Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A Dishonest Intelligent Design Proponent?

Most IDiots are ignorant about evolution and they let their religious biases interfere with the proper interpretation of scientific data. We excuse their mistakes on the grounds that they don't know any better.

However, some IDiots clearly should know better. They have advanced degrees in relevant fields and they have received considerable feedback on the claims they post or the books they write. We know they have read the critiques so when they persist in repeating falsehoods, there must be another explanation. They must be lying.

Jonathan Wells has a Ph.D. in molecular biology. He has posted numerous articles about junk DNA and he was written a book on the subject (The Myth of Junk DNA). Lots of people have made comments about his blog posts and his book has been widely critiqued. Many of his claims have been shown to be false.

So what do we make of his recent post on Evolution News & Views) (sic) entitled Why All the Fuss Over Some Junk?. We are forced to conclude that Wells is dishonest. Perhaps with the caveat expressed by Peter Medawar many years ago in his review of Père Teihard's The Phenomenon of Man.
Yet the greatest part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that he has taken great pains to deceive himself.
PZ Myers has already written about the extraordinary stupidity of what Wells posted a few weeks ago. Read it at: Jonathan Wells talks about history.

Let's take a second look. Wells says ..
Some historical context might help. After James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA in 1953, Crick announced that they had found "the secret of life," a popular formulation of which became "DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us." But biologists discovered that about 98% of our DNA does not code for protein, and in 1972 Susumu Ohno and David Comings independently used the term "junk" to refer to non-protein-coding DNA (though neither man excluded the possibility that some of it might turn out to be functional).
Many people have explained why Wells is wrong about the history of junk DNA. It has nothing to do with Wells' mangled version of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology because we knew in the 1960s that lots of functional DNA didn't encode proteins. His history is factually incorrect.
Why didn't biologists simply call non-protein-coding sequences "DNA of unknown function" rather than "junk DNA?" For some, it was because "junk DNA" seemed more suited to the defense of Darwinism and survival of the fittest. In 1976, Richard Dawkins wrote in The Selfish Gene that "the true 'purpose' of DNA is to survive, no more and no less. The simplest way to explain the surplus [i.e., non-protein-coding] DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite, or at best a harmless but useless passenger, hitching a ride in the survival machines created by the other DNA."
Wells has been told that this is wrong. There was positive evidence that a lots of DNA was junk (e.g. pseudogenes, genetic load, Cot analysis, C-value paradox). Furthermore, true Darwinists, including Richard Dawkins, wanted the extra DNA to have a function. That's why the idea of selfish DNA (functional transposons) was so appealing to that group. Even today, most of us don't count active transposons as junk.
Dawkins continued to rely on junk DNA in his 2009 book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. "It is a remarkable fact," he wrote, "that the greater part (95 per cent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well not be there, for all the difference it makes." In particular, pseudogenes "are genes that once did something useful but have now been sidelined and are never transcribed or translated." Dawkins concluded: "What pseudogenes are useful for is embarrassing creationists. It stretches even their creative ingenuity to make up a convincing reason why an intelligent designer should have created a pseudogene... unless he was deliberately setting out to fool us."

But if most of our DNA is functional, as the ENCODE results suggest, then the "junk DNA" argument against ID collapses.
Wells knows full well that the presence of pseudogenes at the same loci in different species is a powerful argument for common descent and also a difficult challenge for creationists. In fact, Wells is so sensitive to this argument that he put into his book an appendix on The Vitamin C Pseudogene here he argued, among other things, that the pseudogene might be functional.

Wells must understand that the ENCODE results say nothing about the function of these sorts of pseudogenes and that the pseudogene argument is quite separate from the argument about the amount of junk in our genome. He know all this but he still posts nonsense.

Contrast this behavior with that of Jonathan McLatchie [An Honest Intelligent Design Proponent?].


  1. I thought Wells' degree was in classical embryology. Was it really MolBio?

    1. I am not sure what department he was in, but his dissertation was in development (as I recall maybe on Xenopus early stages). From a member of his committee as told to me, it was not a very distinguished job, but it got him through and he never mentioned that he was sent there by the Rev. Moon, who apparently paid for him while he was at Berkeley.

    2. I should have looked this up before posting. A good account by Padian is at:


    3. Jonathan Wells was a PhD student in the lab of John Gerhart in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Berkeley in the mid 90's. He published two papers from his PhD, both as middle authors (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Wells%20Gerhart). It could (and has) been argued that the primary goal for Jonathan at UC Berkeley was to obtain a PhD in biological science related field... and use the degree as a sword of "credibility" to fight mainstream science, rather than he taking the great opportunity offered to him by John Gerhart and others to actually expand his knowledge in biology. John Gerhart and his long term friend and colleague, Marc Kirschner (who was my PhD supervisor) have written several books in evolutionary biology, including "The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma" and "Cells, Embryos, and Evolution: Toward a Cellular and Developmental Understanding of Phenotypic Variation and Evolutionary Adaptability". Too bad Jonathan Wells did not take the opportunity to actually learn something during his PhD.

    4. @Enrique Amaya,

      I see that you were with Kirschner at UCSF. We probably have many friends in common including Bruce Alberts and Keith Yamamoto. I knew Marc when he was at Princeton.

      BTW, I don't agree with Gerhart and Kirschner's take on evo-devo but let's have that debate another time.

  2. On his behalf I offer the plea of NOT GUILTY!
    Why could he not be incompetent or unsmart before a no-good-nick in character??

    he makes his case and expects to persuade people and be rewarded for a sharp investigation!
    There are conspiracy's but not is these matters.

    If he's wrong just take him on!
    I always presume sincere convictions rule in these issues for those who place their intelligence on the line in making out a case.
    These are quite famous people who most likely will get more famous as time goes on.
    We are in a historic revolution/rebellion in origin subjects that is unlike other areas of "science".
    The whole world is watching this and knows there is a chance for a great fall in old ideas.
    Once again!

    1. It's difficult to argue "not guilty" when Wells keeps repeating falsehoods even after he has been corrected.

    2. It's so unlikely that he is making a wilfull falsehood!
      He surely thinks he's making a good point!
      He expects to persuade and be seen by his fellow creationists and everyone as a insightful thinker on these things.
      In origin subjects or everything people not agreeing always makes everyone frustrated but its usually just human nature or error that is the culprit!
      I get frustrated and suspicious but things written in public by people who expect to persuade is usually coming from sincere opinion.
      Just defending my gang(s) buthuman error is a study in itself.

  3. IMHO it doesn't matter if Wells' degree is in embryology or in molecuar biology. With a PhD in any field of biology he should have learned how science works, how to find, read and properly cite relevant references and what integrity and honesty mean for science. Starting from religion based premises, cherry picking and quote mining the literature Wells is not only denying the exisance of junk DNA but he indeed is undermining biological sciences in their intirety. All he has published since he finished his PhD must be a slap in the faces of his supervisors.

  4. Dear Prof Moran

    Have you actually read Jonathan Wells's book? Stephen Meyer's book? Michael Behe's book? You say here that Jonathan Wells has been found out lying? That is all good and fair but can you cite these sources? I mean I can also go around and call Prof Larry Moran a big fat liar without substantiating my claim and that is not exactly fair to you now is it?

    Lastly have you noticed you're trying the age old divide and conquer tactic with your two recent posts?



    1. Indeed he has read Wells' book and points out the flaws in a series of posts. The last one, links to all the others:

    2. So Prof Moran and the usual suspects read it and they dispute it and that makes them right? Right?

      Just like 440 Encode scientists are all wrong because Pro Moran said so! I did not see Richard Dawkins dispute it so who to believe?

    3. @Andre Gross,

      In some cases there really is a right answer while in other cases there's a genuine scientific controversy. I'm happy to debate the questions that are really controversial but when the correct answer is known, I expect people to 'fess up and admit that they slipped up.

    4. Dear Andre,

      There is a little box/field at the top of this blogs that is labeled with a magnifying glass. If you type "jonathan wells" in it, then hit "enter," it will produce blog entries where this famous IDiot (Wells, of course) is mentioned. Browse through that and you will find some reviews, at least one is chapter-by-chapter, of at least two books written by Jonathan Wells. (Since I don't give a damn about Jonathan's pile of crap I did not browse much more.)

    5. Andre: Many people would refuse to discuss such stuff at all lest it be dignified. I think the ID camp ought to be grateful to Prof. Moran for devoting so much time and effort to read and review those books. They would also do well to familiarise themselves with the reviews and the instructive critique therein.

    6. Have you?

      And what is your background such that you are able to discern whether or not THEY were accurately portraying what they wrote about?

    7. anonymous,

      Since you obviously don't accept the theory of evolution, will you describe in detail what you think is responsible for the diversity of life and what your background is that enables you to discern that the theory of evolution is wrong and that your beliefs are correct?

    8. andre gross said:

      "Just like 440 Encode scientists are all wrong because Pro Moran said so!"

      You obviously haven't been paying attention. Larry didn't say that 440 Encode scientists are wrong. He said that the ones who are claiming the Encode studies show that most or all 'junk' DNA is functional are wrong. Some of the Encode scientists have stated that the Encode studies do not support the claim that most or all 'junk' DNA is functional.

  5. Perhaps one could also suggest Prof Moran is dishonest looking at Johnathan M's comment here > http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2012/10/an-honest-intelligent-design-proponent.html#comment-form


    1. Anonymous, very true. Larry really does need to respond to that comment John M made, because it seems to catch him in a glaring contradiction.

      I am sure he will, and I hope soon.

    2. Andy: Larry really does need to respond to that comment John M made, because it seems to catch him in a glaring contradiction.

      Are you suggesting that when scientists are caught in glaring contradictions, or when they are proven wrong, or when they don’t know how to answer a question, they should just pretend that the contradictions or the inconvenient questions do not exist?

    3. Claudiu, I'm sorry. I don't understand your question.
      Could you perhaps reword it or further explain it?

  6. To those of you who ask if Larry if has "read the book", I ask this question: How many of the thousands of books on evolution have you read? How many of the hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles? Why do we always have to "read your book" (or in the case of Expelled, see your movie)? When you have done some real work, please let us know - and please start with research, not blogs, books or movies.

  7. Matt G: Are you offering to fund the lab and work? With that aside, it seems to be a reasonable question to ask a critic if he or she had read, seen, etc, what is being critiqued. That question hardly requires that you to read every book, blog, or movie that is suggested, or even the work in question.

    1. ID has added NOTHING to our knowledge or understanding of biology. No book which defends ID has ever added anything because there is nothing to add. Normally I would agree that one should read a book before critiquing it, but not in the case of ID or any other pseudoscience. Reworking BS just gives more BS. If you have something to say, say it with evidence, not sophistry. There are legitimate disagreements in biology, but ID is not one of them.

      I'm reminded of the early days of ID. The Templeton Foundation got wind of ID and made money available for ID research. They received ZERO applications! ID supporters have NEVER come up with a testable hypothesis, so what would ID "research" look like?

    2. Matt G: "so what would ID "research" look like?"

      That is a fair question and is certainly a problem that the ID community needs to address in order to have credence within the scientific community. It may be, by definition, that ID is not actually testable except by inference.

  8. @Anonymous ID is not actually testable except by inference

    And today's special is ... word salad.

    Using inferential methods means that you know or assume that your premises are valid.

    And of course the premises of ID have no supporting evidence and in fact a plethora of evidence to the contrary. That's assuming you can get an IDiot to actually state what the premises are other than arguments from ignorance and personal credulity. Once in a while you'll find one that's honest enough to admit that it all boils down to god (and in that case it's always the god that that particular IDiot was indoctrinated in) did it but those are few and far between.

    And while we are at it, just where are the therapies and treatments from ID based research ? Given ongoing IDiot predictions of the demise of Darwinian evolution you'd think that there would be a non stop stream of technical advances coming out of IDiot laboratories and research centers. I mean, just based on ground breaking IDiot work in the junk DNA area we should be seeing a cure for cancer and old age.