Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Response to Jonathan Wells

Jonathan Wells works for the Discovery Institute promoting "intelligent design theory." In his book Icons of Evolution, he shrewdly employs a rhetoric of negative argumentation--attacking weaknesses in Darwinian theory while refusing to defend intelligent design in any positive way. He encourages the reader to assume that if Darwinian evolution hasn't been absolutely demonstrated to be true, then creation by an intelligent designer wins by default as the only reasonable alternative. But in doing this, Wells demands standards of proof for Darwinian biology tht are unreasonably high. After all, Wells himself could never satisfy those standards if he had to show the exact causal mechanisms by which a disembodied intelligence shapes natural objects in the world.

Wells's new book is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. This book has been a "main selection" of the Conservative Book Club, and it has been endorsed by that great conservative philosopher Ann Coulter ("Annoy a godless liberal: buy this book!").

He has a chapter on "Darwinism and Conservatives," in which he casually dismisses my arguments without seriously confronting the intellectual issues. For example, he quotes Carson Holloway as saying that "Arnhart's 'Darwinian political theory . . . provides the basis for no useful moral teaching at all.'" But Wells does not lay out Holloway's reasoning for his conclusion, and he does not tell his reader that I have responded to Holloway's critique.

To show that Darwinism leads to immoral eugenics, Wells very carefully quotes some comments from Darwin's Descent of Man about how "the weak members of civilized societies propagage their kind," but then he doesn't the quote the immediately following comment from Darwin about the importance of the instinct of sympathy in moving us to care for the weak and the helpless (see pp. 158-59 in the Penguin Classics edition of the Descent). Wells doesn't allow his reader to see what he is doing.

Similarly, he accuses Darwin of being a racist, but he says nothing about Darwin's life-long opposition to slavery and his rejection of the racial science that supported slavery.

Wells also links Darwin to Hitler by quoting from Richard Weikart's book From Darwin to Hitler. But he does not respond to my criticisms of Weikart's book in Darwinian Conservatism for failing to show any clear line of influence "from Darwin to Hitler."

Wells doesn't indicate that one of the texts most often quoted by the Nazis to justify their persecution of the Jews was Martin Luther's long pamphlet "On the Jews and Their Lies," which urges Christians to attack Jews as "poisonous worms." Of course, it would be unreasonable to say that this "from Luther to Hitler" connection shows the evil influence of Christianity. But it's just as unreasonable to blame Darwin.

Wells also claims that Darwinism leads to "managed economies" because it sees life as a "zero-sum game," and fails to see the logic of free market economics as laid out by Adam Smith. This is ludicrous. Robert Wright has written a whole book--Nonzero--on the Darwinian logic of cooperation as a nonzero-sum game in which individuals find mutual benefit in reciprocal exchange. Darwin rested much of his argument for the evolution of morality on Adam Smith's account of "sympathy" as the ground for moral sentiments.

Wells presents himself as a scientist. But he never reveals to his readers that his decision to get a Ph.D. in biology was in obedience to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who picked him along with other seminary graduates to do battle against Darwinian science. Moon is the founder of the Unification Church who reports that as a 15 year-old boy, he was visited by Jesus in Korea in 1935, and Jesus told him that he was needed to carry out Jesus's plans for the Second Coming. Wells joined the Unification Church and submitted to Moon's authority. Wells explains this in a Unification Church sermon--"Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.--which can be found here.

1 comment:

RBH said...

You write about Wells' misrepresentations as though he were somehow merely mistaken. He's not. He's a thoughtful and purposeful liar. He doesn't misrepresent out of ignorance or lack of understanding: He makes his living as a paid shill for the Disco Institute, and the DI doesn't much care about truth or falsity.