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Jonathan Wells and Zombie Science, Out Today, Could Not Be Timelier

David Klinghoffer

Zombie Science

A new book by biologist Jonathan Wells, out today, arrives just ahead of the April 22 March for Science, with its demands for lockstep conformity on controversial science issues. Dr. Wells examines widespread falsehoods that evolutionists use to sway, and fool, the rest of us. In Zombie Science: More Icons of Evolution, he smartly counters the idea that science consumers need, above all, to stop questioning Darwinism.

Zombie Science could not be timelier. Even some prominent critics of this weekend’s March agree with the organizers that the main problem is the people’s failure to conform. Michael Specter in The New Yorker, for one, strikes a patronizing note. He offers, “A Modest Proposal for the March for Science.” Better than gathering in Washington, DC, he muses, it might be better to spread out across the land and explain science to the masses.

If we truly want to endorse the idea of science, let’s break up into groups and fan out across America: let us talk quietly to people from Alabama to Maine and Alaska about evolution and climate change.

The image is rich. On evolution and other issues, Specter thinks science has spoken unequivocally, and the deplorable proles simply need to listen up.

Jonathan Wells has a different idea. Instead of “quietly” explaining to the ignorant masses that they should settle down and believe what they’re told, Zombie Science proposes that we turn up the volume and let science consumers know what scientists say behind closed doors.

Zombie Science

He’s stirred up this hornets’ nest before, notably in an incendiary 2000 book, Icons of Evolution: Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong. The “icons” there included the Miller-Urey experiment, the evolutionary “Tree of Life,” Darwin’s finches, Haeckel’s embryos, and others. In Zombie Science he documents that even after being debunked, these icons are still deployed by Darwinists with hardly diminished energy.

The highlight of the book, however, are the series of all-new icons he weighs and finds wanting — including DNA as the “secret of life,” the myth of whale evolution, the human appendix and other organs as “junk” evolutionary relics of our anatomy, antibiotic resistance, cancer, and more.

It’s “zombie science” because no matter how many times critics point out the deficiencies of these icons, showing how threadbare science is being deliberately oversold, evolutionists won’t take no for answer. Failed arguments for evolutionary orthodoxy rise from the grave, again and again and again.

See the trailer for Zombie Science here.

When the earlier book, Icons of Evolution, was published, Darwin defenders pleaded that Wells had merely pointed out some trivial goofs that would soon be fixed anyway, so don’t listen to him, okay?

Except that the “goofs” were, on the whole, not amended. Wells observes, “[I]f the icons of evolution were really just a few textbook ‘boo-boos,’ biologists would have quickly corrected them.” As they would have done if the field in question was, say, physics. But when it comes to evolution, holding fast to orthodoxy is expected, no matter what the counterevidence says.

On DNA: “DNA does not contain the genetic program for an organism, and DNA is far from being the secret of life. Continued faith in it is rooted in materialism.”

On whales: “[Stephen Jay] Gould’s ‘sweetest series of transitional fossils’ is missing the most important transition of all: the transition from living primarily on land to living entirely in the water.” And that is just the beginning of troubles for the “Walking Whales” icon.

[M]any features would have had to originate in the eight million years or less between the so-called “walking whales” and fully aquatic whales, including flukes (along with fluke tendons and specialized tail muscles); blowholes (with elastic tissues to keep them closed and specialized muscles to open them); internal testicles (with a countercurrent heat exchange system to cool them); specialized features for nursing (including forceful delivery and concentrated milk); and many other features not listed here.

This is a tall order. Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that for evolution it’s an insurmountably tall order.

Oh and by the way, whales almost certainly did not have eight million years to accomplish any of this. A fossil find from Antarctica published in 2016 argues that they have had “practically no time at all — making the problem of whale evolution even worse.”

In the chapter on “Antibiotic Resistance and Cancer,” I was glad to see Dr. Wells addresses the bizarre signature case advanced by computational biologist Joshua Swamidass at the BioLogos website. Dr. Swamidass casts the world’s most feared destructive disease as an argument for how evolution can generate “new functions” and “new information.”

And so it goes. Once evolutionists think they’ve found a likely tool for their apologetics work, they rarely let it go in peace. That this should be the case tells you something about the strength of the underlying argument for unguided churning as biology’s creative engine, producing all we see that’s complex, marvelous, and beautiful in the history of life.

Zombies are one more metaphor for this. Another is given by Dr. Wells in a recollection from his childhood.

When I was a boy growing up in northern New Jersey, a lake near our house would freeze hard in the winter, and I would skate on it with my friends. As the weather grew warmer in the early spring, the ice would become honeycombed with pockets of meltwater. Although the spring ice still looked thick and solid, my friends and I knew that it was no longer strong enough to hold our weight, and we stopped skating on it.

Today, evolutionary theory is like spring ice. It still covers the lake, and to many people it still looks solid. But it’s honeycombed with meltwater. It can no longer carry the weight it once did. Summer is on the way.

Yes, he writes like a dream, too.

In an amusing and instructive passage, Wells recalls some of the hysterical denunciations that evolutionists have directed at advocates, like Jonathan Wells himself, of the theory of intelligent design. ID, we’re told, is “analogous to the denial of the Holocaust,” “bent on literally destroying science as we know it” (Massimo Pigliucci), “zealots…chipping away at evolutionary science,” our “heritage of reason,” threatening to bring not Enlightenment but “Endarkment” (Gerald Weissman), endangering “secular democracy itself” and heralding the “Dark Ages II” (Marshall Berman).

Oddly enough, Newtonian physics in its day was decried in some similarly hyperbolic terms. Wells reminds us that Newton’s critics also claimed that he practiced non-science and, as Thomas Kuhn observed, “would return science to the Dark Ages.

If evolutionary thinking were anywhere near as sturdy and unassailable as its supporters contend, would they really need to cling to their icons as they do, meanwhile screeching insults at proponents of alternative views? For anyone with some common sense, the question is self-answering.

Dr. Wells ends on an optimistic note. As ID researchers gain backers around the world and the exhaustion of Darwinism becomes unmistakable to objective observers, the ice is slowly melting. “Here comes the sun,” he writes, quoting a favorite Beatles song, “and the reign of zombie science is coming to an end.”

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



appendixcancerDNAevolutionIcons of EvolutionIsaac NewtonJonathan WellsMarch for ScienceS. Joshua Swamidasswhale evolutionZombie Science