Saturday, January 08, 2005

Icons of ID: (General) Nic Tazmek's Icons of Obfuscation

Icon of Obfuscation Jonathan Wells's book Icons of Evolution and why most of what it teaches about evolution is wrong


Jonathan Wells's book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (henceforth Icons) makes a travesty of the notion of honest scholarship. Purporting to document that "students and the public are being systematically misinformed about the evidence for evolution," (p. XII) via common textbook topics such as peppered moths, embryo similarities, and fossil hominids [2], Icons in fact contains a bevy of its own errors. This is not original -- creationists have been making mistakes about evolution for years. Newly and more insidiously, however, Icons contains numerous instances of unfair distortions of scientific opinion, generated by the pseudoscientific tactics of selective citation of scientists and evidence, quote-mining, and "argumentative sleight-of-hand," the last meaning Wells's tactic of padding his topical discussions with incessant, biased editorializing. Wells mixes these ingredients in with a few accurate (but always incomplete) bits of science and proceeds to string together, often in a logically arbitrary fashion, a narrative that is carefully crafted to make the semblance of an honest case for Wells's central defamatory accusation: that mainstream biologists are "dogmatic Darwinists that misrepresent the truth to keep themselves in power" (pp. 242-243).

This essay will show that it is Wells's book Icons that is shot through with misrepresentations.

The central pillar of Wells's case is this:

"Some biologists are aware of difficulties with a particular icon because it distorts the evidence in their own field. When they read the scientific literature in their specialty, they can see that the icon is misleading or downright false. But they may feel that this is just an isolated problem, especially when they are assured that Darwin's theory is supported by overwhelming evidence from other fields. If they believe in the fundamental correctness of Darwinian evolution, they may set aside their misgivings about the particular icon they know something about." (Icons, pp. 7-8)

In other words, Wells argues that the specialists know about the problems in their field of expertise, but that everyone thinks that the evidence supporting evolution is somewhere else. This is just plain false, as we shall see -- the experts in each field have explicitly stated that the evidence in their field supports evolutionary theory, and further they have supported their statements with evidentiary arguments. If Wells's contention about the experts is false, then Wells's argument collapses. Wells likes asking questions; it is now time for him to answer some.

Read more!