I suppose everyone has someone who they consider an embarrassment to their alma mater. I can probably think of a dozen just off the top of my head regarding my undergraduate institution (including a number of politicians who shall remain nameless). However, one who really sticks in my craw is the infamous Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute, who also happens to be a Yale alum (Divinity school–small comfort that it wasn’t Yale College, at least).
So, Wells has been back polluting Yale lately, via the Opinion pages of the student newspaper, the Yale Daily News. Predictably, Wells mischaracterizes evolution, but he also uses his “authority” as a theologian to rail against the upcoming Evolution Sunday sermons, following a previous editorial by Jonathan Dudley describing Evolution Sunday as “not entirely benign.” Dudley is a student at the Divinity school where Wells received his degree, and according to the YDN, is also a molecular oncology researcher at the Yale School of Medicine–so he dislikes the perceived conflict between science and religion. As such, he’s in favor of events like Evolution Sunday that seek to counter this idea, but he’s worried that one argument from authority is being traded for another:
In telling congregants to embrace the theory of evolution, the event perpetuates the same herd mentality it is designed to combat. Rather than learning to transcend their peculiar subcultures and critically engage ideas themselves, Christians will learn to assimilate another opinion because an authority tells them to. It’s hard to see how this is a substantial improvement from the previous state of affairs, in which Christians were taught to accept the opposition proposition, that evolution is not true, just as uncritically.
I’m not going to get into this, as Wesley Elsberry already explained how Dudley is off-base on this point. Either way, Wells uses Dudley’s essay as a jumping-off point to continue in his misrepresentations of evolutionary theory. A few gems:
But experiments have consistently failed to support the hypothesis that variations (including those produced by genetic mutation) and selection (natural or artificial) can produce new species, organs and body plans. And what may have once looked like solid evidence for universal common ancestry (fossils, embryos and molecular comparisons) is now plagued by growing inconsistencies. It is actually the Darwinists who brush aside these awkward facts who “embrace scientific ignorance.”
Ah, the “plagued by growing inconsistencies/evolution is dying” card. Let’s see, where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, this kind of garbage is only about as old as evolutionary theory itself. *Yawn.* Kinda reminds me of this one from 1935:
The chain of evidence that purports to support the theory of evolution is a chain indeed, but its links are formed of sand and mist. Analyze the evidence and it melts away; turn the light of true investigation upon its demonstrations and they fade like fog before the freshening breeze. The theory stands today positively disproved, and we will venture the prophecy that in another two decades, when younger men, free from the blind prejudices of a passing generation are allowed to investigate the new evidence, examine the facts, and form their own conclusions, the theory will take its place in the limbo of disproved tidings.
For someone who actually gets paid to just sit around and think of this claptrap, you’d think he could at least be a little bit original. Maybe he’s of the “everything old is new again” school of thought.
Wells also, predictably, villianizes Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education, for doing a “bait and switch” when it comes to teaching evolution:
To reach skeptics of Darwinism, Scott recommends sugarcoating evolution as change over time. Only after she gets people nodding in agreement to the obvious fact that “the present is different from the past” does Scott introduce them to “The Big Idea” — namely, Darwin’s theory. Organizers of Evolution Sunday use the same bait-and-switch.
However, Wells himself admits in the beginning of the editorial:
Evolution can mean many things. Broadly speaking, it means simply change over time, something no sane person doubts.
Apparently though, it’s offensive and wrong when someone introduces evolution as “change in time” and then elaborates from there. There aren’t enough eye rolls and head shakes in the world to express my confusion.
Finally, the meat of Wells’ editorial is that “Darwinism” is not compatible with Christianity, despite the inclusion of hundreds of pastors to discuss otherwise during Evolution Sunday talks:
The vast majority of Americans reject Darwinism for good reasons: It doesn’t fit the scientific evidence, and it contradicts a central tenet of Christianity. Instead of using Evolution Sunday to celebrate Darwin, churches should use the day to reaffirm the creatorship of God and the value of good science — which includes studying the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.
As Ed points out, the irony here is incredible. As a Moonie whose ideas certainly are at odds with many mainstream Christian churches, to put it mildly, Wells himself certainly can’t be considered a mainstream Christian, yet he apparently has no problems telling thousands of other Christians what their beliefs are, and what their religion teaches them.
Again, at least he didn’t get his undergraduate degree at Yale.
However, Aaron Ring will next year, and he’s written a very nice rebuttal to Wells’ screed. (The summary: “Creationist’s column failed to back up outrageous, deceitful statements.” No mincing words there). Score one for mentioning the Wedge document, another for mentioning this article at TalkOrigins, and another for condemning Wells for turning Dudley’s column on its head and supporting the science/religion dichotomy:
The theory of evolution makes absolutely no claims to the veracity of the existence of God and the purported methods through which He works. Thus it is imperative to emphasize that the theory of evolution and a belief in creationism are not mutually exclusive, as Wells would have us believe.
(Though I’m rather iffy on the use of “creationism” in that context, which I assume he’s just using in the sense of “god created man in some manner” and not Creationism with a capital C). Either way, it’s a very good response (indeed, he’s a much better writer than I am!), and one I must assume is more representative of undergraduates at Yale in general.