Sean McDowell | May 4, 2017

A Review of Zombie Science: Is Darwinism Dead?

A Review of Zombie Science: Is Darwinism Dead?

With the release of his 2000 book Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells became one of the leading evolution critics of today. 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 narrative about the so-called “War on eggs,” in which the U.S. government promoted the idea that eggs cause cholesterol and are thus unhealthy.

There is only one problem with this longstanding 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.”[1]

What Is Zombie Science?

The premise of Zombie Science is that there is a similar phenomenon at work in the question of human origins. Rather than following the evidence wherever it leads, says Wells, many scientists are committed to methodological naturalism, which is the view that science is limited to materialistic explanations. Wells is careful to indicate that he is not calling certain people zombies, but rather that there is a persistence to defending materialistic explanations of science even after these examples have been shown to be empirically dead—hence his use of the title “zombies.”

In Icons, Wells analyzed ten of the most common examples for evolution and claims that they misrepresent the evidence. In Zombie Science, Wells updates his criticism, showing that the same examples keep appearing in textbooks, even though many scientists have known for decades that they misrepresent the evidence.

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.”

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 embryological development of various vertebrate animals mirrors the larger evolutionary story of common descent. Yet despite its prominence, it has been known since at least 1997 that the Haeckel’s drawings were cherry-picked, inaccurate, and fake.[2] 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 evidential 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, such as biological membranes, beyond DNA sequences. 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 sufficient 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 tails 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:

[1] Jonathan Wells, Zombie Science (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2016), 16.

[2] In an interview for the journal Science, British embryologist Michael Richardson said, “It looks like it’s turning out to be one of the most famous fakes in biology.” Quoted in Elizabeth Pennisi, “Haeckel’s embryos: Fraud rediscovered,” Science 277 (1997): 1435.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: