Explore Evolution The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism

Jonathan Wells

The Darwinists clearly are not happy about the supplemental textbook Explore Evolution (EE), and given their showing thus far, they’re getting increasingly desperate to find ways to attack it. The latest review attacking EE was published in the journal Evolution and Development by Brian Metscher, a biologist in Austria. Employing what ID historian and rhetorician Thomas Woodward calls the “sledgehammer” approach, Metscher makes the grand sweeping conclusion that “[e]very talking point in the book has been dealt with already.” Metscher doesn’t specify precisely what those “talking points” are, but if EE is so wrong, surely Metscher can give us a scholarly refutation of the book. Instead Metscher cites to TalkOrigins and an internet Darwinist named Lenny Flank, who offers some interesting advice for those defending evolution. Metscher cites a long screed by Flank attacking EE which offers, among other things, the following critique of the textbook:

Just got my first look at the tome today. I can sum up my feelings in one word:

BWA HA HA HA HA HA AH AH A !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In other Darwinist blogs (not cited by Metscher), Flank has suggested that one way to defend evolution is to find certain religious “fundamentalists,” and then “round them all up and shoot them.” Flank elaborates on his strategy, stating, “I love fundies. I really do. Every time they shoot themselves in the head, it saves ME the trouble.” Elsewhere, when defending evolution, Flank urges evolutionists to avoid discussing scientific issues: “Don’t focus on the science… scientists arguing over science is a recipe for boredom.” Flank continues, “This isn’t a science symposium. Don’t treat it as one…This fight is a political fight.” Instead, Flank recommends attacking ID proponents “from every possible direction… don’t give them an instant’s rest”; they should be smeared as “extremists” and “religious zealots” who are advocating “fundamentalist Christian theocracy.”

Unfortunately, Metscher seems to have adopted the same rhetorical style modeled by Flank. In his review, Metscher calls EE a “pestilence” that is “159 glossy pages of color-illustrated creationist nostalgia.” (Compare that statement to Metscher’s authority Lenny Flank, who similarly writes that EE, “consists of nothing but the same old crap that creationist/IDers have been putting out for forty years.” See here for a refutation of the Metscher/Flank false and fallacious correlation-equals-creationist-causation argument.) According to Metscher, the textbook is both “pathetic” and an “insidious threat to education.” At one point, Metscher charges EE with “abusing actual scientific results,” even complaining that EE invokes “that irritating homology-is-circular thing.” Metscher’s likewise scholarly conclusion? EE “resembles not so much a Trojan horse as an email virus, or the introduction of sterile males into an insect population.” To answer the question you’re thinking right now, the answer is, Yes, this review apparently did meet the standards for publication in a Darwinist scientific journal.

Despite his own questionable citation sources, Metscher attacks the references in Explore Evolution, complaining that the textbook cites a paper in Bioessays to bolster its claim that complex systems like the four-chambered heart must have arisen “as complete systems.”

Metscher complains that the paper cited doesn’t specifically mention heart evolution, but in fact this article’s general conclusion about morphological evolution endorses the precise point being made in EE: “it is unlikely that morphological evolution can be seen as the accumulation of small morphological variation of trait values as described by some neo-Darwinian research.” (Isaac Salazar-Ciudad, “On the origins of morphological disparity and its diverse developmental bases,” BioEssays, Vol. 28:1112-1122, (2006).) Thus, the conclusion of this paper is actually far stronger and broader than the narrow point for which EE cites it, and EE seems fully justified in citing this paper to justify suspicions that complex biological features in animals (like the four-chambered heart) are not amenable to Darwinian modes of evolution. Given the discussions above, perhaps Metscher should start scrutinizing his own citations before he attacks those of others.

Another highly amusing part of the review is the fact that its author — a theoretical biologist in Austria — is instructing his fellow biologists about how Explore Evolution will be treated under American constitutional law. Here, his analysis is less grim, for Metscher offers his own legal opinion that, since “[e]verything about this book is designed to avoid the legal obstacles,” therefore “[t]his book is less likely … to be snagged by the Establishment Clause.” Alternatively, one might observe that since this textbook focuses solely on science, it poses no foreseeable constitutional problems for usage in state schools. Leave it to a Darwinist biologist to spin constitutionality — a strength — into a defect.

It’s also amusing that Metscher’s conclusion about EE‘s apparent constitutionality is contradicted by his citation to Lenny Flank, where Flank offers the learned legal opinion that EE “it certainly doesn’t look like this book will stand a snowball’s chance in hell, once it gets to court,” further declaring that “[i]f this book ever goes to trial, I want a front rwo [sic] seat.”

Despite EE‘s grounding in the mainstream scientific literature, part of Metscher’s conspiracy theory, of course, is that the book is a front for creationism. He thus charges that Explore Evolution is guilty of “omitting time scales.” Yet Explore Evolution plainly observes that trilobite fossils are found in “in rock layers covering a period of about 300 million years.” (pp. 16-17) Regarding the Cambrian explosion, the book observes that “about 530 million years ago, more than half of the major animal groups (called phyla) appear suddenly in the fossil record.” (p. 22) In fact, page 18 of EE is a full-page diagram of the entire geological timescale, with all of the standard geological ages included, and of course no criticism of the timescale whatsoever. To put it charitably, one cannot help but wonder if Metscher spent more time reading EE than he did reading Lenny Flank.

Demonstrating that the paranoid style isn’t just limited to American politics, Austrian biologist Brian Metscher has adopted Lenny Flank’s advice on avoiding discussing the science and painting his intellectual opponents as extremists who are conspiring to skirt the law. I suspect that Metscher’s outlandish rhetoric in his attack on EE would make Lenny Flank proud. Let’s just hope that Metscher doesn’t decide to adopt Flank’s militant recommendations for defending evolution.


Brian D. Metscher. “Postcards from The Wedge: review and commentary on Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism by Steven C. Meyer et al.” Evolution & Development. 11 (1): 124-125 (2009). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1525-142X.2008.00309.x

Misrepresenting the Gálapagos Finches

According to the online critique of Explore Evolution by the National Center for Science Education: (A) EE claims that natural selection produced only oscillations in beak size in Galápagos finches, but “in the course of a few years, the size changes within species were large enough to explain the differences among the various species of Galápagos finches,” and “the size and shape of finch beaks did change over the course of the 30 years that biologists have been studying the populations.”[1] (B) EE claims that Galápagos finch species are merging rather than diversifying, but “the hybridization observed in the finches is not enough to merge two species, and observations in the field have actually shown substantial evidence of incipient speciation.” Furthermore, EE “introduces an extrapolation which bears Read More ›

Fact and Fiction about the Peppered Moth

According to the online critique of Explore Evolution by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE): (A) “Textbooks do not use peppered moths as an example of something new being created, they use it to demonstrate what natural selection can do in mere decades.”[1] (B) EE “claims that many research scientists think Kettlewell’s experiments were invalid because he released his moths during the daytime, when moths are sleepy and sluggish,” but “no research scientists think this. This claim is found nowhere in the research literature.”[2] (C) EE “claims that because peppered moths don’t rest on tree trunks, which is where Kettlewell put them, his experiments are invalid,” but “peppered moths do rest on trunks.”[3] (A) Use of Peppered Moths in Explore Evolution EE does not claim that textbooks Read More ›

Genetic Toolkits

According to the online critique of Explore Evolution by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE): The authors of EE “omit the recent research showing evolutionary conservation of the genetic pathways regulating animal development.” Biologists “now know there is an evolutionarily conserved ‘genetic toolkit’—a set of genes responsible for constructing all animals, from sea anemones to fruit flies to humans (Carroll et al. 2005, Davidson, 2005). The only mention [in EE] of the genetic regulation of development refers to the outdated macromutation theory from the 1940’s by Richard Goldschmidt.”[1] The NCSE Critique’s claim that except for mentioning Richard Goldschmidt, EE fails to discuss” the genetic regulation of development” is false. Such a discussion is found on pages 101-111 of EE. Unlike Neo-Darwinists, however, EE challenges the idea that DNA controls Read More ›

Haeckel, Darwin, and Textbooks

According to the online critique of Explore Evolution by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE): (A) EE falsely claims that Darwin accepted Ernst Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” In particular, the claim in EE that “Darwin thought that the observable similarities in different embryos revealed what the ancestors to these organisms would have looked like” [p. 66 of EE] “contradicts the majority view of prominent Darwin scholars (including Ernst Mayr, Stephen Jay Gould, David Hull, and Peter Bowler).”[1] (B) EE “falsely asserts Darwin thought the similarities between embryos were greater at the earliest stages of development,” and falsely suggests “that common descent and Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law require that the earliest stages of animal development are most similar.” But Darwin actually thought that “embryos at the earliest Read More ›

Anatomical Homology and Circular Definitions

The critique by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) of the chapter on anatomical homology in Explore Evolution (EE) begins by misrepresenting EE’s treatment of the subject.[1] The NCSE claims that EE “never provides a clear and consistent definition of homology,” and that EE “repeats the erroneous creationist canard of claiming that homology’s definition is circular.” Both of these claims by the NCSE are false. First, EE provides a clear definition in its glossary: “Homologous structure: a body part that is similar in structure and position in two or more species but has a different function in each; for example, the forelimbs of bats, porpoises and humans.” (p. 146) In addition, EE’s chapter on anatomical homology begins with the following: “Why should the pig’s forelimb and your own arm have Read More ›

The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism