A nice little old lady of Mrs Crox’s acquaintance came up to Mrs Crox in the street and gave her a pamphlet which she thought might be interesting, as it mentioned me. I sighed – it was Christian literature in which my various utterances on evolution had been quote-mined in support of creationism. Now, if I say so myself, I’ve said quite a few grandstanding things about evolution, especially in my book In Search Of Deep Time, and if taken out of context, you can see why they fill creationists with glee, so desperate are they for support that they even take seriously the utterances of li’l ol’ me. Here is a choice selection, quote-mined by this site.

‘The intervals of time that separate fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent’. In Search of Deep Time (2001) p. 23

‘New fossil discoveries are fitted into this preexisting story. We call these new discoveries ‘missing links’, as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices. In reality, the physical record of human evolution is more modest. Each fossil represents an isolated point, with no knowable connection to any other given fossil, and all float around in an overwhelming sea of gaps’. In Search of Deep Time (2001) p. 32

‘Dinosaurs are fossils, and, like all fossils, they are isolated tableaux illuminating the measureless corridor of Deep Time. To recall what I said in chapter 1, no fossil is buried with its birth certificate. That, and the scarcity of fossils, means that it is effectively impossible to link fossils into chains of cause and effect in any valid way, whether we are talking about the extinction of the dinosaurs, or chains of ancestry and descent. Everything we think we know about the causal relations of events in Deep Time has been invented by us, after the fact’. In Search of Deep Time (2001) p.113

‘To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story — amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific’. In Search of Deep Time (2001) p.116-7

‘All the evidence for the hominid lineage between about 10 and 5 million years ago — several thousand generations of living creatures — can be fitted indo a small box’. In Search of Deep Time (2001) p.202

‘Fossil evidence of human evolutionary history is fragmentary and open to various interpretations. Fossil evidence of chimpanzee evolution is absent altogether’. Nature July 12 2001 p. 131

Now, of course, elsewhere in the same book I said quite unequivocally that evolution is a fact: “If it is fair to assume that all life on Earth shares a common evolutionary origin,” I wrote on p5, going on to make clear that this is the assumption I am making throughout the book. There is no question that evolution is true, and that we have ancestors, and an ancestry. The very existence of the fossil record is proof enough of this. What is in question is the methods that evolutionary biologists often use to recover that ancestry, methods that are more narrative than scientific. My argument was with some aspects of evolutionary biology and the way it is played out in the media, not with evolution itself.

However, when I am particularly depressed, such as today, and I indulge in a bit of egosurfing, I find that the creationists are still at it. Just try this little test – put “Henry Gee” in Google, select ‘blogs’ and see what turns up. Go on, I dare you. Here are two or three, just to whet your appetite. From here -

If you want to make evolutionist Henry Gee mad at you remind him that he once wrote this following ‘true’ statement: “To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story, amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific.” Evolutionist – Henry Gee, editor of Nature, on the feasibility of reconstructing phylogenetic trees from fossils

… and here

… and here

In fact there is no known evolutionary line of descent from Eusthenopteron to Tiktaalik roseae or from Tiktaalik roseae to Acanthostega. These life forms are separated from one another by morphological gulfs based on profound differences and millions of years of time. Evolutionists reveal only their own prejudices with the series into which they place Tiktaalik roseae. Henry Gee, editor of the journal Nature and also a paleontologist, admits that “missing links” and evolutionary series are the work of preconceptions: ‘New fossil discoveries are fitted into this pre-existing story. We call these new discoveries “missing links”, as if the chain of ancestry and descentwere a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices. . . . Each fossil represents an isolated point, with no knowable connection to any other given fossil, and all float around in an overwhelming sea of gaps’. (Henry Gee, In Search of Deep Time, Beyond the Fossil Record to aNew History of Life, p. 32)

There are loads more like this – although I have had some very robust and heartening support.

The sad thing is that no matter how hard I fight, the creationists will still take quotes out of context, because that’s the way they do what they call ‘science’. Like all pseudoscientists and woo-merchants, they don’t investigate anything systematically, just pick out the things they like and discard anything else – even flat statements to the contrary. Now, I could say something eminently quotable like this …

You creationists are either dishonest, or stupid. Now, you gotta ask yourself, which is it to be? Pick one, or the other. Make my day.

… and that would be ignored, too. That said, I refuse to modify my thoughts for fear of being quote-mined by idiots. I tend to regard creationists as an occupational hazard, rather in the same way that those who go walking in the dark, looking up at the stars, will occasionally tread in a pile of dog shit.

In my next book – which the University of Chicago Press has signed me up to write – there’ll be not a few words but a whole chapter on creationist quote-mining, and I look forward to deconstructing every witless morsel. So don’t stop now, chaps, the more material I have before then, the better.

About cromercrox

Cromercrox is a recovering palaeontologist, author and editor who lists his recreations as writing, beachcombing, playing hard rock organ, supporting Norwich City FC and falling asleep.
This entry was posted in Apparitions, Research, Science Is Vital, Writing & Reading and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Creationism

  1. Just remember Psalms 14:1 – “There is no god.”

  2. Brian Switek says:

    Congrats on landing a deal with the University of Chicago Press, Henry! They have been putting out some of the best paleontology and history of science books I have seen lately. (Just polished up the proposal for my second book. With any luck I’ll be able to dive into writing that one soon.)

    You’re right that we shouldn’t let the underhanded tactics of creationists dissuade us from speaking openly about what is known and what remains unknown in evolutionary science. They’re going to do it anyway, and I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by letting them frame the argument.

    • cromercrox says:

      Thanks Brian – I’ve worked on a couple of books with Chicago before and we really gel together. I have high hopes. How is Written In Stone doing?

      • Brian Switek says:

        Not bad. Every review has been good, and, as far as I can tell, stales have been relatively steady. The book is in its second printing now. The big, initial promotional push is over, and I have been pretty pleased with how it has done so far.

  3. KristiV says:

    Oh noes! You can has prematurely demented, pamphlet-wielding creationists in Norfolk too! Though it *is* good fodder for the book chapter – I’m sure the quote-mining takedown will be delicious.

    On a completely different note (but related to your other authorial and editorial accomplishments), I’m likely to adopt two Pomeranian puppies, which are currently being fostered (and treated for mange) for the Humane Society by a co-worker. One is male, one female, and they have black fur (the bits that haven’t fallen out from the mange, anyway) – I’m thinking that Hobbit or Elvish names would be excellent. I’ve already had pets Frodo (dog) and Pippin (cockatiel), so those names are out. Any suggestions?

    • cromercrox says:

      The first thing I thought of was Tom and Goldberry. But they could always be Aragorn and Arwen, if one were more high-falutin’.

      And we can haz pictures, precious???

      • I had a maths teacher at school – ex-army as he was Captain Something-or- other – who had two dogs named Frodo and Bilbo. They used to accompany him to class and sit in the corner. Somehow I doubt that level of overt eccentricity would pass muster nowadays.

        • cromercrox says:

          I once knew a dog called Bilbo, named because it had hairy feet.

          • KristiV says:

            That was why I named the first little dog (a Pekingese/terrier mix) Frodo. A friend insisted on hissing “Bagginsssessss” at the dog the entire time he was visiting, and “Frodo” was one of the first words that another friend’s son learned as a toddler (he loved the dog).

            I suspect that my Labbie will just ignore the little dogs, whereas she does not ignore any dog that’s medium-sized or larger (she can be kind of grumpy and uncivil). In any case, I can easily separate the little dogs from her queendom (the front room) while I’m at work – I’m thinking that that spare bathroom will be plenty big enough for them during the day. The co-worker will be treating the little dogs for mange for another month or so, and then hopefully I can adopt them. I will certainly take photos if so.

            Bombadil and Goldberry would be cute, as would Aragorn and Arwen.

  4. Does this mean you are ending up on the same side of the Creationism argument as He Who Must Not Be Named, Henry?

    • cromercrox says:

      Yes, except that my arguments are philosophically and logically coherent, whereas his are the juvenilia one might expect for one who ended up with a Dr Who Girl.

  5. “I refuse to modify my thoughts for fear of being quote-mined by idiots.”

    Words to live by.

  6. Alejandro says:

    I ‘m reading your books HG, I hope any foolishness doesn’t come out.

    I arrive at me the Fossil Pocket Guide (HG), is excellent!

    Now I’m fighting with the Captcha….

  7. John Gilbey says:

    We once had a pair of kittens (siblings) called Merry and Pippin… Extremely svelte silver tabbies, one long haried, one short – of which I must have a sensationally cute photo here somewhere…

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Henry said:

    “In my next book [...] there’ll be [...] witless [...] material”.

    You need to work on your sales pitch, mate.

  9. James Johnston says:

    I found most of the comments reassuring. I am not a man of words, but I tend to find in my field, that a seed of truth in mythology can become the well spring for a science that my change the course of mankind forever. When we find these seeds they seam to be of no consequence on the surface until we develop a new form of thinking, reasoning, an enlightenment which catapults us into a new age. This can only come to a reality in he, or she, who remains forthright, committed and humble with suppressed ego. We have not, as yet, learned to think in nontraditional linage how to approach the mysteries that habitats around us. Thus we are unable to understand. We are mear children trying to act like adults. Sit down sometime and make an assessment of your thought processes. It may astound you!

  10. Temi says:

    What’s weird about these “quote mine” accusations is that they are almost never right but still going around. I see none of those quotes saying Henry Gee does not believe in evolution or that the book argues against evolution. The point is the fossil record and its use to defend the theory. The only thing the fossil record shows is that things died, basically. You may not like people picking a single truth out of what you say but if someone is arguing about the fossil record, it’s perfectly fine to quote an evolutionist who supports the view even if their wider view is still evolutionist.

    Why do so many of you like to try taking back what you said?

  11. Temi says:

    And an FYI, I really do not think they care so much who Gee is so much as how he explains a point they’ve been trying to hammer into the small minds evolutionists seem to have. Some of these things seem so basic when it comes to reasoning yet it just doesn’t seep in.