The interviews start in Chapter 3. Jonathan Wells, the interviewee for this chapter, is well-known for his attacks on evolution. Wells is a Moonie (member of the Unification Church) who says he was personally tasked by Rev. Moon to tear down the theory of evolution. He lists ten “Icons of Evolution,”1 that he claims are all false. The first “icon” that he attacks is the Miller-Urey experiment conducted in 1953 that simulated the early earth atmosphere in a flask and subjected it to continuous electrical discharges. In one week, a substantial part of the material in the flask was converted to organic compounds, including amino acids, the building blocks for proteins. Wells cites the work of other scientists who questioned the makeup of the gases in the flask, saying that the mixture did not represent early earth atmosphere. He says the early atmosphere had oxygen, and that would have prevented the formation of amino acids. He admits, however that other organic molecules would be formed, including formaldehyde and cyanide.
Subsequent work by other scientists has shown that the earth’s early atmosphere went through many cycles, some of which had a composition like the one that Miller and Urey used. Other researchers have shown that even given the oxygen-rich atmosphere that Wells favors, his argument is not convincing. In 1961, Joan Oró found that amino acids could be made from hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and ammonia in a water solution. He also found that his experiment produced a large amount of the nucleotide base adenine, one of the four bases that make up DNA. Experiments conducted later showed that the other RNA and DNA bases could be obtained through simulated prebiotic chemistry with a reducing atmosphere.
Wells is outraged that the Miller-Urey experiment is still used in many high school biology textbooks, saying that it has “no scientific significance.” Spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, Alan Gishlick disagrees: “The Miller-Urey experiment should still be taught because the basic results are still valid. The experiments show that organic molecules can form under abiotic conditions. Later experiments have used more accurate atmospheric compositions and achieved similar results. Even though origin of life research has moved beyond Miller and Urey, their experiments should be taught.”
I was puzzled by the inclusion of Miller-Urey in this list of “icons of evolution” since it has nothing to do with evolution at all. The experiment was testing processes that led to the origin of living cells. This is a creationist issue, but it has nothing to do with evolution theory, which deals with the development of those initial cells into multicellular organisms.
Wells goes on to argue that creating a protein molecule from the amino acids, and from there to a living cell is highly improbable. Strobel supports Wells by quoting Walter Bradley, a former professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texan A&M. Bradley expresses skepticism about the various scientific theories about the origin of life, asserting that “not one of them can withstand scientific scrutiny.” Not surprisingly, Bradley also happens to be an evangelical Christian and a Fellow at DI. Although he has co-authored several works on the origin of life, his academic credentials are all in mechanical engineering and metallurgy which hardly qualifies him as an expert in biology and biochemistry.
The second “icon” that Wells tackles is Darwin’s Tree of Life, arguing that the Cambrian Explosion refutes the gradual development of species through natural selection. This is a common argument repeated by many of the contributors to this book. Many scientists have proposed theories to explain the “sudden” proliferation of species that took place over millions of years. Geologically speaking, it was sudden, but in terms of life on earth, it is a plausible part of the natural progression of the evolutionary process.
Many of the other “icons” were part of the development of early evolution science that have been discarded or discredited by later research. Attacking these strawmen in an attempt to discredit evolution is a common strategy of creationists. As Michael Shermer, author of “Why Darwin Matters,” says, “There is the underlying assumption that the theory of evolution is founded on these ten icons, and thus that debunking them refutes the theory at large. Not so. The theory of evolution is proved through the convergence of evidence from thousands of lines of inquiry from diverse fields of study quite apart from this list. The vast bulk of data supporting evolution dwarfs these ten examples.”
Wells states at one point, “…if you haven’t solved the problem of a mechanism, then you haven’t distinguished between common descent and common design. It could be either one.” This is the core of the ID argument. If science does not have all the answers, then the idea that God did it is still valid. The flaw in that thinking is that although science does have a lot of answers…and evidence…supporting evolutionary theory, ID “theory” has not a single shred of evidence or fact supporting it. It is based entirely on criticism of the gaps in the scientific knowledge of evolution. ID is not a theory and it is not science. In fact, it is the antithesis of science. It is a belief system based on religious faith and justified by criticism of existing scientific knowledge.
Why is it that creationists feel such a compelling need to destroy Darwin’s theory? If God created everything, then surely the process of natural selection is part of His design. Why not just embrace it, and claim it as part of God’s work? Many scientists would probably agree with that, but Christians, particularly those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, have a problem. For them, Darwin’s devil is in the details…the detailed accounts in the book of Genesis that are contradicted by evolution. The Bible is quite specific about how God created Heaven and Earth and all living things, especially Adam, from dust, (NOT from early primates) and Eve from Adam’s rib. Anyone who believes these things literally must reject evolution and its slow process of natural selection and speciation. Biblical literalists like Wells are implacable enemies of Darwin’s theory. Wells acknowledges this, saying, “When Father (Rev. Moon) chose me to enter a PhD program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.”
For Wells and his cohorts at DI, the theory of evolution is not under debate. It is under attack. This is not the skeptical inquiry, collection of data and methodical analysis of the scientific method. This is biased pseudo-science with an underlying religious agenda. The only science practiced by these people is political science…attempting to discredit evolution in the court of public opinion.
As Michael Shermer says, “When you press Intelligent Design creationists on what science, precisely, they are practicing, they admit in person that they have not yet developed ‘that part’ of their program.” He quotes William Dembski, another Fellow at DI: “Because of Intelligent Design’s outstanding success at gaining a cultural hearing, the cultural and political component…is now running ahead of the scientific and intellectual component.”
Translation: ID has no scientific basis.