Thursday, May 21, 2009

The longest ellipsis...

(Note: this post is shamelessly unoriginal – John Lynch did all the hard yards on this one).

The most annoying thing about creationists, I submit, is not that they’re wrong (and they are) but that they are often astonishingly intellectually dishonest. One manifestation of this dishonesty is their wont to quote mine, and the nadir of quote mining is constructing unfavorable quotes by using absurdly long ellipses. John Lynch of Stranger Fruit uncovered a doozy of this genre a while ago. Attempting to discredit Darwin by linking him to Marx, social Darwinism and the Nazis, Edward T. Oakes writes:
Darwin actually, if unwittingly, promulgated the charter for all later social Darwinists: "Let the strongest live and the weakest die... Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows."
As many of you no doubt noticed, there is something decidedly odd about this Darwin quote. And this is it: the first part of the quote comes from the last bit of the last sentence of Chapter 7 of On the Origin of Species. And the second part? The (famous) last paragraph of Chapter 14. Yes, that’s right: seven chapters – or almost 200 pages – later. Astounding, isn’t it?

The more charitable among you may object that perhaps Oakes got the quote from another creationist (from the book he's reviewing?) and thus maybe he’s guilty only of bad scholarship, not bona vide intellectual dishonesty. I would vehemently disagree: pretending to know when one does not is an especially vile form of intellectual dishonesty and if Oakes is not guilty of deliberate deception, then he’s certainly guilty this intellectual fakery. His claim, after all, concerns Darwin’s beliefs, and intellectual honesty demands, surely, that anyone making such claims demonstrate enough familiarity with Darwin’s most famous work to recognize its most famous passage and notice it doesn’t really go with the first bit of the quote.

All of this, of course, is strictly irrelevant to whether the theory of evolution by natural selection is true or not. Even if it were the case that Darwin was a sadistic wife-beating pedophilic Nazi bent on genocide, it wouldn’t change the fact that his theory is true. Nice guys don’t always finish first...

Oh, and some fun proving both sides can play this ellipses game...

"Luke... I am your... father".
-Colossians 4 :14, Genesis 27:31, Genesis 2:24

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