Down in the Quote Mines

Creationist Joe Lary, Ph. D. wrote a argument that Alabama schools should teach intelligent design in science classes that appeared in the Tuscaloosa News on March third of this year. What I found the most stiking feature of Lary’s argument is that he makes crystal clear that there is no substantive difference between “intelligent design” and the “creation science” of the 1970s and ’80s. His arguments are lifted straight from standard young earth creationist sources, as are his methods. The false, or out-of-context quote is a favorite tactic of professional young earth creationists’ efforts to undermine science and reason. This is so widely recognized among those who follow these efforts that it has come to be called “quote mining” and a compilation of many examples, and their corrections has been published on-line at: The Quote Mine Project. The Answers in Genesis Ministries, formerly the Creation Science Foundation of Brisbane, Australia, even produced a book of quotes called The Revised Quote Book (copyright 1990) that has been debunked at Cretinism or Evilution? No. 3 .

Further “quote-mine” information and examples dating as early as 1905 are found in Ron Numbers’ book The Creationists (1992, pg. 50-53), and an large library of quotes are analyzed at Quotations and Misquotations .

Lary shows himself to be well versed in quote mining as I’ll now examine.

Lary 3/3/04, "Francis Crick, who won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the structure of DNA, has concluded that the biochemical evolution of life from nonliving matter could not have occurred on Earth."

Lary seems to have profoundly failed to understand Francis Crick, for example he wrote in 1981:

"But this [the ostensibly "miraculous" seeming origin of life] should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions. The plain fact is the time available was too long, the many microenvironments on the earths surface too diverse, the various chemical possibilities too numerous and our own knowledge (in 1981) and imagination too feeble to allow us to be able to unravel exactly how it might or might not have happened such a long time ago. the present time we can nly say that we cannot decide whether the origin of life in earth was an extremely unlikely event or almost a certainty--or any possibility in between those two extremes. Life Itself p.88.

The last 23 years have seen more research published on the origin of life than the prior 23 centuries, and I have no doubt that Crick would greatly alter even those comments today. As they stand, there is no support for Lary’s assertions.

Lary has employed one of creationist’s favorite gimmicks, the out-of-context, out-of-date quote scam. This particularly shameful when he has misrepresented dead men unable to defend themselves.

Biochemist and Nobel laureate George Wald of Harvard University proclaimed: "One only has to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible."

How about the very next sentence, Joe?

“One only has to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet, we are here as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation. - George Wald, “The Origin of Life”, Scientific American 191:48 (May 1954).

It is obvious that Lary is trying to fool his readers. Wald did not say anything that contradics modern research on the origin of life even less evolutionary biology. Further, the chopped quote Lary foisted off was written just one year after Stanley Miller’s discovery of amino acid synthesis, and the publication of Watson and Crick’s historic analysis of DNA. We earlier noted that Lary was stuck in 140 year old research, and now he feeds us a 50 year old out-of-context quotation.

Lary next supposedly quoted poor Edwin Conklin (1863-1952). Conklin was widely attacked by creationists who claim he supported racism because he was a “Darwinist”, and now he is frequently misrepresented as arguing for special creation.

Let us consider this so-called quote further. I find it is typically found presented pretty much as Lary has copied it (obviously not from an original source but from some anonymous text), ” According to Princeton Biology Professor, Edwin Conklin, “ The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a print shop.”- Reader’s Digest Jan.1963 pg.92. Some creationists use the year 1956– Conklin still would have been dead for at least four years. Even more creationists claim this was said by Albert Einstein, or just make the claim as if they thought it up themselves. We are forced to disregard this bit of propaganda due to its lack of honest reportage. Clearly Lary has never read the original text (if one exists), and has dogmatically reguritated creationists web sites, or books.

What did Conklin really belive? Consider this, “Man in his entirety is regarded by science as the product of evolution. His actual origin goes back not to Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden…but to more primitive races of men, and then to prehuman ancestors, and in the end to the earliest forms of life upon the earth. Between us and these earliest forms there has been an unbroken line of descent, an uninterrupted stream of life, through all the ages.” Professor Edwin Conklin of Princeton in The Direction of Human Evolution, page 4.

Yet despite their frank admissions, these eminent scientists ignored theirown scientific reasoning and continued to have faith in the theory of evolution.

These scientists made no “admissions” in the sense that Lary wants us to believe. In each case these men admitt that science is incomplete and that there is more to learn, and in each case they affirm that evolutionary science has so far met the test of time.

We have just seen that Lary was either ignorant of, or willfully misrepresented the true positions of these scientists. We have shown that Lary has misrepresetned evolutionary theory as being contingent on the origin of life, and that he is uninformed as to expanding research in that area as well. He next propounds on paleontology which if anything, he is more ignorant of than evolutionary biology.