This will surprise you as much as it did us, dear reader. We suspect that we’ve detected some quote-mining by the neo-Luddite, neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).
They have a new post up at the Discoveroid blog: Finding Darwin’s Real God. It’s by Michael Flannery, who enjoys the honor of being designated a Discoveroid “fellow.” As we reported here, he wrote a biography of Alfred Wallace, which was published by — brace yourself! — the Discovery Institute Press. We’ve written a few other times about Flannery and Wallace, for example: Discovery Institute, Wallace, Socialism, & More.
But let’s get to Flannery’s latest post, the one in which we think we detect some quote-mining. First he takes a swipe at those who advocate theistic evolution. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
Even since the publication of Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God, the Brown University biologist and leading spokesman for theistic evolution has claimed to have found deity in “the coherent power of Darwin’s great idea” (p. 292). Miller sees no contradiction between Charles Darwin’s theory and the three great Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For him, there is “no reason for believers to draw a line in the sand between God and Darwin” (p. 267). Francis Collins seems to suggest much the same in his Language of God.
The Discoveroids don’t like theistic evolution. It’s not that its advocates are theists, that’s not the problem. What irks the Discoveroids is that they also behave like scientists and accept the theory of evolution. For the Discoveroids, it’s gotta be theism all the way, with no science permitted to clear away the mystical fog. Okay, back to Flannery:
But is the god of Darwin really a “coherent” power for these faiths, wholly compatible with any or all of them? Wishful thinking aside, a little investigation reveals the true theistic evolutionary equation: Darwin + god = Man. Put more simply Darwin’s god was Man. To see this clearly we must go to Darwin’s own writings.
We pause here to observe that Flannery’s article has absolutely nothing to do with any scientific aspect of Darwin’s theory; it’s all about theology For that reason alone we could ignore it as being irrelevant to our concerns. But it’s worth a bit of our time in order to point out that notwithstanding their scientific pretensions, theology alone is what drives the Discoveroids.
Flannery quotes from two private letters written by Darwin. The first (which we haven’t searched for) is to Francis Abbot — whom Flannery describes as an “American freethinker.” According to Flannery, Darwin’s letter says that he agrees with Abbot — which means (says Flannery) that Darwin was a secular humanist. That’s irrelevant to us, because in the context of science we’re concerned with Darwin the biologist. We’ll skip that letter and go on to the next, which Darwin wrote to William Graham. According to Flannery, in that letter Darwin “confessed” the following:
[Flannery’s quote from Darwin’s letter:] You have expressed my inward conviction . . . that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me that horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
That sounded familiar. We searched and found that we wrote about that “horrid doubt” letter before, in A Preacher Quote-Mines Darwin. Before we get to that, let’s see what Flannery says about it:
But then why trust the theory that emanated from Darwin’s mind any more than those of a monkey’s? Whether it’s his theory of evolution or his ideas about god that emanate from it, the monkey is still on Darwin’s back.
With that brilliant conclusion, Flannery’s Discoveroid post ends. His quote from Darwin’s letter is used to dismiss all of Darwin’s thinking. Lovely! (We note, however, that Flannery has impaled himself on his own sword, because the “monkey mind” assertion has to be accepted as scientifically valid before it can be used to discount Darwin’s theory.)
But now let’s see why we suspect that Flannery’s scholarship here is mere quote-mining. In our earlier post we gave a link to the full text of Darwin’s letter to Graham — something Flannery doesn’t do.
It’s here, in a volume by his son, Francis Darwin: Life of Charles Darwin. That online volume has a collection of Darwin’s letters, including the letter to Graham, dated 03 July 1881, written less than a year before Darwin’s death in April of 1882. If you use that link you get the whole book, so you’ll have to search around find the letter. It’s on page 64, so you can scroll there, or you can search for “horrid doubt.”
In our earlier post we said this about that quote from Darwin:
Did Darwin’s remark about a monkey’s mind have specific reference to his “inward conviction” that the universe is not the result of chance, or did he intend it to apply to man’s evolved mind in general? Read it again. We did, and we suspect the “horrid doubt” was solely directed at that “inward conviction,” but we can’t be certain. Well, actually we can be certain, because we know Darwin never doubted evolution, and it’s unlikely that he thought his mind was no better than a monkey’s.
So there you are. Flannery — the esteemed Discoveroid historian — uses that one quote in an attempt to discredit all of Darwin’s thinking. It seems to us that Darwin’s “horrid doubt” is much more likely aimed at the thinking of those like Graham (and probably Alfred Wallace too), who try to insert unevidenced teleological inferences into the natural world.
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