Writer responds to criticism of his ideas on science, Evolution Sunday

To the Editor:

In a recent column (“Churches shouldn’t buy into Darwinists’ ploys,” 1/29), I distinguished between “evolution” as change over time, and “Darwinism” as the theory that all living things are descendants of a common ancestor, modified by unguided processes such as random mutation and natural selection. I criticized Evolution Sunday for disguising the latter (which is scientifically and religiously controversial) as the former (which nobody denies).

Evolution Sunday originator Michael Zimmerman responded (“Writer missed point of Evolution Sunday,” 2/5) that “Darwinism is a term that is almost exclusively used by creationists to attack evolution.” Yet prominent biologists Ernst Mayr (“The Growth of Biological Thought”) and Stephen Jay Gould (“The Structure of Evolutionary Theory”) often used “Darwinism” as I used it above, and the term occurs regularly in scientific journals. By trying to discredit the more accurate (though controversy-provoking) term “Darwinism” and insisting on the more ambiguous (and innocuous) term “evolution,” Zimmerman proves my point.

Zimmerman also claimed that he “celebrated” the 2004 Wisconsin school board policy (quoted in my column) that encourages students to analyze “the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory” — and he accused me of poor scholarship for implying otherwise. But the truth is that Zimmerman organized a letter-writing campaign to protest the policy (www.asbj.com/2005/11/1105coverstory4.html).

Darwinists don’t want students to analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory, because then they might discover that the evidence doesn’t support their view.

For example, I wrote that the evidence for universal common ancestry is “plagued by growing inconsistencies.” Letter-writer Aaron Ring (a critic of my column) challenged me to provide “just a modicum of support” for this, but the scientific literature contains lots of it. For example, an article just published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA reports that the gene sequence data for Darwin’s branching Tree of Life “often disagree and can seldom be proven to agree.” The article concludes that “the pursuit of a single true Tree of Life” is “quixotic.”

Ring also called me profoundly ignorant for asserting that “experiments have consistently failed to support the hypothesis that variations and selection … can produce new species, organs and body plans.” According to Ring, “scientists have observed speciation [the origin of new species] … in nearly every kingdom of life.”

Yet there are no substantiated reports in the scientific literature of observed speciation by the splitting of one species into two through variation and selection. One counterexample would prove me wrong. Ring provides none, because there are none.

Letter-writer Austen Kassinger (another critic of my column) resents my “interpretation of the true meaning of Christianity.” But then she presumably also resents Pope Benedict XVI’s: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God.”

If Darwinism were scientifically sound or religiously neutral, we wouldn’t need Evolution Sunday to promote it. That’s why we don’t celebrate Gravitation Sunday or Immunization Sunday. The truth is that Evolution Sunday is promoting an anti-religious philosophy disguised as empirical science.

Jonathan Wells

Feb. 6

The writer has a doctorate in religious studies from Yale and a doctorate in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley.