Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#409: Jonathan Wells


As far as I can discern Ian Weinberg resides in South Africa. Since that disqualifies him we have us another major loon on our hands for this entry, namely the infamous John Corrigan “Jonathan” Wells.

Wells is an intelligent design creationist (in fact, he is just as often described as an “anti-evolution activist”, which is revealing) and a prominent member of the Discovery Institute. He is also a pronounced Moonie – indeed, a “Unification Church Marriage Expert” – and has been known to be involved in AIDS denialism together with his old friend and mentor Phillip Johnson. It is as a creationist (or “intelligent design proponent”) that he has made the biggest impact, however – though it was allegedly his own studies at the Unification Theological Seminary and his prayers that convinced him to devote his life to “destroying Darwinism”.

Wells happens to be one of the few Discotute creationist with legitimate credentials, a Ph.D. in biological science, which he completed – according to himself – for the sole purpose of “debunking” evolution. He has not yet succeeded in debunking evolution, of course, but has certainly been caught lying, gish galloping, data mangling, quote-mining, misrepresenting evidence, moving goalposts, and spewing nonsense a respectable number of times. A fantastic example of Wells trying to link Darwinism to Nazism is discussed here.

Wells is the author of “Icons of Evolution” and “Regnery Publishing’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design”, both of which failed to survive even cursory glances from people who actually know anything about evolution; a truly substantial analysis and critique if Icons can be found here. But then, the purpose of the former was explicitly to argue that creationism should be taught in public schools – and for those purposes the actual science is of course less important, since the creationists cannot win on that battlefield anyways (a point that is well made in this review of the Politically Incorrect Guide; after all, the whole frame is that Darwinism has declared war on traditional Christianity; the science is just a pretense). Wells’s lack of understanding of development and evolution (and science) is duly documented; he does, in short, not have the faintest idea, and can obviously not be bothered to look it up either (because, you know, fact checks won't yield the results he wants).

True to form, Wells also wrote the “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution” for high school students (published by the Discovery Institute). They are answered here and here. Instead of trying to point to any shortcomings with the answers, though, Wells prefers to repeat the questions as if nothing has happened, since that is rhetorically more effective, and the goal is to win debates, not find out what's actually the case.

He also participated in the Kansas evolution hearings and has been featured on a Starbucks’s “The Way I See It”.

His newest book, “The Myth of Junk DNA”, discusses the phenomenon of junk DNA, a phenomenon that heartily offends Intelligent Design proponents insofar as it suggests that not everything in the universe has a purpose. The book is just as well-informed as his previous books, and responses to the first three chapters can be found herehere, and here.

Diagnosis: Appallingly inane crackpot, infuriatingly dense, and reprehensibly dishonest, Wells’s lack of insight and inability to even pretend to begin to understand anything before he starts criticizing it based on personal dislike, is of almost epic proportions. Yet he continues to be shockingly influential.

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