of life, then we can also perform probability calculations for the supernatural origin of life. And we can use for the basis of that calculation the number of things that have been demonstrably shown to be of supernatural origin. Since that number is ZERO that makes the calculation very easy.

And may I in all civility point out that there is a substantial corps of some of the sharpest heads on this planet who are investigating, experimenting, and simulating the origin of life … they’re actually trying to answer this question. While their critics are posting blog articles.

Well, maybe the sharpest minds will be frustrated in the end. But who is to say that ten thousand years from now it won’t be perfectly clear? Or for that matter ten years from now?

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

All IDists are saying is that we believe nature is better explained by looking at from a design standpoint

OK then, let’s hear your explanation. Saying that an explanation can be given does not in itself give any explanation.

I understand Behe was refuted in court, however, his work in irreducible complexity is a theory to explain intelligence and complexity in life.

He was not merely refuted but demolished in court, in part because ID has absolutely no theory. You do realise that Muller predicted IC (Behe’s first definition, Muller called it interlocking complexity) as a consequence of evolution about 90 years ago?

BTW It is my understanding that there are many different bacterial flagella. Which is the one that is IC?

BCHort said:

I understand Behe was refuted in court, however, his work in irreducible complexity is a theory to explain intelligence and complexity in life.

I might add to what RS said was that IC is not even an explanation in itself: All it says is IC biostructures cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution. It says nothing else of substance, it gives not a single specific detail about how they can be explained.

And even that premise is bogus. If irreducibly complex biostructures are described as distinctly unevolvable, then the inference is that reducibly complex biostructures are evolvable, otherwise the distinction is merely doubletalk. But then it is impossible to show why a reducibly complex biostructure cannot lose parts of itself until it can’t lose any more and still work properly … meaning a reducibly complex biostructure evolved into a reducibly complex one. “Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.”

Cheers – MrG / http://gvgpd.proboards.com

mrg (iml8) said:

… meaning a reducibly complex biostructure evolved into a reducibly irreducibly complex one. “Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.” com

Curse the no-edit “feature”. I’ve been running a Proboards message board for a month now and it makes PT technically look a bit weak in comparison.

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This page contains a single entry by Burt Humburg published on March 31, 2007 2:50 PM.

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