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The Quote Mine Project

Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines

Assorted Quotes

by the newsgroup
Copyright © 2004-2006

As noted in the Introduction, our intent was to continue to add to our collection of quote mines. This is the third such addition and includes assorted quote mines that do not share any unifying "theme," as did our previous additions: Darwin Quotes and Gould, Eldredge and Punctuated Equilibria Quotes.

Since these quotes are not from a single source, as was the case in the original Quote Mine Project, there are some differences in how they are organized. Before each quote there appears in brackets a brief description of the Editor's impression of the proposition that the quotes are cited for by creationists. That is followed by at least one link to a creationist site using the quote mine. Naturally, these descriptions cannot be exhaustive and are only as accurate as any impression. By all means, you are encouraged to check for yourself as to creationist usage of the quotes. The easiest way to do so is to go to the Google Advanced Search page and, in the "Find results" box designated "with the exact phrase," enter a short, but distinctive, phrase from the quote mine and click on the "Search" button. Of course, if you are here researching a particular use of a quote, you will already have an idea of how it is being used.

The numbering of the quotes is different as well. While the original set of quote mines was numbered simply 1 - 86, these are numbered 4.1, 4.2, . . . etc.

Quote #4.1

[Life appears full blown, complex and without precursors in the fossil record]

"There is, however, no fossil evidence bearing on the question of insect origin; the oldest insects known show no transition to other arthropods." - Frank M. Carpenter, "Fossil Insects," Insects (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952), p. 18.

Representative miners: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood: Missing Trunk, Evolution Cruncher: Arthropods, and No Evidence for Evolution: Scientists' Research and Darwinism

The correct citation is:

Carpenter, F. M. 1952. Fossil Insects. In "Yearbook of Agriculture - 1952", pp 14-19. Washington D. C.: United States Department of Agriculture.

And a more comprehensive quote is:

A detailed study of the geological history of the insects, which I have only sketched, yields evidence of certain progressive changes in structure and development which confirm conclusions on insect evolution reached by morphological and embryological investigations. Although this is still a highly controversial subject, we have enough evidence at hand, derived from these three sources, to indicate the main steps in insect evolution. There is, however, no fossil evidence bearing on the question of insect origin; the oldest insects known show no transition to other arthropods. On the other hand, morphological and embryological studies carried out mainly since 1935 have pointed to the probable origin of the insects from some terrestrial arthropod, related to the existing Symphyla. The time of that origin is pure conjecture, but judging from the fossil record we can only conclude that it was at least as far back as the Lower Carboniferous (Mississippian).

Strictly speaking, this quote is not taken out of context, but note that other evidence, which Carpenter feels is relevant to the question of insect evolution, such as morphological and embryological studies, is ignored. It's a common mistake of creationists to believe that the only evidence for evolution is from the fossil record, but obviously Carpenter didn't think so, and neither does any other informed advocate of evolution. But it may never have occurred to the quote miner to ponder what Carpenter meant by "morphological and embryological studies", or to wonder how they were relevant to evolution.

But is it true that there is no fossil evidence for the evolution of insects? Perhaps in Carpenter's day, but now transitional forms are known all the way back to 400 million years ago.


Grimaldi, D. 2003. "Fossil Record" in Encyclopedia of Insects, edited by Vincent H. Resh & Ring T Cardé, pp. 455-463. San Diego: Academic Press.

Labandeira, C. C., Beall, B. S., & Hueber, F. M. 1988. Early Insect Diversification: Evidence from a Lower Devonian Bristletail from Québec. Science 242:913-916

Kukalová-Peck, J. 1991. "Fossil History and the Evolution of Hexapod Structures" in The Insects of Australia: A textbook for students and research workers, second edition, volume 1, pp. 141-179. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quote #4.2

[Feathers are complex, designed structures required for flight that cannot be explained by evolution]

‘It is not difficult to imagine how feathers, once evolved, assumed additional functions, but how they arose initially, presumably from reptilian scales, defies analysis.’ . . . . ‘The problem has been set aside, not for want of interest, but for lack of evidence. No fossil structure transitional between scale and feather is known, and recent investigators are unwilling to found a theory on pure speculation.’ . . . . ‘It seems, from the complex construction of feathers, that their evolution from reptilian scales would have required an immense period of time and involved a series of intermediate structures. So far, the fossil record does not bear out that supposition.’ - Barbara J. Stahl (St Anselm’s College, USA) in Vertebrate History: Problems in Evolution, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1974, pp. 349 and 350.

Representative miners: Christians for Truth: Quotes, The Revolution Against Evolution: Where Did the First Birds Come From?, and Stephen E. Jones: Creation/Evolution Quotes: Transitional Fossils

[Editor's note: A number of sites refer to a later edition: Stahl, Barbara J., Vertebrate history: Problems in Evolution, Dover: New York NY, 1985, p.350.]

After reading the sentences presented by the quote miner, one might think that the evolution of feathers is wishful thinking on the part of biologists, but a more complete reading would show otherwise:

It is not difficult to imagine how feathers, once evolved, assumed additional functions, but how they arose initially, presumably from reptilian scales, defies analysis. Scientists of an earlier generation attributed the appearance of feathers to environmental factors. G Heilmann, who published an exhaustive discussion of the origin of birds in 1927, suggested that the scales of an arboreal avian ancestor lengthened in response to increased air pressure and then gradually frayed at the edges and then metamorphosed into typical feathers as a result of friction generated between the air and the body of the leaping animals. Heilmann's quaint, Lamarckian explanation is unacceptable today, but no other has been put forth. The problem has been set aside, not for want of interest, but for lack of evidence. No fossil structure transitional between scale and feather is known, and recent investigators are unwilling to found a theory on pure speculation. Their supposition that feathers were derived from the scales of reptiles is based on the fact that both are nonliving, keratinized structures generated from papillae on the surface of the body. Since reptiles and birds are closely related, it seems more likely that their papillae are homologous than that those of birds arose de novo and replaced the reptilian scale-producing tissues.

The way a feather grows suggests that it is a scale much modified. It develops as a scale does from the epidermal cells of the papilla, but instead of forming in a flat plate at the surface it takes its origin from a collar of cells at the base of the papilla and extends outward. Its substance subdivides into numerous hollow barbs, which are fringed with barbules and conjoined at a central shaft. If the shaft is short and the barbules smooth-walled, the feather is of a type called down. Its barbs form a fluffy, insulating cover for the adjacent skin. Flight feathers and contour feathers that give the body its shape have longer, stronger shafts and barbules equipped with hooks. The hooks on each barbule catch the barbule farther forward, so that the barbs radiating from either side of the shaft are held in a flat, wind-resistant vane. It seems, from the complex construction of feathers, that their evolution from reptilian scales would have required an immense period of time and involved a series of intermediate structures. So far, the fossil record does not bear out that supposition. The oldest bird known, Archaeopteryx, still exhibited skeletal characters reminiscent of reptilian ones, but its feathers gave no hint of primitive features.

As we can see from a more comprehensive reading of Stahl, the idea of evolution isn't based entirely on the fossil record. Other aspects of biology contribute as well, such as comparative anatomy in the case of the evolution of feathers. As Stahl points out, both feathers and scales are structures made of keratin that grow from epidermal cells in papillae, and this is the basis for the belief that feathers evolved from scales.

And finally, while feather precursors may have been unknown 30 years ago, that's certainly not the case now. See the following papers for more information:

[Skip bibliography]

Chen, P.-J., Dong, Z. M., and Zheng, S.-N. 1998. An exceptionally well-preserved theropod dinosaur from the Yixian Formation of China. Nature 391:147-152.

Currie, P. J., & Chen, P.-J. 2001. Anatomy of Sinosauropteryx prima from Liaoning, northeastern China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 38(12):1705-1727.

Gibbons, A. 1996. New Feathered Fossil Brings Dinosaurs and Birds Closer. Science 274:720-721.

Ji Q., Currie, P. J., Norell, M. A., & Ji S.-A. 1998. Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature 393:753-761.

Ji Q. & Ji S.-A. 1996. On discovery of the earliest bird fossil in China and the origin of birds. Chinese Geology 233:30­33. In Chinese. [English translation by Will Downs and obtained courtesy of the Polyglot Paleontologist website

Ji Q., Norell, M. A., Gao, K.-Q., Ji S.-A., & Ren, D., 2001. The distribution of integumentary structures in a feathered dinosaur. Nature 410:1084-1088.

Padian, K., Ji Q., & Ji S. 2001. "Feathered Dinosaurs and the Origin of Flight" in Mesozoic Vertebrate Life: New Research Inspired by the Paleontology of Philip J. Currie, edited by Darren H. Tanke & Kenneth Carpenter, pp. 117-135, color plates 1-3. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Prum, R. O. 1999. Development and Evolutionary Origin of Feathers. Journal of Experimental Zoology (Molecular and developmental evolution) 285:291-306.

Prum, R. O., & Brush, A. H. 2002. The evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers. The Quarterly Review of Biology 77:261-295. [PubMed]

Schweitzer, M. H. 2001. "Evolutionary implications of possible protofeather structures associated with a specimen of Shuvuuia deserti" in New Perspectives on the Origin and Early Evolution of Birds: Proceedings of the International Symposium in Honor of John H. Ostrom February 13-14, 1999 New Haven, Connecticut, edited by J. Gauthier & L. F. Gall, pp. 181-192. New Haven: Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University.

Schweitzer, M. H., Watt, J. A., Avci, R., Knapp, L., Chiappe, L., Norell, M., & Marshall, M. 1999. Beta-Keratin Specific Immunological Reactivity in Feather-Like Structures of the Cretaceous Alvarezsaurid, Shuvuuia deserti. Journal of Experimental Zoology. 285:146-157.

Sues, H.-D. 2001. Ruffling feathers. Nature 410:1036-1037.

Xing X., Tang, Z., & Wang, X.-L. 1999. A therizinosauroid dinosaur with integumentary structures from China. Nature 399:350-354. ]

Xu, X., Zhou, Z., & Prum, R. O. 2001. Branched integumental structures in Sinornithosaurus and the origin of feathers. Nature 410:200-204.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

It would be good to note here that Rick Prum's theory of feather development and evolution predicts a number of transitional stages in the evolution of modern feathers, and that one of those predicted stages looks quite a lot like the structures seen on Sinosauropteryx. There are a number of possible references, but here's one: Prum, R. O., and A. H. Brush. 2002. The evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers. Q. Rev. Biol. 77:261-295. [PubMed]

- John Harshman

Quote #4.3

[The lack of transitional fossils contradicts evolution]

"Unfortunately, the origins of most higher categories are shrouded in mystery: commonly new higher categories appear abruptly in the fossil record without evidence of transitional forms." - D. M. Raup and S. M. Stanley Principles of Paleontology, W. H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco, 1971, page 306.

Representative miners: The Bible Probe: Objections to the Doctrine of Evolution and Ankerberg Theological Research Institute: What Has the Fossil Record Revealed About Darwin’s Missing Link Between All the Plants and Animals?

Starting at the last paragraph on page 305 we find this:

In general, it is much easier to establish phylogenies for major vertebrate groups than for major invertebrate and plant groups because all recognized classes and orders of the Vertebrata have originated since the Cambrian. Although all higher vascular plant taxa have apparently originated since the early Paleozoic, the fossil record of plants is less complete. Furthermore, fossil plant remains usually reveal less about whole-organism morphology than do vertebrate remains. Invertebrate animals fall into several phyla whose late Precambrian and Cambrian are almost universally undocumented by the known fossil record. In some instances, however, we have a moderately good knowledge of the post-Paleozoic phylogenies within invertebrate phyla.

Note that the discussion centers around the fossil record of the late Precambrian and Cambrian. Immediately following, at the top of page 306 is the section quoted:

Unfortunately, the origins of most higher categories are shrouded in mystery; commonly new higher categories appear abruptly in the fossil record without evidence of transitional ancestral[1] forms. Simpson has listed several reasons for this situation. Among them are the following:

  1. Appearance of a new higher category has usually marked a major adaptive breakthrough, often accompanying inhabitation of previously unoccupied niches; evolution under such conditions has tended to be very rapid.
  2. Any lineages of the ancestral group that were similar enough to enter into competition with the new group are likely to have been rapidly displaced.
  3. Often, times of higher category appearance are represented by gaps in the geological record. (in some instances, rapid evolutionary turnover and unconformities may have resulted from the same widespread environmental change.)
  4. Change in habitat during the adaptive breakthrough has made discovery of certain transitional forms unlikely.
  5. Major adaptive breakthroughs have commonly occurred in relatively small populations or taxonomic groups.
  6. Transitions have commonly been made in taxa whose members were small relative to average size in both the ancestral and descendent higher categories.
  7. Transitions have commonly taken place in restricted geographic areas, and possibly the same transitions occurred at different times in different areas.

[1] Most creationist sites leave "ancestral" out of the quote. - Ed.

Seven possible reasons are given as to why the fossil record is currently incomplete, and while creationists may dispute the validity of these reasons, that doesn't change the fact that possible reasons were given. But remember that the quoted section stated that "the origins of most higher categories are shrouded in mystery...". Does this mean that Raup and Stanley believe that all origins are "shrouded in mystery"? Not at all, because immediately following the list of possible reasons for the incompleteness of the fossil record is this gem:

The fossil record does occasionally provide what might be termed as a "missing link," a species that appears to represent a transitional stage between higher taxa. One such form is the reptile-like bird Archaeopteryx, of the Middle Jurassic,... Archaeopteryx possessed both reptilian and avian characters. Its possession of feathers suggests that it was warm-blooded, like modern birds, but it also had large teeth, solid bones, and other reptilian skeletal features.

Raup and Stanley then go on to outline the transition from bactritid nautiloids to ammonoids (two invertebrate groups).

In conclusion, while Raup and Stanley acknowledge some gaps in the fossil record, this doesn't mean that they believe that such gaps are because transitional forms never existed, as can be seen by a more complete reading of the their text.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quotes #4.4

[Complex multi-cellular creatures appear abruptly as fully-formed separate fossil kinds]

"If we were to expect to find ancestors to or intermediates between higher taxa, it would be in the rocks of late Precambrian to Ordovician times, when the bulk of the world's higher animal taxa evolved. Yet transitional alliances are unknown or unconfirmed for any of the phyla or classes appearing then." - J.W. Valentine and D.H. Erwin, "The Fossil Record," in Development as an Evolutionary Process (Uas, 1987), p. 84.

"We conclude that ... neither of the contending theories of evolutionary change at the species level, phyletic gradualism or punctuated equilibrium, seem applicable to the origin of new body plans. - Ibid, p. 96.

Representative Miners: Institute for Creation Research: Evolution - A House Divided, Professor Knockout Quotes!: The Fossil Record, Genesis Park: Lack of Identifiable Phylogeny in the Fossil Record, Creation in the Crossfire: On the Origin of Stasis (Part II), and Bible Study Manuals: Creationism vs Evolution

[Editors note: The ICR site uses both of the above quotes, while the others use one or the other.]

Just to fill in the missing parts of this citation, these quotes are from:

Valentine, J. W., & Erwin, D. H. 1987. "Interpreting Great Developmental Experiments: The Fossil Record" in Development as an Evolutionary Process (MBL Lectures in Biology, volume 8), edited by Rudolf A. Raff & Elizabeth C. Raff, pp. 71-107. New York: Alan R. Liss, Inc.

Valentine and Erwin divide their paper into eight sections:

The first two sentences provided are right at the beginning of the section entitled "The Question of the Missing Ancestors (Intermediates)":

If ever we were to expect to find ancestors to or intermediates between higher taxa, it would be in the rocks of late Precambrian to Ordovician times, when the bulk of the world's higher animal taxa evolved. Yet transitional alliances are unknown or unconfirmed for any of the phyla or classes appearing then. The question, then, is what factors have conspired to prevent the appearance of ancestral lineages.

The major reasons that an ancestral linage would fail to be preserved may be summarized as follows: 1) the rock record is so fragmentary that there is hardly any chance of finding ancestors; 2) The rock record is adequate, but the fossil record is so poor and the total number of missing taxa so great that the lack of ancestors is not surprising; 3) The ancestors lived in environments that are not well represented in the sedimentary record; 4) The ancestors were soft bodied; 5) The ancestors were minute; 6) The ancestors were represented by very small populations; 7) The ancestral taxa were represented by very few lineages -- they did not much diversify; 8) The ancestors were highly localized geographically; and 9) the ancestors evolved rapidly and so were present for only a sort interval of time.

Valentine and Erwin then spend the next seven and a half pages discussing these reasons. Then, at the top of page 92 they begin the next section ("Analysis of Previous Macroevolutionary Models") where they discuss, what else, previous evolutionary models. There is a relatively long subsection entitled "microevolution", and on page 96 is a short, two paragraph subsection entitled "Species Selection", and in the second paragraph we finally come to the third sentence provided:

The required rapidity of the change implies either a few large steps or many and exceedingly rapid smaller ones. Large steps are tantamount to saltations and raise the problems of fitness barriers; small steps must be numerous and entail the problems discussed under microevolution. The periods of stasis raise the probability that the lineage would enter the fossil record, and we reiterate that we can find none of the postulated intermediate forms. Finally, the large numbers of species that must be generated so as to form a pool from which the successful lineage is selected are nowhere to be found. We conclude that the probability that species selection is a general solution to the origin of higher taxa is not great, and that neither of the contending theories of evolutionary change at the species level, phyletic gradualism or punctuated equilibrium, seem applicable to the origin of new body plans.

It should now be obvious that the sentences provided were never intended to be associated. The first two comment on the absence of transitional forms early in the history of multicellular (metazoan) life, and the last one is a claim that neither phyletic gradualism or punctuated equilibrium are an explanation for the origin of new body plans. But does this mean that Valentine and Erwin reject evolution? No, because immediately following the quoted text is this:

A difficulty with each of these models is their concern with the generation of diversity. The models differ in the degree to which they associate morphological change and the acquisition of genetic isolation, but all share a common view of morphological novelty as a by-product or consequence of specialization. The seeming paradox of abundant new body plans evolving during a time of relatively low species diversity may be a key to the Metazoan radiation. What may be required is a theory for the evolution of novelty, not diversity, which explains abundant individual transitions occuring [sic] in 1 to 5 million years or less and leading to new phyla and classes without the production of easily fossilized intermediates or of numerous species.

And lest there be any doubt, their final summation makes the following statement:

...we envision an evolutionary process not unlike forms of selection that operate during microevolution, but with mechanisms of genome change that do not operate at the same intensity or with the same results today. However, these postulated processes do operate at the same hierarchical level as does most microevolution -- the level of natural selection in populations.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Since the quote mine, a closer look at Cambrian fossils has suggested that a number of them are plausible intermediates between phyla or other higher taxa. See Simon Conway Morris's book Crucible of Creation (1998. Oxford: Oxford University Press) and this excellent review paper: Budd, G. E., and S. Jensen. 2000. A critical reappraisal of the fossil record of the bilaterian phyla. Biol. Rev. 75:253-295. [PubMed]

- John Harshman

Quote #4.5

[Transitional forms are absent in the fossil record]

"The origin of the rodents is obscure. When they first appear, in the late Paleocene, in the genus Paramys, we are already dealing with a typical, if rather primitive, true rodent, with the definitive ordinal characters well developed. Presumably, of course, they had arisen from some basal, insectivorous, placental stock; but no transitional forms are known." - Romer, A. S., Vertebrate Paleontology, 3rd Ed., Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1966, p. 303.

Representative miners: Institute for Creation Research: The Origin of Mammals, Fish Don't Walk: Amazing Quotes By Evolutionists, and Evolution Cruncher: Evolution Encyclopedia Vol. 2

The quote, when given as fully as above (which it often is not), is accurate and complete enough. Of course, it also has little to do with any premise that there are no transitionals in the fossil record. Science does not claim to have a complete record of all life that has ever lived on Earth or even that it is a practical possibility to ever obtain one. Listing examples of transitionals that have not been found is a sterile activity until the creationists can give a coherent explanation those that have been found. (See, for example, Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ by Kathleen Hunt)

Perhaps more importantly, Romer's book is almost 40 years old. Science has, as usual, kept moving. Among others, fossils of the apparent common ancestor of rodents and lagomorphs have been found in Asia. See Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ: Part 2A (which, itself, is a little dated as it was last revised in 1997).

- John (catshark) Pieret

Quote #4.6

[Evolutionary theory is bankrupt and many scientists are distancing themselves from it]

We have had enough of the Darwinian fallacy. It is time that we cry: 'The emperor has no clothes.' - K. Hsu [1], geologist at the Geological Institute at Zurich, "Darwin's Three Mistakes" (Geology, vol. 14, 1986, p. 534)

Representative miners: Creation Apologetics: Quotes From Scientists on Evolution [2], Stewarton Bible School: Evolution: Fact or Fallacy?, and Pathlights: Scientists Speak About Evolution - 2

[1] Note: Kenneth J. Hsü has an umlaut accent on the 'u' which is generally lost for understandable reasons. The article is from pages 532-534 with the quote itself in page 534.

[2] This site states that its list of quotes is "Compiled by: Sean D. Pitman M.D.". Dr. Pitman, a regular poster at the usenet group, informs us that he is not associated with that site nor has he ever been contacted by those who maintain it for permission to use his name. - Ed.

First of all Dr. Hsü is certainly not a creationist, this "commentary" article starts with the following paragraph:

The Darwinian theory of evolution has two themes: common descent and natural selection. Creationists are barking up the wrong tree when they question common descent, which is amply documented by scientific evidence. Darwin's mistakes were in his emphasis on biotic competition in natural selection.

So Hsü fully accepts evolution. If one is observant, than one might notice that the above paragraph shows he accepts natural selection as well. Lets back up and reproduce the article's abstract:

Darwin's three mistakes were that (1) he dismissed mass extinction as artifacts of an imperfect geologic record; (2) he assumed that species diversity, like individuals of a given species, tend to increase exponentially with time; and (3) he considered biotic interactions the major cause of species extinction. Those mistakes lead to the theory propounded in his book On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (Darwin, 1859), which has been adopted by man as the scientific basis of their social philosophies.

When I read the entire article, I really don't see anything particularly anti-Darwinian about it. Indeed, Hsü seems to have had an exaggerated idea of his own anti-Darwinism, in my humble opinion. Hsü certainly points to items in which Darwin was wrong; items which are important to contemporary paleontologists. But it would have been shocking if someone living today (or 1986 when Hsü's commentary was published) could not point to many things wrong in a scientific work from 1859.

Darwin's extreme commitment to gradualism, which is responsible for the first of the three mistakes Hsü identifies, was pointed out by even close supporters of Darwin from the very beginning. [3] Natural selection certainly does not require such an extreme gradualism in order to operate. The second point is certainly consistent with natural selection. The third is the recognition that we have today that a species might die out due to "bad luck" resulting from a change in the physical environment or even purely stochastic causes having nothing to do with the organism's fitness (an impact by an asteroid or comet killing the dinosaurs, for example) or a combination thereof, instead of competition with a more fit organism. Certainly, Hsü's take on Darwin is nothing out of the mainstream of modern evolutionary theory.

The final five paragraphs are dedicated to what looks to me to be the real reason for the commentary: the author is upset at ideologues using Darwin as justification for their views.

Our understanding of evolution is imperfect; we could still argue on the relative importance of biotic and environmental factors in evolution or on the role of natural selection at times of biotic crisis, but few propose today that "each new variety or species . . . will generally press hardest on its nearest kindred, and tend to exterminate them." Yet unfortunately, it is this aspect of the Darwinian ideology that has permeated our social philosophy all too deeply.

The success of the Darwinian theory on natural selection has been attributed to the Zeitgeist of his age. As Rupert Reidle . . . wrote, "The reading public of England, which, with Victorian industrialization, had demonstrated its (often ruthless) efficiency, could now see the rights its arrogated to itself on the ground of that efficiency legitimated as law of nature." Colonialism was justified then, as nationalism now. Even Darwin himself, although not a racist, wrote in a letter to W. Graham dated July 3, 1881 . . . "The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world." [4]

Darwinism was also used in a defense of competitive individualism and its economic corollary of laissez-faire capitalism in England and in America. ...

Not only capitalists but also socialists welcomed Darwinism; Karl Marx though Darwin's books important because it supported the class struggle in history from the point of view of natural science. Worst of all, Darwinism opened the door to racists who wanted to apply the principle of natural selection . . .

George Bernard Shaw wisecracked once that Darwin had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind. Well, I also have an axe to grind, but I am not pleased. We have suffered through two world wars and are threatened by Armageddon. [Recall that in 1986 the decades old nuclear standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. still existed. - Hopkins] We have had enough of the Darwinian fallacy. It is about time that we cry: "The emperor has no clothes."

So it can be seen that Hsü, in the quote mined text, was actually attacking the various guises of "Social Darwinism". The real irony of all this is that Charles Darwin would have agreed with Hsü in these attacks. I am not sure that Hsü fully realized this.

[3] A primary example being that of Thomas Henry Huxley (widely known as "Darwin's Bulldog"), who warned Darwin, literally on the eve of the publication of Origin of Species, that "[y]ou have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum [nature does not make leaps] so unreservedly." - Ed.

[4] F. Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1905, pp. 284-86. This can be found online at The writings of Charles Darwin on the web. - Ed.

- Mike Hopkins and John Harshman

Something must be said concerning the Darwin quote Hsü included above.

The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world. F. Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1905, p. 286, which can be found at: The writings of Charles Darwin on the web

Darwin seems to be referring there to the same idea he advanced in The Descent of Man, which is frequently quote mined as:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. - Darwin, Descent, vol. I, 201.

See representive quote miners found in entries for Quote #2.10 and Quote #2.11.

Here is the quote in context:

The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies -- between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae -- between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct. At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. (Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. 2nd edn., London, John Murray, 1882, p. 156, which can be found at The writings of Charles Darwin on the web.)

First of all, Darwin is making a technical argument as to the "reality" of species, particularly Homo sapiens in this case, and why there should still be apparently distinct species, if all the different forms of life are related by common descent through incremental small changes. His answer is that competition against those forms with some, even small, advantage tends to eliminate closely related forms, giving rise to an apparent "gap" between the remaining forms. Whether or not Darwin was right about that is irrelevant to the use of this quote mine, of course, since that is part of the context that the creationists using it have assiduously removed. For those interested in the real issue, a bit more information can be found in the response to Quote #3.1.

Claims based on either of these quotes that Darwin and by extension modern evolutionary theory was or is "racist" or that the theory leads to racism, are less than honest. As John Wilkins noted in a "Feedback" article:

Throughout the Descent, when Darwin refers to "civilised races" he almost always is referring to cultures in Europe. I think Darwin was simply confused at that time about the difference between biological races and cultural races in humans. This is not surprising at this time - almost nobody made the distinction but Alfred Russel Wallace.

. . . At this time it was common for Europeans (based on an older notion of a "chain of being from lowest to highest") to think that Africans ("negroes") were all of one subspecific form, and were less developed than "Caucasians" or "Asians", based on a typology in around 1800 by the German Johann Friedrich Blumenach. In short, Darwin is falling prey to the same error almost everyone else was . . . So far as I can tell, he was not hoping for the extermination of these "races", though. ... Throughout his life, Darwin argued against slavery and for the freedom and dignity of native populations under European slavery.

Darwin was not perfect. But he was no racist.

In short, there is nothing in Darwin's words to support (and much in his life to contradict) any claim that Darwin wanted the "lower" or "savage races" to be exterminated. He was merely noting what appeared to him to be factual, based in no small part on the evidence of a European binge of imperialism and colonial conquest during his lifetime. And if Wilkins is correct (and I think he is) about Darwin confusing biology and culture in this instance, Darwin was not entirely wrong. Certainly we can still see more technologically and militarily "advanced" cultures either destroying or, perhaps worse and more lasting, co-opting and replacing the less "advanced" ones.

In any event, attempts to draw moral conclusions from the facts of nature commit the "Naturalistic Fallacy" of confusing statements of "what is" with those about "what ought to be". (See John Wilkins' "Evolution and philosophy: Does evolution make might right? and the "Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CA002: Survival of the fittest implies that 'might makes right'".) Darwin avoided the fallacy in his personal life and nowhere advocated it in his scientific writing.

Even if we hold that Darwin was a racist (by our present-day lights) [5], what of it? Would that invalidate modern evolutionary theory? As noted above, these "chain of being" attitudes were widespread at the time. Similarly embarrassing statements on race can be found in the words of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Does that invalidate the idea of democracy or America's version of it? Martin Luther made strongly anti-Semitic statements. Is all Protestant Christianity therefore suspect? Even Henry Morris, the "godfather" of "creation science" has made statements of a racial nature that many would find repugnant. (See "Creationism Implies Racism?" by Richard Trott and Jim Lippard.) Is that alone enough to "disprove" creationism?

Finally, what if evolutionary theory did say that some human "races" will be winners and some losers through natural selection (though most scientists and philosophers of science deny that the theory dictates anything of the sort)? Any such argument against acceptance of the science of evolution commits the "Fallacy of Appeal to Consequences", an argument that a proposition is true because belief in it has good consequences, or that it is false because belief in it has bad consequences. (See, for example, "Appeal to Consequences" by Gary N. Curtis.)

Whether we like it or not, our hopes and aspirations are irrelevant to how the universe actually works. Fortunately, evolutionary theory presents us with no such conundrum. But even if it did, those who ignore the facts of nature in favor of what they would like it to be have historically caused their share, and more, of the adverse consequences our species has suffered.

- John (catshark) Pieret

[5] For more on the issues of Darwin's supposed racism, the actual roots of past "scientific" claims about racial differences and creationist attempts to exploit the general public's ignorance of the history of evolutionary theory, see Joe Conley's article "Is Darwinism Racist?: Creationists and the Louisiana Darwin-Racism Controversy".

Quote #4.7

[Evolutionary theory is not a science, for it has no facts to support it]

The fact of evolution is the backbone of biology, and biology is thus in the peculiar position of being a science founded on an unproved theory -- is it then science, or a faith? Belief in the theory of evolution is thus exactly parallel to belief in special creation. Both are concepts which believers know to be true but neither, up to the present, has been capable of proof." (Matthews, L. H. Introduction to the 1971 edition of Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species")

Representative quote miners: Pathlights: Only Two Alternatives, Northwest Creation Network: Evolutionism: Is Evolution a Religion? , and The Church Of Christ: Evolution: Fact or Faith? and Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club: Philosophy Quote Collection

Did Harrison Matthews, a former scientific director of the Zoological Society of London, really feel that belief in evolution was comparable to belief in special creation? While it might warm the hearts of some creationists to think so, we'll soon see that it's not true.

But before we examine Matthews's beliefs, it should be noted that there's some confusion as to whether this quote is from 1971 or 1972. In reality, Matthews wrote his introduction in 1971, and this is the copyright date given at the front of the book, as well as at the end of the introduction itself. However, it wasn't published until 1972, the year this particular reprint of Darwin's work was released.

Now, onward to the quote itself. Reading through the introduction, but before the quoted passage, we come across these words:

The intense hostility and controversy produced by the appearance of The Origin of Species a year after the publication of the Darwin-Wallace paper had, fundamentally, nothing to do with the originality of the ideas put forward. Many naturalists were already convinced of the fact of evolution, but without a plausible theory to show how it might have taken place they were unable to refute their opponents who held to the doctrine of special creation. [Matthews 1972, ix]

Note that Matthews differentiates between the fact of evolution, and a theory to explain it. This is similar to the fact of gravity, and a theory (either Newton's or Einstein's) to explain it, and is a common mistake made by creationists when attacking evolution. For more on this particular error see "Evolution is a Fact and a Theory".

We now come to the paragraph containing the quote-mined passage. Beginning on page x, and concluding on page xi:

Even 'Darwin's Bulldog', as Thomas Huxley once called himself, wrote in 1863: 'I adopt Mr. Darwin's hypothesis, therefore, subject to the production of proof that physiological species may be produced by selective breeding' -- meaning species that are infertile if crossed. That proof has never been produced, though a few not entirely convincing examples are claimed to have been found. The fact of evolution is the backbone of biology, and biology is thus in the peculiar position of being a science founded on an unproved theory -- is it then science, or a faith? Belief in the theory of evolution is thus exactly parallel to belief in special creation -- both are concepts which believers know to be true but neither, up to the present, has been capable of proof.

Once again, we can see that Matthews makes a distinction between the fact of evolution (citing it as the backbone of biology), and a theory to explain it. However, the fact that he cites both natural selection and special creation as being on equal footing doesn't stop him from throwing his lot in with evolution, for on page xii he writes the following:

Mendel showed that inheritance is particulate, that 'factors' in the genotype transmit the characters expressed by the phenotype. This discovery, combined with the growing knowledge of the chromosomes and their behaviour in the maturation of reproductive cells, was the basis of the modern discipline of genetics, which revealed how evolution by natural selection of random changes in the factors or 'genes' or in their permutations and combinations proceeds. ...

During the last fifty years genetics has unravelled many of the extremely complex phenomena of inheritance, and has show that evolution by natural selection of random mutations, generally of small size, is a logical explanation of the origin of the immense array of organisms now and in the past living on earth. The theory is so plausible that most biologists accept it as though it were a proven fact, although their conviction rests upon circumstantial evidence; it forms a satisfactory faith on which to base our interpretation of nature.

So Matthews feels that not only does natural selection have a basis in the science of genetics, but that it's a logical explanation for life's diversity. In essence, Matthews's stance is that natural selection has not been proven to be the mechanism of evolution, but that it's a plausible basis for the fact of evolution that doesn't conflict with the evidence.

Chris Nedin has pointed out that Matthew's introduction also played a small part in the Arkansas creation trial (McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education) of the early 80's. Professor Michael Ruse, an expert witness at that trial, writes in "A Philosopher's Day in Court" that:

...stopping over in England, I spoke to an elderly zoologist, L. Harrison Matthews, who wrote the introduction to Darwin's Origin in the Everyman Edition. In phrases which have been seized on by Creationists, Matthews argues that belief in Darwinism is like a religious commitment. This was going to be used by the State of Arkansas, who would argue that belief in Creation-science is logically identical to belief in evolution. Hence, since one can teach the latter, one should be allowed to teach the former. (A more rigorous conclusion would be that since both are religion, neither should be taught. But no matter.)

Would Matthews recant? He was happy to do so, and wrote me a strong letter about the misuse that he felt Creationists had made of his introduction. Reading between the lines, I got the strong impression that what motivated Matthews in his introduction was not the logic of evolutionary theory at all. He wanted to poke the late Sir Gavin de Beer in the eye. De Beer was a fanatical Darwinian, and Matthews was dressing him down for the undue strength of his feelings! [Ruse 1984, 323]

I wrote to Professor Ruse in an attempt to get a copy of Matthews's letter, but he replied that some things don't survive 20 years and a move to another country, Matthews's letter being one of them. However, in his narrative of the Arkansas trial, Ruse relates that at the end of his testimony:

We had covered just about everything under the sun, with the possible exception of L. Harrison Matthews' claims about the religious nature of Darwinism. When Williams [the assistant attorney general of Arkansas] saw the scathing letter that Matthews wrote to me about Creationism, he decided not to introduce Matthews into the testimony. [Ruse 1984, 334]

One has to wonder why Williams, defending a bill that would have introduced creationism into the Arkansas school system, wouldn't bring up a biologist who supposedly put creationism and evolution on an equal footing. There can be little doubt that Matthews' letter revealed that creationists had misrepresented him.

More evidence of Matthews' true views can be found scattered throughout his writings. For instance, a few years after penning his introduction for the Origin, he stated that:

The evolution of new species of animals, before our eyes, through changes in the genetic code is not apparent because it is believed to take place by natural selection acting upon cumulative small changes over a long period of time, in populations isolated by geographical or other barriers. [Matthews 1975, 115]

Here, once again, Matthews asserts that natural selection, the theory of evolution, is a belief. In another instance, he wrote:

Convergences such as these show that the environment appears to mould the evolving living material under its influence by means of natural selection. [Matthews 1969, 74]

And later on in the same book:

It is generally held that the behaviour patterns as well as the physical characters of animals have been determined by the action of natural selection, and population cycles must be equally subject to its influence. [Matthews 1969, 282]

Again, Matthews takes a tentative view of natural selection. But does this mean that Matthews didn't believe that evolution had occurred? Not at all:

Ever since the first appearance of life on earth a process of evolution from comparatively simple to more complex organisms has been going on. [Matthews 1975, 114]

So while Matthews seems to have had some doubts about natural selection in certain instances, he expresses no doubts about the reality of evolution. Regarding the evolution of the mammals, he wrote that:

Long before the dinosaurs had achieved their evolutionary success another group of reptiles, the synapsids, had appeared, evolved during forty million years into a variety of forms, and then had all but disappeared by the time the great dinosaur dynasty was coming into power. They left only a tenuous thread of descendants, small and inconspicuous creatures leading obscure lives in out of the way places during the million centuries of dinosaur dominance. Yet they were destined, insignificant though they seemed, to replace the once dominant reptiles.

The synapsids are known also as the 'mammal-like reptiles', and in the evolution of their descendants there came a point at which a human observer would have realized that they were no longer mammal-like reptiles but reptile-like mammals. This point was probably reached about a hundred and eighty million years ago in the late Triassic, but because they were creatures of modest size few fossil remains of them have been preserved and the documentation is scanty. Some seventy million years ago, at the close of Mesozoic times, they began to expand in numbers and diversity, and took the place left by the dinosaurs and their relations as the dominant creatures of the earth. [Matthews 1969, 1]

Now there is no uncertainty in Matthews's words. Referring to the evolution of the monotremes (a group of mammals that includes the platypus and the spiny anteater as its only living representitives), he states that:

The monotremes have not left their reptilian ancestral characters so far behind as have the other mammals; they do not, however, represent a stage in the evolution of the Metatheria and Eutheria [two mammal classes] but a parallel line that early diverged. [Matthews 1971, 14]

Matthews also supported the ever-popular evolution of the horse:

A remarkably complete fossil record has enabled the evolution of the equids to be traced from small Eocene browsing ancestors with four toes on the front foot and three on the hind, to the modern grazing forms with a single functional digit on all limbs. The reduction in number of digits accompanied an increase in size, in length of leg, length of face, and specialization of the cheek teeth. [Matthews 1971, 345-346]

And on the beginnings of humanity, he wrote that:

Over two million years and more before that time early species of man were evolving from the stock of australopithecine man-like apes -- their brains were getting larger, and they had got up from all-fours to walk upright on their hind legs. At the same time their eye-teeth, the canines, became smaller so that they no longer projected as fangs above the level of the other teeth. [Matthews 1975, 1]

And at one point on his career, Matthews even disposed of that imagined problem for evolution, the origin of the eye:

The evolution of eyes from simple eye-spots consisting of light-sensitive substances was almost inevitable. In a many-celled animal the cells containing such pigment will generally lie at the surface of the body, and their pigment will be at the inner end of the cells, as close as possible to the under-lying nerve fibers. The transparent protoplasm of the cell body causes the surface membrane of the cell to bulge outwards slightly so that, especially in non-aquatic animals, light falling on it is refracted and concentrated upon the pigment. Such simple eyes, like eye-spots, are light-gathering organs and do not form images, but the basis structures are present for the development of image-forming organs by further stages of evolution. In the first stage, still a light-gatherer and not an image-former, the density of the refracting part of the cell is increased, thereby producing a very simple lens. In the next stage the cell is divided into two, so that a lens-cell lies above a retinular-cell containing the pigment. This simplest form of eye containing an optical system is found in the young stages of some Ascidians or Sea-squirts, animals that swim freely in the sea while they are minute larvae but then settle on the bottom and become superficially more like vegetables in appearance when adult. Once a lens-cell and a retinular-cell are separated the further stages of evolution to produce an image-forming eye of great efficiency are merely those of an increased differentiation of cell structure, and enormous increase in cell numbers (the human eye is said to contain 137,000,000 nerve endings) and a general increase in complexity.

A series of eyes ascending from the simplest to those probably as efficient as our own, perhaps even more so, can be traced in the molluscs, the shell-fish that include the snail, limpet, and periwinkle, the oyster, clam, and cockle, the squids and octopuses -- very different from those other shell-fish, the crustacea, which include crabs, lobsters and shrimps. [Matthews 1963, 156-157]

And Matthews wasn't always so coy about natural selection as a legitimate mechanism for evolution:

Behaviour patterns have evolved under the influence of natural selection during thousands or millions of years, just as have the physical characters of mammals and, as would be expected, they have diverged widely. [Matthews 1969, 220]

And in a final affront to creationist sensibilities, Matthews points out that new species of plants have appeared:

There is no reason to think that evolution has stopped because we see little change in the character of the world's biomass by the appearance of new species by hybridisation and polyploidy, the multiplication of the numbers of characteristic chromosomes. Many of the cereal cultivars are such species -- the cord grass Spartina townsendi is another well-known example. [Matthews 1975, 115]

Lest there are any readers who still hold out hope that Matthews had any philosophical kinship with creationists, I can only point out that the man seems to have held a rather bleak view of the world, one that a creationist would have trouble identifying with:

Speaking teleologically, the production of vast numbers of animals merely to destroy them seems pointless, but then all the phenomena of life are, in the ultimate analysis, equally pointless, for all end in the final frustration of death. The only biological things that can be regarded as immortal are the self-replicating molecules of DNA in the minute proportion of germ cells that produce another generation. [Matthews 1969, 283]

And if Matthews did believe in a deity, it was one closer to the God of Job than the God of Genesis. Describing the fates of less fortunate young penguins, he wrote that:

The skuas pick off the less active chicks, often disembowelling them and pecking them to pieces alive in a way highly repulsive to human eyes, put presumably not offensive to those of the Almighty who ordains these things. [Matthews 1977, 102-103]

And at the end of this same book, a combination of history, science, and anecdotes from his experiences on the seas surrounding Antarctica in the 1920s, he speculates:

It is therefore just possible that one or two of all those thousands of birds and seals that fascinated me so many years ago are still living, though most of them have long since perished. Yet the immortal stream of self-replicating DNA flows on in each according to its kind, budding off its annual generation of creatures to harbour it and bear it along, until mutation changes them to something different, or some happening brings the inevitable extinction that awaits all forms of life. [Matthews 1977, 164]

It's probably safe to say that on these points the vast majority of creationists, and Christians in general, would part philosophical company with Matthews. But, just as theologians shouldn't dissect biology, neither should biologists pontificate on theology. And while Matthews may have been a prolific biologist, there's little reason to give his views on the ultimate purpose of life much credence, and I only present them here to show how incompatible they are with those of creationists who call on him for support.

In conclusion, to say that Harrison Matthews felt that belief in evolution was comparable to belief in special creation is a grotesque misrepresentation. In reality, he felt that evolution itself was a fact beyond dispute, and in none of his writings that I've examined is there even the slightest hint that faith was required to accept it as true. However, he didn't believe that natural selection had been demonstrated to be the universal mechanism for evolution, and accepting it as such was what required faith. It is the ambiguity of the phrase "theory of evolution", as opposed to "fact of evolution" in the sentence before it, that the quote-miner has taken advantage of to cast doubt upon Matthews' belief in evolution itself. And, as Michael Ruse wrote in his initial response to me, regarding Matthews' quarrel with Sir Gavin de Beer, "of such molehill things are creationist mountains made".

I'd like to express my appreciation for Chris Nedin's powers of recall, and to Michael Ruse for his kind responses to my questions.


Matthews, L. H. 1969. The Life of Mammals, Volume One. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Matthews, L. H. 1971. The Life of Mammals, Volume Two. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Matthews, L. H. 1972. Introduction. In The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, pp. v-xiii. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Matthews, L. H. 1975. Man and Wildlife. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Matthews, L. H. 1977. Penguins, Whalers, and Sealers: A Voyage of Discovery. New York: Universe Books.

Matthews, L. H., & Knight, M. 1963. The Senses of Animals. London: Museum Press Limited.

Moran, L. 1993. "Evolution is a Fact and a Theory". The Talk-Origins Archive. Available at

Ruse, M. 1984. "A Philosopher's Day in Court". In Science and Creationism, edited by Ashley Montague, pp. 311-342. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quote #4.8

[Evolutionary theory is not necessary to understanding biology]

The subject of evolution occupies a special, and paradoxical, place within biology as a whole. While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution' [1], most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. 'Evolution' would appear to be the indispensible unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one. - Adam S. Wilkins, BioEssays (2000, p. 1051)

Representative quote miners: The Revolution Against Evolution: Does Nothing in Biology Make Sense Except in the Light of Evolution? by Jerry Bergman and Answers in Genesis: Testing God: Darwin and the Divine

[1] Refers to the Theodosius Dobzhansky's 1973 essay "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" - Ed.

Anyone familiar with Wilkins or BioEssays, a journal which regularly publishes some of the more interesting evo-devo papers around, will suspect that something is fishy here. There is. Let's look at the very next paragraph:

Yet, the marginality of evolutionary biology may be changing. More and more issues in biology, from diverse questions about human nature to the vulnerability of ecosystems, are increasingly seen as reflecting evolutionary events. A spate of popular books on evolution testifies to the development. If we are to fully understand these matters, however, we need to understand the processes of evolution that, ultimately, underlie them.

And this is in an introduction to an entire issue of the journal dedicated to evolutionary processes -- and Bergman wants to use it to argue that biologists don't consider evolution important?

Here's the table of contents from that issue. Again, does this sound like a bunch of people who think evolution isn't particularly important to biology?

Bergman's whole point is bogus. Yes, I can go into my lab right now, make up some solutions, run a pH meter, collect embryos, use a microscope, etc., without once using the principles of evolutionary biology. Likewise, I can do a lot of the day-to-day stuff of the lab without even thinking about developmental biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, or physiology; that does not imply that these disciplines are not central to how life works. We don't need evolutionary biology . . . except whenever we want to think about how these narrow, esoteric little experiments we do fit into the grander picture of life on earth. You know, biology. [2]

- P.Z. Myers

[2] Adapted, with his kind permission, from " the light of evolution.", posted on Pharyngula, Dr. Myers' excellent blog, on Friday, June 18, 2004 - Ed.

Quote #4.9

[Even if all the evidence supports design, it is ruled out by the evolutionist's philosophical assumption of Naturalism]

Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic. - Todd, S.C., correspondence to Nature 401(6752):423, 30 Sept. 1999.

Representative quote miners: Institute for Creation Research: Evolution Is Religion -- Not Science, Answers In Genesis: Who's really pushing 'bad science'?, and Apologetics Press: In the News -- Evolution of Religion

This comes from what is essentially a "letter to the editor" by Scott C. Todd, an immunologist at Kansas State University, about the Kansas Board of Education's 1999 decision to eliminate the required teaching of evolution in public schools. It was not from a formal scientific or philosophical paper.

Creationists quote the above but leave out the very next sentence:

Of course the scientist, as an individual, is free to embrace a reality that transcends naturalism.

In that next sentence, Dr. Todd correctly identifies the basis of the exclusion of the design hypothesis from science as methodological, not philosophical, naturalism. While it might be quibbled that Dr. Todd could have put it better, science, contrary to the fondest wishes of creationists, is still not metaphysics. To suggest that Dr. Todd was expressing a commitment to philosophical Naturalism is the height of disingenuousness.

Also, the text which immediately precedes the quotation is:

Most important, it should be made clear in the classroom that science, including evolution, has not disproved God's existence because it cannot be allowed to consider it (presumably).

That is hardly dogmatic anti-theism on Dr. Todd's part.

Dr. Todd's complete letter to Nature can be found at its website (requires subscription).

- John (catshark) Pieret and Tom (TomS) Scharle

Quote #4.10

[Darwinism cannot explain the origin of species]

We conclude - unexpectedly - that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak. - Orr, H.A. and Coyne, J.A. "The Genetics of Adaptation: A Reassessment," American Naturalist vol. 140, p.726 (1992).

Representative quote miners: Institute for Creation Research: Was Darwin Vindicated?, Stephen E. Jones Creation/Evolution Quotes: Darwinism #3 - Scientific, and Catholic Apologetics International: Is The Earth Old or Young?

[Editor's note: Whether this quote was originally mined by Michael J. Behe, or he just compounded someone else's abuse of Orr and Coyne, the most prominent venue for this quote mine is probably Behe's Darwin's Black Box (1996, New York: The Free Press, p. 29).]

I looked Orr and Coyne's paper up, and as it turns out - and I'm sure this will be to no one's surprise - this quote was taken out of context in a highly misleading way.

Behe uses this quote in a section along with numerous other quotes, in order to support his point that "From Mivart to Margulis, there have always been well-informed, respected scientists who have found Darwinism to be inadequate" (p.30). However, Coyne and Orr are not in any way supporting Behe's view or disagreeing with evolution in general, as Behe strongly implies they are. The topic of Orr and Coyne's paper is the role of different types of mutation in giving rise to evolutionary adaptation. The first sentence of the paper is as follows:

It is a tenet of evolutionary biology that adaptations nearly always result from the substitution of many genes of small effect" (Orr and Coyne, p. 725).

Now here is Behe's quote in context, from the page immediately following that first sentence. Note that he placed a period where there was none originally:

We conclude - unexpectedly - that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak, and there is no doubt that mutations of large effect are sometimes important in adaptation.

We hasten to add, however, that we are not 'macromutationists' who believe that adaptations are nearly always based on major genes. The neo-Darwinian view could well be correct. It is almost certainly true, however, that some adaptations involve many genes of small effect and others involve major genes. The question we address is, How often does adaptation involve a major gene? We hope to encourage evolutionists to reexamine this neglected question and to provide the evidence to settle it" (p. 726).

And more:

The micromutational view of Darwin, Fisher and others is clear: adaptations arise by allelic substitutions of slight effect at many loci, and no single substitution constitutes a major portion of an adaptation. There are, in contrast, at least two forms of macromutationism [reference omitted]. The first is exemplified by the extreme saltationism of Goldschmidt [reference omitted]: single 'systemic mutations' produce important, complex adaptations in essentially perfect form (Goldschmidt believed that systemic mutations were chromosomal rearrangements). As Charlesworth [reference omitted] notes, this 'strong' version of macromutationism is almost certainly wrong. It is highly unlikely that a single mutation could create adaptations as complex as eyes or legs, much less new taxa differing by many adaptations.

The second form of macromutationism posits that adaptation often involves one or a few alleles of large effect. Although these alleles do not produce perfect adaptations by themselves, they are responsible for a large portion of the adaptation. This 'weak' version, which is more realistic than Goldschmidt's view, is the form of macromutationism we consider in the rest of this article. Although the term 'macromutationism' has unfortunate historical connotations, we use it for lack of a better word" (p.726).

In other words, the sole thrust of Orr and Coyne's paper was to argue in favor of a different model of mutation - one where a mutation affects a "master control" gene and thus influences the activity of many other genes which that gene regulates. They set this in opposition to the "classic" view that evolution would have to proceed by altering the effect of each of those downstream genes individually. (As it turns out, Orr and Coyne were right on the money with this one: scientifically literate readers will doubtless already be familiar with the homeobox genes whose discovery has provided a tremendous jumpstart to the field of evolutionary developmental biology and given us new insight into the origin of complex adaptations.)

Orr and Coyne's paper is in no way a disagreement about the fact that evolution has happened. Instead, like so many creationist-mined quotes, it is a legitimate scientific debate about the mechanisms by which that process takes place. Behe has ripped it out of context and used it deceptively to convey to readers the false impression that Orr and Coyne have doubts about the actual fact of evolution's occurrence, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

- Adam Marczyk

The section of Darwin's Black Box this quote appears in is entitled "The Natives Are Restless". As noted, Behe's stated intent in using this quote, along with a number of others, is to support his claim that "From Mivart to Margulis, there have always been well-informed, respected scientists who have found Darwinism to be inadequate" (Emphasis added) (p.30). He starts off with quotes by Lynn Margulis [1] and then continues:

Over the past 130 years Darwinism, although securely entrenched, has met a steady stream of dissent both from within the scientific community and from without it." (Emphasis added) (p. 26)

Behe then goes on to mention Richard Goldschmidt, quotes Niles Eldredge (his 'evolution never seems to happen' quote) and discusses in the briefest of terms Punctuated Equilibria [2]. He spends a couple of paragraphs on the Cambrian explosion before introducing the group of quotes including the one from Orr and Coyne with the following:

It is not just paleontologists looking for bones, though, who are disgruntled. A raft of evolutionary biologists examining organisms wonder just how Darwinism can account for their observations. (Emphasis added) (p. 28)

The particular quote is introduced with:

Jerry Coyne [3], of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, arrives at an unexpected verdict: (Emphasis added) (p. 29)

Despite his frequent use of the term "Darwinism", Behe fails to produce an actual definition of what he means by it (a vagueness common to creationist literature, allowing readers to fill in what ever they find most objectionable in evolutionary theory). He does say his book is about "Darwinian evolution" (p. IX) and describes "evolution" as "a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely by natural means", adding "[t]hat is the sense that Darwin gave the word" (p. XI). Besides the fact that Darwin never asserted that life "arose from non-living matter" as a scientific proposition (Darwin, at least, understood the differences among science, philosophy and theology), this is conflating abiogenesis and evolutionary theory. As to the term "neo-Darwinism", that plays such a great role in this quote, Behe gives only the following:

In the first half of the twentieth century, the many branches of biology did not often communicate with each other (citing Ernst Mayr's One Long Argument, 1991, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ch. 9). As a result genetics, systematics, paleontology, comparative anatomy, embryology, and other areas developed their own views of what evolution meant. Inevitably, evolutionary theory began to mean different things to different disciplines; a coherent view of Darwinian evolution was being lost. In the middle of the century, however, leaders of the fields organized a series of interdisciplinary meetings to combine their views into a coherent theory of evolution based on Darwinian principles. The result has been called the "evolutionary synthesis," and the theory called neo-Darwinism. Neo-Darwinism is the basis of modem evolutionary thought. (p. 24)

This is a questionable description of the "synthetic theory". And, even as a thumbnail history, Behe's explanation of the development of what came to be known as "neo-Darwinism" leaves much to be desired. Importantly, however, the above are not actually definitions. No one reading that could come away with an understanding of what Behe is referring to with terms such as "Darwinism", "Darwinian principles" and "neo-Darwinism". Nor does Behe give any indication that there is no universally agreed definition of such terms, even among scientists and philosophers of science [4]. It is hard to believe that Behe began his critique of "Darwinian evolution" with such a poor grasp of what his supposed subject is, leaving us with the alternative that he is content that his intended audience remain in the dark on the distinctions.

With this background, the misleading nature of Behe's use of the Orr and Coyne quote becomes clear. As noted, the very first sentence of the paper is:

It is a tenet of evolutionary biology that adaptations nearly always result from the substitution of many genes of small effect". (Emphasis added) (Orr and Coyne, p. 725)

This is the "neo-Darwinian view" they are referring to. Orr and Coyne are not debating the whole of "neo-Darwinism" but a very specific claim as to the frequency of adaptations resulting from mutations to "one or a few alleles of large effect". They are not, as Behe's vagueness would lead the unwary to believe, disagreeing with "the basis of modem evolutionary thought". Nor is there, to Orr and Coyne's understanding, any serious doubt that some such mutations occur. They are disputing only how often adaptations result "from the substitution of many genes of small effect".

In case anyone doubts our interpretation of Orr and Coyne's intent in their article [5], Coyne himself has weighed in on Behe's quote (a fact that Adam Marczyk was unaware of at the time he first posted the above). As Coyne said in his article "More Crank Science" in the Boston Review:

I am painfully and personally acquainted with Behe's penchant for fiddling with quotations [quote omitted]. Apparently I am one of those faint-hearted biologists who see the errors of Darwinism but cannot admit it. This was news to me. I am surely numbered among the more orthodox evolutionists, and hardly see our field as fatally flawed. The paper in question (actually by Allen Orr and myself)3 addresses a technical debate among evolutionists: are adaptations based on a lot of small genetic mutations (the traditional neo-Darwinian view), a few big mutations, or some mixture of the two? We concluded that although there was not much evidence one way or the other, there were indications that mutations of large effect might occasionally be important. Our paper cast no doubt whatever on the existence of evolution or the ability of natural selection to explain adaptations. ...

By inserting the period (and removing the sentence from its neighbors), Behe has twisted our meaning. Our discussion of one aspect of Darwinism -- the relative size of adaptive mutations -- has suddenly become a critique of the entire Darwinian enterprise. This is not sloppy scholarship, but deliberate distortion.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Coyne's article appeared in the February/ March 1997 issue of Boston Review. It is difficult to believe that Behe was unaware of Coyne's complaint about being quote mined, since an article of Behe's ("The Sterility of Darwinism") appeared in the same issue. And yet, the paperback edition of Darwin's Black Box (1998, New York: Touchstone), published nearly a year later, contains the exact same text and quote without even an acknowledgment of Coyne's objection or even a correction as to Orr's co-authorship. Whatever Behe's purpose really was in using this quote, it did not include an accurate and scholarly portrayal of other scientists' work.

- John (catshark) Pieret

[1] Lynn Margulis' proposals about symbiotic capture (or "endosymbiosis") having a major role in speciation are beyond the purview of this response. However, even stripped of most context, the quotes from Margulis are clearly only attacking a particular version of "neo-Darwinism" that, as she says, "insists on" a slow accumulation of mutations. This is slightly different from Orr and Coyne's understanding of "neo-Darwinism", as maintaining only that adaptations are "nearly always" due to slow accumulation of mutations of small effect (this problem with terminology is further addressed in the fourth footnote below). More important still is the fact that Behe equivocates between "Darwinism" and "neo-Darwinism", as where he cites Margulis as one of the "respected scientists who have found Darwinism to be inadequate". As pointed out by John Wilkins in a December 2003 "Feedback" article:

Is this [Margulis' view] "non-Darwinian"? Well, that's going to depend on whether you think everything has to be based on just those ideas Darwin proposed; Darwin himself would not have, and several times mentions hybridisation as a process in the Origin, for example, in Chapter 8, on hybrids.

For more information on the Margulis quotes, see the Don Lindsay Archive article "Quote: Lynn Margulis on Evolution as a Religious Sect".

[2] See the "Gould, Eldredge and Punctuated Equilibria Quotes" section of the Quote Mine Project.

[3] As already noted, Coyne was the co-author of the paper with Orr, a fact that is reflected in Behe's own notes at the end of the book. Why he only mentions Coyne in the text is a mystery.

[4] David L. Hull, in his book, Science as a Process (1988, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 202-05), discusses at some length the differences in meaning given the term "Darwinism" among scientists such as Richard Lewontin, Stephen Jay Gould, Ernst Mayr and Richard Michod, something Hull can do because, unlike Behe, they explain what they intend by the term. It is no surprise then that Margulis may have a slightly different take on what "neo-Darwinism" is than Orr and Coyne. Of course, the differences in meaning are even greater in society at large. As Hull notes (citing an earlier paper of his on the results of a conference of historians exploring the reception of Darwinism around the world):

... Darwinism was many things to many people. It was rank materialism, an atheistic attack on the Christian faith, unadulterated positivism, a death blow to teleology. Simultaneously it was irresponsible speculation, an outrage against positivistic science, a rebirth of teleology, proof of the beneficent hand of God, a Christian plot to subvert the Muslim faith. It was also an intellectual weapon to use against entrenched aristocracies, a justification for laissez-faire economic policies, an excuse for the powerful to subjugate the weak, and a foundation for Marxian economic theory.

Either Behe's knowledge of the very thing he is criticizing is scant (and his desire to rectify that deficiency even less in evidence) or he is knowledgeable enough to recognized the different meanings of "neo-Darwinism" and "Darwinism" but is nonetheless willing to exploit the confusion of the public at large.

[5] Also enlightening on the issue of how Orr and Coyne view the health of evolutionary theory are their reviews of Darwin's Black Box:

Of interest also is Orr's response to the flurry of articles in Boston Review following his original review:

Quote #4.11

[Evolution and natural variation is insufficient to explain some characteristics of life]

The results of the last 20 years of research on the genetic basis of adaptation has led us to a great Darwinian paradox. Those [genes] that are obviously variable within natural populations do not seem to lie at the heart of many major adaptive changes, while those [genes] that seemingly do constitute the foundation of many, if not most, major adaptive changes apparently are not variable within natural populations. - McDonald, J.F. "The Molecular Basis of Adaptation." Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, vol. 14, p. 93 (1983).

Representative quote miners: A Creation Perspective: Quotations about Small Evolution, Degeneration - the end of the evolution-theory: Variation Exists, and Christian Keys: Creation: By Evolution, or God?

[Editor's note: Whether this quote was originally mined by Michael J. Behe, or he just compounded someone else's abuse of McDonald, the most prominent venue for this quote mine is probably Behe's Darwin's Black Box (1996, New York: The Free Press, p. 28).]

Again, Behe has deceptively taken this quote out of context to support his central claim that "From Mivart to Margulis, there have always been well-informed, respected scientists who have found Darwinism to be inadequate" (p.30) - i.e., who disagree with the proposition that life could develop "entirely by natural means" [1], the fact which he is questioning in his book. But McDonald is not such a scientist. He is not disagreeing with the fact of evolution or that it can be explained by naturalistic forces, but is offering an alternative view of the mechanism underlying it.

In this paper, McDonald holds that low levels of background mutation maintain a certain amount of selectable variation already present within a species' gene pool, which ensures that it is able to adapt to most environmental changes. So far, this is exactly the same as the standard neo-Darwinian view. However, he argues that at times of great environmental stress, various mechanisms cause the mutation rate to increase, and variation in major regulatory genes arises de novo and rapidly, leading to major adaptive shifts and the emergence of new species. This view uses aspects both of punctuated equilibrium and of the somatic hypermutation phenomenon recently demonstrated in E. coli, both of which he discusses.

Here is the sentence directly following the one quoted by Behe:

If the genetic material for major adaptive shifts is not present within species' gene pools, it must be provided de novo by some sort of mutational event(s). Evidence that just such events may accompany major evolutionary changes in eukaryotes has come from some recent intra- and interspecific surveys of families of multiple copy DNA. (p.93)

He surveys the evidence for environmentally triggered increases in mutation rates, then goes on to explain his view:

In fact, recent evidence suggests that the rates of many mutational events are not always low and constant, but rather that they increase dramatically during periods of environmental challenge and the consequent organismal stress. The implications for adaptation of such a scenario are significant; at precisely those challenging moments in evolutionary history when major adaptive shifts are required, genetic mechanisms exist that increase the probability that the appropriate variants will be provided." (p.94)

Again, contra Behe, McDonald is not disagreeing with the fact that natural selection occurs or that its sculpting of genetic variation is sufficient to produce complex adaptations. On the contrary, he says that "the basic Darwinian tenet of natural selection remains intact" (p.97) and also that:

The marriage between molecular biology and evolution is well on its way to being consummated. As evolutionists, we can look forward to reaping the benefits of the products of this union over the next decade. (p.98)

and again:

Obviously, however, adaptive evolutionary changes have occurred at all levels of biological organization, and their origins are necessarily rooted in molecular-level events. Although there may well be molecular level changes that are adaptively neutral or nearly so, a great number of changes must have served as the source of adaptive evolution and will continue to do so. (p.77-78)

His paper is focused solely on the mechanisms by which that variation arises by naturalistic forces in the first place.

- Adam Marczyk

[1] Editor's note: The quote mine of McDonald appears in a group of three immediately before the Orr and Coyne quote mine discussed in Quote #4.10. See the second half of that response for more on the what leads up to Behe's use of this quote.

Quote #4.12

[Evolutionists are spinning imaginary scenarios rather than doing science]

"In tracking the emergence of the eukaryotic cell, one enters a kind of wonderland where scientific pursuit leads almost to fantasy. Cell and molecular biologists must construct cellular worlds in their own imaginations. ... Imagination, to some degree, is essential for grasping the key events in cellular history." -- B.D. Dyer and R.A. Obar, Tracing the History of Eukaryotic Cells, Columbia University Press 1994, pp. 2 & 3

Representative quote miners: The Creation Science Association For Mid-America: Evolution: Science Or Imagination?, Northwest Creation Network: Abiogenesis and the Origin of Life, and Was Darwin right?: Science Quotes

This is about the research program of the evolution of the eukaryotic cell. The ellipsis is not unreasonable but what follows the last sentence quoted is:

So many components found in cells retain cryptic remnants of the past. It is as if cells are enthusiastic collectors of souvenirs. Their attics are full of tokens of the past, but most of the items are broken or so outdated that their original functions are no longer obvious. Moreover, some of the souvenirs can replicate and mutate autonomously, filling the attics and basements with a multitude of surprises. Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan have made this point in extending the metaphor of David C. Smith. "It is as if the Cheshire Cat has had a litter of kittens that are playing everywhere, yet more enigmatic and faded than their ancestor" ... ."

The point being that it is hard to disentangle the evolutionary history of the cell - as it is for every living organism and function or part. Such is life - the past is often hard to know. This is not, however, an obstacle to evolutionary theory so much as a necessary result of evolution, and history, itself.

- John S. Wilkins

It is perhaps emblematic of creationist thinking that they denigrate the use of imagination in science. But here is what Karl Popper, the creationists' favorite philosopher of science (at least when he can be made to appear to be on their side), has to say on the subject:

[T]here is no such thing as a logical method of having new ideas, or a logical reconstruction of this process. ... [E]very discovery contains "an irrational element", or "a creative intuition" . . . In a similar way Einstein speaks of the "search for those highly universal laws . . . from which a picture of the world can be obtained by pure deduction. There is no logical path", he says, "leading to these . . . laws. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love ("Einfühlung") of the objects of experience." - Popper, K., The Logic of Scientific Discovery, (1959 English ed., 2002 reprint, London: Routledge Classics, pp. 8-9)

Imagination, intuition, creativity and even irrational leaps of logic are necessary elements of any science worth the effort. The testing by the whole of the scientific community that comes after the inspiration is what sets science apart from so much else in human learning.

It is no coincidence that creationists have an abiding affinity for arguments from authority and being told what to think.

- John (catshark) Pieret

Quote #4.13

[Evolution and Christianity are incompatible]

As we have just seen, the ways of national evolution, both in the past and in the present, are cruel, brutal, ruthless and without mercy . . The law of Christ is incompatible with the law of evolution. - Sir Arthur Keith, Evolution and Ethics (1947), p. 15.

Representative quote miners: Evolution Cruncher Chapter 19: Evolution, Morality, and Violence Part 2, The Kennedy Commentary: Christianity and Evolution: Incompatible, and Bevets: equotes

[Editor's note: The full text of Keith's Evolution and Ethics can be found at this rather eclectic site: reactor-core.]

Let's look at the context:

If the final purpose of our existence is that which has been and is being worked out under the discipline of evolutionary law, then, although we are quite unconscious of the end result, we ought, as Dr. Waddington has urged, to help on "that which tends to promote the ultimate course of evolution." If we do so, then we have to abandon the hope of ever attaining a universal system of ethics; for, as we have just seen, the ways of national evolution, both in the past and in the present, are cruel, brutal, ruthless, and without mercy. Dr. Waddington has not grasped the implications of Nature's method of evolution, for in his summing up (Nature, 1941, 150, p. 535) he writes "that the ethical principles formulated by Christ . . . are those which have tended towards the further evolution of mankind, and that they will continue to do so." Here a question of the highest interest is raised: the relationship which exists between evolution and Christianity; so important, it seems to me, that I shall devote to it a separate chapter. Meantime let me say that the conclusion I have come to is this: the law of Christ is incompatible with the law of evolution as far as the law of evolution has worked hitherto. Nay, the two laws are at war with each other; the law of Christ can never prevail until the law of evolution is destroyed. Clearly the form of evolution which Dr. Waddington has in mind is not that which has hitherto prevailed; what he has in mind is a man made system of evolution. In brief, instead of seeking ethical guidance from evolution, he now proposes to impose a system of ethics on evolution and so bring humanity ultimately to a safe and final anchorage in a Christian haven.

In context this is not a discussion by Keith of the reality of evolution. This is a discussion of founding ethical laws upon evolutionary thinking. It is about committing the Naturalistic Fallacy and arguing directly from "nature does this" (which it clearly does, for both Keith and Waddington) to "this is right". Such was the argument that G. E. Moore named the Naturalistic Fallacy for in 1904, and here Keith is merely reminding the reader of this mistake.

Keith is moreover claiming that the ethical laws he thinks are right are those based on "the law of Christ". What he wants destroyed is an ethical system based on evolutionary biology -- given the limitations of what he knew about that in the days before iterated Prisoner's Dilemma games, I can well understand it. Most people wrongly thought that evolution necessarily involved unremitting bloodshed and violence. Few if any biologists since the mid 60s would think that is still true.

So what you really have here is the time-honoured dishonesty of "quote mining": selectively using a part of a passage, without its context, to give the reader a false impression.

- John S. Wilkins

Quote #4.14

[The fossil record doesn't support common descent of humans from ape-like creatures]

New fossil discoveries are fitted into this preexisting story. We call these new discoveries 'missing links', as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices. In reality, the physical record of human evolution is more modest. Each fossil represents an isolated point, with no knowable connection to any other given fossil, and all float around in an overwhelming sea of gaps. - Henry Gee, 1999. In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life. (New York: The Free Press), page 32

Representative quote miners: Equivocal Evidence and Harun Yahya: Darwinism Watch: The Errors of Science on Bipedalism

Miners who use parts of this quote mine: Discovery Institute: National Center for Science Education's Shrill Campaign in Defense of "Evolution" [1] and CreationDigest: Caveat Emptor - It Ain't Necessarily So

The first chapter of Gee's book, including the quote mined bits, can be read online.

Earlier on the same page, Gee notes that:

The conventional portrait of . . . the history of life . . . tends to be one of lines of ancestors and descendants. We concentrate on the events leading to modern humanity, ignoring or playing down the evolution of other animals; we prune away all branches in the tree of life except the one leading to ourselves. ...

Because we see evolution in terms of a linear chain of ancestry and descent, we tend to ignore the possibility that some of these ancestors might instead have been side-branches; collateral cousins rather than direct ancestors. The conventional linear view easily becomes a story in which features of humanity are acquired in a sequence that can be discerned retrospectively; first an upright stance, then a bigger brain, then the invention of toolmaking and so on, with ourselves as the inevitable consequence."

The quoted text follows immediate from this. Clearly Gee is not saying that evolution is a pre-existing story, but the popular and non-paleontological views of human evolution is. And he is right - these ideas took a long time to overcome. Stephen Jay Gould discusses this nicely in his essay "Evolution by Walking" in Dinosaur in a Haystack, 1995 (New York: Harmony Books). (See also the essay in that book "Lucy on the earth in stasis").

Gee is able to distinguish between that which is fact, such as evolution, and the various stories we tell, for all kinds of social or religious reasons, about those facts. He then goes on to discuss how we can infer, without doubt, based on shared properties, that he and his cat Fred have a common ancestor, but that "we cannot hope to find her [the common ancestor] as a fossil; or if we were to find her, we could never know for certain that we had done so [found the common ancestor - of course we know we have found a fossil]", p37.

- John S. Wilkins

A brief broader examination of what Gee's thesis is might be useful. First and foremost Gee objects that things that took millions of years and the lives of many millions of individual organisms could possibly be reduced to any kind of narrative. This is because the events of millions of years will never reduce to paragraphs (or books) even if one could know it all. But of course one can't know but a tiny fraction of what happened over those millions of years.

The fossils found by the paleontologists are usually separated by many thousands of years. Furthermore, simple probability combined with the knowledge that evolutionary branches often branch suggests that those fossils will almost certainly not form a direct lineage with each other or with us. Naturally, simple popular presentations, such as a newspaper articles, tend to present those fossils in a nice simple sequence. This is something that Gee strongly objects to. And he is right. It goes against everything we know about evolution: evolution is, as Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, a branching shrub and not a linear ladder of progress. There is no way we could really know that they made a nice simple sequence even if they did.

Given the ubiquitous chatter of journalists and headline writers about the search for ancestors, and the discovery of missing links, it may come as a surprise to learn that most professional palaeontologists do not think of the history of life in terms of scenarios or narratives, and that they rejected the storytelling mode of evolutionary history as unscientific more than thirty years ago. Behind the scenes, in museums and universities, a quiet revolution has taken place. (p. 5.)

That revolution was cladistics [2], a study that can provide objective information about the evolutionary pattern of life on Earth. Cladistics is completely evolutionary and would not work if common descent is not true.

Gee's objection to narrative is not limited to just his objection to declaring x fossil to be an ancestor to y fossil or z species.

. . .Nobody will ever know what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, because we weren't there to watch it happen. All we have are two isolated observations -- the apparent absence of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and the evidence for a catastrophic phenomenon, such as the impact of an asteroid, at the same time. There can be no certain link between the two. Geologic time admits no narrative in which causes can be linked with effects. (p. 2.)

This is an example to the degree that Gee applies his thesis. A better example would be evolution of legs.

. . . [O]ur experience of tetrapods -- you, me, Fred the cat, cows, horses, birds, and frogs -- tells us that limbs are excellent adaptations for moving about on land. Also, our experience of present-day non-tetrapod vertebrates -- conventionally, the fishes -- tell us that these animals, adopted for life in water, have fins instead of limbs. However, somewhere in time fishes did indeed evolve legs and start to walk on land. This assumption, however would be scientifically unjustified, because we can never know that it is true. After all, we weren't there to watch it happen. However, given that tetrapods plainly use their limb for this purpose today, does not this caution seem extreme? It is not, because the fact that tetrapods' limbs are adapted for walking now need say nothing about the reasons why limbs evolved in the first place, more than 360 million years ago. (pp. 86-7.)

It turns out that a fossil aquatic fish complete with legs has been found, thus tossing cold water on the idea that legs simply evolved for walking on land.

- Mike Hopkins

[1] In an amusing (or tragic, depending on your viewpoint) bit of multiple quote mining, the Discovery Institute not only quotes Gee out of context but then quotes his complaint about what they did out of context, putting their own spin on it. The DI does not have the intellectual honesty to provide a link to Gee's complaint, despite quoting from it, so here is Gee's reaction. - Ed.

[2] A brief introduction to cladistics can be found in the "Phylogenetics Primer" of "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution." If common descent was wrong it would have consequences for the results that the methods of cladistics give. See "The Unique Universal Phylogentic Tree" and in particular see the section showing the mathematical consequences of cladistic and whether there really is a common ancestor.

Quote #4.15

[Mutations cannot cause evolutionary change.]

The one systematic effect of mutation seems to be a tendency towards degeneration. - Sewall Wright, "The Statistical Consequences of Mendelian Heredity in Relation to Speciation," The New Systematics, editor Julian Huxley (London: Oxford University Press, 1949).

Representative quote miners: Pathlights: Scientists Speak About Mutations - 2 , Center for Scientific Creation: Mutations, and Evolution Cruncher: Evolution Encyclopedia Vol. 1: Appendix Part 1: Mutations

The quote is on page 174, which is in the middle of a discussion of the relative importance in evolution of three factors: mutation pressure, natural selection and inbreeding/isolation. Here is the quote with the surrounding context:

These statistical deductions from the Mendelian mechanism do not in themselves give a general evaluation of the roles of the various factors in evolution. They bring these factors under a common viewpoint, however, and make it possible to form a judgement as to the conditions under which one or another, or a combination, may dominate the process.

The conditions under which mutation-pressures, at rates like those usually observed in the laboratory, are likely to dominate in the course of evolution appear to be decidedly restricted. Even a very slight selective advantage (e.g. of the order 10-4 or even 10-5) would usually be more important. However, under extreme reduction of size of populations (4Ns much less than 1) selection-pressure becomes ineffective, while mutation-pressure is not affected. The one systematic effect of mutation seems to be a tendency towards degeneration (as may be seen from a casual survey of the effects of most of the Drosophila mutations). Thus a trend towards degeneration of structures of little or no use in small completely isolated populations (e.g. in caves or small oceanic islands) may be due to mutation-pressure. Even here there are possibilities of indirect control by selection which should not be ignored.

So, while mutations alone may be overall degenerative on their own, other factors, such as selection, mitigate that trend. Wright makes this point by continuing:

Great increases in mutation-rate at certain periods of the earth's history have been postulated by various authors to explain various periods of rapid evolutionary advance. The real effect would depend on the prevailing balance with the other factors. Such a change in mutation-rate would probably mean merely a degenerative trend unless the effects of all other influences were correspondingly speeded up.

Wright is saying that no factor taken alone can effectively explain evolutionary phenomena. A holistic, integrative approach is needed to fully understand the evolutionary process.

Focusing only on Wright's reference to mutation in that section, as the quote miners do, ignores the influence of the other factors, and steps completely around Wright's point.

- Dave Wisker

Quote #4.16

[Fossil discoveries contradict claims about the evolution of man]

Whatever the outcome, the skull shows, once and for all, that the old idea of a "missing link" is bunk... It should now be quite plain that the very idea of the missing link, always shaky, is now completely untenable. - Henry Gee, The Guardian, 11 July 2002

[Editor's Note: This particular quote is almost exclusively promoted by "Harun Yahya", the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, the head of Bilim Arastirma Vakfi ( Science Research Foundation), an Islamic creationist organization based in Turkey. BAV maintains a number of slick websites and, as is common with this organization, the quote mine appears in several different articles. Despite the source, individual creationists of all backgrounds have picked up and used this quote, as we have seen in]

Representative miners: Darwinism Refuted: Latest Evidence: Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Darwinism Watch: Evolutionist Propaganda on the History Channel , and Harun Yahya: An Invitation to the Truth: New Fossil Discovery Sinks Evolutionary Theories

A more complete reference is "Face of yesterday", The Guardian, Thursday July 11, 2002.

First of all, the ellipsis includes almost the entire article. The first part of the quote appears in the first paragraph of the article and the second in the next-to-last.

Gee is discussing Sahelanthropus tchadensis, commonly known as "Toumaï", a mostly complete cranium [1] found in Chad in 2001 that is, at the very least, a specimen from at or around the time of the split between humans and our closest relative, the chimpanzees. Why does Gee find it so interesting? As he says:

It is a mixture of primitive and disconcertingly advanced traits. The braincase has the same size and shape as a chimpanzee. The face, though, is where the interest lies. Rather than having a projecting snout with large canine teeth, the face is flat and the teeth are very small and human-like. Strangest of all are the enormous brow-ridges. These are usually associated with our own genus Homo, and are not otherwise seen in anything older than about 2m years.

This leads Gee to ask:

Does this mean we have, at last, a sign that the roots of humanity go directly back to the divergence with chimps, and that the legions of ape-men and near-humans discovered over the past 70 years are a side-issue, irrelevant to the main course of human evolution?

Gee's answer is "no". He maintains that Toumaï is a "very small tip of a very deep iceberg, just a sample of what might have been a huge diversity of creatures living between four and 10m years ago." As was the case with the quote mine of Gee previously addressed in Quote #4.14, he is pointing out and arguing against the tendency, even among scientists, to "see evolution in terms of a linear chain of ancestry and descent" instead of as a "bush" with many collateral cousins. Thus, there are no "missing links", not because evolution is false, but because simple chains are poor metaphors for the prolific nature of life. Or, as Gee explains:

People and advertising copywriters tend to see human evolution as a line stretching from apes to man, into which one can fit new-found fossils as easily as links in a chain. Even modern anthropologists fall into this trap . . .

[W]e tend to look at those few tips of the bush we know about, connect them with lines, and make them into a linear sequence of ancestors and descendants that never was. But it should now be quite plain that the very idea of the missing link, always shaky, is now completely untenable.

Gee, like any good scientist, is never satisfied and complains that "we know desperately little of the course of human evolution". He will doubtless continue to do so no matter how much we learn in his lifetime. But the broad conclusions scientists have drawn regarding human descent are supported by ample evidence, of which the "legions of ape-men and near-humans discovered over the past 70 years" are just a part. Gee's understandable desire to know more is no excuse to distort what he has said concerning what we do know.

- John (catshark) Pieret

[1] See the article "TM 266-01-060-1, "Toumaï", Sahelanthropus tchadensis" at the Talk Origins Archive.

Quote #4.17

[The theory of evolution is not scientific]

Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme. - Karl Popper, Unended Quest (Glasgow: Fontana, Collins. 1976), p.151.

Representative miners: Karl Popper's Challenge, Abounding Joy!: Scientists on Evolutionism, and Apologetics Press: Logical Illiterates and Scientific Simpletons

Popper originally said that evolution (by which he meant natural selection) was a "metaphysical research programme". Popper, unlike the logical positivists he opposed, held that metaphysical programmes were an essential element of science, and that without them, theories were effectively dead in the water.

The typical metaphysical research programme Popper gives in his Unended Quest, in section 33, is metaphysical realism. He says that it, "the view that there is a physical world to be discovered" [p. 151], is "a faith ... without which practical action is hardly conceivable" [p. 150, quoting his own Logic of Scientific Discovery, section 79]. This is the very basis of scientific research. So being a metaphysical research programme is not a bad thing for him. He then says that he introduced this because

I intend to argue that the theory of natural selection is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program; and although it is no doubt the best at present available, it can perhaps be slightly improved [p. 151].

Now let's look at what he did then say in section 37. First he outlines what the New Synthesis as he understands it consists of claiming: (1) An evolutionary tree and history, (2) an evolutionary theory which explains this, consisting of (a) heredity, (b) variation, (c) natural selection (NS), (d) variability (which can be controlled by NS). He is confused here, I think, but it is clear that NS is one aspect of the theory that underlies explanation of evolution itself [p. 170]. He is using the term "Darwinism" for this set of explanatory schemes.

Then he says why he thinks "Darwinism" is metaphysical and a research programme. "It is metaphysical because it is not testable." Darwinism does not predict the evolution of variety, he says. Therefore it cannot explain it. "At best it can predict the evolution of variety under "favourable conditions". But it is hardly possible to describe in general terms what favourable conditions are -- except that, in their presence, a variety of forms will emerge." Then he raises the tautology claim, saying "To say that a species now living is adapted to its environment is, in fact, almost tautological." Almost, note. Then he says that "Adaptation or fitness is defined by modern evolutionists as survival value, and can be measured by actual success in survival: there is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this." [p. 171]

Note that Popper allows there is a possibility of testing NS, and that it is almost a tautology, not an actual one. We mustn't make Popper say more than he did.

Then he says this:

And yet, the theory is invaluable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin. In trying to explain experiments with bacteria which become adapted to, say, penicillin, it is quite clear that we are greatly helped by the theory of natural selection. Although it is metaphysical, it sheds much light upon very concrete and very practical researches. It allows us to study adaptation to a new environment (such as a penicillin-infested environment) in a rational way: it suggests the existence of a mechanism of adaptation, and it allows us even to study in detail the mechanism at work. And it is the only theory so far which does all that. [pp. 171-172].

So it is a theory of science, it does help research, and it is to be preferred, says Popper, even before his recantation.

Moreover, he notes that theism as an explanation of adaptation "was worse than an open admission of failure, for it created the impression that an ultimate explanation had been reached" [p. 172]. He also continues to outline what he sees are the other virtues and predictions of Darwin's theory (again, he means natural selection). It "suggests" variety of forms of life; it "predicts" gradualness of change, accidental mutations and that [friends of Gould will like this] "we should expect evolutionary sequences of the random walk type" [p. 173]. Thereafter Popper discusses his own view or elaboration of "Darwinism".

Popper's claims were pretty mild. He most certainly did not think Darwinism was false or useless in science, as we have seen. He was attempting to make of Natural Selection (and NS only) something like an explanatory scheme that directs and suggests further research. I think, in that regard, he was correct. NS is an explanatory scheme that may or may not apply to a given case of evolution. Whether the scheme works depends on the individual facts of the matter. You can't disprove an explanatory scheme except to show that it is logically inconsistent, which NS isn't, by creationists' own admission.

Note that he claimed that adaptation or fitness equaled survival value. This is not true. Fisher in 1930, revised in 1958, said that fitness (he didn't use this word) was "reproductive investment". That is a rather different claim - it means that what counts is the number of progeny over time, not the survival of the individual organism. A short-lived organism might still have a major success in number of progeny. Also, Popper didn't really deal with selection taking place between members of the same species, but used the older confused terminology of selection taking place of species, or "for" the species, rather than individual organisms or genetic variations.

So even before the recantation, where Popper said:

I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. [1]

he had not said what creationists claim he said.

Popper's influence on biologists is arguable. It seems to me that he was immediately employed by biologists to validate what they were doing anyway. One of the ironies of science and philosophy is that those who employed him the most -- taxonomists -- did so in support of an activity that Popper almost never talks about and clearly thinks with Rutherford is a form of stamp collecting -- classification. [2]

- John S. Wilkins

[1] Popper, Karl. 1978. "Natural selection and the emergence of mind". Dialectica 32: 339-355. (The relevant potion of the article can be found in this excerpt.)

[2] Here's an interesting article by a former Popperian taxonomist.

In his Dialectica article, Popper does in fact explicitly recant his previous opinion on natural selection, and affirm that he considers it testable. On pages 343 and 344 of the article he reviews the opinions of various evolutionary theorists on the nature of natural selection, as well as the one he himself had previously held. Then at the top of page 345 he writes:

I still believe that natural selection works in this way as a research programe. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and the logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have the opportunity to make a recantation. My recantation may, I hope, contribute a little to the understanding of the nature of natural selection.

After one and a half pages of discussion he gives the following summary (p.346).

The theory of natural selection may be so formulated that it is far from tautological. In this case it is not only testable but it turns out to be not universally true. There seem to be exceptions, as with so many biological theories; and considering the random character of the variations on which natural selection operates, the occurrence of exceptions is not surprising. Thus not all phenomena of evolution are explained by natural selection alone. Yet in every particular case it is a challenging research programme to show how far natural selection can possibly be held responsible for the evolution of a particular organ or behavioural programme.

- David Wilson

It should be emphasized that Popper was referring to "Darwinism". Not to be confused with evolution. And yes, he clearly did mean natural selection, as can be gleaned easily from his retraction. Also, though this seems ambiguous, I read it to mean the claim that natural selection explains every feature of evolution, including diversity. This may arise from the penchant in the middle of the last century for labeling every large group an "adaptive radiation", implying that diversity did indeed arise through natural selection. This is notoriously difficult to test, because even random speciation models can produce huge disparities in number of species between sister groups. The only real hope we have of testing such hypotheses is in cases of multiple origins of the same character trait, in which case we can ask whether the group having that trait has more species than its sister without the trait significantly more often than chance would allow.

But natural selection, as an individual explanation for individual events, is not too difficult to test provided we observe the event in progress, or are able to do real tests of the selective value of different alleles, as with the peppered moth case. Selection can also leave a signature in the genome, giving us another chance to observe past selection, provided it was recent enough.

I think this ambiguity, natural selection as universal explanation vs. explanation for individual cases, may have arisen from Popper's own confusion about just what he was talking about.

- John Harshman

Quote #4.18

[DNA is software]

DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created. - Bill Gates

Bill Gates has said, "DNA is similar to a software program" but more complex . . .

Representative quote miners: Tom Bethell: Banned in Biology; Stephen E. Jones:Creation/Evolution Quotes: Origin of Life #3: Information and Professor Knockout Quotes!: Encyclopedic Information.

The truncated version apparently originated in an article by Stephen C. Meyer, "DNA and Other Designs" in the journal First Things that can be found in many places, including the following: Catholic Culture; The Center for Science and Culture and Access Research Network. This quote mine has been promoted quite a bit recently by intelligent designer advocates. I found an early use of it by Stephen C. Meyer, Discovery Institute Fellow and young earth creationist. He used it this way, "If, as Bill Gates has said, "DNA is similar to a software program" but more complex, it makes sense, on analogical grounds, to consider inferring that it too had an intelligent source." in "DNA and Other Designs" Stephen Meyer First Things 102, April 1, 2000 but without citation.

The correct quote was used in 2004 by "Harun Yahya", the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, the head of Bilim Arastirma Vakfi ( Science Research Foundation), an Islamic creationist organization based in Turkey. As far as I could learn, Meyer did not correctly quote Gates until just a few months ago. "As Bill Gates has noted, 'DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created.'" Stephen C. Meyer, "Not By Chance" National Post, (Canada) December 1, 2005.

In rapid succession the quote was used in several other publications targeted at politically conservative, and religious audiences. These included "What Is Intelligent Design?" by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute in Human Events, and " Jefferson, Marx and Intelligent Design" by L. Baer for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's newspaper The Washington Times, and " DNA Evidence of an Intelligent Designer" by Tom Ashby in the Huntington News. It is nearly certain that these later authors have not read Bill Gates' book for themselves, they all use the mistaken wording used by Steve Meyer's original article.

They all claim that this is somehow "evidence" in favor of IDC, but is it? Bill Gates wrote the sentence (or one nearly like it), but he wrote it in chapter about education and the Internet, and not in the least related to evolution or creationism. Chapter 9 of his book is titled "Education: The Best Investment, and the context of the quoted sentence is how Gates realized that biology was an interesting topic to study. The paragraph follows:

We have all had teachers who made a difference. I had a great chemistry teacher in high school who made his subject immensely interesting. Chemistry seemed enthralling compared to biology. In biology, we were dissecting frogs - just hacking them to pieces, actually - and our teacher didn't explain why. My chemistry teacher sensationalized his subject a bit and promised that it would help us understand the world. When I was in my twenties, I read James D. Watson's "Molecular Biology of the Gene" and decided my high school experience had misled me. The understanding of life is a great subject. Biological information is the most important information we can discover, because over the next several decades it will revolutionize medicine. Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created. It seems amazing to me now that one great teacher made chemistry endlessly fascinating while I found biology totally boring. (Gates, The Road Ahead, Penguin: London, Revised, 1996 p. 228)

There you have it -- Gates is not investing a great deal of attention to the facts of genetics -- he is talking about his experiences as a high schooler and the importance of good teachers. Further, there is nothing in the sentence or the idea behind it that attacks science or backs supernaturalism.

- Gary S. Hurd, Ph.D. *

It should be noted that this use of the Gates' quote commits the logical fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam or the appeal to authority. Gates may well know a lot about software, but he is in no position to assess how much DNA is, if at all, like a computer program. In point of fact, anyone who read the above passage would doubt that Gates had even a high school level understanding of biology and anyone interested in honesty would make that clear if they still wanted to use the quote.

- John (catshark) Pieret

* This is adapted, with the kind permission of Dr. Hurd, from a letter to the editor in response to Tom Ashby's opinion piece in the Huntington News referred to above.


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