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Whose head is ugly?
Jonathan Wells and Lysenkoism
By Mark Perakh
Posted August 24, 2006
This review is a part of a set of reviews, each discussing
individual chapters of Jonathan Wells's new book.
Perhaps the readers of this article have heard about
Jonathan Wells -- the author of an earlier book  attacking textbooks of
biology for allegedly propagating fraudulent arguments favoring the evolution
theory. As Wells himself explained (see
) he went to study biology at the behest of his spiritual "father"
the Reverend Sun-Myung Moon, with an explicit goal to devote his life to "destroying
Everybody is entitled to choose the direction of one's life
and if Wells wants to destroy this or that scientific theory which, he
believes, contradicts his religious preferences, it is his business. However, if, as he admits, he set out to
destroy "Darwinism" before having sufficiently familiarized himself
with its tenets, this immediately points to his lack of impartiality when
dealing with "Darwinism." Wells's goal was not to evaluate "Darwinism"
on its merits, but to search for any arguments, regardless of their merits,
which would serve his goal set in advance. This alone is a strong warning to
the consumers of Wells's literary output: take Wells's arguments with a good
dose of salt; he is not an unbiased judge of evidence, but a partisan of an
anti-evolution effort whose goal is not to find the truth but to prove his
viewpoint regardless of means.
Indeed, Wells's earlier book Icons of Evolution, highly acclaimed by intelligent design
advocates, was shown by professional biologists to be full of errors,
misrepresentations, and deliberate distortions of facts (see, for example 
The critique by experts does not seem to affect Wells. No
wonder -- for, if, as he admitted himself, his intention was to "destroy"
"Darwinism even before he had studied the evolutionary theory, no
counter-arguments, however strongly substantiated, could have any effect on his
views rooted in his religious emotions.
Indeed, recently a new book by Wells hit the shelves of book
stores. It is titled Politically
Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Regnery Publishing,
2006). It is part of a series of the so called PIG books (the acronym which
stands for Politically Incorrect Guides).
I'll address in this article chapter 16 in Well's new book.
Its title is "American
In a box on the margin of that chapter Wells writes: "Lysenkoism
is now rearing its ugly head in the US, as Darwinists use their government positions
to destroy the careers of their critics."
Really? Readers having even a minimal knowledge of the
actual situation immediately see that no reasonable discourse can be expected
from a writer so brazenly misrepresenting the reality. Which "government
positions" does Wells have in mind? Are "Darwinists" holding all
(or most) positions in the present Republican administration? Are they in command of the Congress?
Perhaps Wells wanted to really say that "Darwinists"
occupy many positions of authority in universities. This is certainly true. By
the same token the "Newtonists," and "Einsteinists," and "Maxwellists,"
and "Boltzmannists" occupy positions of authority in universities as
well, while Wells would perhaps like to see "Moonists" in such positions
If indeed "Darwinists" (Wells's term for
evolutionary biologists) are predominant in biological science, it is for good
reasons: evolutionary biology is a robust science whose fruits are proven to be
of great use in technology, medicine, agriculture, and in many other fields. On
the other hand Wells's co-travelers (the intelligent design advocates) have yet
to show any, even very modest, contribution to genuine science. Why should they
get any position of authority anywhere besides their own outlets such as the
infamous Center of Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute of
Seattle? Despite the abject lack of any
positive contribution to the society from that Center, which "Darwinists"
have ever "destroyed careers" of its fellows, such as Wells? Wells and his colleagues in the
anti-evolution enterprise thrive despite their destructive activity aimed at "destroying"
biological science. They receive good salaries and grants, travel all over the
globe assaulting biological science, and often also occupy positions in
legitimate universities despite the egregious lack of substance in their
favorite "intelligent design theory." This is still a free country, and there is no alleged nefarious
activity by scientists aimed at muzzling the ID advocates, who are free to
spread the nonsense like that suggested by Wells, along with the proponents of
the "flat earth theory," or of astrology, or of geomancy, palm
reading, "creation science," and all other fads and fallacies which
usually are much more popular than the genuine science.
There is indeed an "ugly head rearing in the US"
and it is that of the "intelligent design theory."
I shall discuss now specific notions in Wells's screed used
by Wells to mislead his readers. The chapter in question deals with the alleged
manifestations of "Lysenkoism" in the US. This term stems from the
sad story of the destruction of the thriving biological science in the USSR
under the guidance of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, which took place starting in
the late twenties of the 20th century and ended in the seventies. Lysenko
was a poorly educated agrobiologist who was very savvy politically. For decades
he managed to get an unconditional support from the tyrannical ruler of the
USSR, Joseph Stalin, and later from Nikita Khrushchev. He used his power to indeed "destroy
the careers" of many scientists who either held views differing from those
of Lysenko, or just earned his hostility for arbitrary reasons. "Destroying"
careers often extended to arrests and exiles of Lysenko's victims, sometimes to
killing them, and as a minimum depriving them of their jobs and of any means to
conduct their research. Wells wants his
readers to believe that the "Darwinists" allegedly occupying "government
positions" in the USA treat the critics of "Darwinism" the same
way Lysenko treated the biologists in the USSR. Of course, Wells cannot support
such an assertion by any factual evidence, therefore he resorts to a rather
transparent shenanigans to somehow "prove" his point. He uses several
means to achieve his goals, including misquotations, and sometimes bold lies.
Here is an example. Wells refers to my essay  wherein I
described my personal experience regarding the "Lysenkoism" in the
My essay in question is a part of an article co-authored by
Wesley R. Elsberry and myself. The article consists of two separate parts: a
part written by Elsberry and a part written by myself. While I do not wish to appear promoting my
own essay, readers who really want to know what was written there rather than
to rely on Wells's misrepresentation (which I'll demonstrate a few lines down)
can easily verify my words by looking up my essay. It can be seen either in an
HTML version  or in a PDF version .
Wells provides a quotation from my essay. It is given by
Wells in a rather peculiar form, amounting to a deliberate distortion of my
Here is how Wells quotes from my essay:
Retired physicist Mark Perakh, who grew
up in the former Soviet Union, writes: "The
anti-Lysenkoist stand of the ID advocates is... ludicrous given the similarity
of their denial of Darwinian biology to the denial of the neo-Darwinian
synthesis by the Lysenkoists." Perakh continues :" From my experience
both with Marxism and with the realities of the Soviet system, I can assert
that... it is ID advocates whose behavior is reminiscent of the oppressive
Soviet regime" since they subject Darwinists to "continuous
denunciations, verbal assaults, derision, and ultimately to dismissal from
A brief look at the actual text of my essay immediately
reveals that the alleged quotation has been constructed by Wells by means of some
- He transposed
various sentences from my essay, placing those that occur somewhere later in
the text, ahead of some other that in fact occur earlier in the text;
- he used ellipsis in several cases, apparently to hide from
readers the exact wording of my essay;
- he combined partial quotes taken from different parts of
my essay in an allegedly single sentence thus fraudulently attributing to me
something I did not say.
Here are some details.
The sentence in the
above quotation, starting with the words "The anti-Lysenkoist stand...." and ending with the words "...synthesis by Lysenkoists"
occurs in my text several pages later
than the sentence starting with the words "From my experience both..."
and ending with the words "oppressive
Soviet regime." Wells has
transposed these two sentences, placing a sentence that occurs much later in
the text, ahead of a sentence, which in fact precedes it by several pages. He
inserts the words "Perakh continues" thus exacerbating his distortion
by falsely asserting the order in which my sentences appear, opposite to their
actual order of appearance. This way he creates a false impression that the
latter sentence is a continuation of the former (which it is not). The insertion
by Wells of his own words "Perakh continues" is a testimony to Wells's
intentionally contrived misleading of readers.
Since both sentences are nevertheless indeed present (in an
opposite order) in my text, some readers may try to justify Well's "creative
quoting" by pointing out that this is a minor infraction not affecting the
gist of his argument. Perhaps this is indeed a minor point, but being contrary
to the common rules or proper quotations, it is indicative of the overall doubtful
reliability of Wells's quotation habits, where the strict adherence to facts is
not of paramount importance.
I will not discuss here the parts of my actual text replaced
by Wells with ellipsis, but will rather point out now to a really egregious
example of quote mining by Wells, which amounts to a direct fraud. Here is how
Wells quotes from my text:
experience both with Marxism and with the realities of the Soviet system, I can
assert that... it is ID advocates whose behavior is reminiscent of the
oppressive Soviet regime" since they subject Darwinists to "continuous
denunciations, verbal assaults, derision, and ultimately to dismissal from
And here is the actual text in my
experience both with Marxism and with the realities of the Soviet system, I can
assert that in the dispute between the Intelligent Design advocates and their
opponents, including pro-evolution scientists, it is ID advocates whose
behavior is reminiscent of the oppressive Soviet regime."
Comparing Wells's quotation with
the actual text of my essay, we immediately notice that my actual text ends
with the words "Soviet regime" and a period, whereas Wells quotation contains
additionally the words:
they subject Darwinists to ‘continuous denunciations, verbal assaults,
derision, and ultimately to dismissal from their positions.'"
While readers may be confused by
this discrepancy, I'll clarify now how Wells's shenanigan works.
First, the words "since they
subject Darwinists to" are inserted by Wells: they are not part of my text
but belong to Wells himself. As to the rest of the added words, they indeed are
found in my text, but are taken by Wells from a page in my text which is many pages further in the text than the
preceding phrase ending with "Soviet regime." Where these words occur, they relate to a different topic, having
nothing to do with intelligent design advocates. By fraudulently combining
in one sentence two unrelated quotations, plus inserting several words of his
own, Wells misleads readers, apparently aiming to create a false impression
that I accuse ID advocates of subjecting "Darwinists" to "dismissal
from their positions." In fact the second quoted phrase describes not the
behavior of ID advocates, but rather the behavior of the Soviet authorities at
the time of Lysenko's reign.
Of course ID advocates do not "subject
evolutionary biologists to dismissal from their position." They certainly
would be happy to do so (see the proof of that statement in my essay [5[) but
their hands fortunately are too short for that. They must limit themselves to
verbal assaults. Misquotation is a
device used when no arguments of substance are available, as is the case of
Wells fighting evolutionary biology.
While Wells's "creative
quoting" is in itself a telltale testimony to the dismal level of his not
quite scrupulously honest discourse, it is just a secondary component of his narration
which is substandard all over.
One of Wells's theses is his
asseverations that, first, "Darwinism" includes elements of
Lamarckism, and, second, that Lysenko's pseudo-biology, officially approved in
the USSR, was "Darwinist" throughout.
With a sufficient desire, it is
always possible to find signs of similarity between any, even drastically
opposite, systems of views. Wells provides a quote from Darwin which, in his
view, is in harmony with Lamarckism.
First of all, although Lamarck's
main ideas have been largely abandoned by biological science, it does not mean
that everything Lamarck believed was necessarily wrong. In fact Lamarck was a
serious scientist (unlike Wells and his friends at the Discovery Institute).
There were positive elements in Lamarck's views, so it is no wonder Darwin, who
worked in the pre-genetics age, could find some elements of Lamarckism to be in
tune with his own views. However, to assert that Darwin's theory of natural
selection is in any way analogous to Lamarckism is absurd. While Well's
interpretation is his privilege, he seems to be not aware of the most principal
difference between the views of Lamarck and Darwin.
The inheritance of acquired characteristics was
considered "common knowledge" in Darwin's time, when there was
yet no knowledge of genetics, of Mendel's work and of any other elements of the
"modern synthesis," which is an important part of biological science
in our time. Darwin did in fact believe that the transmission of acquired
traits could occur, as explicated in his "pangenesis" theory. I
am not sure if he thought it was a significant component of heredity, but he
indeed postulated that the environment could affect changes both at the
"germinal" level and at the "somatic" level, the latter of which would have been "lamarckian" (sensu latu). It
was a secondary point in Darwin's system of views, which had to wait for many
years to be discarded, with the advent of the modern synthesis.
In fact Darwinian theory differed
from Lamarck's in a very principal way, and no cherry-picked quotations by
Wells can prove otherwise.
What differentiated Lamarck's theory of evolution from
Darwin's was that
a) Lamarck believed all species arose and evolved separately
and sequentially, i.e. with no (or very limited) common descent, and b) that
there was a "vital force" that pushed organisms to evolve along
certain lines (very much teleologically). Darwin
certainly disagreed with both, and adhered to the view that evolution is given
"direction" by the action of selection, and not by intrinsic mechanisms.
Regarding the allegedly Darwinian
essence of the Soviet Lysenkoist pseudo-biology, here Wells displays the same
level of ignorance as he demonstrated in his infamous utterance  wherein he compared
evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller to Heinrich Himmler (the notorious Chief
of SS in the Nazi Germany), who, in Wells's uninformed mind, was the chief of
the Nazi propaganda machine (thus confusing Himmler with Goebbels).
Wells seems to be unaware of the
simple facts of history: in the Soviet system, words rarely were used to denote
what their direct meaning implied. Given the expertise of Wells's colleagues in
an Orwellian "newspeak," he should appreciate the virtuosity achieved
by the Soviet doubletalk, in particular in its ostensible adherence to Darwinism.
Yes, Darwinism was acclaimed in the USSR as the officially adopted doctrine, allegedly
the only one compatible with Marxism-Leninism. There was an important nuance, however: the term "Darwinism"
in the USSR was used with a qualifier: "Creative Darwinism," which was in line with the more general
but equally ubiquitous term of "Creative Marxism." The latter term simply
meant the most recent decisions of the Communist Party's leadership, which in
Stalin's time was just Stalin's personal view. Most often it had nothing to do
with the legacy of Marx, or even of Lenin, but whenever Stalin announced his
opinion, it was automatically referred to as the great achievement of the "creative
Marxism-Leninism." The succinct expression asserted that "Marxism is
not a dogma but a manual for action." Likewise, "creative Darwinism"
more often than not had nothing to do with real Darwinian science. Whatever
Lysenko announced as the new achievement was automatically praised as the
further development of "creative Darwinism," for which an alternative
term was "Michurinian biology." . More often than not, it had
nothing in common with the real Darwinism.
Wells seems to be blissfully
unaware of all those facts of history. His assertions that Lysenko was a Darwinist are either naively uninformed
or deliberately misleading.
Wells mentions Lysenko's notorious
experiments with "yarovizatsiya" (i.e. vernalization) of winter
crops, without explaining its relation to "Darwinism" (there was none).
He seems to be unaware of other theories by Lysenko. For example, the
omnipotent Academician fervently propagated his pet theory asserting that there
is no competition for resources within individual species. This idea was radically incompatible with
Darwin's natural selection, although spin experts from the Discovery institute
probably can apply their acrobatic abilities to "prove" that Lysenko's
theory also was Darwinian. (Indeed, they likewise "prove" that Hitler's
racist ideas were based on "Darwinism." Of course, this assertion has
little to do with facts --see, for example  or ). On the basis of his theory
Lysenko recommended to plant fruit trees and other cultured plants in packs, so
that several plants were planted at the same spot in the soil. Since, as
Lysenko claimed, the plants, being members of the same species, will not
compete for food and light, they will actually help each other to grow and
thrive. Khrushchev fell for Lysenko's bait and ordered to follow Lysenko's
recommendation, based on "Marxism-Leninism," according to which
members of the same class in the human society are never antagonistic to each
other, but are united by common interests in the struggle of classes, only the
latter being antagonistic. The result was of course disastrous, as the plants
stubbornly refused to convert to Marxism and competed for resources despite belonging
to the same species and despite the decisions of the "Politburo."
Perhaps Wells simply is not
cognizant of these features of Lysenkoism, in which case he should have abstained
from proclaiming a judgment on Lysenkoism's alleged Darwinian roots.
Isn't this story reminding of the
attitude of the ID advocates like Wells and his colleagues in the ID
enterprise: Like Lysenko, they stubbornly adhere to their views regardless of facts
and evidence (recall Wells's admission that his life is devoted to destroying "Darwinism"
whereas the possibility of evidence being in favor of evolutionary biology is
never mentioned. The word of the Reverend Moon obviously takes precedence for
Wells against all the huge accumulation of empirical material testifying for
Of course, Wells' main thesis is
not that the "ugly head" of Lysenkoism "is rearing in the US"
because evolutionary scientists in any way share Lysenko's views. Such an assertion
would apparently be too much even for Wells. (On the other hand there is indeed
a lot of similarity between Lysenko's pseudo-science and intelligent design.
Lysenkoists rejected the modern synthesis, and ID advocates do likewise. In fact,
apart of Lysenko's atheism and ID advocates' religious affiliations, ID
advocates and Lysenkoists are ideological twins, as both have been fighting the
genuine science and defend their blind beliefs. Lysenkoism is, luckily, already
in the dustbin of history, while ID "theory" is still waiting for its
turn to join Lysenkoism in the only place they both belong in.)
Wells's main thesis is that "Darwinists"
persecute ID advocates and creationists of other variations, like Lysenko
persecuted "Morganists-Mendelists-Weissmanists" in the USSR. Indeed?
Who among the ID advocates was arrested by "Darwinists," or exiled to
some equivalent of Siberia, or executed in basements of an equivalent of the
KGB? Which "Darwinist authority" in the US has ever ordered to the
entire mass media collectively denounce ID advocates as "enemies of the
people," as the media in the USSR did day in and day out?
Whether Wells is living in a world of fantasy or consciously
spreading nonsense about "persecution" of opponents of "Darwinism,"
makes little difference. The entire chapter 16 of Wells's PIG book is full of
unsubstantiated assertions aimed at scaring readers with the imaginary power of
"Darwinists" ruthlessly persecuting honest searchers for truth who
dare to doubt "Darwinism." (In
reviews of some other chapters of Well's book the alleged examples of the "persecution"
of ID advocates or of their co-travelers, such as von Sternberg, are shown to
be exaggerated and distorted).
There is little choice but to
assert that the contents of the chapter in question can be properly referred to
In another part of chapter 16,
Wells refers to the exposure  of his rude and tasteless remarks wherein he
said that after meeting evolutionary biologists Kenneth Miller and Lawrence
Krauss, he felt a need to take shower. Of course, for every reasonable reader it is obvious that such
utterances cannot be justified by any excuses. However, instead of apologizing
for his ugly words, Wells attempts to exonerate himself by asserting that his
words were in response to a verbal attack by some "Darwinist."
On page 187 Wells writes: "What
Perakh neglected to mention was that I made the comment only after one of the
Darwinists in the debate had begun with a series of personal attacks on me."
In fact here was indeed somebody
in this case who "neglected" to mention a relevant fact, and this
somebody was Wells himself. What Wells neglected to mention was that he never
provided any actual quotations demonstrating the alleged personal attacks by a "one
of the Darwinists" (whose name he "neglected" to mention). Wells
"neglected" to explain, how Perakh could have not "neglected"
to mention something which was not reported anywhere in sufficient detail
enabling one to judge what in fact did happen. In his post  Wells writes about alleged "personal attack"
upon him by Lawrence Krauss, but "neglects" to specify what exactly
this scientist has said. Moreover, if it was only Lawrence Krauss who allegedly
wounded Well's sensitive soul with some disparaging remarks, why does Wells insult
not only Krauss but also Miller? On the
other hand, Wells's own rude and tasteless attack on the two "Darwinists"
is documented in Wells's own words, which also testify to his ignorance of the
recent history (confusing Himmler with Goebbels). Without the exact quotations from what Miller and Krauss said,
which could be verified and either acknowledged or denied by these two
scientists, we are invited to take Wells's word, not supported by any
citations. However, the experience with
Wells's statements, including those partially discussed in this review, shows
that relying on Wells's word poses a tangible danger of getting led far
Of course, the good news is that,
if we believe his words, Wells takes shower from time to time. This is a
It is hard to avoid pointing out
that, by opening Wells's PIG book, readers will be exposed to a real pigsty.
J. 2000. Icons of evolution: science or
myth?: why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong. Regnery,
 In the
post at http://www.tparents.org/Library/Unification/Talks/Wells/DARWIN.htm
Father'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. (By "father" Wells means the Reverend Sun-Myung Moon).
 Gishlick, Alan D. (No date indicated). "Icons of
Evolution? Why Much of What Jonathan Wells Writes Is Wrong." Posted at http://www.ncseweb.org/icons/index.htm. Accessed on August 20, 2006.
 Tamzek, Nic (Nicholas
Matzke), 2002. "Icons of Obfuscation." In Talk Reason , http://www.talkreason.org/articles/icon.cfm, accessed on August 20, 2006.
 Perakh, Mark, 2004. "Under the Party Thumb." In TalkReason, http://www.talkreason.org/articles/eandp.cfm#per, accessed on August 20, 2006.
Mark. 2004. "Under the Party Thumb". In W.R Eslberry and M. Perakh How the Intelligent Design Advocates Turn
the Sordid Lessons From Soviet and Nazi History Upside Down. (http://www.antievolution.org/people/wre/essays/eandp.pdf). Accessed on Aug. 20, 2006.
 See http://www.creationists.org/20020311OSBEwells.html;
accessed on Aug.20, 2006.
 Flank, Lenny, 2006. "Creationists, Hitler and Evolution."
In Talk Reason, http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Hitler.cfm, accessed on Aug.20.2006.
 Walker, Jim, Hitller's Christianity. http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitler1.htm.
Accessed on Aug.20, 2006.