Pharyngula

The creationist quote-mining reflex

The Paleyists at Uncommon Descent seem to be having a competition to find the most awful thing Darwin ever said. It’s not hard, actually; Darwin was a conventional 19th century Englishman, with all the standard prejudices of his day, tending to assume that Anglo-Saxons were superior in most ways to every other ethnic group on the planet. It’s darned easy to browse through the Descent of Man and find casual assumptions that make us cringe today. So what? We can recognize that Darwin was a flawed human being and a brilliant scientist.

What is bizarre, though, is how some creationists simply have to distort a quote. It’s like a compulsion, I guess, where they can’t be satisfied with anything, and have to make it all a little bit worse, no matter how dishonest their manipulations might be. Chief among the perpetrators of unnecessary quote-mining is slimy Sal Cordova, who left this little comment:

I beat a puppy, I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power

Charles Darwin

Here’s where the quote came from, and it carries a rather different message than Cordova communicated.

Once as a very little boy whilst at the day school, or before that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy, I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure, as the spot was near the house. This act lay heavily on my conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my love of dogs being then, and for a long time afterwards, a passion. Dogs seemed to know this, for I was an adept in robbing their love from their masters.

Why do creationists lie so? It must be something in their upbringing.

(At the link, you’ll also find a quote Dembski found from Darwin—it’s accurate, and it is Darwin happily citing a colleague’s damning stereotype of the Irish. It’s nowhere near as dishonest as Cordova’s misrepresentation, but it does require ignoring whether Darwin was better, worse, or just like his peers in his unthinking racism. I tend to think he was a little better.)

(via Richard Hughes)

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    March 21, 2007

    “How does that help to confirm or negate Evolution?”

    Clearly it proves that darwinian thinking leads to animal cruelty and eventually, the concentration camps and gulags.

    Not to mention killing babies.

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    March 21, 2007

    *Cough Cough MOLLY Cough*

    ‘Tis Arguably Rich’s Destiny.

    *ducks*

    Bob

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    March 21, 2007

    Of course we’re all flawed. Abraham Lincoln made a few remarks about race that make us squirm in our chairs now, too.

  4. #4 themann1086
    March 21, 2007

    ‘Disproving’ evolution by via quote-mining is the definition of ad hominem. Priceless.

    “You’re wrong because you’re racist!” -ad hominem

    “You’re wrong, and a racist!” -not

  5. #5 Rich
    March 21, 2007
  6. #6 Alison
    March 21, 2007

    I am always amused at the fact that it’s all Darwin, all the time, as if he came up with the theory and nobody else in 150 years has done any reasearch, come up with any evidence, or published any books or papers on evolutionary biology or paleontology. That kind of thing just shows that they have no understanding of evolution whatsoever, and are just shooting from the lip.

    It fits the attitude, though. They have one book that is the be-all and end-all authority, and one God who calls all the shots and is never questioned, so everyone else must operate the same way, right? In fact, their assumption that everyone thinks the same way they do is a major downfall in most of their arguments, not only with the evolution debate, but all the other arguments they make to encourage a Christian theocracy.

  7. #7 tristero
    March 21, 2007

    In re: Lincoln and his “racist” comments, see James McPherson, a well known Lincoln scholar, here: New York Review of Books. I’m not sure I entirely agree with McPherson – I’ve read most of the same quotes in context – but I’m willing to give Honest Abe the benefit of a doubt.

  8. #8 Kristine
    March 21, 2007

    I am always amused at the fact that it’s all Darwin, all the time,

    Except when it’s Dawkins, Alison. Or Judge Jones and Farts. Or Barbara Forrest. Dembski picks on Forrest a lot. It’s downright creepy how he has it in for her.

    as if he came up with the theory and nobody else in 150 years has done any reasearch, come up with any evidence, or published any books or papers on evolutionary biology or paleontology.

    He didn’t even come up with natural selection by himself. For some reason, the people at UD will forget that, then scream, “They [us] keep ignoring Wallace!” Geez, can’t lose for winning.

    Which, of course, leads to dancing. You bet your boots it does. Hey Rich – burn this! Hahahaha!

    Richard is Molly material, absolutely.

  9. #9 Zeno
    March 21, 2007

    tacitus: The funny part is that the Bank of England will soon be issuing a new 10 pound note anyway, and they always change the famous person on the back of the notes when they bring out a new series. Michael Faraday was “dumped” from the back of the 20 pound note in 1999, so Darwin’s days are numbered anyway, boycotts notwithstanding.

    Never fear! Once Darwin is off the 10-pound note, Dembski and others will announce that their boycott was a rousing success. (Maybe he even knows Darwin’s portrait is about to be replaced and this is evidence of actual foresight on his part. Uncharacteristic, I know.)

  10. #10 Monado
    March 21, 2007

    Speaking of making it all up oneself, how many people worked on Dembski’s or Behe’s books? I was looking at Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale” this morning, reflecting that I’ve only blogged about 2 of our 45 ancestors, and noticed that he did not pull it all out from under his hat.

    He credits two researchers, Yan Wong and Sam Turvey; critical readers Mark Ridley and Peter Holland; his editor, Latha Menon; Michael Yudkin, Mark Griffith, Steve Simpson, Angela Douglas, George McGavin, Jack Pettigrew, George Barlow, Colin Blakemore, John Mollon, Henry Bennet-Clark, Robin Elisabeth Cornwell, Lindell Bromham, Mark Sutton, Bethia Thomas, Eliza Howlett, Tom Kemp, Malgosia Nowak-Kemp, Richard Fortey, Derek Siveter, Alex Freeman, Nicky Warren, A. V. Grimstone, Allen Cooper, and Christine DeBlase-Ballstadt in his Acknowledgments. Others are acknowledged in the notes at the back of the book. He has an 18-page list of cited papers and reference books. The meat of the book is over 600 pages long. He didn’t just sit down and make up some rhetorical smart remarks. The book is packed with facts, new learning, charts, illustrations, and solid biological concepts along with evidence and discussion. It’s truly a tour de force.

  11. #11 Brian
    March 22, 2007

    He didn’t even come up with natural selection by himself. For some reason, the people at UD will forget that, then scream, “They [us] keep ignoring Wallace!” Geez, can’t lose for winning.

    Right Kristine! That fact that Wallace independently, with different data sets, developed the theory of natural selection almost concurrently with Darwin. Knock Darwin down, Wallace pops up, and so on…

  12. #12 Brian Coughlan
    March 22, 2007

    Hmm, and Christianity falls because of Ted Haggard’s man-lovin’ meth-addicted adulterous hypocrisy, right?

    Actually I think that does hold. Science makes no claims to it’s proponents being imbued with the spirit and direction of the divine creator of the universe. Religion does. Yet the adherents of religions regularly act in direct contrast to the tenents of their religions. That’s a red flag that the whole premise is suspect.

  13. #13 Tuomo Hämäläinen
    March 22, 2007

    Darwin was religious younger, right? So religious Darwin “beats puppies”, and nonbeliever -Darwin was sorry about that, right? With (wrong) logic of ID:er, that is what show how bad thing “believing in Christ” is; It leads you think that you are image of God and puppy is not, so ypu are superior and can beat them up.. Not wery wise way of “thingking”, but…

  14. #14 Tuomo Hämäläinen
    March 22, 2007

    Darwin was religious younger, right? So religious Darwin “beats puppies”, and nonbeliever -Darwin was sorry about that, right? With (wrong) logic of ID:er, that is what show how bad thing “believing in Christ” is; It leads you think that you are image of God and puppy is not, so ypu are superior and can beat them up.. Not wery wise way of “thingking”, but…

  15. #15 DragonScholar
    March 22, 2007

    The sheer intellectual dishonesty always amazes me. I honestly have trouble imagining being this low.

    And yet, Dembski courts Coluter who says vicious and disgusting things, and no one at UD blinks an eye.

    Shriveled, tiny souls.

  16. #16 Louis
    March 22, 2007

    LOL thanks J-Dog. I miss you all too but standards is standards. Who knows I might abandon them in a small way for ATBC participation, I’m not sure what the odds of that are.

    Given that I do lurk and read occasionally (I see the usual suspects are up to their old tricks) I might come and play.

    Cheers

    Louis

  17. #17 Steve_C
    March 22, 2007

    And you’re a nose, I mean quote miner.

    You have moral and mental deficiencies now.

    You lie now beacuse you think it serves your creationist purposes.

    Don’t worry. We’re used to it.

  18. #18 DragonScholar
    March 23, 2007

    I see Sal showed up – and didn’t say anything on the dishonest quote mining done by himself and others. Not a single word on how he took one sentence out of context, nor the dishonesty of the other examples of quote mining.

  19. #19 Rey Fox
    March 23, 2007

    Please, don’t ruin his “gotcha” moment. It’s all they have.

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