Spectacular Quote Mining

I was digging through a few of my older bits of crap from the internet, and found a side-by-side article I wrote in early 2012. To be honest, it’s a bit long and cruddy, but the inanity of the article being critiqued – especially towards the end – doesn’t fill me with the impetus to have another shot at it.

Anyway, I rediscovered this quote from the original, written by Philip Vander Elst:

Richard Dawkins, for instance, describes the idea of God as “a very naive, childish concept,” and has explicitly expressed his relief that Darwinism enables him to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Earlier Darwinists made similar comments. In 1943, for example, Professor D.M.S. Watson wrote: “Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or…can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.” (Quoted in “Science and the BBC”, Nineteenth Century, April 1943). But if Darwinism is being embraced because of an unexamined philosophical (or emotional) prejudice against God and the idea of creation, why should it be accorded any respect as a scientific theory?

Elst’s point here is that evolution has been almost invented entirely to get rid of God – even where the data clearly doesn’t fit. Evolutionists are out to disprove God, and that’s their one and only motive. And look, he has the quotes to prove it! Right there! Look!

You know what I call it? Shameless. Truly shameless. Truly fucking shameless. It’s a quote mine that is so common, so mundane, and so over-used by creationist asshats, that it even has a Wikipedia section dedicated to it – not that I’m accusing Philip Vander Elst of being a literal, Ussher-chronology young earth creationist, but his work does fall into the black pit of the worst apologetics I’ve read. Actually, that could be misleading because calling it “worst” implies that I’ve found apologetics that are reasonable.

It takes little-to-no effort to track down the source, as I did in the original side-by-side of Elst’s oversized derp-wagon. For instance, you can find the original sourced to a 1929 article in Nature, while Elst had clearly only gotten as far as taking C.S. Lewis’ word for it when he wrote that bullshit above – it’s almost word-for-word how Lewis quoted and described Watson’s position. Indeed, how apt for someone who is somewhat of a scholar of C.S. Lewis (if such a thing can be a genuine academic occupation) and for a post that is mostly a quasi-plagiarised rehash of C.S. Lewis’ own apologetics.

This is Watson’s original quote from his article (Lewis/Elst’s extract is highlighted in douche-y green):

Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or is supported by logically coherent arguments, but because it does fit all the facts of taxonomy, of paleontology, and of geographical distribution, and because no alternative explanation is credible.

Look carefully at the quote-mined version, you’ll spot an ellipsis – as clearly Watson’s paragraph there only looks a little like the Elst/Lewis’ extract. In fact, most of the sentence is removed. This isn’t just clearing up some extraneous detail for brevity – this is actually hiding things. The second part of the quote mine comes a page or so later, and combined with the above clearly makes the point that “incredible” is being used in a literal sense (meaning “not credible”). It is presented as so:

The extreme difficulty of obtaining the necessary data for any quantitative estimation of the efficiency of natural selection makes it seem probable that this theory will be re-established, if it be so, by the collapse of alternative explanations which are more easily attacked by observation and experiment. If so, it will present a parallel to the theory of evolution itself, a theory universally accepted not because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.

It’s pretty clear putting all of Watson’s comments together that he’s simply heading off the usual anti-evolutionist objections that evolution cannot be observed. Indeed, how can it, per se? We live, at best, 100 years; can a single person observe the evolution of a shrew-like creature into a primate? Of course not. But we have much more evidence for it than that – and such “direct” evidence isn’t required. Further, the alternative anti-evolutionary views suffer from a complete lack of evidence or any logical founding that makes them plausible. Of course D. M. S. Watson would say this, and not offer some tacit admission that he thinks evolution is wrong but likes how it destroys God – the man had expertise on the subject and amassed a list of accolades I doubt I’ll ever achieve. Why would anyone think for a moment that such a person would say “evolution is wrong”? It’s this sort of behaviour that really makes some apologists the lowest of the low in terms of honesty, intelligence and general credibility both scientific and academic. They are, literally, incredible.

C.S. Lewis, the originator of the quote-mine, put it as so – and, in doing so, shamelessly invented the page-long ellipsis to go with it.

More disquieting still is Professor D. M. S. Watson’s defense. “Evolution itself,” he wrote, “is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or… can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.” Has it come to that? Does the whole vast structure of modern naturalism depend not on positive evidence but simply on an a priori metaphysical prejudice. Was it devised not to get in facts but to keep out God?

So, what did Elst want to achieve in 2003 by citing a quote originally made in 1929, using a quote-mine first published in 1941? Back when I wrote that original side-by-side, I described this as “intellectually vacuous”. I still can’t think of a better term to sum it all up.