The Case for a Creator: Meet Jonathan Wells

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 3

Strobel’s first interviewee is Jonathan Wells, author of the polemic Icons of Evolution. Icons attacks evolutionary theory by seeking to discredit what are, allegedly, its best-known supporting lines of evidence – its “icons” – such as the Miller-Urey experiment, Archaeopteryx, and the Cambrian Explosion.

We’ll get to that soon, but first I have to address what, to Strobel, must have been a bit of awkwardness. Virtually unique among modern advocates of ID, Wells isn’t a Christian of Strobel’s preferred evangelical brand, but a Moonie – a member of Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. That would be the same Rev. Moon who’s notorious for performing mass weddings (with husbands and wives chosen for each other by Moon), who’s spent time in prison for tax fraud, who claims to be the Messiah and the second coming of Jesus Christ, and who held a bizarre coronation ceremony for himself in a federal office building in the presence of lawmakers.

Strobel seems to find this rather embarrassing and does his best to slide past it, as you can see:

Science classes weren’t heavily steeped in Darwinism when Jonathan Wells was a high school student in the late 1950s, but when he began studying geology at Princeton University, he found that everything was viewed through evolutionary lenses. Though he had grown up in the Presbyterian church, by the time Wells was halfway through college he considered himself to be an atheist. [p.33]

…While later living a Thoreau-like existence in a remote California cabin, he became enthralled by the grandeur of creation and gained new confidence that God was behind it. His spiritual interest rejuvenated, Wells explored numerous religious alternatives, visiting gurus, preachers, and swamis. [p.34]

This passage does not go into any further detail about Wells’ current beliefs, but it has a footnote at the back of the book which says this:

What Wells called his “faith journey” even brought him to the Unification Church, partly because he shared its strong anticommunist stance. For critiques of this group, whose theology I thoroughly disagree with, see… [p.309]

If you didn’t know, you might get the impression from this footnote that Wells was a Moonie at one time, but no longer. In fact, he still is one. Strobel is clearly uncomfortable with this, dismissing the topic with a curt “I hadn’t come… to seek spiritual wisdom from Wells” [p.34] and then moving on. But in later chapters, as we’ll see, he interviews other ID advocates who are Christians like him – and he seems quite comfortable seeking “spiritual wisdom” from those people, as he questions them extensively about their Christian beliefs and gives them ample opportunity to explain why they feel their faith is supported by the evidence.

But surely, all this aside, Wells’ religious beliefs have no bearing on his science. It would just be poisoning the well to try to discredit his arguments based on his personal faith, right?

Well, yes, and then again no. Wells’ religious beliefs are relevant to his scientific arguments in one important way, as he himself admits:

At the end of the Washington Monument rally in September, 1976, I was admitted to the second entering class at Unification Theological Seminary. During the next two years, I took a long prayer walk every evening. I asked God what He wanted me to do with my life, and the answer came not only through my prayers, but also through Father’s many talks to us, and through my studies. Father encouraged us to set our sights high and accomplish great things.

…Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.

The cultish title of “Father” is shorthand for Rev. Moon, if you hadn’t already guessed. But more importantly, note the sequence of events: First Wells decided to “devote my life to destroying Darwinism”, then he decided (or rather, was chosen by Moon) to get a Ph.D. in biology to assist him in that goal. His attendance at a graduate program was not to survey the evidence for and against evolution so he could make up his mind about it. Instead, he viewed it as a “battle” in which his role was to resist at all costs the evidence presented to him, but to learn it well enough so that he could get a degree in it and thereby seem more credible in his apologetic role.

Like many prominent creationists, Wells’ life story is religion first, creationism second. He decided for religious reasons that evolution couldn’t possibly be true, then set out to find validation of that preconceived belief. Small surprise that he found exactly what he expected to find.

This doesn’t necessarily invalidate what Wells has to say. But it does mean that, in arguing against evolution, he has a strong and ever-present conflict of interest. We should therefore treat his arguments with a greater measure of skepticism and critical scrutiny, just as a juror in a trial would be justified in being more skeptical of a witness who stood to benefit financially from the victory of the side he’s testifying for.

Other posts in this series:

Weekend Coffee: CRISPR
Weekend Coffee: October 11
The White Man Non-Culpability Squad
Blood Moon Lunacy, or the Virtue of Vagueness
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.