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.