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:

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  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    This one really gave me the giggles! Is Strobel really this desperate to find supporting voices?

  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    Interesting that Strobel is prepared to interview someone whose supernatural beliefs he doesn’t agree with, but won’t interview anyone who confines their research to natural science.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Interviewing a Moonie about science. That’s kind of like giving Evel Knievel a proffesorship in aerodynamics.

    Oh, wait, Knievel at least had empirical observation to work with. Never mind.

    Hmph.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Professorship*

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Getting to the science, you can easily find rebuttals of Wells’ “Icons of Evolution” on the web:

    By Alan Gishlick at NCSE

    At Talk.Origins

    by Jerry Coyne

    At American Scientific Affiliate, a group of scientists who are Christians

    Among many others

  • Eric
  • Darwin’s Hominid

    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.

    That is so true!!  I’ve seen many Christian apologists that fit this category!

  • ABaker

    “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.”

    One comment:
    So, too, is the case made by the prosecutorial naturalist and/or atheist. He also has the vested interest in his side winning, which should lend to a “greater measure of skepticism and critical scrutiny” on the arguments he presents. So that leaves us back at the beginning once again, doesn’t it? The point is, there is no person who can examine this without prejudice, so please refrain from criticism that similarly sweeps you up in its flow.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    So, too, is the case made by the prosecutorial naturalist and/or atheist. He also has the vested interest in his side winning, which should lend to a “greater measure of skepticism and critical scrutiny” on the arguments he presents.

    Every skeptic I know has at one time or another stated that they’d change their minds about religion were it to provide evidence. The only interest I have in my “side” “winning” is that it provides me with a clearer view of reality; find me a religion that can claim the same.

    So that leaves us back at the beginning once again, doesn’t it? The point is, there is no person who can examine this without prejudice, so please refrain from criticism that similarly sweeps you up in its flow.

    You miss the point. Sleptics reason a posteriori. Strobel, and Wells, are obviously practicing a priori reasoning. It may satisfy their readership, but not the conditions of reason or science.

    So no, we’re not back at the beginning.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Also, Ebon said we should give his ideas closer scrutiny, not dismiss them out of hand.

    I got into science in order to learn how the universe works. Wells got into science in order to attack it and support his religion. Slight difference.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism

    …is a textbook example of entering into something “in bad faith”. You wouldn’t buy a car from someone whose stated goal was “screwed my customers for as long and hard as I possibly can”, why would you accept Wells with anything less than severe skepticism?
    I don’t know about those nasty “prosecutorial naturalist and/or atheist”, ABaker, but scientists (even the theistic ones) don’t use methodological naturalism because they want to “devote their lives to destroying theism”. They use MN because it works. If the real world happens to support the conclusion of, say, a godless and uncaring universe (or one where the gods deign not to interfere, or they do but they’re either incompetent or so weak as to only function in the anecdotal, or any other number of possibilities of potential versions that are the opposite of God-that-people-want), that’s not the real world’s fault.

  • Its me

    The last sentence in the first paragraph should read “…the Darwinian tree of life” rather than “Cambrian explosion”. Strobel claims that Cambrian explosion refutes the tree of life icon..