Jonathan Wells (intelligent design advocate)

Jonathan Wells (intelligent design advocate)
Jonathan Wells
Born John Corrigan Wells
1942 (1942)
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley, Unification Theological Seminary, Yale University
Occupation Author
Known for Intelligent design advocate and anti-evolution activist
Title Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
Religion Unification Church

John Corrigan "Jonathan" Wells (born 1942) is an American author and advocate of intelligent design.[1] A member of the Unification Church, Wells wrote that the teachings of church founder Sun Myung Moon, his own studies at the Unification Theological Seminary and his prayers convinced him to devote his life to "destroying Darwinism",[2][3] a term which intelligent design proponents often use to refer to the scientific consensus on evolution[4] and which he describes as the theory that various species developed as a wholly natural process "without God's purposeful, creative activity."[3]

In his best-known book, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?, Wells describes a number of examples used to illustrate biology textbooks as being grossly exaggerated, distorting the truth, or patently false; he says that this shows that evolution conflicts with the evidence, and so argues against its teaching in public education.[5][6][7] Reviewers of Icons of Evolution have said the Wells misquoted experts cited as sources and took minor issues out of context, basing his argument on a flawed syllogism.[6][8] Wells's views on evolution have been rejected by the scientific community.[4][5][9]



Wells was born in New York City in 1942 and grew up in New Jersey, and was brought up as a Protestant Christian. He studied geology at Princeton University, where he dropped out in his junior year. Following a brief stint as a taxi driver, he was drafted by the army and spent two years serving in Germany. After his discharge in 1966, he attended University of California, Berkeley, where he publicly refused to report for reserve duty. This resulted in him being arrested and being incarcerated for 18 months at the Leavenworth military prison. Upon his release, Wells returned to Berkeley where he completed his studies with a major in geology and physics and a minor in biology Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California, and he has taught biology at California State University East Bay in Hayward, California.

In 1974 Wells joined the Unification Church.[10] He graduated from the church's Unification Theological Seminary in 1978 with a Masters in Religious Education.[11] Wells continued his studies at Yale University, earning a PhD in religious studies in 1986, focusing on historical reactions to Darwinism.[12] During this time he wrote extensively on Unification theology and taught at the Unification Theological Seminary.[11] Wells was on the Board of Trustees of the Unification Theological Seminary until resigning in 1997 to return to teaching.[13] He also acted as the director of the International Religious Foundation, a Unification Church affiliated organization which sponsors interdenominational conferences.[14][15]

Wells has written on the subject of marriage within the Unification Church [16][17] and has been called a "Unification Church marriage expert" by church sources.[18] Wells defended Unification Church theology against what he said were unfair criticisms made in 1977 by the National Council of Churches.[19]

In 1994 Wells earned another PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley.[12] After receiving his doctorate, he worked at a position he described as "a post-doctoral research biologist at Berkeley, writing articles critical of Darwinism.”[20] Shortly after that Wells joined former UC Berkeley law professor Phillip E. Johnson, father of the intelligent design movement, at the Discovery Institute.[11] He now serves as a fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture,[21] hub of the intelligent design movement, and at the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design,[22] which also promotes intelligent design.[23]

Opposition to evolution

Of his student days at Unification Theological Seminary (1976–78), Wells said, "One of the things that Father [Reverend Sun Myung Moon] advised us to do at UTS was to pray to seek God's plan for our lives." He later described that plan: "To defend and articulate Unification theology especially in relation to Darwinian evolution."[24]

Wells stated that his religious doctoral studies at Yale, which were paid for by the Unification Church,[25] focused on the "root of the conflict between Darwinian evolution and Christian doctrine" and encompassed the whole of Christian theology within a focus of Darwinian controversies. He said:

I learned (to my surprise) that biblical chronology played almost no role in the 19th-century controversies, since most theologians had already accepted geological evidence for the age of the earth and re-interpreted the days in Genesis as long periods of time. Instead, the central issue was design."[26]

Wells said that "destroying Darwinism" was his motive for studying Christian theology at Yale and going on to seek his second Ph.D. at Berkeley, studying biology and in particular embryology:

"Father's [Sun Myung Moon'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." --Jonathan Wells, Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D. [3]

He has written articles for the Discovery Institute, WorldNetDaily, Origins & Design, and other sympathetic publications attacking evolution and defending intelligent design.[27] In 1997 he presented a paper entitled "Evolution by Design" at the Unification Church sponsored International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences in Washington D.C..[28]

In 1999 Wells debated with the New Mexicans for Science and Reason.[29] He was one of the contributors to Natural History Magazine's 2002 debate between ID advocates and evolution supporters.[30] In 2005 he debated Massimo Pigliucci on the PBS talk show Uncommon Knowledge.[31] Pigliucci said Wells that "clearly lied" during his debates and misrepresented his agenda and science, as well as not understanding some of the theories he tries to attack.[32][33]

Wells is one of the signatories of the Discovery Institute's "A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism", a controversial petition which the intelligent design movement uses to promote intelligent design by attempting to cast doubt on evolution.[34][35] He is also the author of "Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution" for high school students, which is published by the Discovery Institute.[36] The National Center for Science Education has issued a list of answers to the questions.[36][37][38]

Icons of Evolution

Wells is best known[39] for his 2002 book Icons of Evolution, in which he discusses ten examples which he says show that many of the most commonly accepted arguments supporting evolution are invalid. The book is rejected by the scientific community and has received much criticism.[40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47] There have been 12 detailed reviews of Icons, from scholars familiar with the subject matter, which have come to the consensus that the book's claims are a politically-motivated extreme exaggeration and misrepresentation of a scattering of minor issues.[8] Scholars quoted in the work have accused Wells of purposely misquoting them and misleading readers.[48][49] Biology Professor Jerry Coyne wrote of Icons, "Jonathan Wells' book rests entirely on a flawed syllogism: ... textbooks illustrate evolution with examples; these examples are sometimes presented in incorrect or misleading ways; therefore evolution is a fiction."[6]

Kansas evolution hearings

In 2005, Wells participated in the Kansas evolution hearings, which were boycotted by mainstream scientists. There Wells testified:[50]

I became convinced that the Darwinian theory is false because it conflicts with the evidence...I think the earth is probably four-and-a-half billion or so years old. ... But the truth is I have not looked at the evidence. And I have become increasingly suspicious of the evidence that is presented to me and that's why at this point I would say probably it's four-and-a-half billion years old, but I haven't looked at the evidence...There are already scientists-- respected scientists in this country who do experiments on things that most people consider supernatural, such as prayer. When Newton proposed the theory of gravitation it was dismissed as supernaturalism because it was action at a distance. What constitutes supernaturalism in today's science may very well not be supernatural in tomorrow's science.

Prior to the evolution hearings, in December 2000 after the Pratt County, Kansas school board revised its tenth-grade biology curriculum at the urging of intelligent design proponents to include material that encourages students to question the theory of evolution, the Pratt Tribune published a letter from Jerry Coyne challenging Wells's characterization in an article of his work on peppered moths, saying that his article appended to the Pratt standards was misused and being mischaracterized:[51]

"Creationists such as Jonathan Wells claim that my criticism of these experiments casts strong doubt on Darwinism. But this characterization is false. ... My call for additional research on the moths has been wrongly characterized by creationists as revealing some fatal flaw in the theory of evolution. ... It is a classic creationist tactic (as exemplified in Wells's book, "Icons of Evolution") to assert that healthy scientific debate is really a sign that evolutionists are either committing fraud or buttressing a crumbling theory." -- Jerry Coyne, letter to the editor, Pratt Tribune.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design

In 2006 Wells published his second major book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, which was part of a series published by Regnery Publishing. The book was praised by Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science,[52] but was described by Dr. Reed Cartwright of Panda's Thumb as being "not only politically incorrect but incorrect in most other ways as well: scientifically, logically, historically, legally, academically, and morally."[53] Cartwright also wrote a chapter-by-chapter critique of the book.[53] A quote from the book linking evolution to eugenics, abortion and racism appeared on Starbucks paper cups in 2007.[54]

AIDS denialism

In 1991, Wells and his mentor Phillip E. Johnson signed a petition which said in full:

It is widely believed by the general public that a retrovirus called HIV causes the group of diseases called AIDS. Many biochemical scientists now question this hypothesis. We propose that a thorough reappraisal of the existing evidence for and against this hypothesis be conducted by a suitable independent group. We further propose that critical epidemiological studies be devised and undertaken.[55][56][57]

Wells and Johnson have been criticized, along with others, for their questioning of the scientific and medical consensus that HIV causes AIDS.[57] In the Washington University Law Quarterly, critics Matthew J. Brauer, Barbara Forrest, and Steven G. Gey faulted Wells, Johnson, and others for denying the HIV/AIDS connection and promoting denialism via a petition designed to garner publicity but without any scientific support.[58]


Articles in peer-reviewed journals



  1. ^ Wells J (2004). "Using Intelligent Design Theory to Guide Scientific Research" (PDF). Intelligent Design Undergraduate Research Center. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  2. ^ "Icon 4 — Haeckel's Embryos". National Center for Science Education. November 23, 2006. Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  3. ^ a b c Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D. Jonathan Wells. The Words of the Wells Family
  4. ^ a b "As I stated earlier, Johnson, Dembski, and their associates have assumed the task of destroying 'Darwinism,' 'evolutionary naturalism,' 'scientific materialism,' 'methodological naturalism,' 'philosophical naturalism,' and other 'isms' they use as synonyms for evolution." Barbara Forrest’s Letter to Simon Blackburn Barbara Forrest. March 2000. Quoted in Rebuttal to Reports by Opposing Expert Witnesses William A. Dembski. May 14, 2005
  5. ^ a b "Biological evolution is the theory that all living things are modified descendants of a common ancestor that lived in the distant past. It claims that you and I are descendants of ape-like ancestors, and that they in turn came from still more primitive animals...much of what we teach about evolution is wrong. This fact raises troubling questions about the status of Darwinian evolution. If the icons of evolution are supposed to be our best evidence for Darwin's theory, and all of them are false or misleading, what does that tell us about the theory? Is it science, or myth?" --Jonathan Wells, Introduction, Icons of Evolution
  6. ^ a b c Creationism by Stealth Jerry Coyne. Answers In Science, Tufts University.
  7. ^ "Several of them grossly exaggerate or distort the truth, while others are patently false. Yet they are found year after year in almost all textbooks dealing with evolutionary theory, and they invariably accompany other material promoting that theory. When someone points out that the textbook examples misrepresent the facts, Darwinists don’t rush to correct them. Instead, they rush to defend them." "Critics Rave Over Icons of Evolution: A Response to Published Reviews", Jonathan Wells, June 12, 2002, posted at Discovery Institute website. Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  8. ^ a b Creationism's Trojan Horse, Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, p 98. Reviews specifically cited include those by David Ussery, Massimo Pigliucci, Kevin Padian and Alan Gishlick.
  9. ^ "In order to advance his thesis, Wells has to convey the idea that "Darwinism" pits itself against traditional Christianity: to allow pupils to learn it is to give them up to atheism, decadence, liberalism and to lose the culture war. Note that Wells does not wage war against evolution. In fact, he is at pains to make it (somewhat) clear that he wages war against "Darwinism", which in context might sound like the sort of thing any sensible Christian would want to guard against. Unfortunately, Wells isn’t exactly clear what he means by Darwinism as opposed to evolution. Easily, one of the prominent faults of Wells’s screed is a pervasive confusion between terms. Words, like "Darwinism" and "Traditional Christianity", seem to mean whatever Wells wants them to mean for that specific sentence. In many cases words are used without regard for his own stated definitions and usually without regard to usage elsewhere in his book. There are several possible reasons for this confusion in terms. First, Wells confusion may be by design. I have argued elsewhere that creationists intend to confuse their audiences when they argue. Second, if you review the acknowledgements page, you’ll read how Wells used many authors to help him prepare this text. It is possible that Wells’s editorship was so insufficient that he allowed a term that makes up part of the book’s very title to have a flexible meaning. My suspicion is that there was both disparity between the understanding of key terms by different authors as well as an intention to confuse." Humburg, Burt (August 26, 2006). "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design Review: Why Should Words Have Meanings? (Chapter 1)". The Panda's Thumb. Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  10. ^ Cashill(2005) p174
  11. ^ a b c Wells J (2006). "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design - Jonathan Wells Then". The Discovery Institute. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  12. ^ a b Numbers(2006) p381
  13. ^ Board of Trustees Meeting notes posted at, a Unification Church website
  14. ^ New Hope for Dialogue with National Council of Churches of Christ, Chris Antal, February, 2000 "During his seven years at Yale, Dr. Wells lectured at New ERA conferences and when he graduated, he was asked to take over the directorship of the International Religious Foundation (IRF), the sponsoring organization."
  15. ^ "CULTIVATING FRIENDS REV. MOON HOSTS RELIGIOUS SCHOLARS", Philadelphia Daily News, November 21, 1985
  16. ^ Marriage and the Family: The Unification Church Blessing
  17. ^ True Subject and Object, Not Men and Women, Unification News, September 1994, 'They disagree with author Jonathan Wells' statement that "subject and object positions and masculine and feminine positions can be interchanged, and often are interchanged." The Quinns further disagree with Mr. Wells' comment that "there is no relationship that is static in the sense of one position always being subordinate to the other position."'
  18. ^ Unificationist Photos from 1997 and 1998
  19. ^ New Hope for Dialogue with National Council of Churches of Christ, Chris Antal, February, 2000
  20. ^ "Why I Went for a Second PhD". 1996. Retrieved 2007-08-10. "I have taught embryology at a state college and am now a post-doctoral research biologist at Berkeley, writing articles critical of Darwinism." 
  21. ^ Biography, Jonathan Wells Discovery Institute
  22. ^ ISCID Fellows
  23. ^ Intelligent Design and Peer Review American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  24. ^ Dr. Jonathan Wells Returns to UTS Cornerstone, 1997.
  25. ^ Know Your Creationists, Daily Kos
  26. ^ Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D - Jonathan Wells, from
  27. ^ List of articles by Jonathan Wells, Discovery Institute
  28. ^ Evolution by Design
  29. ^ "New Mexicans for Science and Reason debate Jonathan Wells". New Mexicans for Science and Reason. Vol. 5, No. 4, April 1999. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  30. ^ Intelligent Design?, Natural History magazine
  31. ^ "Evolution and Intelligent Design: Pigliucci vs Wells". Uncommon Knowledge. January 14, 2005. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  32. ^ Massimo Pigliucci. Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science (Sinauer, 2002): ISBN 0878936599 page 44-45
  33. ^ Pennock RT (2003). "Creationism and intelligent design" (PDF). Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet 4: 143–63. doi:10.1146/annurev.genom.4.070802.110400. PMID 14527300. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  34. ^ Kenneth Chang (2006-02-21). "Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  35. ^ "Signatories of 'A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism'" (PDF). The Discovery Institute. April 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  36. ^ a b "10 Questions, and Answers, About Evolution". New York Times. August 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  37. ^ "A Teacher on the Front Line". National Center for Science Education. August 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-06. 
  38. ^ Alan Gishlick (2001-11-28). "NCSE Resource". Responses to Jonathan Wells's Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher. National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  39. ^ Scientist Exposes Evolution’s Weaknesses in Politically Incorrect Book About Darwinism and Intelligent Design Discovery Institute, August 2, 2006
  40. ^ Alan D. Gishlick, Kevin Padian (March 2002 vol. 77, no. 1). The Talented Mr. Wells. Quarterly Review of Biology. doi:10.1086/339201. 
  41. ^ Coyne, Jerry (410, (2001) 745-46). "Creationism by Stealth". Nature. Retrieved 2006-12-24. 
  42. ^ Icon of Evolution? Why much of what Jonathan Wells writes about evolution is wrong by Alan D. Gishlick (PDF here)
  43. ^ Icon of Obfuscation by Nick Matzke
  44. ^ Scott, Eugenie (June 2001: Vol. 292. no. 5525, pp. 2257 - 2258). "Fatally Flawed Iconoclasm: A review by Eugenie C. Scott". Science. Retrieved 2007-05-17. 
  45. ^ Massimo Pigliucci. Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science. (Sinauer, 2002): ISBN 0878936599 page 252-264
  46. ^ Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. 2004, page 105
  47. ^ Richard Weisenberg, "Challenging ideas against teaching of evolution," Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday, December 16, 2000 Page: A16 Edition: D Section: EDITORIAL
  48. ^ Quoting Dr Bruce Grant, Professor of Biology at College of William and Mary: "But should we blame Ms Rider for her outrage upon learning that moths were glued to trees? No. Instead I blame Dr Wells, who wrote the article she cites as her source of information. While he has done no work on industrial mechanism, he has written [an] opinion about tht work. To one outside the field, he passes as a scholar, complete with Ph.D. Unfortunately, Dr Wells is intellectually dishonest. . . . He lavishly dresses his essays in quotations from experts (including some from me) which are generally taken out of context, and he systematically omits relevant details to make our conclusions seem ill founded, flawed, or fraudulent." in Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. 2004, page 111
  49. ^ Quoting University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne: "Creationists such as Jonathan Wells claim that my criticism of these experiments casts strong doubt on Darwinism. But this characterization is false. ... My call for additional research on the moths has been wrongly characterized by creationists as revealing some fatal flaw in the theory of evolution. ... It is a classic creationist tactic (as exemplified in Wells's book, "Icons of Evolution") to assert that healthy scientific debate is really a sign that evolutionists are either committing fraud or buttressing a crumbling theory." Letter to the editor Jerry Coyne. Pratt Tribune. December 0200. Also available from the Pratt Tribune's pay archive.
  50. ^ Wells testimony Kansas evolution hearings.
  51. ^ Letter to the editor Jerry Coyne. Pratt Tribune. December 200. Also available from the Pratt Tribune's pay archive.
  52. ^ 'Politically Incorrect' Series Takes on Darwinism and Intelligent Design
  53. ^ a b "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design Review". Panda's Thumb. August 19, 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-04. 
  54. ^ Rosen, Rebecca (2007-05-16). "Starbucks stirs things up with controversial quotes". Denver Post. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  55. ^ The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis
  56. ^ "Undercover at the Discovery Institute". Seattlest. September 8, 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  Wells' "personal peculiarities include membership in the Moonies and support for AIDS reappraisal - the theory that the HIV is not the primary cause of AIDS"
  57. ^ a b "Aids 'denialism' gathers strange bedfellows". Vancouver Sun. June 17, 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  58. ^ Brauer, Matthew J.; Barbara Forrest; Steven G. Gey (2005). "Is It Science Yet?: Intelligent Design Creationism And The Constitution" (PDF). Washington University Law Quarterly 83 (1): 1–149. Retrieved 2009-06-23. "(p.79–80)" 

See also

  • Unification Church and science


  • Numbers, Ronald (November 30, 2006). The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674023390. 
  • Cashill, Jack (November June 14, 2005). Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 1595550119. 

External links

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