The seventh chapter of Wells’ book could be summed up in a single sentence: “biology doesn’t need no steeekin’ evolution!” Wells argues that, because medicine and agriculture were already doing just fine prior to Darwin’s publication of Origin, clearly then, these fields (and others) haven’t benefited from an application of evolutionary principles in the time from 1859 to present day, and that Dobzhansky’s “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is one big joke.
Wells focuses on medicine and agriculture because these are two fields that we all benefit from, and are more easily understood than biological disciplines that are a bit more removed from the common man. Animal and plant breeding and domestication is something that resonates more with middle America than the speciation events Wells describes in Chapter 5 (review of that yet to come), and certainly the great strides made in medicine are familiar even to those who don’t have much of an interest in the field. Wells claims that these fields have been “darwined”; that “Darwinists steal credit for scientific breakthroughs to which they contributed nothing,” and calls it a form of “intellectual larceny.” (pg. 80-81):
Generations of breeders have been darwined. Mendel has been darwined. Jenner and Semmelweis have been darwined. Fleming, Florey, Chain, and Waksman have been darwined. So have the real pioneers of modern biology. They’ve all been darwined. (pg. 81)
Wells claims this because, as I noted in the first paragraph, it is his contention that modern biology owes nothing to evolution, but instead, evolution owes everything to other fields.
Yet most of the fundamental disciplines in modern biology were pioneered by scientists who lived before Darwin was born. These pioneers include the sixteenth-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, the sixteenth-century physiologist William Harvey, and the seventeenth-century botanist John Ray. They include the seventeenth-century founders of microbiology, Robert Hooke and Anton van Leeuwenhoek; the eighteenth-century founder of systematics, Carolus Linneaus; and the eighteenth-century founder of modern embryology, Caspar Friedrich Wolff. Even paleontology, which Darwinists now treat as theirs, was founded before Darwin’s birth by Georges Cuvier.
Of course, no one is making the argument that Darwin discovered biology! Wells doesn’t once mention, however, another famous quote by Ernest Rutherford: “In science there is only physics; all the rest is stamp collecting.” In the days before Darwin, biology was not united behind a common, unifying theory, and it was much like “stamp collecting:” figuring out knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but not having a puzzle upon which to place the pieces to form a more logical, coherent pattern. Evolution gives us this.
This is why some scientists are still dismayed that an understanding of evolution doesn’t guide some biology-dependent fields in the way that it should. Wells seizes on one such lamentation by quote-mining Harvard biologist Marc Kirschner:
“Over the last one hundred years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself.” Although he lamented this situation, Kirschner acknowledged: “Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all.” (pg. 80).
Of couse, as usual, putting the previous paragraph alongside Kirschner’s quote gives it the context needed to understand where Kirschner is coming from:
If anything, Kirschner and Gerhart hope their book will have an impact at least as substantial on their colleagues in biology. For too long, they say, researchers in its different domains-from evolutionists in the field to cell biologists in the lab-have remained isolated. ”I wouldn’t call it an antagonism as much as one not knowing anything about the other,” Gerhart offers.
So they’re calling for biologists to pay attention to disciplines outside their own niche a bit more, which makes a huge amount of sense (and even moreso if one realizes that Dr. Kirschner leads a department of systems biology, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to investigating biological research). Additionally, this article was written in the midst of the Dover trial, where Michael Behe–a biochemist who clearly feels that evolution doesn’t benefit his own work–was testifying.
So, what of Wells’ specific claims about medicine and Darwinism? I will address three here in more detail: hospital pathogens, antibiotics, and influenza vaccination, all of which Wells claims owe nothing to evolution.
Continue reading “Wells’ Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and ID, Chapter Seven: quote-mining, trivializing, and generally getting it wrong”