Icons of Anti-Evolution

The Essays

Preface Introduction | Nature of Science | Miller-Urey Experiment | Darwin's Tree of Life Homology | Haeckel's Embryos | Archaeopteryx | Peppered Moths Darwin's Finches | Four-Winged Fruit Flies | Fossil Horses | From Ape to Human | Science or Myth? | Conclusion | Appendices | Author Vita | Reading List





Dave Thomas

This project is the result of a collaboration between several authors having extensive experience with creationism, intelligent design, and the creation/evolution "debate."  The main focus of this site is a coordinated rebuttal to the charges made by John Corrigan "Jonathan" Wells of the Discovery Institute Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in his book, Icons of Evolution.

This site is a work in progress, and will be updated frequently as essays are added and revised. Check back often!

The Nature of Science

Dave Thomas

Mr. Wells argues:  Science is the search for truth, but evolution is a materialistic myth.

"Science" is the systematic study of the natural (observable) world. The Scientific Method involves collection of data by observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of explanations (hypotheses) against these same data. When a collection of hypotheses is both explanatory and validated by the available data, it is elevated to the status of "theory." Theories are not held inviolable, but are modified, and occasionally rejected altogether, as new observations are made, or new experiments performed.

"Evolution" is understood by mainstream scientists and major scientific organizations as the process of descent with modification from common ancestors - for example, birds are considered to have evolved from small theropod dinosaurs like the velociraptors made famous in Jurassic Park. The Theory of Evolution is a constantly-improving, well-validated set of principles that explains how new species have developed, and involves many factors, including reproduction, heredity, variation, mutation, genetic drift, and preferential survival of organisms best adapted to the environment at hand.

Like any well-established field of science, evolution undergoes constant scrutiny and modification. The theory has changed immensely since 1859. Darwin had no concept of DNA or genes as they are understood today; he knew there must be some hereditary "factors," but that was about it. Darwin didn't know that huge numbers of proteins are formed from just twenty amino acids, or that there is a universal genetic code for translating DNA into amino acid sequences. The theory of evolution has been expanded and changed by all the new discoveries in molecular biology, but it has not been rejected. Indeed, the theory of evolution is essential in modern biochemistry, as it predicts the similarities of bio-molecules of various species, and is an extremely useful tool in developing strategies for diagnosis and treatment of many diseases. Today, detailed evolutionary trees can be developed simply by comparing genetic sequences for various species - and each such tree is another test of evolution.

Evolution involves conclusions about events in the remote past. Even though no one was there to observe these events, and they can't be "repeated" in a laboratory, we can still make reliable inferences about past earth history, just as we can often come to reliable findings of guilt or innocence in murder cases by examination of the evidence (such as fingerprints or DNA samples) left behind. This is not unusual in science, which frequently involves phenomena that can't be seen or touched directly, or "repeated" in a laboratory setting. Consider the daily rotation of the earth on its axis, or the annual motion of the earth around the sun; no one has ever stood on a stationary platform to observe these motions, yet their existence is accepted as scientific fact. Scientists accept the theory that the earth is a round, rotating globe because it is validated again and again in countless ways, day after day. This theory explains the apparent motion of the stars, the rotation direction of cyclones, and the curious motions of Foucault's pendulum. It explains why it's midnight in Germany when it's afternoon in New Mexico.

Similarly, no one has ever seen electrons, yet their existence is also accepted as scientific fact. Atomic theory explains why water breaks down under electric current into two parts hydrogen for every one part oxygen - because the molecule of water, the smallest such particle, is composed of exactly one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen.

In the same way, evolutionary theory explains and makes comprehensible a whole host of phenomena. The theory explains the nature of the fossil record, "gaps" and all. It explains why trilobites and dolphins are never found fossilized in the same strata, and why the rapid radiations of new species from small regions to large areas appear as small "jumps" in the fossil record. Evolution explains why there are common structures shared by creatures such as humans, bats, and fish. Evolution explains bio-geographical diversity - for example, why the flora and fauna of isolated regions like Hawaii or Australia are absolutely unique to those regions. Evolution explains why there are striking similarities in the embryonic development of frogs, sharks, and monkeys - these features were present in an early common ancestor. It explains why humans have fingerprints on their feet, and why we still have vestigial tailbones. Evolution explains similarities in the biochemistry of various species - for example, why the cytochrome c molecules of humans and chimps are much more similar than those of humans and rabbits. In observation after observation, the theory of evolution is validated again and again, day after day.

Like any robust scientific theory, evolution can be easily falsified in principle. For example, there is nothing to stop an Intelligent Designer from creating any type of creature imaginable - such as a centaur (four-legged horse body, topped by a two-armed human torso with head), or something like Edgar Rice Burroughs's green, four-armed, two-legged Martian giants. Either of these creatures would bring evolutionary theory to its knees in short order, because there are simply no ancestors from which they might have descended. A real Pegasus, with its bizarre mixture of horse and bird features, would also present huge problems for evolution. Similarly, finding true anachronisms, such as humans fossilized inside the stomach of an allosaur, or a trilobite in Cenezoic ("recent," up to 65 million years old) strata would constitute a huge problem for evolution. Evolution can be falsified; but never has been falsified, even after more than a century of testing.

Evolution meets the definition of the scientific method. It is subject to constant testing, examination, and modification. It explains a great, great deal about the world we live in. It provides insights and strategies for the studies of biology, medicine, and geology. It can be falsified, but so far has been strongly supported by millions of observations. Evolution is science, on a par with other top theories such as quantum mechanics or relativity.

The Miller-Urey Experiment

Ian Francis Musgrave

Mr. Wells argues:  The 1953 Miller-Urey experiment is claimed to show how life’s building blocks may have formed on the early earth. However, the conditions on the early earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment and the origin of life remains a mystery.


The Urey-Miller experiment is important for two reasons. First, there is its historical significance: it was the first experiment to demonstrate that biologically important molecules --- amino acids, nucleic acids, sugars, lipids, etc. --- could be made from nonliving material using natural processes. Second, the processes in the Urey-Miller experiment would play a more or less significant role in any of the plausible atmospheres that have been proposed for the early Earth. The original experiment used a strongly reducing atmosphere, as proposed in the then current early Earth models. Modern models, based on the available evidence we do have, suggests the early atmosphere was moderately to weakly reducing. Urey-Miller experiments in these atmospheres are still highly productive of organic building blocks. At worst the atmosphere was effectively neutral. Urey-Miller experiments produce a much smaller amount of organics, but these are still non-trivial. Contrary to Wells's claims there is significant evidence that there was essentially no free oxygen before and for some time after life appeared on the Earth.

It is important to stress that the Urey-Miller mechanisms are not the only mechanisms for forming organic building blocks on the early Earth using atmospheric gases. Other experimentally validated mechanisms do not use atmospheric gases at all, but rather gases released from submarine vents or chemicals dissolved in water or even minerals in porous rocks or clays. Also, delivery of organics to the earth from comets and interplanetary dust is another importance source of building blocks. So the while Miller-Urey experiment is still an important contributor to the building blocks of life in most scenarios, even if its contribution was insignificant, there are many other viable mechanisms that can also account for the origin of life.

Wells is correct in one respect, and that is the origin of life on earth is still a mystery. No scientific account of our understanding of the origin of life pretends otherwise. Even so, science thrives on mysteries; if there were no mysteries, no problems, no unanswered questions, there would essentially be no science. Yet his implication, that we have no idea how it could have happened, is wrong. We may not know the exact sequence of events that led to the origin of life, and we may not know the exact conditions of the prebiotic earth or what mechanisms were in operation, but we know approximately what the basic conditions were, and we know which mechanisms are viable under those conditions and which are not. Thus we have the broad outlines of the major steps in the process, even if we do not yet know all the details. The origin of life on Earth may still be a mystery, but it is a much smaller mystery than it was in the Fifties, and it gets smaller every year.

Finally, it is also important to stress that the origin of life is not part of evolutionary theory. The mechanisms involved are physical and chemical, and by and large are completely separate from those involved in evolution. Wells includes it in his book because, as he puts it, a materialistic religion, that rejects any possibility of theistic involvement, must assume a materialistic origin for life to be consistent. As has already been pointed out, evolutionary science is not a materialistic religion, nor is it founded on philosophical materialism, so evolution does not demand a materialistic explanation for the origin of life. In fact, evolution could easily accommodate a theistic origin for life. At the same time, evolution could be totally refuted, but this would have no effect on the theories of the origin of life. Science tries to discover a natural origin for life because that is the only kind of origin that science can study and test; it has nothing to do with any imagined materialistic religion.

Darwin's Tree of Life (essay updated Aug. 10th 2001)

David Leaf, Craig Moyer, and Robert Thomas

 Mr. Wells argues:  The evolutionary tree of life predicts that all organisms branched off from a common ancestor, but this is contradicted by the "Cambrian explosion," in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed.


One of the major attacks on the evolutionary tree of life by Wells is his analysis of molecular phylogeny. While this is certainly a good rhetorical strategy, as molecular phylogeny has provided powerful insights into evolution, Wells paints a distorted view of the field by focusing upon methodological problems and avoiding examples of its wide successes. The idea behind molecular phylogeny is relatively simple in principle and complex in practice. The principle is that by comparing the changes in DNA sequences between organisms one can construct a tree showing their evolutionary relationships. However, in practice, the field is complicated by several methodological problems. Finding the optimal is computationally difficulty with more than about 20 groups . Also, one must be careful to compare genes derived from the same ancestral gene as opposed to sister gene or a gene acquired from another organism by lateral gene transfer. Finally, one needs to be sure that the gene of interest is not evolving too quickly. Failure to take these issues into account can easily result in inaccurate phylogenetic trees. Nonetheless, because molecular phylogenetic trees use different genes and methods they can provide highly compelling independent evidence supporting a phylogeny.

A good example is found in analyses of the relation of whales to Artiodactyl mammals (eg. camels, hippos, pigs, peccaries, deer and cows). Three molecular phylogenetic trees have independently confirmed that whales are a sister group to hippos. The molecular trees were not only identical to one another but also to a morphological evolutionary tree (excluding whales, which lack the ankle bone used in the morphological analysis).. Another powerful example of independent convergence molecular phylogenetic data is how the Ecdysozoa clade (which groups arthropods and roundworms ) was confirmed independently by a phylogenetic analysis of Hox genes. The Ecdysozoa clade was based upon a phylogenetic analysis of ribosomal RNA genes. The key to this analysis was that researchers excluded rapidly evolving ribosomal RNA genes found in some roundworms. (Remember that rapidly evolving genes are undesirable.) Hence, molecular phylogenetic techniques can and do work when carefully done. However, this is not what Jonathan Wells wants his readers to think.

Wells attempts to undermine the evidence that molecular phylogeny provides for evolutionary relationships. Wells' explanation of how molecular phylogenetic trees are generated is greatly oversimplified, although accessible to the lay public. He quotes statements by biologists about methodological problems out of context, so as to incorrectly suggest that biologists consider molecular phylogeny to be in a state of "crisis". Unfortunately, Wells neglects to mention that many of these biologists also suggested successful remedies to the problem, such as avoiding the analysis of rapidly evolving genes.

One of the major problems complicating the search for a universal ancestor for life is the observation that there seems to have been significant lateral gene transfer between microbes early in the history of life, resulting in more of tangled root of life as opposed to a simple bush with one root.. Wells tries to argue that the Darwinian evolution necessarily requires a universal common ancestor. And while identifying the nature of such an ancestor would have provided important insights into early life of earth, it is not the case that a tangled root of life does not support evolution.

Wells also casts doubt on molecular clock data suggesting that the diversification of animal groups preceded the "Cambrian explosion". Genuine disagreement exists about usefulness of molecular clocks to establish divergence times. However, although Wells cites studies to show that there are two very different estimated divergence times for animals (700 million years ago and 1 billion years ago), he ignores the conclusions of these papers. Namely, that even the most recent estimate divergence for animals is about 160 million years before the "Cambrian explosion." Wells seems to be more interested in persuading the lay public that the Cambrian explosion is unexplainable as opposed to a clear articulation of the scientific issues surrounding this event.

As a coup de grace at the end of the chapter, Wells claims that "qualified biologists can and do question the Darwinian Tree of Life." This claim is rooted in the implication that monophyly (the origin of a group of organisms from a single common ancestor) is a necessary requirement for the Darwinian Tree of Life. But is this the case? Darwin clearly stated his own views on this matter in Chapter 14 of the First Edition of the Origin of Species. which reads: "Therefore I cannot doubt that the theory of descent with modification embraces all the members of the same class. I believe that animals have descended from at most only four or five progenitors". Hence, it is hard to understand why Wells uses Harry Whittington and Malcolm Gordon as the examples of biologists who question the Darwinian tree of life. Gordon has written a speculative essay in the journal "Biology and Philosophy" questioning whether one can always assume a monophyletic origin for a group of organisms. Both scientists clearly work in the framework of Darwinian evolution and have addressed questions about topology of the Tree of Life. Whittington is quoted supporting the view that animals may have arisen multiple times (in a statement not unlike Darwin's).

Wells ends this section by claiming that the only reason that the Tree of Life is considered a fact is because dissent has been suppressed by the" heresy hunters" of a totalitarian-like Darwinian establishment. However, given that the only evidence Wells employs is from published scientific papers, it seems to be the case that censors are not working all that well. Indeed, it should also be noted that a number of scientists including John Cairns, Susan Lindquist and Suzanne Rutheford have published non-Darwinian mechanisms to explain evolutionary change in mainstream scientific journals.


Edward Max

Mr. Wells argues:  Homology is defined as similarity due to common ancestry, but then it is claimed to be evidence for common ancestry; this is a circular argument masquerading as scientific evidence.


The bony structures of a bat wing, a porpoise flipper, a horse forelimb and a human arm are strikingly similar. According to the theory of evolution, these limbs are similar because they are all copies of a similar limb in an ancient common ancestor of the modern mammals. The modern limbs are said to be homologous to each other and to the common ancestral limbs.

In his chapter on homology, Wells discusses these four mammalian limbs, but claims that there are two major problems with of the use of homology in discussions of evolution.

1. Wells's first argument is: "if homology is defined as similarity due to common descent, then it is circular reasoning to use it as evidence for common descent." Although some biology teachers and textbooks may fall into a trap of circular logic, homology can be discussed in a non-circular way. We look for evidence that might distinguish between common ancestry and independent origins; if the evidence favors a common ancestor with a similar structure, then this evidence also supports homology, and in a non-circular way. The limbs of a bat, porpoise, horse and human have very different functions, so no engineering principles are apparent that might explain the similarities of their bone structure either by an intelligent designer or by independent selection. Therefore these bony similarities favor the explanation that they were inherited from a common ancestor, i.e. the limbs are homologous. This explanation is supported by fossil evidence showing that presumed common mammalian ancestors – e.g. primitive fossil species intermediate between reptiles and mammals – had limb bones similar to those of modern mammals. So by considering how well evidence fits different hypotheses, we can arrive at a conclusion without circular reasoning.

Wells avoids mentioning the best homology evidence for common descent, which comes from functionless DNA sequences that are similar between species such as human and ape. One group of such DNA sequences are viruses currently present at the same position of ape and human genomes. Intelligent design cannot explain such shared non-functional sequences. Scientists interpret them as modern copies of a virus "caught" by a common ancestor of apes and humans. Thus the corresponding human and ape virus copies are homologous. There is nothing circular about this argument either. Of course, once common descent between two modern species is accepted based on any particular shared functionless feature, then this acceptance strengthens the interpretation of homology for other similarities, such as limb bone structure, observed in the same two species.

2. Wells's second claim is that "biologists have known for decades that homologous features are not due to similar genes." In fact, a large body of evidence suggests the opposite: many similar genes determine limbs of mammals, indeed of all vertebrates. Wells's claim is true only in the trivial sense that homologous structures are not necessarily determined by exactly the same set of genes. This distinction seems beyond Wells, since in discussing certain fruit fly genes that are similar to mammalian genes, he asks this idiotic question: "If genes control structure, and the developmental genes of mice and flies are so similar, why doesn't a mouse embryo develop into a fly, or a fly embryo into a mouse?" Wells leaves this question unanswered as if it is unanswerable and represents a profound contradiction challenging the theory of evolution.

But the question has trivially obvious answers: (1) slight differences in the structure or regulation of homologous genes can contribute to differences in anatomic structures; and (2) some genes that govern mouse development play no part in insect development, and vice versa. To mislead readers away from the pro-evolution evidence that limb development is controlled by similar genes in all mammals, Wells stresses evidence that some of these genes also control the development of insect wings, which are not homologous to mammalian limbs. Wells claims that this fact represents a profound challenge to evolution. To support this claim, Wells indulges in a typical creationist trick: he quotes a respected scientist out-of-context to imply that the scientist agrees with Wells, while the context shows that the scientist saw this same evidence as perfectly compatible with evolution. Indeed, the whole thrust of the paper by Tabin that Wells cites in his chapter is to suggest that insect wings and mouse limbs use a similar network of regulatory proteins in their development because they use copies of genes that programmed the development of primitive appendages in a common ancestor of insects and mammals. This idea entirely consistent with evolution.

Wells's homology chapter thus rests on misleading arguments that would never persuade readers who are familiar with the literature and are willing to track down quotations that seem to challenge evolution. Unfortunately, such readers – including most scientists – are in the minority, and most readers will likely be only too happy to be misled by Wells's devious tactics.

Haeckel's Embryos

Paul Z. Myers

Mr. Wells argues:  Drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos are used as evidence for their common ancestry, but biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and in any event the drawings are faked.


In Haeckel’s embryos, Jonathan Wells has found a story to his liking. There is a bit of intentional fakery to it, there is a clear affiliation with Darwin himself, and there is a long history of recognition of Haeckel’s influence intermingled with unambiguous repudiation of his ideas. All Wells has to do is try to is entangle Haeckel’s discredited theories and poor reputation with the set of valid observations and modern explanations, and he can bury the truth under innuendo and association. However, we just have to remember three things.


Evolutionary theory is not founded on Haeckel’s observations or theories. Haeckel’s work was discredited in the 19th century, and has not been relevant to biology since the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws of genetics. That the biogenetic law is false has been the consensus of biologists for over 100 years, and developmental biologists have been working constructively to provide alternative explanations, which have so far all been evolutionary in nature.


The similarities between vertebrate embryos are real. We must distinguish between observations of those similarities and hypotheses about their causes. The similarities are not in doubt; there are worthwhile studies of the degree and timing of the similarities, but none that question their overall existence. What Wells has described is one hypothesis about the cause, Haeckel’s biogenetic law, which failed early and spectacularly. He has not addressed any modern hypotheses, nor has he provided a better alternative.


The evidence for common descent lies in the unity of form and process. We do not use Haeckel’s outmoded, invalid mechanism to argue for evolution, we look at the marvelous convergence of disparate organisms on common principles: all animals use the same genes to define regions of their bodies, all vertebrates build their faces by unlikely rearrangements of odd pharyngeal protrusions, and even tailless mammals like us have to start with tailed embryos. The best explanation for these phenomena is that they are a consequence of a common heritage.


Scott Goodman

Mr. Wells argues:  This fossil is portrayed as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds, but modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it.


Wells misrepresents two crucial facts about Archaeopteryx and how it is presented in modern textbooks. He falsely claims that Archaeopteryx is presented as a direct ancestor of modern birds and presents an incorrect definition of the scientific concept of a transitional form that tries to restrict it apply only to organisms known to be in direct line of descent between two groups. Throughout this chapter, he includes irrelevant information whose sole purpose seems to be to cast aspersions on the honesty and integrity of scientists and teachers generally.

There was a time when Archaeopteryx was considered to be in a direct ancestor-descendent line between dinosaurs and modern birds, but that is no longer the case, largely because of the important morphological differences between Archaeopteryx and modern birds. It is now generally considered to be a side branch. However, while no longer considered to be the "missing link" between dinosaurs and birds, it is unquestionably recognized as an important transitional form between dinosaurs and modern birds and is properly and correctly presented as such in the best modern textbooks.

Wells's objection is based on an old, largely outdated, view of evolution as a step ladder, leading from ancestor directly to descendent through a series of intermediate steps. Though there are some fossil series that seem to show this pattern, they are largely limited to the evolution of one species from another. The prevailing view of evolution is of a branching bush, where different forms evolve from common ancestors. Even at the level of species-to-species evolution there can be considerable branching as multiple forms split off from each other at the common ancestors. The advantage of the bush model is that it reinforces the view of evolution as the diversification of forms from each other, rather than the progressive advancement of one form into another. While it might be interesting to be able to definitely identify a direct line of descent between species or higher taxonomic groups, Wells's insistence that only organisms known to be in such a direct line can be considered transitional is flatly wrong and shows that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

With the bush model there are very few true missing links, but there are many transitional intermediates. To be transitional, an organism need only be intermediate in chronology and morphology; that is, it has to occupy a point in time between the ancestor and the descendent, and it has to possess a suite of features that it shares with both the ancestor and the descendent. In other words, a transitional would have some features that were possessed by the ancestor, some that are possessed by the descendent, and some that are unique to itself. To be a transitional, an organism need not be in a direct line between the ancestor and the descendent. Naturally, the transitional has to be descended from the supposed ancestor, but it does not have to be the direct ancestor of the descendent. In essence, a transitional can be an uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, or cousin; it does not have to be a father/son or a mother/daughter.

So the best explanation for Archaeopteryx is that it is descended from the same common ancestor from which modern birds are descended from. As such, while it is not ancestral to modern birds, it does share many features with modern birds, features it acquired from the common ancestor. It probably also closely resembled what that common ancestor looked liked, though it too underwent some modification as it diverged from that ancestor. It also probably looked very much like its sister species that also diverged from that ancestor, the one that was directly ancestral to modern birds. And it certainly possesses features retained from the ultimate ancestor of both itself and modern birds, features that modern birds either lost or that became heavily modified.

So where is this ultimate ancestor? Wells's objection implies that it is one of the Cretaceous dinosaurs that belonged to the group known as the protobirds (suborder Protoavia). If true, then this presents a problem, because while Archaeopteryx is a member of that group, it lived at the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary, at least 50 million years before the later members of the group. So how could it be descended from dinosaurs that lived after it? The answer is self-obvious: It couldn't. The right answer is, again, that the Cretaceous dinosaurs and Archaeopteryx shared a common ancestor, a protobird that lived before Archaeopteryx. And while the exact ancestor has not yet been identified, there are small dinosaurs that might be protobirds that have been found to occupy the right period of time to be that ancestor.

Peppered Moths

Ian Francis Musgrave

Mr. Wells argues:  Pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks are used as evidence for natural selection, but biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don’t normally rest on tree trunks, and in any event all the pictures have been staged.


Pictures of peppered moths are not used as evidence of natural selection, but to illustrate the camouflage differences between the pale and dark forms of the peppered moth on various backgrounds. While some pictures are staged many are not. The staged photographs are representative of what is actually seen in the wild, which is their purpose as an illustration.

Though the story of the peppered moth is known to be more complex than it is generally portrayed, the idea is nonetheless very simple. The normal coloration of the moth is pale and mottled, and during the day it rests on trees that are either covered with pale colored mottled lichen or have pale colored mottled bark. The pale, mottled body color against a pale, mottled background makes good camouflage, so the moths tend to escape predators that hunt primarily by vision, such as birds. Occasionally, however, some moths would undergo a spontaneous mutation that turned their body color dark. These moths tended to stand out against the background and thus fell as easy prey to predators like birds. As such, populations of these moths were predominantly pale colored and mottled.

During the industrial revolution, soot and smoke from factories coated the trees and turned them dark. Now the pale, mottled coloration stood out against the new darker background, making these moths easier to see and be eaten. The dark mutation, however, was now harder to see, and so tended to escaped detection. As a result, over time the populations shifted from pale and mottled to dark, in accordance with natural selection. When factories stopped producing thick clouds of soot and smoke, the trees lost their dark stain, and the moth populations shifted from dark back to pale and mottled again.

Again, this version of the story has been simplified. The central role of natural selection as the cause of the shift in proportion of pale and dark moths in the population, with predation by birds being the major, if not the sole, agent of selection, was determined by observation and experiment. When explaining these findings, pictures showing a pale and a dark moth, first against a pale background, then a dark background, vividly illustrate the differences in effectiveness of each form of camouflage against each type of background. However, this is all they are illustrating, they are not used as proof that selection occurs (this comes from observations of predation in the wild and experimental predation studies), or that moths rest on tree trunks (this comes from direct observations of moths resting places)

Peppered moths rest on a variety of places on a tree, including tree trunks (about 25% of the time according to the best study so far). What matters is not where they rest, but whether they are camouflaged where they rest. Pollution blackened trees are dark all over, trunks, branches, even leaves, and the dark moths are effectively camouflaged in all these places. Again, the staged pictures are meant to illustrate camouflage, not resting place, and camouflage is just as important on a branch as it is on a trunk. So the pictures do not mislead, despite Wells's claims to the contrary.

Finally, there is nothing unethical about staged photographs, as long as they accurately depict what is being illustrated; since the pictures in question illustrate camouflage and not resting place, they are accurate. Many nature photographs are staged; often it's the only way to get the picture you want. Plants and animals are notorious for being uncooperative models. So long as the staged photograph accurately represents what is seen in the wild, this is acceptable.

Darwin's Finches

David E. Thomas

Mr. Wells argues:  It is claimed that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection; however, no net evolution actually occurred because the changes were reversed after the drought ended.


The case of the Galápagos birds known as Darwin's Finches are often cited as an excellent example of evolutionary adaptation. Wells makes three major charges about the finches: one, they didn't influence Darwin's theory as much as commonly alleged; two, the observed adaptational changes didn't accumulate, but are quickly reversed, and so didn't amount to real evolution; and three, new observations that the birds actually represent a smaller number of species than originally thought shows that Darwin's Finches are, if anything, evidence of evolution running in reverse --- the disappearance of species, not the origin of species.

Regarding Wells's first point, Darwin was the first to collect these finches; they were the basis of the very first published hint of his theory; and, they were included in the rough draft of the Origin of Species. They were not included in the final draft because of Darwin's haphazard collecting habits, and because he saw the pigeons as a better example of his process in action. While some writers have romanticized and exaggerated the impact of the finches on Darwin's theorizing, that has been vigorously corrected decades ago by Sulloway, and re-emphasized in Weiner's popular book The Beak of the Finch. Wells's chief objection against the finches as "Icons" is old hat, and certainly not anything Wells dug up all by himself. All in all, calling them "Darwin's Finches" is entirely appropriate.

As for Wells's second charge, not only did Peter Grant and his colleagues observe finch evolution as it was happening in the Galápagos, but the rate of evolution was far faster than anyone expected. The only cannonball Wells can lug out to discharge against this inspiring work is that the weather will always oscillate, and there won't be long-term trends, and that any such trends are just "speculation." Unfortunately for Wells, while it's still difficult to predict the future, we're getting better and better at measuring the past. Ice core and sedimentary evidence show that the benign climate of the last 10,000 years is NOT normal; there have been huge temperature swings in just years and decades on occasion, and these non-equilibrium environments are exactly what is needed to drive speciation.

The third charge leveled by Wells is similarly flawed. Recent molecular research shows conclusively that Darwin's finches, all of them --- the Warbler finch, the vegetarian finch, the tree finches, the Cocos finch, and the ground finches --- all came from a single common ancestor. The finches are a "monophyletic group," just as Darwin had surmised in his diary. And even though the ground finches may not represent as many species as once thought, and the tree finches likewise, the cold, hard molecular evidence shows very clearly that there are now indeed separate species on the islands. Wells has not supplied a single clue as to how "Intelligent Design" might explain why there are now five separate groups of finches on the Galápagos, when once there was but one.

Four-winged Fruit Flies

David Wayne Ussery

Mr. Wells argues:  Fruit flies can be mutated so that they have an extra pair of wings. This is used as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution, but the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory.

 Response: Pending...

Fossil Horses

Fedor Steeman

Mr. Wells argues: A branching-tree pattern of horse fossils is used to refute the old-fashioned idea that evolution was directed. However, this pattern is not inconsistent with directed evolution.


Wells correctly describes how horse orthogenesis was rejected for two main reasons: 1) the lack of a clear mechanism for it, and 2) the tree-like rather than linear pattern of horse evolution as indicated by the fossil record. The alternative, Darwin's theory of evolution, was therefore preferred, because it both had a physical mechanism and it fitted the evidence better.

Then Wells criticizes that Darwin had no empirical support for his idea of evolution being undirected and was therefore making a philosophical assumption. But this idea simply flows naturally from the basic tenets of the theory! Because the raw material of Darwinian evolution are random variations on the one hand, which are selected upon by random environmental changes on the other, the net effect of these two factors will logically be random too!

Although only Darwinian evolution fits the evidence and has a physical mechanism, Wells insists that the actual pattern of horse evolution could also fit 'directed' evolution. But he grossly misrepresents this pattern. Upon closer examination, horses did not evolve in either a single or a general direction at all. The evolution of the horses (and their relatives) in fact exhibits the following characteristics: 1) There is a divergent development from a generalized ancestor into a widely diverse range of creatures. 2) There is a series of bush-like radiations of many species, which are eventually reduced to a few lineages or only one. 3) Developments are correlated with environmental changes.

But even though evolution itself follows an unplanned route, that does not completely rule out an Intelligent Designer or God. God could simply have designed the universe in such a way that it will inevitably develop in the desired direction. Wells must be aware of this possibility as he himself ascribes similar views to Darwin. But how then is undirected evolution the same as materialistic philosophy? Wells' point of view is truly puzzling.

From Ape to Human

Jim Foley

Mr. Wells argues:  Artists’ drawings of ape-like humans are used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident, but fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like.

 Response: Pending...

Science or Myth?

John Wilkins

Mr. Wells argues:  We are told that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a scientific fact, but many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts.

"Mything the point: Jonathan Wells' bad faith "




I.  Colin Patterson

Karen Bartelt

Mr. Wells argues:  In 1981, British paleontologist Colin Patterson, in a famous lecture at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, openly questioned whether there is any evidence for evolution. Afterwards, dogmatic Darwinists hounded him relentlessly, and Patterson never again voiced his skepticism in public.

 [Editor's Note: you will NOT find this reference to Colin Patterson in the Icons index. It's in there, however, in the notes for Chapter 3. See page 278.]

Wells makes two statements: Patterson "openly questioned whether there is any evidence for evolution", and Patterson was hounded by "dogmatic Darwinists" and never voiced his skepticism in public. As with so many of his alleged "Icons of Evolution", Wells is guilty of playing fast and loose with the facts about what Colin Patterson said about the evidence for evolution, and who it was who "hounded him relentlessly." Fortunately, Patterson (now deceased) was not silent on this issue, and left an excellent paper trail, had Wells bothered to research it.

Colin Patterson did speak at the American Museum of Natural History in 1981. As he said later, ". . . I put a case for the difficulties and problems with evolution, specifically in the field of systematics. I was too naive and foolish to guess what might happen: the talk was taped by a creationist who passed the tape to [creationist] Luther Sunderland . . . I was putting a case for discussion, as I thought off the record, and was speaking only about systematics, a specialized field." Notice that that this account was published in 1984, and Patterson is complaining about the creationists and their unauthorized taping, not about being hounded by dogmatic Darwinists .

Snippets of this unauthorized taping (for which no authorized transcript exists --- see Strahler 1987) have been making the rounds of creationist publications since Sunderland and Gary Parker's 1982 Impact article. They have popped up in many subsequent ICR Impacts and routinely appear in creationist websites and articles. Patterson was also featured in a 1996 article in the ID journal Origins and Design, along with about nine of his quotations that supposedly support what Nelson calls Patterson's "agnosticism about evolution." Perhaps this is where Jonathan Wells got his information.

Patterson is quoted no less than five times in the (Australian) Creation Science Foundation's Revised Quote Book. The putative out-of-context nature of these Patterson quotes prompted Lionel Theunissen to contact Colin Patterson personally in 1993. Patterson responded to questions about the 1981 speech as follows:

That brush with Sunderland (I had never heard of him before) was my first experience with creationists. The famous "keynote address" at the American Museum of Natural History in 1981 was nothing of the sort. It was a talk to the "Systematics Discussion Group" in the Museum an (extremely) informal group. I had been asked to talk to them on "Evolution and Creationism"; fired up by a paper published by Ernst Mayr published in Science just the week before. I gave a fairly rambunctious talk, arguing that the theory of evolution had done more harm than good to biological systematics (classification). Unknown to me, there was a creationist in the audience with a hidden tape recorder. So much the worse for me. But my talk was addressed to professional systematists, and concerned systematics, nothing else.

I hope that by now I have learned to be more circumspect in dealing with creationists, cryptic or overt. But I still maintain that scepticism is the scientist's duty, however much the stance may expose us to ridicule.

Notice that in this 1993 letter, Patterson's chief complaint is still with the creationists who misinterpreted his words, and not with any supposed ill-treatment by "Dogmatic Darwinists." He also clearly maintains here that he will continue to be skeptical and outspoken, no matter how this skepticism is misconstrued and misused by creationists.

In 1999, the second edition of Colin Patterson's Evolution was published. Patterson never lived to see this edition in print, having died three days after delivering the manuscript to the publisher. In the Preface, Patterson clearly states his skepticism (or lack thereof) concerning evolution:

The knowledge in my first edition came from education and indoctrination; it was that neo-Darwinism is certainty. The knowledge in this second edition comes more from working things out for myself; it is that evolution is certainty. And part of the ignorance in the first edition concerned the difference between neo-Darwinism and evolution, whereas the ignorance in this edition is of the completeness of neo-Darwinism as an explanation of evolution . . . I think that belief [shared ancestry] is now confirmed as completely as anything can be in the historical sciences . . . [but] . . . I am no longer certain that natural selection is the complete explanation. . . ." (p. vii)

He notes that evolution has survived a series of severe tests unimaginable to Darwin, including its consistency with genetics, the universality of DNA, and "the evidence from DNA sequences of innumerable 'vestigial organs' at the molecular level [p. 117]." Patterson concludes, "In terms of mechanism . . . the neutral theory of molecular evolution is a scientific theory; it can be put into law-like form: changes in DNA that are less likely to be subject to natural selection occur more rapidly. This law is tested every time homologous DNA sequences are compared . . . But neutral theory assumes (or includes) truth of the general theory --- common ancestry or Darwin's 'descent with modification' --- and 'msiprints' shared between species, like the pseudogenes or reversed Alu sequences, are (to me) incontrovertible evidence of common descent [p. 119]."

Patterson's response to the 1981 taping is revealing: "Because creationists lack scientific research to support such theories as a young earth . . . a world-wide flood . . . or separate ancestry for humans and apes, their common tactic is to attack evolution by hunting out debate or dissent among evolutionary biologists . . . I learned that one should think carefully about candor in argument (in publications, lectures, or correspondence) in case one was furnishing creationist campaigners with ammunition in the form of 'quotable quotes', often taken out of context [p. 122]."

Colin Patterson was consistently outspoken and forthright about his views on evolution. As we have seen, his statements applied to his field of systematics only, something that should have been obvious to someone with a Ph.D. in Biology from UC-Berkeley. There is no evidence to back Jonathon Wells' claim that Patterson was hounded into silence by "Dogmatic Darwinists", and much evidence to support the fact that he was stunned and shaken by the dishonesty of creationists. In 1999, Patterson clearly and succinctly put forth his views on evolution in the second edition of Evolution. This book is widely available, and it was incumbent on Wells to literally get his information "from the horse's mouth" before making any statements on what Patterson did or did not do, say, or believe. The "heresy-hunters" are a figment of Wells's imagination, a convenient red herring in a book that is full of them.

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