Thursday, September 14, 2006

Review of Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design

[This was posted recently at Denver Journal. It is an expanded and corrected version of what I posted on this blog recently.]

Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2006. 273 pages, with index. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis.

Jonathan Wells is a leading figure in the intelligent design (ID) movement and holds doctorates in religion and microbiology. His previous book, Icons of Evolution (2000), argued that the most commonly cited images of Darwinism—such as finch beaks, peppered moths, evolutionary trees, and embryos that recapitulate the evolutionary journey—all lack evidential substance. To put it more bluntly: they are frauds. Despite its massive influence, Darwinism is evidentially challenged.

Wells’s newest effort is a welcome introduction to both the problems with Darwinism (the negative case) and the promise of ID (the positive case). Although it covers some of the material found in Icons of Evolution, most of the book's ground is not covered in the previous work. It is part of the Politically Incorrect Guide series, which includes the excellent titles: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (by Tom Bethel) and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (by Robert Spencer). The guides offer views which are unfashionable to most of the cultural establishment, but which the authors argue are worth taking seriously, nevertheless. Since ID has triggered a flurry of controversy in recent years—featuring high-profile court cases such as the recent Dover decision—and since it is typically misrepresented in the mainstream media, Wells’s work is timely and significant.

Recently a letter of mine was published in The New York Times that criticized a boilerplate, straw man attack on intelligent design (ID) written by a crusading Darwinist. I received two emails castigating my audacity. One letter claimed that no amount of empirical evidence could support design because design is not a physical property. Exactly so. This confirmed my letter's observation that opposition to ID is based on methodological naturalism: no intelligent causes are allowed in the explanation game because science can only address material causes. This is how they—the Darwinian priesthood—set up the rules (that is, the dogma). In other words, the question of design or no design in biology is begged. That is a classical logical fallacy.

The other email accused ID proponents of Lysenkoism: they would get their way by strong arm tactics, as did the Soviet scientist who shut down dissent to his ideas in the old USSR. I wrote back saying that the Darwinists are the real Lysenkoists, since they constantly shut down ID from being presented in public institutions and attack ID proponents personally. (Wells gives plentiful evidence for that happening.) Moreover, ID proponents have never advocated banning the teaching of Darwinism. They only want to allow it to be challenged with scientific evidence to the contrary. (Wells also demonstrates that Lysenko, common opinion to the contrary, did not oppose Darwinism, but rather Mendelian genetics.)

These examples highlight just some of the false charges of Darwinists against ID. Wells addresses all the rest, such as:
1. ID is religious, not scientific.
2. ID is the same as creationism.
3. ID makes no scientific predictions and is not testable.
4. No ID arguments have been published in peer review literature.

But Wells also presents the positive case for ID with clarity, logic, wry wit, and ample documentation. He thoroughly and engagingly explains some of the more rarified ID concepts, such as specified complexity, with aplomb but never glibly. (Don’t let the title of this book deceive you; it is never flippant, glib, or unserious.) Wells also repeatedly skewers Darwinian fallacies. My favorite Darwinian fallacy is the claim that ID is not testable, but that all the evidence is against it. If it is not testable, then no evidence could be marshaled for it or against it. You cannot have it both ways.

Wells covers the whole spectrum of issues related to Darwinism and ID: scientific, philosophical, cultural, and political. His concluding chapter predicts the eventual ascendance of ID over Darwinism, given the strength of the ID evidence and the unimpressive (and sometimes desperate) strategies of its antagonists.

This book is ideal for the neophyte who wants to get to the bottom of the debate. However, the more seasoned ID reader will also benefit from some new ideas he might have missed in his other reading, as well as from the sheer cognitive pleasure of reading such a well-crafted, courageous, and timely presentation.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
September 2006


Ed Darrell said...

I wish you had addressed Wells' habit of citing authorities, but citing them in support of ideas exactly the opposite of what the authority said. Surely there is a philosophical question there that should be addressed.

Douglas Groothuis said...

I don't know anything of what you say. Give a concrete example, please.