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.

Comments

  1. #1 Orac
    January 31, 2007

    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).

    Hey, it could be worse. Ann Coulter graduated from my alma mater, the University of Michigan. True, it was the law school and not the medical school, but even so. Worse, apparently she was there the same years I was in medical school, graduating one year after I graduated from medical school…

  2. #2 Southern Fried Skeptic
    January 31, 2007

    My undergraduate degree came from a small school. A school at which Newt Gingrich used to be a professor. I had a history class taught by a professor who was an absolute disciple of Newt. It was more like a Republican propoganda class than a history class. More than a few sparks flew between me and that professor. I miss those days.

  3. #3 Grey Wolf
    January 31, 2007

    There is one thing I disagree with the editorial you linked:

    “Wells’ darling philosophy of intelligent design unfortunately makes no new predictions, has led to no new discoveries, and has yet to improve the life of a single person.”

    Actually, like most shills, it *has* improved the life of several people: those in the DI and related “institutions” that have been living a cushy life out of conning their followers into throwing money their way.

    Hope that helps,

    Grey Wolf

  4. #4 Greco
    January 31, 2007

    Broadly speaking, it means simply change over time, something no sane person doubts.

    I take this to mean that Wells does this.

  5. #5 Nic George
    January 31, 2007

    Tara, could you write a response to the Yale Daily News?

  6. #6 Commentator
    January 31, 2007

    For the record, Dr. Wells is not a graduate of Yale Divinity School. He received his degrees from Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for his work the Religious Studies Department.

  7. #7 Gilmore
    January 31, 2007

    Got ya all beat. I went to the same High School as the Unibomber. My friends were more surprised that a classmate got admitted to Harvard, than they were Federal Penitentiary.

  8. #8 Tara C. Smith
    January 31, 2007

    Tara, could you write a response to the Yale Daily News?

    I could, but I don’t have a lot to add that the response editorial didn’t already say. Might be better to wait until after Darwin Day/evolution Sunday and write something then…

  9. #9 John Timmer
    January 31, 2007

    I’m part of the Berkeley class where Jon Wells got his Ph.D. I’m now a developmental biologist, the field he claims as his own (i was in genetics back then). I think i’ve got the closest association to this specific embarrassment.

    In our defense, the only thing i can say is that none of this was obvious back then…

  10. #10 TLTB
    January 31, 2007

    What is so distressing about ID activism to me is that those unfamiliar to the Christian faith might assume that the incompatibility between evolution and Christian doctrine is a mainstream position. It is not and never has been. From the date of its proposal, the evolution + natural selection combination was accepted by large numbers of Christians, even evangelicals.

    That IDist like Wells fail to mention the fact that millions of Christians (including most academic theologians across denominations) accept evolutionary theory as a possible way that God effected creation is a deliberate and malignant deception – just another to add to the list, I suppose, but one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

  11. #11 Mark
    January 31, 2007

    The fact that Wells did not get a degree from the Divinity School confuses me. I had assumed that he supported the christian anti-evolution dogma as a matter of professional courtesy. I am correct, am I not, that a divinity school is for gods?

  12. #12 Kevin
    January 31, 2007

    As long as we’re comparing alma maters, does anyone remember the “Global Alert for All?”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newsgroup_spam) I was acquainted with that guy, and still at the university at the time.

    And while I’m unlurking, thanks for the blog, Tara

  13. #13 ofro
    January 31, 2007

    On top of that, on his web site, Jonathan Wells proudly proclaims:
    “… Does not believe that HIV causes AIDS.”
    http://www.nndb.com/people/578/000118224/
    How could it anyway, if it is intelligently designed?

  14. #14 perpetualstudent
    January 31, 2007

    I realize that many have already posted most embarrasing alums. My university actually gave a degree to James Dobson, so I think I have a legitimate claim to the absolutely most embarressing alum. We also had some guy named after orange juice that played football for us.

  15. #15 Zeno
    January 31, 2007

    Funny thing about that “juice” guy: The position of lieutenant governor became vacant while Ronald Reagan was governor of California. Guess who Ronnie’s son wanted his dad to appoint to the vacancy. Yes.

    Bet you didn’t know that one, did you?

  16. #16 Joe McFaul
    February 1, 2007

    Ted Bundy is the most famous person to have attended my law school.

  17. #17 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    February 1, 2007

    Wells’ claims were also elegantly pulverized by another Yalie alum, Matthew Buechner, now with the University of Kansas.

    http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/19667

  18. #18 Tim Hague
    February 1, 2007

    I think I have you all beat. My school boasts no less than William Paley as it’s most famous former pupil.

  19. #19 Coin
    February 1, 2007

    On top of that, on his web site, Jonathan Wells proudly proclaims:
    “… Does not believe that HIV causes AIDS.”

    Huh. I knew about Phillip Johnson, but I didn’t know that.

    Has anyone attempted to compile a list of exactly which members of the IDC movement overlap with HIV-AIDS denial?

  20. #20 Nick Woolridge
    February 1, 2007

    Hi, great post, as usual. One style quibble: I think you meant “vilifies” when your wrote “Wells also, predictably, villianizes Eugenie Scott…”

  21. #21 Tara C. Smith
    February 1, 2007

    Oops, you’re right. That’s what I get for writing up posts in the middle of the night… :)

  22. #22 Ed Darrell
    February 1, 2007

    Joe McFaul — you’re a Ute? Hmmmm. We probably know quite a few of the same people.

  23. #23 windy
    February 2, 2007

    The theory of evolution makes absolutely no claims to the veracity of the existence of God and the purported methods through which He works.

    Perhaps I’m reading this too literally, but the latter part is wrong.

    Some of God’s purported methods of creating are making people from clay or ribs. I think evolutionary theory does have something to say to that :)

  24. #24 Anonymous
    February 2, 2007

    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)

    I’m not iffy on it at all. The statement ignores the obivous implication of evolution, namely that a creator is superfluous.

    To say, as Ring does, that

    The theory of evolution makes absolutely no claims to the veracity of the existence of God and the purported methods through which He works

    is disingenuous because the theory does not examine that question. The theory also makes no claims about the existence of Zeus, leprechauns or Santa Claus or the methods through which they work.

    Clearly, the absence of any such claims by the theory of evolution cannot be used to lend support to the existence of any of these entities as Ring subtly implies. In fact, in the case of a purported creator of species (including humans), the necessity of such an entity is eroded by the theory and the overwhelming weight of evidence behind it.

  25. #25 justawriter
    February 2, 2007

    Not only did Dick Armey attend my alma mater, the b*st*rd shares my birthday!

  26. #26 Bob Cornwall
    February 2, 2007

    Tara,

    Thanks so much. Very well put!!! I say that of course as a preacher who will be observing Evolution Sunday.

  27. #27 PhysioProf
    February 4, 2007

    I have had a number of Yale College graduates work in my lab before grad/medical school. It is mind-boggling how smart, driven, and verbally adept they are.

  28. #28 Scott
    February 6, 2007

    I’m quite late to this thread – haven’t had time to read the internets here lately – but I’m so glad to have come across this one.

    I’m a proud alumni of the University of Virginia and we have plenty of these, in particular FRC (Tony Perkins) mouthpiece Charmaine Yoest. I feel so much better now! ;-)

    I had the impression that the divinity school was an endless source of questionable alumni.

  29. #29 Fred Slator
    February 8, 2007