Creationist Wisdom #511: Quote-Mining Darwin

One of the worst tactics of creationists is using quotes from Darwin to discredit his work. It’s totally absurd, yet we see it all the time. The “modern” practice probably began with Henry Morris: the Ultimate Creationist. His most infamous and contemptible work, That Their Words May Be Used Against Them (Amazon listing) is a cover-to-cover Ark-load of quote-mining.

We see old Henry’s influence in today’s letter-to-the-editor, which appears in the Midland Daily News of Midland, Michigan. It’s titled Studying Darwin. There’s a comments section at the end.

The letter-writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, so we won’t use his full name. His first name is Ken. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

The views of evolutionists and creationists should both be respected even if there is disagreement. I wish that could happen in the Midland Daily News. Evolution has always been a controversial theory. Perhaps looking at the author of evolution should be the first step in any discussion of evolution.

Right. Don’t look at the evidence, look at the author. We’re off to a promising start. Ken says:

In Origin of Species, published in 1859, Darwin writes: “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

Aaaargh!! That’s absolutely the all-time worst example of quote-mining And alas, it’s the most common. We discussed it here: Evolution of the Eye. Let’s read on:

Another: “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious serious objection which can be used against the theory.”

Aaaargh!! We debunked that one here: Creationist Wisdom #483: Steve Daines Supporter. It was Darwin’s style to raise questions — and then to answer them! But creationists aren’t interested in his answers. Ken continues:

Yet another: “For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I arrived … There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.”

One should always be on guard when there’s an ellipsis in a creationist’s quote. The last part of that comes from the final chapter of Origin of Species: Chapter 14 – Recapitulation and Conclusion. It’s a shortened version of the final sentence of the book:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

But what about the part before Ken’s ellipsis? Here we have the most spectacular example of quote-mining ever seen. It comes at the very beginning of the book — the Introduction. The portion mined by Ken is shown in red font. Darwin says:

No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this is here impossible.

Verily, this is one of the most amazing creationist letters we’ve ever seen. After that he says:

Wow. Could it be that Darwin was a creationist who was intent upon investigating the creation?

Yeah — based on Ken’s research, it certainly looks that way. Having presented us with the results of his study of Darwin’s work, Ken then mention’s Haeckel’s drawings. We won’t bother with that — it’s in the TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims: Haeckel faked his pictures of embryos to make them look more alike than they are.. Moving along:

There are other examples that show how evolutionist thinking intent on proving Darwin’s theory is flawed. Discussions on some can be found in the book Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Wells is a Discoveroid “Senior Fellow.” See Discovery Institute: The Genius of Jonathan Wells. Here’s one more excerpt from the end:

Did Darwin dismiss the concept of a Creator? Again, in his own words, “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.” Critical thinking needs to be a component in education rather than biased teaching. Hmm. If people have made a “religion of evolution” as Darwin indicated [we skipped that quote], maybe it shouldn’t be taught in our schools either.

So there you are, dear reader — one of the best letters-to-the-editor in our collection.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #511: Quote-Mining Darwin

  1. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; [and this is here impossible].”

    Always a standard emission from the dishonesty institute’s propaganda papers and church talks. Their justification for including “both sides” and “freedom of speech.”

  2. Mike Elzinga


    Here is a nice example for your archives.

    Henry Morris was one of my favorite “Scientific” Creationist purveyors of fake erudition.

    I’ve posted this example at other places on the interned in recent years; but when I was giving talks on Morris’s abuse of thermodynamics back in the 1970s and 80s, I often liked to contrast the “scholarship” of Henry Morris with what Clausius actually wrote about his coining of the word entropy. Duane Gish loved to use Morris’s fake thermodynamics argument against biologists.

    Anyone can easily check the following materials. Clausius’s original paper can now be obtained easily from the internet.

    This is from Rudolf Clausius in Annalen der Physik und Chemie, Vol. 125, p. 353, 1865, under the title “Ueber verschiedene für de Anwendung bequeme Formen der Hauptgleichungen der mechanischen Wärmetheorie.” (“On Several Convenient Forms of the Fundamental Equations of the Mechanical Theory of Heat.”)

    It is also available in A Source Book in Physics, Edited by William Francis Magie, Harvard University Press, 1963, page 234. (I have Clausius’s paper in the original German, and Magie’s translation is accurate and smooth.)

    (Note: Q represents the quantity of heat, T the absolute temperature, and S will be what Clausius names as entropy)

    Clausius says:

    We obtain the equation

    dQ/T = SS0

    which, while somewhat differently arranged, is the same as that which was formerly used to determine S.

    If we wish to designate S by a proper name we can say of it that it is the transformation content of the body, in the same way that we say of the quantity U that it is the heat and work content of the body.

    However, since I think it is better to take the names of such quantities as these, which are important for science, from the ancient languages, so that they can be introduced without change into all the modern languages, I propose to name the magnitude S the entropy of the body, from the Greek word η τροπη, a transformation.

    I have intentionally formed the word entropy so as to be as similar as possible to the word energy, since both these quantities, which are to be known by these names, are so nearly related to each other in their physical significance that a certain similarity in their names seemed to me advantageous.

    Notice that Clausius translates η τροπη from the Greek as die Verwandlung (transformation) and not Umdrehung. However, this doesn’t matter because he modified the word to entropy for the reasons he indicated.

    On the other hand, here is Henry Morris’s pseudo-scholarship back in 1973.

    The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word “evolution” is of course derived from a Latin word meaning “out-rolling”. The picture is of an outward-progressing spiral, an unrolling from an infinitesimal beginning through ever broadening circles, until finally all reality is embraced within.

    “Entropy,” on the other hand, means literally “in-turning.” It is derived from the two Greek words en (meaning “in”) and trope (meaning “turning”). The concept is of something spiraling inward upon itself, exactly the opposite concept to “evolution.” Evolution is change outward and upward, entropy is change inward and downward.


    This is so typical of ID/creationist “scholarship” that it should stand as a monument to sectarian bald-faced dishonesty. It shows exactly how ID/creationist leaders fake it to impress their followers. Audiences really got the point with this example.

  3. That’s good info, Mike Elzinga. Thanks.

  4. @Mike Elzinga
    To clarify a little Greek:
    η is a long e, and it is the definite article, “the”
    εν has a short e, a different letter, and is the preposition “in”
    two totally different words in Greek, not even any letter in common

    Aside from that, and the fact that “evolution” is derived from Latin, and the fact that the word “evolution” has a varied history in English, one older biological meaning something like the development of the embryo – which brings to mind the fact that development of the embryo is not forbidden by the laws of thermodynamics.

  5. michaelfugate

    I would bet that the only Darwin Ken has read are selected quotes from some creationist website.

  6. Mike Elzinga

    @ TomS

    Yes, I am aware of that. It is a bit unfortunate that η is usually pronounced as “ate ah” in English. However, given the fact that other Latin letters have the same pronunciation as some Greek letters (e.g, π is pronounced in Greek just like “p”, so we call it “pie”), I suspect some adjustment had to be made to avoid confusion when speaking the letters.

    Some might argue that, if Clausius wanted to use die Verwandlung as a translation for some Greek word, he should have gone for metamorphosis. However, as Clausius indicated, he wanted to construct a word that was close to “energy” in its sound. The concepts of entropy and energy are indeed closely related because thermodynamics is about the bookkeeping of energy; and the second law refers to the spreading around of energy (not stuff) in order for processes to occur. Energy flows “downhill” from high temperatures to low temperatures, hence entropy increases.

    I find this illustration interesting because it shows how ingrained the habit of exegesis and etymology is in certain fundamentalist sectarians who want ancient words to determine the meaning of modern concepts. In reality, etymology is not what it seems.

    Morris isn’t the only ID/creationist to engage in fake etymology in order to set the meaning of words and, therefore, the concepts to which these words refer. It’s an old form of word-worship in which words are magic and make true what one wants to be true. All ID/creationists do it.

  7. Diogenes Lamp

    Our letter writer does not merely quote mine Darwin, but he delivers a fake Darwin quote from the Lady Hope story, the quote that goes, “I was a young man with unformed ideas.”

    He also delivers the fake story about Haeckel being convicted of fraud at the University of Jena. In an apparently new version of the embryo lie, we are now told, “Ernst Haeckel took embryos of a dog and a human and switched them to help out Darwin.” Now that takes quite an imagination to come up with $π!+ like that.

  8. Richard Bond

    ”There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.”

    The first edition of the Origin did not contain the words “the Creator”. There are many examples in the second and subsequent editions of unnecessary compromises to soften the message. This is one of them.

  9. Darwin undoubtedly softened his language in response to the savage attacks directed at him. At least he didn’t have to worry about his car being blown up, as he undoubtedly would if he were living today.

    One of my favorite creationist quotes, which perfectly expresses their mentality, is attributed to Queen Victoria: “Let us hope [evolution] is not true; and if it is, let us hope it does not become generally known.”

  10. @Eric Lipps
    That is usually attributed to the wife of the Bishop of Worcester.

  11. Diogenes Lamp

    It’s a fake quote, variously attributed to a spinster, lady, mother, wife of a bishop, etc. Let’s not spread fake quotes except to chuckle at them.

  12. “The problem with Internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy.”
    – Abraham Lincoln, 1864