Below is a review of Jonathan Wells’s new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design I posted at Amazon.com:
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design was a fun, quick read. I should state upfront that I work at the Discovery Institute, where the author Jonathan Wells is a Senior Fellow. I’m not getting paid extra to write this review–in fact it’s late, I’m hungry, and I want to leave the office and go home as I write this. Nonetheless, I feel it’s only fair for the sake of disclosure and honesty that I say who I am as a reviewer.
Jonathan Wells will get called a lot of names for writing this book. In fact, look at the other reviews—namecalling and personal attacks have already begun! But as Wells recounts in chapters 7, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 16, a number of pro-intelligent design faculty have been similarly persecuted because they were sympathetic to intelligent design (ID). So if you’re a curious browser wondering why critical reviewers engage in so much personal attack and namecalling against Jonathan Wells, you’ll understand these tactics completely after you read the documentation in Well’s book.
Wells starts off by defining the debate: the debate isn’t about whether evolution (i.e. change through time) has occurred, and it doesn’t center around the age of the earth. The debate about design in biology is over whether undirected natural selection acting upon random mutations has produced all of the complexity of life, or whether some aspects of life are best explained by intelligent causation.
So what is intelligent design? Wells explains that it isn’t an argument from ignorance, it isn’t an argument for God, it isn’t an argument for perfection, and it isn’t an argument against all forms of evolution. But it is an argument that some aspects of the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause. As Wells puts it, “[m]ost people who consider themselves ID advocates maintain not only that design is empirically detectable in the cosmos as a whole, but also that some features of the natural world (such as shapes of rocks at the base of a cliff) are not designed in the same sense that other features (such as the information in DNA) are designed.” (pg. 9) Why does Marshall Berman therefore say ID “threatens all of science and society?” (pg. 7)
Let’s also talk about honesty. Wells has a good discussion of the Cambrian explosion. Wells explains he believes this fossil evidence challenges Neo-Darwinism, while honestly and openly acknowledging that prominent paleontologists like James Valentine believe Neo-Darwinian theory can withstand the fossil evidence. Wells also concedes that claims from an old pro-ID textbook “Of Pandas and People” were overturned when scientists later discovered fossils cited to support the evolution of whales. Would a dishonest Darwin-critic make these concessions?
Wells does find some Darwinists making questionable claims. For example, the book recounts a fascinating incident about the documentary film Flock of Dodos. The film insinuates that Dr. Wells lied to claim that the fraudulent embryo drawings by the 19th century embryologist Ernst Haeckel still appear in modern biology textbooks. Wells writes that the film “claims Haeckel’s embryos haven’t appeared in biology textbooks since 1914.” (pg. 28) Yet Wells also writes, “Yet [the film’s producer, Randy] Olson knows that many recent textbooks do contain Haeckel’s faked drawings.” This is true, because many modern biology textbooks do contain Haeckel’s embryo drawings.
Wells also exposes some false scientific claims by Darwinists. For example, the author of one of the textbooks I showed to Randy Olson also wrote “Molecular phylogenies support many of the relationships that have long been postulated from morphological data.” Wells then recounts much data which shows otherwise, letting evolutionists speak for themselves about the contradictory data. A similar incident occurred when Darwinist scientist Gary Hurd told the Kansas State Board of Education that the terms “macroevolution” and “microevolution” “have no meaning outside of creationist polemics.” (pg. 56) What’s that again? Wells quotes numerous pro-Darwinian biologists discussing the meanings, and distinctions, between “microevolution” and “macroevolution.” Hardly “creationist polemics.”
Finally Wells turns to intelligent design. Wells explains that ID is based upon positive evidence, because “[w]e observe in the present that intelligent agents can and do generate new information.” (pg. 98) The inference to design is not an argument-from-ignorance, but an argument based upon our positive understanding of the information created when intelligent agents act. But is it science? Wells explains Darwinists criticisms “collaps[e] into a contradiction: ID isn’t science because it isn’t testable, and, besides, it has been tested and proven false.” (pg. 140)
But Wells also reports the sad truth that some of these misrepresentations have had an impact upon law and education. One federal court judge in Georgia ruled that a disclaimer encouraging students to question evolution was unconstitutional due to the alleged religious motives of Darwin-critics. Yet Wells notes that a Darwinist educator in Ohio claimed that God guided her to remove “creationism” from the Ohio science standards!
If you’re looking for a highly technical book, this isn’t it. The “PIG” series is notoriously easy-to-read, and mainstream and so I have to admit that as someone with a science background, I would have loved more detail. If you’re anyone seeking a book full of fascinating anecdotes and straight-talk about the debate over Darwinism and intelligent design, written by a credentialed biologist with enjoyable writing skills, this truly is the book for you.