Denyse O'Leary asks, "Interestingly, in the “nail dump is Ming vase” story, no one insists that nobody ever thought it was just another piece of junk. They almost always say, “Yes, we thought so but had no idea …” So what’s behind the failure to admit an error in this case?" It's hard to figure out what she means but I think she's wondering why biologists don't just admit they were wrong about junk DNA. Jonathan Wells interprets the question differently.
Some people revise history by claiming that no mainstream biologists ever regarded non-protein-coding DNA as “junk.”It's in the best interests of the IDiots to promote the idea that all "Darwinists" believed in the "myth" of junk DNA and that it wasn't until the predictions of the IDiots were confirmed (not) that the biologists changed their minds.
This claim is easily disproved: Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel published an article in Nature in 1980 (284: 604-607) arguing that such DNA “is little better than junk,” and “it would be folly in such cases to hunt obsessively” for functions in it. Since then, Brown University biologist Kenneth R. Miller, Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins, University of Chicago biologist Jerry A. Coyne, and University of California–Irvine biologist John C. Avise have all argued that most of our DNA is junk, and that this provides evidence for Darwinian evolution and against intelligent design. National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins argued similarly in his widely read 2006 book The Language of God.
It is true that some biologists (such as Thomas Cavalier-Smith and Gabriel Dover) have long been skeptical of “junk DNA” claims, but probably a majority of biologists since 1980 have gone along with the myth. The revisionists are misinformed (or misinforming).
The truth is somewhat different. Wells says, "Some people revise history by claiming that no mainstream biologists ever regarded non-protein-coding DNA as “junk.”" The truth is that the mainstream biologist community never, ever claimed that all non-coding DNA was junk. Most of them didn't even believe that a majority of our genome was junk.
The issue has come up many times over the past few years on blogs and newsgroups. The last time I took a poll was a few years ago and here are the results.
As you can see, there's a wide range of opinion among people who read Sandwalk. I think this is a pretty good reflection of the opinions of most biologists.
In responding to the question, Wells makes one serious error when he claims that biologists promoted junk DNA because it "provides evidence for Darwinian evolution." It does nothing of the sort. In fact, it goes against any prediction of Darwinian evolution by natural selection. The reason why the concept of (huge amounts of) junk DNA was resisted by so many biologists was because of this conflict.
Wells also says that junk DNA was promoted by some biologists because it "provides evidence ... against intelligent design." This is partly true, especially when the arguments center on conserved pseudogenes. That part of junk DNA (pseudogenes) is accepted by almost all biologists but it's only a tiny part of our genome. There is no evidence to suggest that pseudogenes are anything but junk and all the evidence indicates that we have thousands of them in our genome. (If they have a function then they aren't pseudogenes.)
Many mainstream biologists have supported the idea that a majority of our genome is junk. There's no denying that. I agree with them. None of them are changing their minds in spite of what Jonathan Wells is telling you. What Wells is doing is picking sides in a genuine scientific dispute. He could have done this 30 years ago and the result would have been the same. The genuine scientific controversy is not about to be resolved and there's no new evidence that seals the case one way or the other.
In my opinion, our genome is almost 90% junk DNA and that's the view that's going to win in the end.