Darwin quote-mining in latest book from the Discovery Institute

UPDATE (6/11/13): I was informed by a friend that the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin, coauthor of the book I discuss in this post, responded to my critique, in Critics of Discovering Intelligent Design Ignore the Textbook’s Text. I will respond to his claims within the body of my post, in bold.

One would perhaps think that after being shown on multiple occasions that a quote they decided to cherry pick from a historical figure’s work in fact does not convey what they want that figure to have said in the past, said cherry picker would decide to stop using that quote in a vain attempt to discredit that historical figure. The tactic of quote-mining Charles Darwin is something I’ve posted a lot about before, and it continues to astound me that creationists – no, sorry, intelligent design advocates – no, wait, yes, creationists – time and time again slap history in its face. But that’s how creationists work: they say something they think supports their view, and will never reconsider even in the face of evidence against it.

Taking Darwin’s words out of context was the purview of young earth creationists. The tactic is now practiced increasingly by intelligent design creationists, especially those at the Discovery Institute. They have a new book that just came out, Discovering Intelligent Design: A Journey into the Scientific Evidence, a sort of textbook for intelligent design. On Amazon, you can view some of the contents, and I found myself doing so a few days ago. The index showed several entries for Darwin, and while not all of them were viewable, two that were use quotes from the naturalist.

On page 27, one will find atop the page this quote: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” This quote comes from On the Origin of Species, and I’ve shown several times why it is erroneous to use it the way they do. The Discovery Institute uses this quote to get people to think that the subjects of evolution and intelligent design should be taken up equally, and that Darwin would have supported that. Darwin is not stating that all sides are equal concerning debate over evolution, but rather that he cannot properly offer all the facts he has in support of evolution in On the Origin of Species, which was much shorter than the book he really wanted to write (he was, as you probably know, pushed to publish sooner when he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace outlining the same idea about natural selection). Context matters, and it surely does with this quote.

Luskin writes, “There’s one other accusation of ‘quote-mining’ by ‘The Dispersal of Darwin’ — but it’s so weak and bizarre as to be hardly worth mentioning. He charges that when we quote Darwin’s statement, ‘A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question,’ despite all appearances to the contrary, that’s not what Darwin really meant.” Luskin thinks that Darwin asking his readers in the mid-nineteenth century to understand that he was not able to include all his facts in On the Origin of Species (he did plan on publishing a fuller account later, but that did not happen) equates to Darwin hypothetically advocating for equal treatment of intelligent design “theory” today is erronous. Darwin was not referring to both sides as being evolution versus special creation. As it was pretty clear to Darwin that explaining the diversity and distribution of life on earth through special creation was not viable, his “both sides” was in reference to the how of evolution, the mechanism. And for him, it was natural selection, and he argued for it in Origin. Others agree that the Discovery Institute’s use of this Darwin quote in order to advocate for intelligent design is misguided. See “Misguided Missal” from John Pieret, “Obtaining a fair result” from historian of science John Lynch, and “Nope, Still A Quote Mine” by Jeremy Mohn.

On page 95, when discussing mutation, the authors throw out this quote from Darwin, also from On the Origin of Species: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” How convenient for them to not include Darwin’s next sentence: “But I can find out no such case.”

Luskin claims that they “quoted Darwin correctly” here, and that I failed to note that they did share Darwin’s next sentence. “Evidently, the critic hasn’t read Discovery Intelligent Design carefully,” Luskin writes. He ignores the fact that immediately after quoting that passage from Origin of SpeciesDiscovering Intelligent Design explicitly notes that Darwin said he could find no such case.” I guess I missed the continuation of the quote when I looked at that page on the Amazon preview. Here is that page:

Amazon.com  Discovering Intelligent Design  A Journey Into the Scientific Evidence  9781936599080   Gary Kemper, Hallie Kemper, Casey Luskin  Books

I wonder why Luskin claims that they immediately noted that Darwin could find no such case. Following the quote, two paragraphs ensue before they state “As committed evolutionists, both Darwin and Coyne claimed they could not envision any organ that could not be built by random mutation and natural selection.” Why do they not include Darwin’s own words “But I can find out no such case” with the rest of the quote? Because, by leaving it out and separating the clarifying statement until further down on the page, creates for the reader, Luskin is surely well aware, doubt in Darwin’s mind. Ending the quote with “my theory would absolutely break down” does more to cast negativity toward evolution than to provide the full quote. Yes, they provide Darwin’s clarification later, but it won’t correct the impact that “my theory would absolutely break down” will have on young minds who are from the beginning encouraged to doubt Darwin. This is misquoting Darwin, Luskin. You intentionally left out Darwin’s own words in order to make it seem that he doubts his own ideas. 

If I were to see a copy of the book in person, I wonder how many more quote-mines I would find. It’s no wonder that some have dubbed the Discovery Institute the Dishonesty Institute. To all who love history and appreciate the accurate portrayal of historical figures, I apologize that there are organizations out there who think they are doing credible science and credible history.

Finally, while I am said to have ignored the text, Luskin apparently could not figure out who I am, as to him I am an “anonymous critic.” My identity is there, clear as day on my “about” page and in the link to my Twitter page. I am not trying to hide who I am. And I allow comments on my blog, unlike at Evolution News & Views. 

NOTE: Larry Moran at Sandwalk has already taken the authors to task for how they define evolution in the book, here. And a little more about the book from The Sensuous Curmudgeon, here.

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14 thoughts on “Darwin quote-mining in latest book from the Discovery Institute

  1. Pingback: Wallace and evolution at London Natural History Museum | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Dude, you’re famous! You made the news – on Evolution News and Views no less! Congratulations!

    (Not sure though if public humiliation is the kind of fame you had in mind.)

    What I gathered from the post is that you would do well to actually read the book before criticizing it. Your examples of “quote mining” are rather pathetic. If that’s the best you can do, well, it sure seems like you are reaching for straws. It makes your case seem a bit desparate. In the end, your over-zealous but inaccurate attacks simply undermine your own position and have the exact opposite effect you are hoping for. Kind of ironic!

    But thanks for the good PR!

  3. tjguy – I responded to Luskin within my post, in bold. I disagree that I was publicly humiliated. Unfortunately, I cannot respond to Luskin at his post, because they do not allow comments on EN&V. Very intentional.

    Recall that I was very open about not having had the actual book in my hands. I criticized the book for some of its content that I knew was in it. I am not arguing the case of intelligent design (I’ll leave that to biologists), but am looking at an aspect of the book that is of interest to a historian like me.

    If you think my examples of quote-mining are rather pathetic, then consider this. When you add up all of the instances of quote-mining from young earth creationists and intelligent design advocates, what do you get? A sad tactic employed by those who do nothing more than attack an idea they do not like by trying to discredit those who support it. Why not do some science instead? But no, they only build creation museums and Noah’s Ark parks (or plan to, anyway) or create their own journals to publish “peer-reviewed” articles and bash on work on evolution by biologists.

    You would do well to take a look here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html

    And here: http://www.slideshare.net/darwinsbulldog/in-darwins-own-words-creationist-quotemining-exposed

    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. “As committed evolutionists, both Darwin and Coyne claimed they could not envision any organ that could not be built by random mutation and natural selection. (p. 95)”

    This statement is just ludicrous. I’m sure Darwin and Coyne could both “envision” lots of organs that could not possibly evolve through random mutation and natural selection. Darwin actually wrote that he was currently *unaware* of any existing organs that fit this description.

    Luskin says their book “explicitly notes that Darwin said he could find no such case.” Actually, they went well beyond that with the outlandish implication that Darwin (and Coyne) could not even imagine such an organ.

  5. The purpose of the my-theory-would-absolutely-break-down quotation is to show how Darwin’s theory could be falsified, not to suggest that Darwin doubted his own theory. Therefore, it does not even matter if you completely ignore the “but i can find out no such case” part. We know that Darwin believed in his own theory. That’s not the point.

  6. Back in the day when I was doing the Quote Mine Project at talk.origins, I had some email correspondence with Casey. While he knew that the IDEA club’s list of quote mines were wrong and “promised” to “correct” them, he never did … he just “disappeared” them. I warned him then about the ‘road to perdition’ but, apparently, it never took. The fact that Casey could defend this quote mine, which has MUCH more to do than with what Darwin believed but, instead, turns what Darwin was saying about EVIDENCE on its head, just proves that he does not merely misunderstand science but shows he is not interested in TRUTH at all … perdition, indeed.

  7. There is nothing misleading about the quote. Darwin laid out a test for falsification of his theory. The fact that you resort to sophistry when presented with the plain langauge of Darwin’s own words, shows how weak Darwin’s theory is in light of modern evidence. If you were so sure that Darwin’s theory would pass his own test, you would address the argument squarely instead of dancing around it.

  8. “The fact that you resort to sophistry when presented with the plain langauge of Darwin’s own words, shows how weak Darwin’s theory is in light of modern evidence.”

    Spare us Casey, we’re not your target naifs who buy “irreducible complexity” without realizing the card being dealt from the bottom of the deck. Tell us, for example, exactly which example of ‘IC’ hasn’t been already addressed and debunked? Remember that it is your claim that ‘you can’t get there from here,’ not Darwin’s. Unless you can be specific as to “any organ that could not be built by random mutation and natural selection,” we can take you for what I believe you are … a person willing to tell any lie to promote your religious belief, to perform any political ploy to violate our Constitution, to be, in short, just as dishonest as you need to be to proselytize your particular beliefs using MY tax money. I once tried to have respect for you Casey. You have since proved the futility of that.

  9. First of all, I’m not Casey. I’m flattered though. Thanks.

    Second, since you changed the subject, I will have to assume that you are concedeing that quoting Darwin’s test for falisification is not misleading. That is the only point I wanted to make.

  10. “First of all, I’m not Casey.”


    “I will have to assume that you are concedeing that quoting Darwin’s test for falisification is not misleading.”

    Sure it is, if you don’t bother to give his full thought as he gave it. And, of course. it is doubly so if you then use bogus arguments already debunked to try to show that his test has been met.

  11. John, you are welcome to your interpretation of Darwin’s quote, but I have to say that it seems to me you are a bit biased. Much as you would like to deny it, I think Casey’s interpretation here is quite accurate. I think he has good support for his view. Accusing him of quote-mining here is tantamount to saying my interpretation is right and yours is wrong. I’m sure he feels the same way about your views. Reinterpretation seems to be a favorite strategy of Darwinists whenever unexpected discoveries are made.

  12. What is “biased” about saying that, if you are going to quote someone, that you should quote him/her in context and fully give give his/her thoughts? It is not “interpretation,” it is simple honesty. I have no small experience in quote mining:


    … so, maybe, I’m more sensitive than the average person to the dishonesty of the practice but that does not mean that it is any less dishonest. Argue all you want against someone’s position — we can and will judge how good you’re arguments are — but if you misrepresent another’s person’s arguments, why should we bother judging them, any more than than the arguments of any other liar.

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