Shock! Discoveroid Quote-Mining

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.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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35 responses to “Shock! Discoveroid Quote-Mining

  1. But then why trust the theory that emanated from Darwin’s mind any more than those of a monkey’s?
    No one claims that the reason to trust the theory is because it emanated from Darwin’s mind.
    For example, take a look at “1+1=2”. That appears on your computer screen. Do you trust that because it appears on your computer screen? Of course not. Lots of nonsense appears on your computer screen. Even though “1+1=2” appears on your computer screen, that is no reason to trust it. But it is also no reason to distrust it. The fact that it appears on your computer screen has no relevance to whether it is true or false.
    So, too, whether the theory of evolution emanated from Darwin’s mind has no bearing on whether it should be trusted. And no one, short of a creationist, would ever claim otherwise.

  2. Charles Deetz ;)

    He is applying our (well his) contemporary understandings of evolution and faith to a person on the cusp of the emergence of evolution. It is not fair to apply today’s or Flannery’s standards to Darwin. He was obviously troubled with the implications of his theory, but to conclude that he had ‘a god’ at all is totally out of bounds.

  3. Flannery is as much of an historian as I am, that is to say, not. He’s a librarian who writes propaganda pieces for the Disco Tute. Anything Flannery writes should be taken with a grain of salt which is a waste of salt. What a boob.

  4. I’m not crazy about the phrase “theistic evolution,” and I am a Theist. What does it mean? Does anyone claim to embrace “theistic gravity?” Or, perhaps, “theistic germ theory?” Can’t we (Theists) be Theists who accept the science of evolution?

    At any rate, Flannery is fluffery.

  5. Ellie says:

    I’m not crazy about the phrase “theistic evolution,” and I am a Theist.

    It’s an unfortunate but necessary reaction to the crazed claim of creationists that evolution is atheism.

  6. Doctor Stochastic

    It’s not so much the mining of the quotes but the smelting into something unrelated.

  7. Theistic evolution means you’re a flaming creationist! Get the stake! Get the fire! Burn the witch!

    It’s a term for people who just can’t let go of the last shred of their religious delusion, sorry to be blunt, but there it is.

    Ken Miller is a theistic evolutionist. He supports the theory of evolution but at his core believes God, the Christian god, of course, used evolution to do his thing. It’s really a cop out.

    John Spong who I greatly admire is at the same point. He rejects all of Christianity except for God and tap dances around that. Step across the line, John!

    There is no need for theistic evolution. It serves no point. Chemistry is chemistry. Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

  8. Doc Bill said:

    It’s a term for people who just can’t let go of the last shred of their religious delusion, sorry to be blunt, but there it is.

    Then color me deluded. I was raised a Christian, but am no longer. But I still have a belief in a deity or God or whatever. And, no, I’m not going to let go of it. Why? There’s a part of me that just… won’t… but there’s also a part of me that is says, “This is in my own mind. I don’t push it on others. I believe it, and wish to continue believe it because I have no reason not to.” Frankly, I’m willing to be large sums of money that pretty much anyone on this forum would not have known had I not now confessed. I’ve never said it before because it’s no one’s business but my own. That means that my belief stops at me. The reverse is also true. Yes, I’ve had people in my life who’ve tried to push me “across the line”. But, no, I won’t go. If I choose to believe it, and you don’t want me (or any of the others) to believe it, tough. If you wish to think ill of me, or wish to mock me, go right ahead. In America today, I have to watch how I act and I have to watch how I talk but no one, and I mean no one will tell me how I will think.
    So there.

    P.S. Had a rough day at work, so I’m a bit snippy. Sorry, Doc, but there it is.

  9. Someone else said it before on this blog — agnosticism is the most logical stand to take with respect to religion, because there is the same amount of evidence supporting the existence of god as there is supporting the nonexistence of a deity. That is to say, none. Is there a god? Is there no god? Honestly, we just don’t know.

    On the other hand, we can respect the teachings of Jesus without believing he is God or the Son of God. The Golden Rule makes logical sense as a way of ordering society. Likewise, we can respect the teachings of Buddha or Confucius without actually joining either religion.

    In other words, it’s not the religious ideas inside our heads that matter. It’s the actions we take that affect others that truly matter.

    It’s an argument that has no resolution, because to answer the question, “Do you believe in God?” one first must have a definition of God, and “God” is undefinable. If you define “God” as the creator of the universe, well, then I guess I’d have to say I’m a Theist, because the universe got here somehow, and if you define that “somehow” as “God”, then God would have to exist, or at least, existed at the beginning. Or is “God” actually the Laws of science that we are striving to understand? So which definition of God is valid? There is no way to Know. Therefore, call me an Agnostic, with Christian/Atheist leanings. Does the fact that I wrote this post make me an Evangelical Agnostic?

  10. retiredsciguy says: “agnosticism is the most logical stand to take with respect to religion”

    I’ve found that it’s always wise to respect the Olympian gods. But if you’re traveling among barbarians, it makes good sense to be respectful of the local gods too.

  11. A little snippy after a hard day at work, Gary, what are you a barber?

    That’s a joke, son!

    A good friend of mine is a Mormon and a PhD chemist. We have had long conversations about Mormonism and the fact that it’s fabrication is well documented (not as well as Scientology, but nearly) but less well documented than other religions. Nevertheless, they’re all made up.

    In the case of Mormonism, though, the trail is so clear and the inconsistencies so stark that you’d have to be quite delusional to actually “believe” its so-called teachings. And my friend admitted to all of that. So, why are you a warden in the church, I asked. And he answered that he was raised Mormon, it was his tradition, they were his people and family and he simply checked his reason at the door, suspended disbelief just like watching a Harry Potter movie where, by golly, wizards are real!

    My friend called himself a “social Mormon” and that apparently provided a dimension to his life but he did not believe in magical sky fairies. And in other news I’m well on my way with Christmas shopping! My favorite time of the year. Lots of bargains on Amazon, get cracking!

  12. Oops … Hopefully the Great and Powerful Wizard of SC can make that correction!!

    [Curmudgeonly note: Done, and not a trace remains of your blunder.]

  13. Doc Bill said:

    That’s a joke, son!

    And I heard that with the voice of Foxhorn Leghorn… As for the “barber” bit, after my day yesterday, I was feeling like becoming a barber, if you know what I mean.

  14. The stuttering Michael Palin (cut-cut-CUT-CUT-blood-spurt!) opens a window into Ken (A Fish Called Wanda).

    How Ken loses his stutter.

  15. Gary — That’s FOGhorn Leghorn! Pay attention — Ah say, pay attention when watching those cartoons!

  16. @RSG: Once AGAIN, the Mt Dew goes through my nose in a bout of laughter!

  17. laut lachen in Deutschland

  18. Gary, I hope you are now putting a sheet of Saran Wrap over your keyboard before reading Curmie’s blog.

  19. Gary says: “Once AGAIN, the Mt Dew goes through my nose in a bout of laughter!”

    Each time that happens, think of your clumsily-designed passageways as evidence against the intelligent designer.

  20. >”@RSG: Once AGAIN, the Mt Dew goes through my nose in a bout of laughter!”

    Well done, RSG!

    Just check out the people Gary has to put up with at work – It’s no wonder he comes home a little bit snippy. 😉

  21. RSG said:

    I hope you are now putting a sheet of Saran Wrap over your keyboard before reading Curmie’s blog.

    Yup. I keep a roll of it on a spindle right here next to my desk. I’m working on a script that will recognize Curmie’s URL and automatically dispense the appropriate amount when I click on the bookmark for his site.

  22. @TA: Try again with your link. Now I’m really curious what you were going to post.

  23. TA: Yeah, me too (what Gary said).

  24. TA: Yeah, me three (what Gary said). 🙂

  25. Oops. The HTML gremlins strike again. Here is the link:
    http://youtu.be/55G7T8VdWEs 🙂

  26. Thanks, TA! That is THE all-time classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, but that’s not to slight all the other Looney Tunes. They just don’t make them like that any more. Chuck Jones was a true genius.

  27. I never knew Gary had such long ears. 😉

  28. @TA: Can’t be me. My voice was NEVER that good!

  29. That unevidenced teleology makes for why I stress that certain argument! It’s as mch a scientific one as a philosophical one,despite Dr.Scott’ implicit plea not to do so as she claims ti’s only a philosophical one. No Thursdaylastday is justified. No old or new Lamberth Omphalos argument is justified.
    No teleology enuses, but instead mechanism or as Paul B.Weisz calls it causalism or as Ernst Mayr calls it teleonomy.

  30. That certain argument is the Coyne-Mayr-Lamberth the teleonomic argument that as science finds no divine intent, then God cannot be Himself for His intent wuld have to appear and thus withot intent, He lacks referents as Creator and so forth and thus cannot exist,affirming ignosticism
    To nvertheless still insist on His intent-teleology implies the Lamberth [new] Omphalos argument that He deceives us with apparent teleonomy so as John Hick, with his epistemic distance argument argues that He makes Himself ambiguous so as not to overwhelm our free wills. No,no intent whatsoever ensues!

  31. It seems the Professor Irwin Corey is paying us a visit.

  32. retiredsciguy says: “It seems the Professor Irwin Corey is paying us a visit.”

    Theology is one of those fields (like postmodernism) where it’s difficult to know the difference. Alan Sokal probably could have pulled his joke off in a theology journal.

  33. Years ago the Buzzword Generator was all the rage, pre-Internet it was printed in Computer Weekly or some such trade journal. Anyway, as a exercise in wasting time I programmed it in Pascal and hilarity ensued. As a joke we took 10-15 buzz phrases and stitched them together in the order they came out of the program and made a “progress report” which we gave to our manager. He read it, realized what it was and told us it was the best progress report we had ever written. So, there.

  34. techreseller

    ON the whole God thing. This is the most convincing thing I have read (and it is pure fiction):

    http://www.thrivenotes.com/lets-help-germinate-this-seed/

  35. Prof. Corey makes more sense than thologians. Theology is the subject without a subject matter!