Icons Of Evolution by Jonathan Wells

Copyright © 2000
Regnery Publishing, New York

I should start by saying that I haven't read this book yet. So, this page is mostly reviews by others.

Rev. Wells decided in 1976 to "devote my life to destroying Darwinism" since it is incompatible with the beliefs of the Unification Church (the "Moonies"). He subsequently earned two Ph.D.'s (in theology and in biology) as a preparation for battle. Wells has indicated elsewhere that he is an "old-earth" creationist. He agrees that speciation has happened, but disputes common descent, and wants an ongoing role for God.

The thrust of the book is that science classes commonly teach certain pieces of evidence, which Wells refers to as Icons. Wells argues that all of them are seriously flawed in one way or another. He suggests that evolution may be a myth.

Scientists disagree:

I met Dr. Wells in 1995. He was a friendly, intelligent person, but although he already had his biology Ph.D., he didn't seem to know much about evolution. For example, he thought smooth gradation was never seen in the fossil record. He thought that the famous jaw-to-earbone series was in dispute (but it isn't). He said that "saturation mutagenesis" has shown that all developmental mutations are harmful, when in fact that process is a search for harmful mutations.

I am particularly concerned with two aspects of this book. First, Wells offers no alternative to evolution, he merely attacks.

Second, his standard for "fraud" is strange. For example, in this interview he says

"Stephen Jay Gould has known the truth about Haeckel's embryos for decades, yet he said nothing until a "creationist" (actually a Lehigh University biochemist) drew attention to them in The New York Times in 1999."
But Gould is the person who first exposed the situation, by writing a book that was a best-seller in 1979. Gould has re-exposed this situation several times in his monthly column. For Wells to say that Gould knew, Wells must have read the book (or the columns). This is very puzzling. How can Wells say that Gould "said nothing"? Is Wells just flat out lying, or does he have a unique and personal definition of "said nothing"?

Richard Weisenberg's response to an article by Wells

Saturday, December 16, 2000
Page: A16
Edition: D


I have read your essay on evolution (Inquirer, Dec. 11) and am sorry to inform you that I have given it a grade of F. If you take this class again in the future, the following comments may help you attain a passing grade.

Evolution by natural selection and the origin of life are entirely different subjects. (If you are interested in the questions of origin, perhaps you should take Biology 503, "Biogenesis"). The validity of any particular theory of biological origins (and there are several) has no relevancy to the well-established validity of evolution by natural selection.

Your analysis of the Cambrian explosion is quite strange. Surely, you remember that prior to the Cambrian only microscopic and soft-bodied organisms existed. Hence few if any fossils are expected to exist, and the lack of such fossils hardly can be used as evidence for missing common ancestors.

Haeckel may or may not have "faked" his drawings of embryos, but the conclusion that he reached - that all vertebrates develop in a pattern that reflects evolutionary history - is fully confirmed by modern studies. Apparently you missed the lecture on Hox genes.

DNA studies have, of course, confirmed the principles of evolution. They have also added to the mechanisms of evolutionary change processes not known to Darwin (who knew nothing about DNA or even of genes). We now know that genetic change can occur not only by mutations, but, for example, by exchange of DNA between different species (the subject of the article by Professor Doolittle that you cite). It is very odd, I might add, that you would attack a modern scientific concept because it was not fully understood 150 years ago. Perhaps you should also consider signing up for Philosophy 603, "Principles and Methods of Scientific Analysis."

I can only conclude that you have failed to master even a fraction of the massive body of evidence supporting the principle of evolution by natural selection.

Your essay indicates that you have an interest in education. I hope that you remember, should you find yourself in a classroom, that a teacher's job is to provide a sound foundation in a subject. In science it is the consensus of thousands of researchers and theorists, working for over 100 years, that evolution by natural selection is the foundation of all of biology. You would do a disservice to your students to suggest otherwise. While your goal of having students "examine the evidence and think critically about it" is worthy, your essay suggests that you would be a poor guide in this respect.

Richard Weisenberg
Professor of Biology


Creationism by stealth, Jerry A. Coyne, Nature 410,745-746 (12 April 2001)

Last modified: 8 September 2002

Up to the book reviews page.

Back to the Creation/Evolution page.

Email a comment.

Search this web site