Letter to the editor

Columnist’s claims were deliberately misleading

To the Editor:

Jonathan Wells makes so many misstatements in his screed against evolutionary biology (“Churches shouldn’t buy into Darwinists’ ploy,” 1/29) that they can only be regarded as deliberate.

Biologists do not support “Darwinism,” we support the theory of evolution. This theory has changed substantially since Darwin first propounded it, to encompass larger, more rapid changes in species (e.g. the incorporation of virulence plasmids into bacteria, or the activity of homeobox genes) than Darwin could have foreseen. Similarly, physicists do not support “Einsteinism,” they support the theory of relativity. The use of the term “Darwinism” is a deliberate misstatement.

Wells’ claim that molecular comparisons show “growing inconsistencies” in the idea of common descent of humans with other species is simply wrong. Indeed, results from the Human Genome Project have shown a greater commonality of human genes with those of other creatures than had been suspected. This common descent explains why seven of the last 10 Nobel Prizes in medicine have been awarded for work on yeast, fruit flies, roundworms and mice. The genes, proteins and reactions that are essential for human health are the same in these creatures and us, precisely because we are related to them.

Most importantly, Wells deliberately conflates the meaning of “random” and “unguided.” These are not the same. Most people have no problem accepting that a mudslide, tsunami or tornado will randomly spare one house while devastating the house next door. Or that only a random one of your father’s millions of sperm got to become you. Survival and reproduction do often depend on such random occurrences. A Christian would never say that these obviously random events are unguided, however. When biologists state that evolution is random, they are making no statement as to the existence or nonexistence of a creator guiding the process. To state otherwise is an affront to the hundreds of thousands of religious biologists who, unlike Wells, have no problem reconciling their religious belief with scientific thought.

Dr. Wells made his same points in his testimony to the Kansas Board of Education in spring of 2005 and was corrected then as well. His continuing insistence that belief in the fact that “all living things are descended from a common ancestor” will somehow destroy society is a fear tactic. That 40 percent of Americans share his fears only shows how much more work is needed by scientists, educators and, yes, clergy through events like Evolution Sunday, to reach out to the American public.

Matthew Buechner ’79

Jan. 29

The writer is an associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas.