A Review of Zombie Science: Is Darwinism Dead?

By Sean McDowell Published on May 7, 2017

With the release of his 2000 book Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells became one of the leading critics of Darwinian evolution. Unlike some detractors, Dr. Wells has impeccable credentials — with Ph.Ds. in molecular and cell biology from U.C. Berkeley and religious studies from Yale.

Last week he released a new book that is just as controversial (and frankly, just as fun), called Zombie Science: More Icons of Evolution. He begins the book with a story about the so-called “war on eggs,” in which the U.S. government promoted the idea that eggs raise cholesterol and are thus unhealthy.

There is only one problem with this narrative — It’s false. That’s right, the science simply doesn’t support the claim that eggs are bad for you. In fact, it’s just the opposite! In 2015, the U.S. government finally backed off.

What do we conclude from this? According to Dr. Wells, “Obviously, we cannot always trust what ‘science says,’ and an endorsement by the government doesn’t make it any more trustworthy. In fact, we are told many things by ‘science’ that are not true.”

What is Zombie Science?

The premise of Zombie Science is that something similar is going on in the question of human origins. Rather than following the evidence wherever it leads, says Wells, many scientists are committed to methodological naturalism, the view that science is limited to materialistic explanations. (Materialism is the view that nothing exists except matter and energy, there is no God involved in nature in any way.)

Wells is careful to say he is not calling certain people zombies, but rather that some things used as examples to prove Darwinism seem to live on even after science has shown these examples to be dead — hence his use of the title “zombies.”

In Icons, Wells argued that some of the most common examples for Darwinian evolution misrepresent the evidence. In Zombie Science, Wells updates his criticism. He shows that the same examples keep showing up in textbooks, even though it’s been known for decades that they don’t match up with the evidence.

Could These ‘Zombies’ Be Simple Mistakes?

If these icons were innocent mistakes, then biologists would have eagerly corrected them, right? Since they persist, says Wells, there must be something else besides the evidence that keeps them “alive.”

Publishers could possibly be forgiven if this was the only mistake.

For instance, Darwin considered embryological development the best evidence for his theory. He cited drawings from the German Biologist Ernst Haeckel, which allegedly reveal how the development of various vertebrate animals mirrors the larger evolutionary story of common descent. Yet it has been known since at least 1997 that the Haeckel’s drawings were cherry-picked, inaccurate and fake. In fact, Wells concludes, “The real issue is that Haeckel’s drawings omitted half of the evidence — the half that doesn’t fit Darwin’s claim that embryos are most similar in their early stages” (58).

Nonetheless, Haeckel’s drawings continue to appear in textbooks published after 2000, such as Donald Prothero’s 2013 textbook Bringing Fossils to Life. And the 2016 textbook Biology, by Mader and Windelspecht, uses re-drawn versions of Haeckel’s embryos that make the same (mistaken) point.

Publishers could possibly be forgiven if this was the only mistake. But as Wells indicates, similar misrepresentations continue for other “icons” including the Miller-Urey experiment, Archaeopteryx, peppered moths, Darwin’s finches and more. Like zombies, these “evidences” simply won’t die.

Dead Flies and Horses

One of the most interesting sections of the book was the discussion of epigenetics. Broadly speaking, epigenetics refers to the various factors involved in development, including genetics.

In the 20th century, the dominant view of biology was that evolution proceeded genetically from DNA to RNA to proteins to us. As a result, evolution could advance through genetic mutations that accumulate over time.

But according to Dr. Wells, there are significant carriers of information beyond DNA sequences. Biological membranes are one example. In other words, the claim that the genome carries all the information necessary to build an organism is false. As a result, mutations or changes in DNA alone are not enough to build new function and form. Wells concludes:

All of the evidence points to one conclusion: No matter what we do to the DNA of a fruit fly embryo, there are only three possible outcomes: a normal fruit fly, a defective fruit fly, or a dead fruit fly. Not even a horse fly, much less a horse. (94)

Is Darwinism Dead?

Wells also offers critiques for newer “icons,” such as whale evolution, antibiotic resistance, vestigial structures such as human tailbones and the appendix, and the evolution of the human eye. And he pulls no punches. He believes that materialism corrupts both science and religion.

Towards the end of the book, Wells makes a bold prediction:

Today, evolutionary theory is like spring ice. It still covers the lake, and to many people it still looks solid. But it’s honeycombed with melt-water. It can no longer carry the weight it once did. Summer is on the way.

You may agree with Dr. Wells. Or you may think he’s mistaken. But a book with as cool of a title as Zombie Science at least deserves a fair reading.


Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

Originally appeared at seanmcdowell.org. Reprinted with permission.

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