A look at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, TN, location of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial

My friend Catherine L. Cummins, a life science instructor at LSU Laboratory School in Baton Rouge, has shared some photos of her visit to the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, TN, location of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial. She was kind to let me share with my readers. Has anyone else ever visited this historic site?

BOOK: God’s Word or Human Reason?: An Inside Perspective on Creationism

My way into learning about Darwin and evolution was through dinosaurs. Specifically, that 1993 movie where genetically-engineered dinosaurs run amok on a tropical island. I read book after book about paleontology following seeing that movie when I was 15, and then eventually started coming across books that offered a different view as to what those fossils in the ground meant (including What Is Creation Science? by Henry M. Morris and Gary E. Parker, gifted to me from a friend in my high school chemistry class). I’ve long followed the conflict between supporters of evolution (ya know, science!) and those who supplant their religious-based perspective on the fossil record: creationists of the young earth variety (you know, pseudoscience!). There are some good books out there that give an overview of why the fossil record supports an evolutionary interpretation (for example, Donald Prothero’s Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters and two chapters in Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution). Where this new book differs is that the evidence is shown in favor of the evolutionary perspective by five former young earth creationists. Chapters cover creationist arguments in the topics of the fossil record in relation to a worldwide flood, the age of the Earth through radiometric dating, the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, human anatomy, and perspectives on reconciling an old earth and evolution with an acceptance of the Bible. The book also features wonderful dinosaur art from Emily Willoughby.


Jonathan Kane, Emily Willoughby, and T. Michael Keesey, God’s Word or Human Reason?: An Inside Perspective on Creationism (Portland, OR : Inkwater Press, 2016), 424 pp.

• Order through Powell’s City of Books • Order through Amazon.com •

Publisher’s description God gave humans the ability to reason, but the Bible commands that we have faith in Him. According to Answers in Genesis, the largest and most influential creationist organization in the United States, the conclusions of human reason must be rejected if they contradict our understanding of the Bible. What are the implications of this worldview, and is it the best one for a Christian to live by?

In God’s Word or Human Reason?, five former young-Earth creationists explore the topics of science and Biblical exegesis with the goal of showing that the scientific method does more to glorify God than to denigrate Him. Instead of providing a broad-level overview of the evidence for evolution and an old Earth, this book takes a new approach that considers the detailed expanse of creationist technical literature. The six main chapters provide an in­ depth examination of these arguments in a few key areas, including stratigraphy, radiometric dating, the origins of birds and of humans, and the meaning of the book of Genesis.

Although all five authors once were young-Earth creationists, today they represent a diversity of beliefs: two atheists, two Christians, and one deist. Each has included a personal account of their experiences growing up or participating in the creationist community, as well as the factors that played into their eventually leaving. As an interfaith project, God’s Word or Human Reason? represents the common ground that people of many religious affiliations can find in their appreciation of reason as a means to understand the world.

ARTICLE: Darwin’s body-snatchers?

This short article in the journal Endeavour takes a creationist claim about Darwin to task:

Darwin’s body-snatchers?

John van Wyhe

Abstract For decades creationists have claimed that Charles Darwin sought the skulls of full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian people when only four were left alive. It is said that Darwin letters survive which reveal this startling and distasteful truth. Tracing these claims back to their origins, however, reveals a different, if not unfamiliar story.

BOOK: How Evolution Shapes Our Lives: Essays on Biology and Society

A couple of years ago, Princeton University Press published the huge volume, The Princeton Guide to Evolution (out in paperback in February 2017), which provides a large overview of evolutionary biology, as a science and its relationship to human society (you can read the introduction here). Now the press has condensed a variety of chapters that address evolution as it relates to human society into a shorter book.


Jonathan B. Losos and Richard E. Lenski, eds., How Evolution Shapes Our Lives: Essays on Biology and Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 416 pp.

Publisher’s description It is easy to think of evolution as something that happened long ago, or that occurs only in “nature,” or that is so slow that its ongoing impact is virtually nonexistent when viewed from the perspective of a single human lifetime. But we now know that when natural selection is strong, evolutionary change can be very rapid. In this book, some of the world’s leading scientists explore the implications of this reality for human life and society. With some twenty-three essays, this volume provides authoritative yet accessible explorations of why understanding evolution is crucial to human life—from dealing with climate change and ensuring our food supply, health, and economic survival to developing a richer and more accurate comprehension of society, culture, and even what it means to be human itself. Combining new essays with essays revised and updated from the acclaimed Princeton Guide to Evolution, this collection addresses the role of evolution in aging, cognition, cooperation, religion, the media, engineering, computer science, and many other areas. The result is a compelling and important book about how evolution matters to humans today. The contributors are Dan I. Andersson, Francisco J. Ayala, Amy Cavanaugh, Cameron R. Currie, Dieter Ebert, Andrew D. Ellington, Elizabeth Hannon, John Hawks, Paul Keim, Richard E. Lenski, Tim Lewens, Jonathan B. Losos, Virpi Lummaa, Jacob A. Moorad, Craig Moritz, Martha M. Muñoz, Mark Pagel, Talima Pearson, Robert T. Pennock, Daniel E. L. Promislow, Erik M. Quandt, David C. Queller, Robert C. Richardson, Eugenie C. Scott, H. Bradley Shaffer, Joan E. Strassmann, Alan R. Templeton, Paul E. Turner, and Carl Zimmer.

You can read the first chapter here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Not-So-Intelligent Designer


Every time I see the above image passed around on Facebook, I chuckle. But the other day I wondered just where young-earth creationist and Creation Museum founder Ken Ham said or wrote these words. A Google search for “The eye is a perfect design by a perfect creator” results in a single entry: this same image on someone’s Google+ page. So I don’t know where the quote comes from, and it seems to me to have been fabricated. Which is, as it is with creationists messing with the words of supporters of evolution (“quote-mining”), dishonest. The sentiment, however, makes a point: creationists insist on things having been designed by God or the intelligent designer, yet the human body is full of absolutely ridiculous design (disregard the easy way out: the entry of sin into the world is what has caused anatomical changes which mimic poor design – that’s simply throwing science out the door). Whether Ham said those words trapped between the quote marks or not, the many anatomical problems with the human body speak to it being a product of evolution.

And that topic is marvelously laid out by zoologist and human anatomy and physiology professor Abby Hafer in a new book:

Abby Hafer, The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015), 244 pp.

Publisher’s description: Why do men’s testicles hang outside the body? Why does our appendix sometimes explode and kill us? And who does the Designer like better, anyway-us or squid? These and other questions are addressed in The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not. Dr. Abby Hafer argues that the human body has many faulty design features that would never have been the choice of an intelligent creator. She also points out that there are other animals that got better body parts, which makes the Designer look a bit strange; discusses the history and politics of Intelligent Design and creationism; reveals animals that shouldn’t exist according to Intelligent Design; and disposes of the idea of irreducible complexity. Her points are illustrated with pictures, wit, and erudition.

Beyond the straight-to-the-point examination of human anatomical issues in light of intelligent design (such as the birth canal in women, human teeth, and, of course, the human eye), The Not-So-Intelligent Designer also provides thoughts about intelligent design as a whole – its origins, lack of progress, and continued efforts to push forward an ideological agenda by combating a scientific theory. Hafer’s writing is light-hearted, humorous, and full of common sense. I am enjoying reading through the book at night before bed.

BOOK: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye

Bill Nye speaks at Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR, October 25, 2014                       (Photo: Lewis & Clark College)

Last month, my wife and son were fortunate to see Bill Nye the Science Guy give a talk at Lewis & Clark College here in Portland, OR. This was exciting for my wife, having watched many episodes of his show growing up, and great for my son to hear from one of our leading advocates for science. His talk was wide ranging, from his own life story to climate change and his experience debating creationist Ken Ham last February.

That debate led Bill Nye to write a book all about evolution:

Bill Nye, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014), 320 pp.

Publisher’s description Sparked by a controversial debate in February 2014, Bill Nye has set off on an energetic campaign to spread awareness of evolution and the powerful way it shapes our lives. In Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, he explains why race does not really exist; evaluates the true promise and peril of genetically modified food; reveals how new species are born, in a dog kennel and in a London subway; takes a stroll through 4.5 billion years of time; and explores the new search for alien life, including aliens right here on Earth. With infectious enthusiasm, Bill Nye shows that evolution is much more than a rebuttal to creationism; it is an essential way to understand how nature works—and to change the world. It might also help you get a date on a Saturday night.

I look forward to the copy of Undeniable that is on its way to me now! You can find the book through various vendors from the publisher’s page, here.

In the meantime, check out this post on Brain Pickings: Bill Nye Reads a Brilliant, Creationism-Busting Passage from His New Book on Evolution

VIDEOS: Lectures from Darwin in the 21st Century: Nature, Humanity, and God (2009 conference)

Robert Richards: ‘All that is most beautiful’: Darwin’s Theory of Morality and Its Normative Validity

Peter Bowler: Imagining a World without Darwin

Darwin, God, & Design – Evolution & the Battle for America’s Soul

Darwin’s Revolution: From Natural Theology to Natural Selection

Videos of other lectures here, conference information here.

BOOK: How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial

I think this illustrated look at science denial complements Donald Prothero’s Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (my review) very well:

Darryl Cunningham, How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial (New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2013), 176 pp.

Climate change, fracking, evolution, vaccinations, homeopathy, chiropractic, even the moon landing – all hut-button controversies to which author-artist Darryl Cunningham applies cool, critical analysis. Using comics, photographs, diagrams, and highly readable text, Cunningham lays out the why and wherefores to expose the myths of science denial. Timely and well researched, How to Fake a Moon Landing is a graphic milestone of investigative science journalism.

BOOK: The War on Science Goes Batshit

Allen J. Woppert, The War on Science Goes Batshit (CreateSpace, 2013), 248 pp

Most students don’t challenge their teachers’ methods. But fourteen-year-old Timothy Thompson isn’t like most students. He’s a certified genius and science geek, and when Mrs. Barker, his biology teacher, tries to slip “intelligent design” into the curriculum and then refuses to teach evolution, Timothy simply won’t have it. What happens from there is an all-out Batshit war. Timothy attends Omar L. Batshit (pronounced baht-SHEET) High School in Batshit, Illinois, where, following his battle with Mrs. Barker, many perceive his actions as anti-Christian and consider him the antichrist. He is harassed and bullied by students and tormented by Mr. Braun, the gym teacher with more brawn than brain. Joined by an endearing crew of fellow science geeks—including Megan Chow, whom Timothy vows to make his girlfriend—Timothy plans a lecture series to teach the “real science” Mrs. Barker refuses to teach. While this causes almost everyone around Timothy to hate him all the more, the geek squad gets enough support from the school’s principal and librarian to pull the series together. As Timothy and his friends continue to plan the lectures, unsettling forces continue to work against them. He finds help from some unexpected sources, including Mike Petersson, the star of the school’s football team and self-described “dumb jock,” who takes on the role of Timothy’s bodyguard. Eventually, Timothy finds himself in a life-threatening situation, where not even his big, burly bodyguard can help him. Will Timothy survive? Or will he become a casualty of the war he started? A suspenseful, entertaining story, The War on Science Goes Batshit takes a fresh look at the war between religion and science from the perspective of a teenage geek, setting it up not only as a politically charged piece but also as a young adult, coming-of-age saga that tells a tale of ordinary and extraordinary teens experiencing their first year of high school, the bonds and insecurities of friendship, and first love.

BOOK: Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools

A new book about the Scopes Trail in 1920s America was recently published:

Adam R. Shapiro, Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 200 pp.

In Trying Biology, Adam R. Shapiro convincingly dispels many conventional assumptions about the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial. Most view it as an event driven primarily by a conflict between science and religion. Countering this, Shapiro shows the importance of timing: the Scopes trial occurred at a crucial moment in the history of biology textbook publishing, education reform in Tennessee, and progressive school reform across the country. He places the trial in this broad context—alongside American Protestant antievolution sentiment—and in doing so sheds new light on the trial and the historical relationship of science and religion in America.

For the first time we see how religious objections to evolution became a prevailing concern to the American textbook industry even before the Scopes trial began. Shapiro explores both the development of biology textbooks leading up to the trial and the ways in which the textbook industry created new books and presented them as “responses” to the trial. Today, the controversy continues over textbook warning labels, making Shapiro’s study—particularly as it plays out in one of America’s most famous trials—an original contribution to a timely discussion.

A review in Times Higher Education by Simon Underdown, here.

Shapiro started a blog to accompany this book, here.

BOOK: Evolving Out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution

This looks to be an interesting perspective on the issue of evolution and creationism. One of the coauthors set out to write a book about reconciling evolution with his fundamentalist Christian faith, and in the end came out a nonbeliever. Edwin A. Suominen has a guest post over at Friendly Atheist about “How I Lost My Christian Faith While Writing a Book on Evolution.” He sent me a copy of the book (thank you!). Here is the description:

Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution, by Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2013), 352 pp.

It is now beyond any scientific dispute that all life evolved by a natural process of random mutation and DNA crossover, genetic drift, horizontal gene transfer, and natural selection. We are the highly refined but happenstance products of blind experimentation carried out in a design laboratory that has been running itself for billions of years. We are first cousins to the chimpanzees, descendants not of any biblical Adam but of lumbering hairy ancestors who were building fires and hand axes in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. Accepting this has been especially difficult for Christianity, because evolution challenges many foundational doctrines. Concerned believers are walking a troubled middle path between Genesis and genetics, threatened with the loss of a cherished faith on the one hand or their intellectual integrity on the other. Numerous science-savvy theologians have emerged to help them on their way, a whole cottage industry of guides working to establish their own different trails through the hostile territory outside Eden’s comforting fairyland. Writing with the combination of high criticism and low humor that fans have come to love from Robert M. Price, he and co-author Edwin A. Suominen survey the apologetic landscape and offer their own frank reckoning of evolution’s significance for Christian belief.

It’s refreshing to see that the evidence for evolution can indeed convince some. You can check out the website for the book, as well as a Facebook page.

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!

NFA Conference brings Richard Dawkins to the Pacific Northwest

Richard Dawkins will be the closing keynote speaker at the Northwest Free-thought Alliance conference, March 30-April 2 in Renton, WA (see the schedule and register here). I am not able to attend, but I did last year when it was in Portland. If you are not going to attend the conference, there will be another opportunity to see Dawkins speak, at Newport High School in Bellevue, WA on April 1, details here.

If you go, have fun, and learn something new!

On the “kids book on evolution that bashes religion”

In December of last year some folks cried out (1/2/3) against a new kids book that promotes anti-vaccination, and rightly so! But so far I have only come across one person who is crying out over a kids book about Charles Darwin. Why no others? Surely a book about the life of Darwin would be dangerous in the hands of children.

Book Cover - Charles Darwin - British Naturalist

The book in question is Darwin: British Naturalist by Diane Cook (which is the same as Charles Darwin), and the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin does not like that it is being sold in a public – and taypaxer-funded (oh, no!) – museum. First, visitors of the museum are not required to purchase the book, so what’s the problem? Second, why are they fussing? They quote a passage from the book:

How did all the many different species of plants and animals in this world come into being? The simple explanation that God had created everything did not satisfy him. It could not explain everything he had observed.

And their response:

Now I have no problem with people writing about the historical controversy between Darwin’s theory and religion, but why is this partisan message in a kids book being sold at a taxpayer-funded publicly-operated science museum?

I see no problem with the passage from the book not because I accept the theory of evolution and am (obviously) a Darwin aficianado, but because it’s true. It is historically accurate. Darwin did indeed think that special creation could not explain the origin and distribution of species on Earth. His travels in the 1830s gave him firsthand experience in observing many plants and animals of the world. The claim that this passage is “partisan” is unfair.

The DI post then goes on to charge the author of Darwin: British Naturalist of “concoct[ing] a story about how the church and religious ideologues supposedly persecuted Darwin”:

Darwin was criticized by many scientists and denounced by the religious community who claimed his theory was blasphemous. … Articles and cartoons satirizing Darwin appeared regularly in newspapers and magazines. The most common images were of Darwin’s head on an ape’s body or Darwin crawling among worms or other simple creatures. Darwin did nothing about this deliberate misrepresentation of his theory. He only smiled sadly. He had no wish to waste time defending or explaining his ideas. Instead, he went on living his quiet peaceful life, taking daily walks through the woods and continuing his scientific research and writing. Nevertheless, in his heart he hoped that one day people would understand that his purpose had not been to overturn God and destroy their beliefs, but just to prove one thing — that life was always changing.

Was Darwin criticized by scientists? Yes. Was his theory considered by some in the religious community as blasphemous? Yes. Did cartoonists use Darwin and turn him into all manner of monkeys and apes? Yes. Did Darwin respond publicly to these cartoons? Not to my knowledge. Did he live a quiet life, take daily walks, and continue working on science? Yes. Did Darwin travel the world, collect data, correspond with folks from all over the world, conduct experiments, and write many books and articles to “overturn God and destroy their beliefs”? No.

And yes, while the image from the book they share in the post may be silly, this “concocted story” is by all means fair to Darwin historically. But, since it paints a positive light on Darwin the man, the Discovery Institute of course thinks it is rubbish. What Darwin did or wrote is only a good thing for the Discovery Institute when it lends to their purposes, no matter how misleading.

I just looked up the book in the catalog of the Multnomah County Library, and there is a copy of Darwin: British Naturalist at my local branch. Looks like I will have to stop by and check it out.