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.

Some recent Darwin in the news…

On Darwin and evolution:

io9: The inspiration behind Darwin’s evolutionary theory, seen from space

Popperfont: How are we ever going to evolve if you people keep pushing us back into the ocean?

Editorial: Evolution: Education and Outreach goes open access!

Genetics: Charles Darwin’s Mitochondria

SAGE Open: Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause: A Misreading of the Historical Record

The Friends of Charles Darwin: Darwin and Wallace: the lost photograph

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub: Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882

The Friends of Charles Darwin: 19th April, 1882: the death of a hero

Darwin and Gender: The Blog: Reviewing Uncle Charles’s new book

Sandwalk: Darwin Doubters Want to Have their Cake and Eat it too

Why Evolution Is True: The death of Annie Darwin

JournalStar.com: Cliff swallows offer Darwinian lesson in evolution

CultureLab: Timing was everything when Darwin’s bombshell exploded (review of Peter Bowler’s Darwin Deleted)

Publishers Weekly: Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin (book review)

Literary Review: The Evolution of a Theory (review of Peter Bowler’s Darwin Deleted)

Until Darwin: Science & the Origins of Race: Note: Louis Agassiz “Against the Transmutation Theory” from Methods of Study in Natural History (1886)

From the Hands of Quacks: “Nothing to be Done:” Letter from Charles Darwin to Syms Covington, 1859

Science Observed: Darwinism Today – (not) a theory of everything

Sedges Have Edges: Darwin’s monsters

On Alfred Russel Wallace:

NPR: He Helped Discover Evolution, And Then Became Extinct

Communicate Science: Alfred Russel Wallace: Back in the picture

Nature Plus (NHM): A Conference about Wallace and his Collections

Library Art and Archives blog (Kew): The self-taught naturalist – Alfred Russel Wallace and Kew

“History” from intelligent design creationists:

Evolution News and Views: What Would a World Without Darwin Look Like? (review of Peter Bowler’s Darwin Deleted)

Evolution News and Views: More on Darwin Deleted: What Is Bowler’s Beef?

Evolution News and Views: Intelligent Design 101: Louis Agassiz, the First Thorn in Darwin’s Side

Evolution News and Views: On Alfred Russel Wallace, NPR Gets It Right, Sort Of…

Evolution News and Views: Did I Too Conveniently Omit Mention of Alfred Russel’s Wallace Interest in Spiritualism?

BOOK: Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution

Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution, by Francisco Ayala (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 83 pp.

Despite the ongoing cultural controversy in America, evolution remains a cornerstone of science. In this book, Francisco J. Ayala—an evolutionary biologist, member of the National Academy of Sciences, and winner of the National Medal of Science and the Templeton Prize—cuts to the chase in a daring attempt to address, in nontechnical language, six perennial questions about evolution:

• Am I a Monkey?• Why Is Evolution a Theory?• What Is DNA?• Do All Scientists Accept Evolution?• How Did Life Begin?• Can One Believe in Evolution and God?

This to-the-point book answers each of these questions with force. Ayala’s occasionally biting essays refuse to lend credence to disingenuous ideas and arguments. He lays out the basic science that underlies evolutionary theory, explains how the process works, and soundly makes the case for why evolution is not a threat to religion.

Brief, incisive, topical, authoritative, Am I a Monkey? will take you a day to read and a lifetime to ponder.

The National Center for Science Education has a free preview of Am I a Monkey?, here.

To quote-mine or not to quote-mine…

“It is interesting to contemplate a supporter of intelligent design, clothed with errors of many kinds, with misquotes gracing their writings, with various misrepresentations here and there, and with ignorance showing from their mouths, and to reflect that these in-elaborately constructed forms, so like each other, and dependent on each other because everyone else thinks they are ridiculous, have all been – unfortunately – produced by laws acting around us.” – Charles Darwin, 1859

In this post by ID-sympathizer and Darwin-to-Hitler historian Richard Weikart, a review of a new biography of Darwin by Paul Johnson, these words are actually strung together: “While some of his discussion about social Darwinism makes sense, he overplays his hand, damaging his credibility. While he correctly argues that Darwin was a bona fide social Darwinist, he mistakenly insists that Darwin opposed vaccinations and other medical interventions that allowed the weak and sickly to reproduce. This is a widespread myth among anti-Darwinists that has been propagated by quoting Darwin out of context. It is true that in Descent of Man Darwin mentioned that vaccinations (and other public health measures) could promote the reproduction of the weak, but Darwin immediately added that because of our social instincts, ‘we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind.'” (emphasis mine)

Weikart, a Professor of History at California State University, Stanislaus and author of two books linking Darwin to Hitler (which are widely criticized by Darwin historians, notably Robert J. Richards), is a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the definitive intelligent design organization, AKA ” the quoting Darwin out of context”-generator. Weikart appeared in the DI’s film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, talking with Ben Stein about Darwin and Hitler:

Following that bit in the “documentary,” you will see this scene:

Here are the words of Darwin that Stein gives us from The Descent of Man (1871):

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

This surely sounds like Darwin is supportive of eugenics. However, as many were quick to show just after the film was released, this is a pathetic attempt to misquote Darwin to those who didn’t know better – the intended audience for the film. All one has to do is look up where the passage came from in Darwin’s book (and this day in age it is so simple a task). From pages 168-169 in the first edition of The Descent of Man, published by John Murray in London in 1871:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil.

Oh, Darwin was not advocating for eugenics at all. How dishonest of the filmmakers. I find it ironic that Weikart, having appeared in this film in a scene adjacent to probably the most public instance of Darwin misquoting for the benefit of antievolutionism, himself is criticizing another historian for quoting Darwin out of context. Oh, Darwin-haters, you’re so hard to understand!

My Darwin talk at OHSU, April 4th

Guest Lecture

Perhaps I should let folks here know that I will be giving a talk at the Oregon Health & Sciences University here in Portland on Wednesday, April 4th, at 12:30pm in the Old Library Auditorium. It will be for a reception to the small exhibit now on display in the OHSU Library, Rewriting the Book of Nature (see my post here).

Darwin Exhibit

My talk will be “Charles Darwin: Myth vs. History,” an overview of myths about Darwin and corrections of them. I will talk about both what I think are unintentionally created myths (events or characteristics that find their way into popular history, science textbooks, etc.) and those that are indeed intentional, and meant to smeer the reputation of a historical character (mainly, creationist misuse of history).

Reception at 12:00, my talk at 12:30, free and open to the public!