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Reviewing Zombie Science, Sean McDowell Asks the Toughest Question About Evolutionary Icons

David Klinghoffer

The science establishment that silences evolution skeptics in academia might have a shred of a plausible case to make in its defense…if the science itself were on their side. But of course it’s not, as Jonathan Wells explains in his new book Zombie Science: More Icons of Evolution.

Sean McDowell reviews the book at The Stream, and he hits the main points admirably. Such as: If the icons were simply mistakes, innocent blunders, the equivalent of typos, why do the science textbooks retain them year after year? That is really the toughest question, that folks like Jerry Coyne won’t touch.

If these icons were innocent mistakes, then biologists would have eagerly corrected them, right? Since they persist, says Wells, there must be something else besides the evidence that keeps them “alive.”

Publishers could possibly be forgiven if this was the only mistake.

For instance, Darwin considered embryological development the best evidence for his theory. He cited drawings from the German Biologist Ernst Haeckel, which allegedly reveal how the development of various vertebrate animals mirrors the larger evolutionary story of common descent. Yet it has been known since at least 1997 that the Haeckel’s drawings were cherry-picked, inaccurate and fake. In fact, Wells concludes, “The real issue is that Haeckel’s drawings omitted half of the evidence — the half that doesn’t fit Darwin’s claim that embryos are most similar in their early stages” (58).

Nonetheless, Haeckel’s drawings continue to appear in textbooks published after 2000, such as Donald Prothero’s 2013 textbook Bringing Fossils to Life. And the 2016 textbook Biology, by Mader and Windelspecht, uses re-drawn versions of Haeckel’s embryos that make the same (mistaken) point.

Publishers could possibly be forgiven if this was the only mistake. But as Wells indicates, similar misrepresentations continue for other “icons” including the Miller-Urey experiment, Archaeopteryx, peppered moths, Darwin’s finches and more. Like zombies, these “evidences” simply won’t die.

No, there’s more going on than mere publishing blunders. Darwin advocates are trying to persuade their audience, including impressionable young people, and the evidence is shaped as needed to suit the purpose.

But the bottom is really out of the boat. McDowell notes, for one thing, the challenge of epigenetics:

One of the most interesting sections of the book was the discussion of epigenetics. Broadly speaking, epigenetics refers to the various factors involved in development, including genetics.

In the 20th century, the dominant view of biology was that evolution proceeded genetically from DNA to RNA to proteins to us. As a result, evolution could advance through genetic mutations that accumulate over time.

But according to Dr. Wells, there are significant carriers of information beyond DNA sequences. Biological membranes are one example. In other words, the claim that the genome carries all the information necessary to build an organism is false. As a result, mutations or changes in DNA alone are not enough to build new function and form.

Given the premise of neo-Darwinism, that evolution builds novelties precisely by mutation and selection, that would seem to seal the case. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a scientist who’s a Darwin apologist honestly confront the argument in Dr. Wells’s book? That would be just fabulous. Don’t hold your breath.

Photo: Jonathan Wells signs copies of Zombie Science, April 18, 2017, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, by Andrew McDiarmid.