The Questionable Authority

For my contribution to the Panda’s Thumb’s ongoing review of Jonathan Wells’ new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (PIGDID), I will be reviewing chapters four and five. Chapter Four covers the record of evolution that is contained in the DNA of all living things, and Chapter Five discusses speciation. A full review of each of these chapters is going to take a while and wind up being rather long. I’ve divided the reviews up into chunks, and I’m going to post each chunk as I finish it. Comments are more than welcome, and might be helpful when the time comes to pull all the separate chunks together into a single document.

I’m going to start off with Chapter 5, which Wells has titled The Ultimate Missing Link. This chapter is nominally about speciation, which can be defined as the formation of new species from old ones. This is my own field of study, and I’m relatively current with the literature and what’s going on in the field. Reading Wells’ version of speciation, I was appalled. His description and criticism bears absolutely no resemblance to the field I study, and his presentation is packed with distortions and outright lies. In future parts of this review, I will discuss some of the real science involved in the study of speciation. In this part of the review, I am going to focus on three examples of places in Chapter Five where Wells lies to his readers. I do not use the word “lie” lightly here. The statements in question are not merely incorrect; they are statements that Wells must have known to be incorrect when he made them.

I have chosen to spend so much time and space documenting Wells dishonesty for two different reasons. First, I wanted to warn anyone who might not know the issues and who reads this post prior to reading Wells’ book that they cannot expect him to honestly present the material he discusses. Second, if past history is any judge, the Discovery Institute will probably soon be suggesting that Wells’ new book be used as “suplementary material” for classroom discussions of evolution. Given that possibility, I want to make it clear that any school district that decides to try to incorporate this material will have selected a book that contains such a high level of gross dishonesty.

Lie Number 1: “Guess What…”

Wells does not only lie in the text of the chapter, he also lies in the sidebars. On the right hand side of the first page of the chapter (p. 49 in my copy), there’s a sidebar labeled with the heading, “Guess What?” The first entry on this sidebar reads:

Although all [emphasis in original] species have supposedly descended from other species through selection and variation, no one has ever observed the origin of even one [emphasis in original] species by this process.

Wells makes the same assertion again later on in the chapter:

Darwinists claim that all species have descended from a common ancestor through variation and selection…
(p. 59)

We will, at least for the moment, set aside the simple fact that evolutionary biology has progressed quite a bit in the past century and a half, and that most modern evolutionary biologists really don’t think that Darwin’s Origin of Species provides the best view of our understanding of evolution. We will ignore the fact that there are actually quite a few evolutionary biologists studying speciation who think that natural selection is not normally a major cause of speciation. We will entirely discount the fact that I – a graduate student studying speciation – can think of no evolutionary biologist who believes and no text that states that natural selection is the sole cause of speciation. Instead, we will assume that Dr. Wells is really completely ignorant of every single advance in evolutionary biology since 1859, and that he believes that Origin of Species is a state-of-the-art text on the subject. Even if all that is true, he’s still lying through his teeth. The following quote is taken from page three of The Politically Incorrect Guide:

Darwin believed that living things have been modified primarily by natural selection acting on random variations – survival of the fittest. “I am convinced,” he wrote, “that Natural Selection has been the most important, but not the exclusive, means of modification.”

Clearly, Dr. Wells knows full well that natural selection has never been viewed as the only evolutionary force – or at least knew it when he wrote chapter one. Either he forgot this by the time he got to chapter five, or he deliberately decided to lie to his readers. I generally prefer to attribute things like this to stupidity rather than deceit, but I simply cannot believe that the man is that large an idiot.

I realize that raising all this fuss about the difference between “most” and “all” might seem like much ado about nothing, but I think it demonstrates something that is very revealing: Jonathan Wells had so little respect for his target audience that he didn’t bother to make sure that he was keeping his lies consistent though the whole book.

Lie Number 2: A big omission.

It is possible to tell a lie without actually saying a single word that is untrue, and that is just what Wells did at one point in the following paragraph:

Like Hurd, Darwinist Kenneth R. Miller wrote a review of the proposed 2005 Kansas science standards. Miller claimed that “the artificial distinction between micro- and macroevolution should be dropped,” because “macroevolution has been observed repeatedly in nature.” To prove his point, Miller cited a 2004 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA about experiments performed on two existing fly species. But the authors of the article didn’t even claim they had observed the formation of a new race, much less a new species. Miller was bluffing. (PiG Darwinism, p.58)

There is a very large lie of omission in that paragraph, but it isn’t the only case in those few sentences where Wells was less than fully honest. I’ll leave identifying the other as an excercise for the reader, but here’s a bit of a hint: you can find the original document that Wells extracted the Miller quotes from here in pdf form.

The lie that I’m going to focus on involves Wells’ characterization of the PNAS article cited by Miller. Wells correctly states that the article was about experiments performed on two species of fly, and he is correct that the authors of the cited article did not claim to have observed either the formation of a new race or a new species. That’s what Wells does tell you, and all of those things are true. By telling you those things, Wells makes it appear that the paper is totally unrelated to Miller’s point, and that Miller was, as Wells calls it, “literature bluffing.” That picture, however, is altered a bit if you look at some of the things that Wells didn’t tell you:

  • Wells does not tell you that one of the two species of fly used in these experiments is Rhagoletis pomonella, more commonly known as the “apple maggot fly.”
  • Wells does not tell you that the reason that the authors of the cited paper did not claim to have identified “the formation of a new race” is because they were studying a new race that somebody else had already identified.
  • Wells does not tell you that the new race of apple flies must have developed within the last 150 years
  • Wells does not tell you that gene flow between the old race and the new race has dropped to less than 10%
  • Wells does not tell you that these flies have been studied for 40 years, by a number of different researchers.
  • Wells does not tell you that several genetic mechanisms involved in the greatly reduced gene flow between these races have been identified, or that the cited paper had identified a new mechanism for reducing gene flow.
  • Wells does not tell you that scientists who study speciation consider Rhagoletis pomenella to be an excellent model system for studying how speciation occurs.

I could go on, and I will discuss Rhagoletis quite a bit more when I talk about the science involved in the study of speciation later on. For now, the point should be clear enough: Wells did not tell you quite a bit about the paper, and the material that he didn’t mention makes it much, much more difficult to support his accusation that Miller was “literature bluffing.” Wells might not think that Rhagoletis is a good example of speciation (although if that is the case one has to wonder why he didn’t address it in the chapter), but he clearly knew, if he read even the abstract of the cited paper, that there were many more reasons for Miller to cite the article as evidence for speciation than he made it appear. In this example, Wells committed a classic lie of omission.

Lie Number 3: The Big Lie

I’ve saved the biggest lie in the chapter for my final example. On p. 52, Wells talks about the definition of species, and how scientists define species:

Like most other Darwinists, Coyne and Orr choose Ernst Mayr’s “biological species concept” (BSC): “Species are groupes of interbreeding natural populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups.” Why? “The most important advantage of the BSC is that it immediately suggests a research program to explain the existence of the entities it defines.” Coyne and Orr “feel that it is less important to worry about species status than to recognize that the process of speciation involves acquiring reproductive barriers.”

Wells cites, in the endnotes for the chapter, pages 25-39 of Coyne and Orr’s book Speciation as the source for these quotes. If you actually read what Coyne and Orr wrote in that section, you will find that they are saying something that is quite different than what Wells claims they are saying. Rather than “choos[ing] Ernst Mayr’s “biological species concept,” Coyne and Orr, as well as most evolutionary biologists I know, are arguing that the best definition of species is a modified form of Mayr’s definition:

In our view, distinct species are characterized by substantial but not necessarily complete reproductive isolation. We thus depart from the “hard line” BSC by recognizing species that have limited gene exchange with sympatric relatives. But we feel that it is less important to worry about species status than to recognize that the process of speciation involves acquiring reproductive barriers, and that this process yields intermediate states when species status is more or less irresolvable.
(Coyne and Orr, p. 30)

The material in italics above is also in italics in the original. The material in bold is the portion of that paragraph which Wells quotes.

This particular instance of dishonesty is particularly egregious because Wells uses this deliberate mischaracterization of Coyne and Orr’s position to justify defining species based on total reproductive isolation. He then uses that definition as his basis for claiming that some of the examples of speciation don’t really count. Coyne and Orr are both scientists who have studied specication for a long time, and have literally written the book on the topic. Wells appears to have decided that it would be nice to use their authority to back his position, and that it was a good idea to do so even though they were explicitly (and clearly) arguing for a very different position. That is quite simply dishonest.

Those three examples are some of the more noteworthy examples of dishonesty in this chapter of Wells’ book. Unfortunately, they are far from the only such examples. There are many other places in the chapter where Wells fails to mention things that he knows would comprimise his positiion, where he uses distorted versions of quotes to make his point, and where he just plain lies.

The next post in this series will discuss the definition of species, and why so many of the examples of speciation involve cases where the two groups can still interbreed.

Comments

  1. #1 ScaryFacts
    September 8, 2006

    Great article.

    There are a few problems with truth:

    1. It’s not flashy or sensational
    2. It’s not newsworthy (in most cases)
    3. It requires a level of undersandying beyond most people

    I see this again and again. Thanks for being truthful.

  2. #2 Emanuel Goldstein
    September 8, 2006

    What do you mean “natural selection has never been viewed as the only evolutionary force.”?

    NEVER?

    Now YOU’RE lying.

    By the way, they are quote mining your stuff over at Kansas Citizens for Science.

    I hope that doesn’t count as “LYING”!

  3. #3 Andrew Wade
    September 8, 2006

    What do you mean “natural selection has never been viewed as the only evolutionary force.”?

    He probably means “… by a plurality of the relevant scientific community”, that being what Wells was presumably talking and lying about. What do you mean, “Winston Smith”? Feel free to be specific and unambiguous.

  4. #4 Julia
    September 8, 2006

    I don’t completely understand your second point. I’m not able to open the pdf file you link to, so I have a question.

    Are you saying that Miller said “macroevolution has been observed repeatedly in nature” and then offered as evidence of that statement only an example, though complex and suggestive, in which the development of the fly species was not in fact actually observed?

    As a curious person with no educational background in these matters, my understanding of what I’ve read is that the distinction between micro- and macroevolution is indeed largely artificial and that the development of new species has actually been observed. But the fact that Wells left out a lot of information in his comments on Miller doesn’t seem to alter his point that Miller doesn’t, in that particular article, prove the claim.

    Or does Miller offer other evidence that “macroevolution has been observed repeatedly in nature,” so that the fly study is included, not as direct proof of the claim, but rather as “an excellent model system for studying how speciation occurs”?

  5. #5 Thomas Palm
    September 8, 2006

    I think this review could be improved on a few points.
    In “Lie 1″ don’t just claim that Wells is wrong, give examples of other mechanisms for speciation that doesn’t fit his definition. In “lie 2″ explain how we know the new race must be as recent as 150 years.

  6. #6 ScottN
    September 8, 2006

    Emanuel Goldstein wrote:

    What do you mean “natural selection has never been viewed as the only evolutionary force.”?

    NEVER?

    Now YOU’RE lying.

    By the way, they are quote mining your stuff over at Kansas Citizens for Science.

    I hope that doesn’t count as “LYING”!

    Dude, did you not read this?

    …The following quote is taken from page three of The Politically Incorrect Guide:

    Darwin believed that living things have been modified primarily by natural selection acting on random variations – survival of the fittest. “I am convinced,” he wrote, “that Natural Selection has been the most important, but not the exclusive, means of modification.”

  7. #7 Pete Dunkelberg
    September 8, 2006

    I don’t completely understand your second point. I’m not able to open the pdf file you link to, so I have a question.

    Are you saying that Miller said “macroevolution has been observed repeatedly in nature” and then offered as evidence of that statement only an example, though complex and suggestive, in which the development of the fly species was not in fact actually observed?

    Just follow the yellow brick links to the pdf:
    http://www3.ksde.org/outcomes/sciencereviewmiller.pdf
    (given on the first-linked page)

    I’m not sure why you say “not … observed”.
    You can’t have a video camera on every fly in the country every minute, but short of that there has been lots of observation of this case.

    I think Mike plans to say more on this case among others in a future post. I guess you have to take this post to be only what it is said to be at the outset.

    By the way when discussing speciation it is best I think to use the word “speciation” rather than some multiply-defined term such as “macroevolution”.

    Pete

    p.s. the blockquote function seems to only work one paragraph at a time here.

  8. #8 Julia
    September 8, 2006

    Pete,

    Thanks much for providing me with the link!

    I asked about “not actually observed” because Mike doesn’t directly say that Wells was wrong in implying it wasn’t observed. Instead, Mike says the “the new race of apple flies must have developed within the last 150 years.” As Thomas Palm may be implying above, that “150 years” perhaps needed clarifying, as least for those of us less knowledgeable. I took it to mean that the 150 years is derived only by inferences made from examining the flies now: no doubt sufficient, but Wells would still not, I think, have been wrong is seeing a difference between this degree of inference and “observed.”

    Since I asked my question this morning, however, I’ve learned a little more about the fly. Presumably it was actually observed that the original ones used only Hawthornes, and observed that some then began to use apple trees, and of course observed and studied that the two have gradually diverged. So, yes, I can now see why “observed” is a reasonable word to use here.

    And yes, I do normally use “speciation” to avoid the creationist/ID connotations of “macroevolution”.

    I appreciate your help.

  9. #9 Gerard Harbison
    September 8, 2006

    This particular instance of dishonesty is particularly egregious because Wells uses this deliberate mischaracterization of Coyne and Orr’s position to justify defining species based on total reproductive isolation.

    Does he really? So lions, tigers and leopards are the same species to Wells?

    BWAHAHAHA!

  10. #10 wolfwalker
    September 8, 2006

    Mike,

    I think you need to rework your point 1. I agree entirely that Wells is being deceptive. But I’m afraid that the counter-argument you use is vulnerable to a trap that Wells planted in his text, which he can use to discredit your whole critique in the classic creationist way.

    Wells wrote:

    Although all [emphasis in original] species have supposedly descended from other species through selection and variation, no one has ever observed the origin of even one [emphasis in original] species by this process.

    You replied (in part):

    Clearly, Dr. Wells knows full well that natural selection has never been viewed as the only evolutionary force – or at least knew it when he wrote chapter one. Either he forgot this by the time he got to chapter five, or he deliberately decided to lie to his readers.

    Wells carefully left one vital word out of the Chapter Five bit you quoted: “natural.” That is, he didn’t say that Darwinists say variation and natural selection is the only process that leads to speciation. Your reply focuses only on natural selection. Wells can therefore brush aside this whole section of your critique simply by claiming that he was referring to other forms of selection besides natural selection.

  11. #11 Emanuel Goldstein
    September 9, 2006

    Good point Wolfwalker.

    But I wonder.

    Mike MUST have KNOWN this.

    So does that meam MIKE was lying?

  12. #12 Foggg
    September 9, 2006

    No, Goldstein. wolfwalker’s criticism is based on a close reading involving one word whose implication Mike could have missed, not a entire conceptual distortion. (Many biologists consider all types of selection to be “natural” – it’s definitional semantics.) And Mike is essentially offering this for first review by commentors. As he says, he plans on revising and collating.

    Wells, OTOH, wrote for publication an enormously flawed-at-basic-levels book which must have gone thru a lengthy review process, and now cannot be changed except in a second edition (any bets on whether most errors will be?).

  13. #13 Martin Wagner
    September 11, 2006

    Hey gang. Isn’t Emanuel the same brain-damaged troll who posted a comment — I think it was on Pharyngula — to the effect that scientists support stem cell research because they want to genetically-engineer a master race of super-soldiers or some such lunacy? Or was that someone else? In any event, given the vapidity of his comments here, it’s nice of him to offer himself up as “goofy creationist punching bag”.

  14. #14 Gary Hurd
    September 13, 2006

    Ha! I just learned that Wells is trying to score some penalty points in his PIG wallow Chap. 5, for a comment I made about the Kansas creationist science standards. I’ll be glad to offer a me culpa for a hurried draft letter that was submitted sans my requested review.

    Mike titled that subheading, “Lie Number 2: A big omission.” A big omission (well actually a few words) was how Wells has taken advantage of my error. He first did this in his oral testimony to the Kansas Kreato Kourt. What I had sent to the Kansas people was in part, “I am confident that there are other qualified commentators who will have pointed out the absurdity of differentiating “macro” and “micro” evolution- terms which have no meaning outside of creationist polemics. This is found repeated through the entire set of creationist challenges to the Draft Kansas Science Standards, and can be easily rejected.”

    To make my meaning clear I ought to have said, “… the absurdity of differentiating “macro” and “micro” evolution- terms as used in the draft standards, which have no meaning outside of creationist polemics.” The terms “microevolution” and “macroevolution” can be found in the scientific literature- rightly or wrongly. The fact I was most taken by was that the science standards written by scientists and science educators never used this controversial contrast, and the creationist standards used them repeatedly.

    The whole idea of diferentiating “micro-” and “macro-” evolution is in my opinion a failed idea. But, that is a separate discussion- one that creationists do, and will continue to exploit.