List of quotes out of context

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It seems that creationists and other liars and goofballs think quoting the statements of scientists counts as research. The problem is that often when quotations are taken out of context they will appear to have a meaning which is different from or, especially, the opposite of their originally intended meaning.

This page is for quotes of scientists, by creationists and other specious idiots, which are taken out of context and presented in a manner such that they imply the opposite meaning of that intended by their authors. There is an excellent assemblage of such quotes on Talk Origins [1], and it is the purpose of this page to complement that compilation rather than to duplicate it.

Contents

Evolution quotes out of context

Evolutionist Steven Stanley on no gradual transitions in the fossil record

In an effort to advance its claim that the fossil record provides evidence against evolution, the Jehovah's Witnesses' publication Life--How did it get here? By evolution or by creation?, hereinafter referred to as Life, notes:

The failure of the fossil evidence to support gradual evolution has disturbed many evolutionists. In The New Evolutionary Timetable, Steven Stanley spoke of "the general failure of the record to display gradual transitions from one major group to another." (p. 21)

In fact Stanley is explaining Ernest Mayr's modern punctuational view of evolution. The quote in context in the original source reads:

The point here is that if the transition was typically rapid and the population small and localized, fossil evidence of the event would never be found. The other aspect of this argument is that the general failure of the record to display gradual transitions from one major group to another did not reflect a poor record for large, well-established species, but the slow evolution of such species: full-fledged species are not the entities that undergo the majority of major evolutionary changes.[1]

Although Stanley does speak of inadequacies of the fossil record, he offers an explanation as well as noting its strong points. This is not mentioned by Life.

Life continues quoting Stanley:

He said: "The known fossil record is not, and never has been, in accord with [slow evolution]."

Life substituted "slow evolution" for "gradualism" as it appeared originally,[2] thereby changing the sentence to appear to be a criticism of all evolution.

Stanley on surprising things in the fossil record

To further support the claim that the fossil record provides evidence against evolution, Life presents:

After all this time, and the assembling of millions of fossils, what does the record now say? Evolutionist Steven Stanley states that these fossils "reveal new and surprising things about our biological origins."... What is it that these evolutionary scientists have found to be so "surprising"...? What has confounded such scientists is the fact that the massive fossil evidence now available reveals the very same thing that it did in Darwin's day: Basic kinds of living things appeared suddenly and did not change appreciably for long periods of time. (p. 59)

Thus Life is stating that Stanley's "surprising things" were observations of the sudden appearance and stasis of organisms in the fossil record. However, following this statement in the original context Stanley does not in fact mention sudden appearance or stasis. Instead he identifies the "surprising things" as follows:

Fossils are vestiges of ancient life, shards of long-lost biotas. Some are skeletons--shells, bones, and teeth, for example. Others are traces of activity--tracks, trails, burrow, and even defecations. Some fossils are drab and inconspicuous, but others are spectacularly beautiful....Fossils are quite dead, but in the eye of the sapient observer they often spring to life. In these ghosts of stone we can see shapes and movements of the past. From fossils, uniquely, we can read something of the history of life on Earth. Ancient patterns of behavior and of biotic interaction move within our reach.[3]

Thus Life has taken the quote out of context and assigned it a meaning that was not intended by the original author.

Stanley on what happened to the bowfin fishes

In a list of quotes apparently intended to demonstrate that fish have not evolved, the anti-science "Evolution Encyclopedia" quotes Stanley:

As a first example, we can consider the bowfin fishes. . No more than two bowfin species are known to have existed at any one time . . What has happened to the bowfin fishes during their long history of more than one hundred million years? Next to nothing! The bowfins of seventy or eighty million years ago must have lived very much as their lake dwelling descendants do today.[4]

In the original context Stanley proposes a "thought experiment." He suggests that, concerning phylogenies with historically few species, if a gradualist model of evolution is correct then one would expect to see great change over the lifetime of the lineage. If on the other hand evolution occurs by speciation (punctualist model) then one would expect to see little change. The quote then comes from the results of this experiment:

What has happened to the bowfin fishes during their long history of more than one hundred million years? Next to nothing! During the latter part of the Cretaceous, bowfins became slightly more elongate, but during the entire sixty-five million years of the Cenozoic Era, they evolved in only trivial ways. Two new species are recognized, but these differ from their Late Cretaceous ancestors only in subtle features that represent no basic shift of adaptation. The bowfins of seventy or eighty million years ago must have lived very much as their lake-dwelling descendants do today. Thus, the punctuational view is favored.[5]

The New Evolutionary Timetable on species not evolving much

To support its claim that life appeared suddenly, Life presents:

In the layers above that Cambrian outburst of life, the testimony of the fossil record is repeatedly the same: New kinds of animals and new kinds of plants appear suddenly, with no connection to anything that went before them. And once on the scene, they continue with little change. The New Evolutionary Timetable states: "The record now reveals that species typically survive for a hundred thousand generations, or even a million or more, without evolving very much. . . . After their origins, most species undergo little evolution before becoming extinct." (p. 63)

Originally the sentence left out by the ellipsis in the quote was:

We seem forced to conclude that most evolution takes place rapidly, when species come into being by the evolutionary divergence of small populations from parent species.[6]

The omitted sentence then offers Stanley's explanation for the phenomena of sudden appearance and stasis of which Life is critical.

Note that the quote clearly states species do in fact evolve.

The New Evolutionary Timetable on horses appearing suddenly

In a marginal gloss in a section titled "What About the Horse?" Life quotes The New Evolutionary Timetable:

The Equus group, which includes all living horses...appears suddenly in the fossil record...their origin is not documented by known fossil evidence. (p. 67)

The quote within its original context reads:

All of these Ice Age species belong to the Equus group, which includes all living horses and zebras. The Equus kind of animal appears suddenly in the fossil record in North American deposits less than three million years old. This familiar creature evolved from an ancestor of quite different form--one that had toes flanking each of its hoofs, as well as much simpler molar teeth than the modern horse. Horses of the modern Equus type obviously evolved rapidly, and apparently for this reason their origin is not documented by known fossil evidence. [7]

Note that Stanley believes the modern horse did evolve from a precursor species and further he presents an explanation for their sudden appearance, neither of which is mentioned in the quote by Life.

Life also notes:

Placing little Eohippus as the ancestor of the horse strains the imagination, especially in view of what The New Evolutionary Timetable says: "It was widely assumed that [Eohippus] had slowly but persistently turned into a more fully equine animal." But do the facts support this assumption? "The fossil species of [Eohippus] show little evidence of evolutionary modification," answers the book. It thus concedes, regarding the fossil record: "It fails to document the full history of the horse family." So, some scientists now say that little Eohippus never was a type of horse or an ancestor of one. (p. 67)

The quote in its original context reads:

The fossil record of horses also testifies to an episodic tempo for evolution, and this is particularly notable because for decades the record of ancient horses was heralded as the classic illustration of gradual transformation. Although this fossil record, like all others, is incomplete, so that it fails to document the full history of the horse family, one of its striking revelations is great evolutionary stability for tiny dawn horses....[8] ...among the sluggishly changing species of the Bighorn Basin were members of the "dawn horse" genus Hyracotherium, (formerly called Eohippus), the animal generally believed to be the distant ancestor of the modern horse. The fossil species of Hyracotherium show little evidence of evolutionary modification....For many years, while gradualistic thinking dominated evolutionary science, it was widely assumed that Hyracotherium had slowly but persistently turned into a more fully equine animal. The new evidence for the stability of early Cenozoic species forces us to focus upon change by speciation involving small populations.[9]

Note how Life has rearranged Stanley's words to make it look as if he is saying that Eohippus was not the ancestor of the modern horse. In reality he is merely explaining that horse evolution, once thought to be gradual, is now viewed as having long periods of stability.

The New Evolutionary Timetable on human descent from an apelike form

To support its claim that the fossil record does not provide information about human origin, Life presents:

The human family does not consist of a solitary line of descent leading from an apelike form to our species. (p. 69)

It is difficult to even speculate what this quote is intended to convey. It appears it is supposed to provide evidence that humans did not evolve from apes. The quote in its original context reads:

Because the human family does not consist of a solitary line of descent leading from an apelike form to our species, Homo sapiens, we are not as special as we would like to think. Had a perceptive being somehow passively watched human evolution for the three or four million years before our species and its immediate ancestors appeared, it could not have predicted our origin.[10]

Stanley is merely noting that human evolution is complex.

The New Evolutionary Timetable on Australopithecus brain capacity

To support its claim that Australopithecus also could not be an ancestor of modern humans, Life again quotes The New Evolutionary Timetable:

So, too, with Australopithecus. More research has disclosed that its skull "differed from that of humans in more ways than its smaller brain capacity." (pp. 93, 94)

However, in the same and preceding paragraphs Stanley indicates ways in which Australopithecus is similar to modern humans:

A particularly human aspect of its skeleton was its dentition. Here it shared with our species several traits.... Australopithecus africanus, like our species, was a fully upright creature.[11]

These similarities indicated by Stanley are not mentioned by Life, as they do not support the argument that the author is trying to advance.

Leakey on descendants of the australopithecines

As further evidence that Australopithecus was not ancestral to humans, Life quotes anthropologist Richard Leakey from Origins:

Similarly Richard Leakey called it "unlikely that our direct ancestors are evolutionary descendants of the australopithecines." (p. 94)

Leakey is referring to "skull 1470," which he believed to be a Homo habilis skull. The quote in context says:

This remarkable skull confirmed two things. First, that the human ancestral line, Homo, originated much earlier than most people suspected, earlier perhaps by as much as a million years. Second, because the history of Homo goes back that far, it means that these individuals were living at the same time as some of the earliest australopithecines, making it unlikely that our direct ancestors are evolutionary descendants of the australopithecines--cousins, yes, but descendants, no.[12]

The actual quote from Origins, then, indicates the authors' belief that although humans did not evolve directly from Australopithecus we did evolve from a common ancestor.

It should be noted that since the writing of Origin skull 1470 has been determined to be a member of the species Homo rudolfensis and to be more recent than original estimates, thus making it more likely that Australopithecus is in fact our ancestor.

A View of Life on evolution as a fact

To further advance the claim that scientists doubt evolution, Life quotes a college level textbook:

In similar fashion the book A View of Life, by evolutionists Luria, Gould and Singer, states that "evolution is a fact," and asserts: "We might as well doubt that the earth revolves about the sun, or that hydrogen and oxygen make water." It also declares that evolution is as much a fact as the existence of gravity. But it can be proved experimentally that the earth revolves around the sun, that hydrogen and oxygen make water, and that gravity exists. Evolution cannot be proved experimentally. (p. 181)

It should be noted that contrary to the last sentence, predictions of evolution have been tested.

In the above quote Life is confusing the historical fact of evolution with hypotheses about its causes. That A View of Life makes this distinction is evidenced by the quote in its original context:

Evolution is a fact....the notion that life evolved is about as well established as any fact of science. We might as well doubt that the earth revolves about the sun, or that hydrogen and oxygen make water. How life evolved is another matter. The processes and mechanisms of evolution remain a subject of lively debate.[13]

In fact gravity and evolution are similar theories in that in both cases the fact of their existence is not doubted although their causes are not completely understood. A View of Life goes on to explain:

The apple falls to the ground. That is a fact. Newton's theory of gravitation tries to explain how it happens....Scientists argue endlessly about theories and sometimes change their entire view of how the world works. The apple, however, continues to fall down. Humans evolved from apelike primates. That too is a fact. Darwin's theory of natural selection helps us to interpret this fact....[14]

Life goes on to state:

Indeed, these same evolutionists admit that "debate rages about theories of evolution." But do debates still rage about the earth revolving around the sun, about hydrogen and oxygen making water, and about the existence of gravity? No. How reasonable is it, then, to say that evolution is as much a fact as these things are? (pp. 181-182)

Again Life leaves the reader with the impression that the authors of the original quote believe that scientists doubt the historical fact of evolution. In fact the quote in its original context reads:

It is appropriate and exhilarating that debate rages about theories of evolution. This debate does not imply, however, that evolution itself is a myth and that scientists are reduced to arguing about shadowy guesses called theories. Evolution happened. Theories of evolution try to explain how it happened.[15]

A View of Life on inability to explain the fossil record

To further support that the fossil record disproves evolution, and in the second half of the argument above regarding Stanley and "surprises" observed therein, Life notes:

The book A View of Life, written by three evolutionists, adds: "The fossil record is full of trends that palaeontologists have been unable to explain." What is it that these evolutionary scientists...are "unable to explain"? (p.59)

However, in the original context the quote reads:

The fossil record is full of trends that paleontologists have been unable to explain with the standard argument of improved design by sustained natural selection during phyletic evolution....If trends occur by accumulated speciation more often than by phyletic evolution, then there are many reasons why trends occur....[16]

Contrary to the claim made by Life paleontologists are able to explain trends in the fossil record. It is inconceivable that the authors of Life could have read this paragraph in the original context and misinterpreted its meaning.

Luria, Gould, and Singer on no Precambrian fossils

To further support its claim that life appeared suddenly in the Cambrian period, Life presents two explanations for a perceived lack of precursor fossils. It then continues:

"Neither of these arguments has held up," say evolutionists Salvador E. Luria, Stephen Jay Gould and Sam Singer. They add: "Geologists have discovered many unaltered Precambrian sediments, and they contain no fossils of complex organisms." (p. 62)

Life then leaves the reader with the impression that Luria, Gould, and Singer have no explanation for the suddenness of the Cambrian explosion. However, in their book they go on to note:

Thus, the artifact theory of the Cambrian explosion is no longer popular, and nearly all paleontologists accept rapid diversification as a real event.[17]

A View of Life on migration

In a section that attempts to demonstrate that the instinct of migration cannot be inherited, Life presents:

Scientists know that any such experimental wanderings and learned behaviors are not incorporated into the genetic code and hence are not inherited by the offspring. Migration is admittedly instinctive and "independent of past experience." (p. 161)

The author attributes this quote to A View of Life. In the original context the quote reads:

Most instinctive behavioral responses probably depend on specific, genetically determined neuronal circuits within the brain, and they are usually independent of past experience. [18]

Thus the original authors intended that the quote support the claim that instinct is hereditary, which is the opposite of how Life used it.

Additionally note that the word "usually" was left out of the quote. In fact in the original context the next sentence is, "But there are many exceptions to this generalization," and the example of the gill withdrawal reflex in the Aplysia snail is cited.

Darwin on instinct

To further support their claim that evolution cannot explain instinct, Life actually quotes Darwin:

"Many instincts are so wonderful that their development will probably appear to the reader a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory," Darwin wrote. He evidently felt that instinct was an unanswerable difficulty, for his next sentence was: "I may here premise that I have nothing to do with the origin of the mental powers, any more than I have with that of life itself." Scientists today are no closer to explaining instinct than Darwin was. (p. 160)

Life leaves the reader with the impression that Darwin could not explain the evolution of instinct. However examination of the quote indicates that Darwin was referring only to the origin of mental powers like instinct. In fact his next sentence is:

We are concerned only with the diversities of instinct and of the other mental faculties in animals of the same class.[19]

Darwin did in fact believe his theory could explain the evolution of instinct, and in the summary of the chapter he notes:

...there is no real difficulty, under changing conditions of life, in natural selection accumulating to any extent slight modifications of instinct which are in any way useful....I do not pretend that the facts given in this chapter strengthen in any great degree my theory; but none of the cases of difficulty, to the best of my judgment, annihilate it. On the other hand, [certain facts] tend to corroborate the theory of natural selection.[20]

Darwin on the Creator

To support its claim that the cause of life's origin has yet to be determined, Life again quotes Darwin:

It is interesting to note, too, that even evolution's best-known advocate, Charles Darwin, indicated an awareness of his theory's limitations. In his conclusion to The Origin of Species, he wrote of the grandeur of the "view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one," thus making it evident that the subject of origins was open to further examination. (p. 9)

With this use of the quote Life implies that Darwin was suggesting creation as a reasonable alternative to his theory.

The quote in its original context reads:

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. 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. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.[21]

In this context it is obvious that Darwin is not concerned about the origin of life but is speaking of the subsequent evolution of life. This is not mentioned by Life.

Raup on the importance of fossils to Darwin's theory

To demonstrate that scientists see the fossil record as evidence against evolution, Life explains:

If evolution were a fact, surely in all of this there should be ample evidence of one kind of living thing evolving into another kind. But the Bulletin of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History commented: "Darwin's theory of [evolution] has always been closely linked to evidence from fossils, and probably most people assume that fossils provide a very important part of the general argument that is made in favor of darwinian interpretations of the history of life. Unfortunately, this is not strictly true. (p. 20)

In the original work "natural selection" has been replaced with "evolution" in brackets by Life, thereby changing the passage from a criticism of natural selection to a criticism of all of evolution. In fact the author, paleontologist David M. Raup, immediately goes on to say:

We must distinguish between the fact of evolution, defined as change in organisms over time, and the explanation of this change. Darwin's contribution, through his theory of natural selection, was to suggest how the evolutionary change took place.[22]

Note that Life's premise of the completeness of the fossil record is false, and this incompleteness is also addressed by Raup in the quoted work.

Life continues:

The Bulletin went on to say that Darwin "was embarrassed by the fossil record because it didn't look the way he predicted it would...the geologic record did not then and still does not yield a finely graduated chain of slow and progressive evolution. (p. 21)

The quote in context in the original source reads:

The evidence we find in the geologic record is not nearly as compatible with darwinian natural selection as we would like it to be. Darwin was completely aware of this. He was embarrassed by the fossil record because it didn't look the way he predicted it would and, as a result, he devoted a long section of his Origin of Species to an attempt to explain and rationalize the differences. There were several problems, but the principal one was that the geologic record did not then and still does not yield a finely graduated chain of slow and progressive evolution. In other words, there are not enough intermediates. There are very few cases where one can find a gradual transition from one species to another and very few cases where one can look at a part of the fossil record and actually see that organisms were improving in the sense of becoming better adapted.

Thus Raup does not concede that there are no fossil transitions, as implied by Life, but that they are rare.

Life continues:

In fact now, after more than a century of collecting fossils, "we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time," explained the Bulletin. Why is this the case? Because the more abundant fossil evidence available today shows that some of the examples that were once used to support evolution now are seen not to do so at all.

The quote in context in the original source reads:

The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information; what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appears to be much more complex and much less gradualistic. So Darwin's problem has not been alleviated in the last 120 years and we still have a record which does show change but one that can hardly be looked upon as the most reasonable consequence of natural selection.

Again Raup is not expressing doubt about the historical fact of evolution, as stated by Life, but about natural selection as the sole cause of evolution.

Additionally, Raup's suggestion that "classic cases of darwinian change in the fossil record" be discarded appears on page 20 of Life as the caption under depictions of Eohippus, Archaeopteryx, and lungfish, although Raup never mentioned Archaeopteryx or lungfish in the article.

Raup on chance as an alternative to natural selection

To support its claim that evolution does not provide life with a required designer, Life presents:

Geologist David Raup says: "A currently important alternative to natural selection has to do with the effects of pure chance." But is "pure chance" a designer? Is it capable of producing the complexities that are the fabric of life? (p. 143)

However, immediately after the quoted sentence Raup explains:

It has been suggested that there are traits which are not important enough to the organism to be "seen" by natural selection, and that a purely random system of evolution could work for these traits.

Raup goes on to cite the example of the handedness of a shell spiral. Raup then is not suggesting that all of evolution is driven by chance, as implied by Life, but that chance can dictate the direction of some features that are not essential to survival.

Gould on change spread at random

Also in support of the claim that life requires a designer, Life quotes evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould:

Stephen Gould reports that many contemporary evolutionists now say that substantial change "may not be subject to natural selection and may spread through populations at random." (p.142)

This quote comes from a very worthwhile article criticising creationism, although the anti-creationist sections were not mentioned in Life. The quote in context in the original source reads:

...while no biologist questions the importance of natural selection, many doubt its ubiquity. In particular, many evolutionists argue that substantial amounts of genetic change may not be subject to natural selection and may spread through the populations at random. Others are challenging Darwin's linking of natural selection with gradual, imperceptible change through all intermediary degrees; they are arguing that most evolutionary events may occur far more rapidly than Darwin envisioned. [23]

Gould, like Raup, does not suggest that random changes cause evolution but rather cautions against discounting genetic drift as one of the factors contributing to a species' evolutionary state.

Lewontin on the design of organisms

To further support the design claim, Life quotes evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin:

Zoologist Richard Lewontin said that organisms "appear to have been carefully and artfully designed." He views them as "the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer." (p. 143)

In fact the quote in its original context refers to 19th century observers:

Life forms are more than simply multiple and diverse, however. Organisms fit remarkably well into the external world in which they live. They have morphologies, physiologies and behaviors that appear to have been carefully and artfully designed to enable each organism to appropriate the world around it for its own life. It was the marvelous fit of organisms to the environment, much more than the great diversity of forms, that was the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer. Darwin realized that if a naturalistic theory of evolution was to be successful, it would have to explain the apparent perfection of organisms and not simply their variation.[24]

Lewontin then is not explaining his own views, as stated by Life, but rather the outdated views that Darwin had to overcome.

It is likely that Life borrowed this quote from sensationalist author J. Francis Hitching, as it is presented similarly in his book:

To quote Richard Lewontin of Harvard again...many organisms "appear to have been carefully and artfully designed." It is, he says, both a challenge to Darwinism and "the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer." [25]

Hitching in turn appears to have borrowed the quote from the Institute for Creation Research's Impact newsletter from October 1980:

Living things also have properties of organization that clearly transcend the potential of their parts. As Harvard's Richard Lewontin recently summarized it, organisms "...appear to have been carefully and artfully designed." He calls the "perfection of organisms" both a challenge to Darwinism and, on a more positive note, "the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer." [26]

Lewontin was not happy about being misquoted by Impact and had issued a statement to this effect in Creation/Evolution magazine in 1981.[27]

Hitching on failure in crucial areas

To stress the shortcomings of the theory of evolution, Life again quotes Francis Hitching:

In three crucial areas where [the modern evolution theory] can be tested, it has failed.... (p. 23)

Hitching goes on to identify these areas as the fossil record, genes, and mutations.

In the original source, however, Hitching states "Darwinism" where Life uses "the modern evolution theory" in brackets. By this replacement Life makes it appear as if Hitching doubts the fact of evolution when actually he only doubts Darwin's explanation for its cause.

A scientist on migration

Life cites bird migration as further evidence that evolution cannot explain instinct. Naturalist David Attenborough is quoted from Life on Earth:

Rich food sources are available at both polar regions, so one scientist raises the question: "How did they ever discover that such sources existed so far apart?" Evolution has no answer. (p. 161)

However, in the original context the quote reads:

The energy spent by such migrants in their vast journeys is gigantic, but the advantages are clear. At each end of their routes they can tap a rich food supply that exists for only half the year. But how did they ever discover that such sources existed so far apart? The answer seems to be that their journeys were not always so long. It was the warming of the world at the end of the Ice Age eleven thousand years ago that began to stretch them....So each year, birds were able to find food by flying farther and farther until their annual journeys involved travelling thousands of miles.[28]

Contrary to the conclusion of Life, Attenborough does in fact have an answer to the question. Note also that Attenborough does not present the question as a criticism of evolution.

Attenborough on disqualifying lungfish and coelacanth

In an attempt to demonstrate that there are no intermediates between fish and amphibians, Life reports:

David Attenborough disqualifies both the lungfish and the coelacanth "because the bones of their skulls are so different from those of the first fossil amphibians that the one cannot be derived from the other." (p. 73)

The reader is left with the impression that Attenborough does not know of any intermediate species between fish and amphibians. However, that this is not the case is evidenced by considering the quote in its original context:

But neither fish can be regarded as the one whose descendents eventually colonised the land permanently. Both are disqualified because the bones of their skulls are so different from those of the first fossil amphibians that the one cannot be derived from the other. However, there is a third fish found in the deposits of that early and critical period. It belongs to the same broad group as the coelacanths and the lungfish. It has leg-like fins with fleshy bases like the coelacanth; it seems very likely that it had air-breathing pouches from its gut like a lungfish. Its skull, however, has the crucial feature which neither the coelacanth nor the lungfish possess--a passage linking its nostrils with the roof of its mouth. All land vertebrates have this feature and it is this which confirms that this fish is indeed very close to the ancestral line. This creature is called Eusthenopteron. Its fossils have been investigated by cutting them into thin slices, a technique that has revealed a great deal about its anatomy, even down to the details of the structure of its blood vessels. When the fins of fossil specimens are carefully dissected, the lobes at the base are found to be supported by one stout bone close to the body, two bones joined to it and finally a group of small bones and digits--the pattern that is found in the limbs of all land vertebrates.[29]

Sagan on a Great Designer

Life concludes its analysis of the fossil record with a quote from astronomer Carl Sagan:

Astronomer Carl Sagan candidly acknowledged in his book Cosmos: "The fossil evidence could be consistent with the idea of a Great Designer." (p. 70)

The short quote leaves the reader with the definite impression that Sagan believes the fossil record to provide evidence for creation. However, the quote in the context of the original source reads:

The fossil evidence could be consistent with the idea of a Great Designer; perhaps some species are destroyed when the Designer becomes dissatisfied with them, and new experiments are attempted on an improved design. But this notion is a little disconcerting. Each plant and animal is exquisitely made; should not a supremely competent Designer have been able to make the intended variety from the start? The fossil record implies trial and error, an inability to anticipate the future, features inconsistent with an efficient Great Designer (although not with a Designer of a more remote and indirect temperament).[30]

Considering its context, the quote obviously was not intended to provide evidence for creation, and it is unfair of Life to portray it as such.

Jastrow on blank pages in earth's history

Life begins a section titled "Life Appears Suddenly" with a quote from cosmologist Robert Jastrow:

In his book Red Giants and White Dwarfs Robert Jastrow states. "Sometime in the first billion years, life appeared on the earth's surface. Slowly, the fossil record indicates, living organisms climbed the ladder from simple to more advanced forms." From this description, one would expect that the fossil record has verified a slow evolution from the first "simple" life forms to complex ones. Yet, the same book says: "The critical first billion years, during which life began, are blank pages in the earth's history." (p. 59)

However, the quote originally comes from a chapter titled "The Moon: Rosetta Stone of the Planets." The last sentence in the quote in its original context reads:

No rocks have ever been found on the earth that are older than 3.7 billion years. We know nothing of what happened on our planet from the time of its formation, 4.6 billion years ago, to the time when these oldest rocks were laid down. The critical first billion years, during which life began, are blank pages in the earth's history. But on the moon there are no oceans and atmosphere to destroy the surface and there is relatively little of the mountain-building activity that rapidly changes the face of the earth. Over large areas, the materials of the moon's surface are as well preserved as if they had been in cold storage. The moon offers the best chance of recapturing the lost record of the earth's past.[31]

Contrary to the implication by Life, Jastrow is not talking about the record of life's origin being wiped out but rather the Earth's geological record. This is evidenced by his solution of looking to the moon, on which life obviously did not develop.

Red Giants and White Dwarfs on the initial steps

Life again quotes Robert Jastrow in a panel titled "What the Fossil Evidence Says...about the Origin of Living Things":

The initial steps...are not known;...no trace of them remains. (p. 68)

What Jastrow actually said was:

Thousands of skeletons and fossil remains mark the path by which life climbed upward from its crude beginnings. The initial steps along that path are not known; those first forms must have been fragile, for no trace of them remains.[32]

In context the quote offers an explanation for why there is no fossil evidence of the origin of life.

Johanson on australopithecines being men

In its effort to demonstrate that Australopithecus was "simply an 'ape'" Life quotes paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson:

Austalopithecines...were not men." (p. 94)

This simple quote is intended to leave the reader with the impression that Johanson believes australopithecines were merely apes. However, the quote in its original context reads:

Now consider Lucy. She is six times as old as Dubois's ape-man. Six times! People ask what filled that enormous gap. Several things did. An earlier type of man, for one. And two or three kinds of australopithecines--a new name, and an extremely important one. Australopithecines were early hominids that were not men. I have already said that one could be a hominid and not be a man. A couple of million years ago, there were types walking about in Africa that were so primitive and had such queer teeth and such small brains that they could not qualify as humans. The big question was: were they ancestors or cousins? Everyone was arguing about that. To make matters worse, there were two or three kinds of them, large and small versions of an erect-walking near-human that was given the genus name Australopithecus. [33]

Johanson obviously believes that, although they were not human, the australopithecines were far from being mere apes, and nobody reading this quote in context could conclude otherwise.

Dobzhansky on poking a stick into one's radio set

To support its claim that mutations cannot be beneficial, Life quotes Theodosius Dobzhansky from Heredity and the Nature of Man:

Geneticist Dobzhansky once said: "An accident, a random change, in any delicate mechanism can hardly be expected to improve it. Poking a stick into the machinery of one's watch or one's radio set will seldom make it work better." Thus, ask yourself: Does it seem reasonable that all the amazingly complex cells, organs, limbs and processes that exist in living things were built up by a procedure that tears down? (p. 102)

Here Life leaves the reader with the impression that Dobzhansky does not believe mutations can be beneficial. However, the quote in its original context reads:

Indeed, the genetic machinery of a living species, its genotype, is exquisitely adjusted to the environment in which this species lives. An accident, a random change, in any delicate mechanism can hardly be expected to improve it. Poking a stick into the machinery of one's watch or one's radio set will seldom make it work better. And yet mutations can also lead to evolutionary improvements. How is this possible?... If the environment changes, some genes that were favorable in the old environments may become unfavorable, and others may become favorable.[34]

Contrary to the implication of Life, then, Dobzhansky does believe that mutations can be beneficial, and he explains the circumstances under which this can happen.

Science Digest on artists' conceptions of ape-men

To support its claim that humans did not evolve from apelike ancestors, Life notes that paleontologists do not know what "ape-men" looked like. Life quotes Science Digest:

The vast majority of artists' conceptions are based more on imagination than evidence....Artists must create something between an ape and a human being; the older the specimen is said to be, the more apelike they make it. (p. 89)

However, immediately after the first sentence from the quote the original article states:

But, a handful of expert natural history artists begin with the fossil bones of a hominid and work from there. Such a procedure calls for a detailed understanding of anatomy. Most bones have tiny ridges and grooves called muscle scars, each corresponding to a particular muscle. From these scars good artists can estimate the size of muscles that have long since vanished.

The article then goes on to explain how artists determine how to add muscle fibers, fat pads, and skin. The reconstruction of prehistoric hominids then, according to the article, is based partly on expert analysis of bones, although this is not mentioned by Life.

Also note that paleontologists do not base evolutionary relationships on artists' conceptions of hominids, and the quote does not in fact provide evidence against evolution.

Discover on evolution questioned by scientists

To support its claim that scientists doubt evolution, Life quotes journalist James Gorman's "The Tortoise or the Hare?":

The scientific magazine Discover put the situation this way: "Evolution... is not only under attack by fundamentalist Christians, but is also being questioned by reputable scientists. Among paleontologists, scientists who study the fossil record, there is growing dissent." (p. 15)

However, later the article explains:

Most of the debate will center on one key question: Does the three-billion-year-old process of evolution creep at a steady pace, or is it marked by long periods of inactivity punctuated by short bursts of rapid change? [35]

Again Life makes disagreement about the cause of evolution appear as if it were doubt about the historical fact of evolution.

Thompson on seeking for stepping-stones

To further support its claim that the fossil record does not provide evidence of evolution, Life presents:

The evidence of the fossil record is still as zoologist D'Arcy Thompson said some years ago in his book On Growth and Form: "Darwinian evolution has not taught us how birds descend from reptiles, mammals from earlier quadrupeds, quadrupeds from fishes, nor vertebrates from the invertebrate stock.... to seek for stepping-stones across the gaps between is to seek in vain, for ever." (p. 66)

In the original context the second part of the quote reads:

A "principle of discontinuity," then, is, inherent in all our classifications....The lines of the spectrum, the six families of crystals, Dalton's atomic law, the chemical elements themselves, all illustrate this principle of discontinuity. In short, nature proceeds from one type to another among organic as well as inorganic forms; and these types vary according to their own parameters, and are defined by physico-mathematical conditions of possibility. In natural history Cuvier's "types" may not be perfectly chosen nor numerous enough, but types they are; and to seek for stepping-stones across the gaps between is to seek in vain, for ever.[36]

Thompson then does not mean for the "gaps" to refer to deficiencies in the fossil record, as it is made to appear by Life, but rather to the steps between "types."

Note also that Thompson does not necessarily regard the gaps between types to be evidence against evolution. In this same work he explains:

We may fail to find the actual links between the vertebrate groups, but yet their resemblance and their relationship, real though indefinable, are plain to see; there are gaps between the groups, but we can see, so to speak, across the gap.

New Scientist on DNA, RNA, and protein arising simultaneously

To support the claim that life is too complicated to have arisen by chance, the Watchtower publication Is There a Creator Who Cares About You? quotes New Scientist magazine:

As our body makes new cells, which happens billions of times a day and without our conscious guidance, it requires copies of all three components-DNA, RNA, and protein. You can see why the magazine New Scientist comments: "Take away any one of the three and life grinds to a halt." Or take this a step further. Without a complete and functioning team, life could not have come about. Is it reasonable that each of those three molecular team players arose spontaneously at the same time, in the same place, and so precisely tuned that they could combine to work their wonders? [37]

Although it is not mentioned by Creator, the article in New Scientist in fact goes on to present a solution to the problem:

Tom Cech at the University of Colorado and Sydney Altman at Yale University discovered that two naturally occurring RNA molecules sped up a reaction that snipped out regions of their own nucleotide sequence. RNA, it turned out, had some catalytic muscle of its own. The catalytic RNAs became known as ribozymes. Theoreticians jumped on this discovery, envisaging a long ago world in which RNA ruled the planet. First, by virtue of its ability to act as a template for new RNA molecules, RNA was perfect for storing and passing on information. Second, by virtue of its ability to snap bonds between atoms, RNA was also a catalyst. Most crucial to the theory's credibility, the scientists proposed that RNA once catalysed the creation of fresh RNA molecules from their nucleotide building blocks. Eventually, the free-wheeling RNA molecules would have acquired membranes and taken on additional catalytic tasks needed to run a primitive cell. [38]

Creator further notes:

Skeptics, observes [author Phil] Cohen, "argue that it was too great a leap from showing that two RNA molecules partook in a bit of self mutilation in a test tube, to claiming that RNA was capable of running a cell single-handed and triggering the emergence of life on Earth." (p. 48)

Although it is not mentioned by Creator, the article reports on biochemist Jack Szostak's efforts to demonstrate that RNA molecules could in fact replicate themselves:

Szostak and his colleagues took between 100 and 1000 trillion different RNA molecules, each around 200 nucleotides long, and tested their ability to perform one of the simplest catalytic tasks possible: cleaving another RNA molecule. They then carried out the lab equivalent of natural selection. They plucked out the few successful candidates and made millions of copies of them using protein enzymes. Then they mutated those RNAs, tested them again, replicated them again, and so on to "evolve" some ultra-effective new RNA-snipping ribozymes.[39]

Creator further notes:

There are other problems as well. Biologist Carl Woese holds that "the RNA world theory...is fatally flawed because it fails to explain where the energy came from to fuel the production of the first RNA molecules." (p. 48)

Although it is not mentioned by Creator, the article details a hypothetical biochemical energy "machine":

Günter Wächtershäuser, an organic chemist at the University of Regensberg in Germany has suggested just such a machine. According to his picture, iron and sulphur in the primordial mix combined to form iron pyrites. Short, negatively charged organic molecules then stuck to its positively charged surface and "fed" off the energy liberated as more iron and sulphur reacted, creating longer organic molecules. The negatively charged surfaces of these molecules would attract more positively-charged pyrite, and the cycle would continue.[40]

Wald on the most stubborn problem

To help support its claim that life could not develop spontaneously, Life presents:

Biochemist George Wald agrees with this view, stating: "Spontaneous dissolution is much more probable, and hence proceeds much more rapidly, than spontaneous synthesis." This means there would be no accumulation oforganic soup! Wald believes this to be "the most stubborn problem that confronts us [evolutionists]." (p. 42)

However, in the very next sentence Wald admits:

I do not think it by any means disastrous, but it calls for phenomena and forces some of which are as yet only partly understood and some probably still to be discovered.[41]

Wald then does not find the problem to be as hopeless as Life would have us believe.

Orgel on cell membranes

To suggest that the cell membrane could not develop spontaneously, Life notes:

As evolutionist Leslie Orgel writes: "Modern cell membranes include channels and pumps which specifically control the influx and efflux of nutrients, waste products, metal ions and so on. These specialised channels involve highly specific proteins, molecules that could not have been present at the very beginning of the evolution of life." (p. 44)

However, Orgel thereafter offers a solution to this apparent problem, which is not mentioned by Life:

It seems likely, therefore, that the macromolecular constituents of the earliest forms of biological organisation stayed together by some sort of self-aggregation, perhaps stuck to mineral surfaces, in a form that permitted ready access to nutrients in the "external environment." [42]

Linde on the most intractable problem

To support the claim that scientists cannot explain the origin of the universe, Creator quotes an article titled "The Self-Reproducing Inflationary Universe":

Dr. Andrei Linde was more explicit in a Scientific American article: "Explaining this initial singularity--where and when it all began—still remains the most intractable problem of modern cosmology." If experts cannot really explain either the origin or the early development of our universe, should we not look elsewhere for an explanation? (p. 16)

Creator leaves the reader with the impression that Linde has no explanation for the origin of the universe. However, later in the article Linde states:

All these problems (and others I have not mentioned) are extremely perplexing. That is why it is encouraging that many of these puzzles can be resolved in the context of the theory of the self-reproducing, inflationary universe.[43]

Contrary to the implication by Creator, the point of the article is that Linde's theory does in fact help explain the origin of the universe.

Eiseley on science creating a mythology

To support its claim that the theory of abiogenesis cannot be considered a fact, Life quotes anthropologist Loren Eiesely:

How have scientists come to accept in their own minds this apparent violation of the scientific method? The well-known evolutionist Loren Eiseley conceded: "After having chided the theologian for his reliance on myth and miracle, science found itself in the unenviable position of having to create a mythology of its own: namely, the assumption that what, after long effort, could not be proved to take place today had, in truth, taken place in the primeval past." (p. 51)

In context the original quote reads:

With the failure of these many efforts science was left in the somewhat embarrassing position of having to postulate theories of living origins which it could not demonstrate. After having chided the theologian for his reliance on myth and miracle, science found itself in the unenviable position of having to create a mythology of its own: namely, the assumption that what, after long effort, could not be proved to take place today had, in truth, taken place in the primeval past. My use of the term mythology is perhaps a little harsh.[44]

Eiseley further states:

I would not be understood to speak ill of scientific effort.... It is only that somewhere among these seeds and beetle shells and abandoned grasshopper legs I find something that is not accounted for very clearly in the dissections to the ultimate virus or crystal or protein particle. Even if the secret is contained in these things, in other words, I do not think it will yield to the kind of analysis our science is capable of making.

Eiseley appears to be saying not that origin of life theories are unscientific but rather that life will not be explained by inspecting living things with our current level of technology.

A report on revolution and controversies in evolution

In an effort to demonstrate that there is disagreement among scientists about the fact of evolution, Life quotes an article in The Enterprise, Riverside, California, by Boyce Rensberger, November 14, 1980:

After an important conference of some 150 specialists in evolution held in Chicago, Illinois, a report concluded: "[Evolution] is undergoing its broadest and deepest revolution in nearly 50 years. . . . Exactly how evolution happened is now a matter of great controversy among biologists. . . . No clear resolution of the controversies was in sight." (p. 15)

The same article apparently ran in The New York Times on November 4, 1980. The first part of the quote should read:

Biology's understanding of how evolution works, which has long postulated a gradual process of Darwinian natural selection acting on genetic mutations, is undergoing its broadest and deepest revolution in nearly 50 years.[45]

The article then does not indicate that the fact of evolution is in doubt, as implied by Life, but rather "how evolution works." That Life did understand this is evidenced by their use of the second part of the quote. In fact immediately after the third sentence in the quote the article states:

This fact has often been exploited by religious fundamentalists who misunderstood it to suggest weakness in the fact of evolution rather than the perceived mechanism.

This part was not quoted by Life because it did not advance the author's argument.

Eldredge on the pattern in the fossil record

To further support the claim that the fossil record does not support evolution, Life notes:

Niles Eldredge also admitted: "The pattern that we were told to find for the last 120 years does not exist." (p. 21)

This quote also comes from the Rensberger article. Despite the implication by Life, the article later explains that Eldredge (and Gould) did in fact see a pattern left in the fossil record:

As they see it, species remain largely stable for long periods and then suddenly change dramatically. The transition happens so fast, they suggest, that the chance of intermediate forms being fossilized and found is nil.[46]

Homeopathy quotes out of context

Cucherat (2000)

The British Homeopathic Association have quoted this from the Cucherat 2000 meta-analysis:[47]

There is some evidence that homeopathic treatments are more effective than placebo

The full quote:

There is some evidence that homeopathic treatments are more effective than placebo; however, the strength of this evidence is low because of the low methodological quality of the trials. Studies of high methodological quality were more likely to be negative than the lower quality studies.

Quotes about quotes

Modern expressions of creationism and especially so-called "scientific" creationism are making extensive use of the tactic of selective quotation in order to make it appear that numerous biologists doubt the reality of evolution. The creationists take advantage of the fact that evolutionary biology is a living science containing disagreements about certain details of the evolutionary process by taking quotations about such details out of context in an attempt to support the creationists' antievolutionary stand. Sometimes they simply take biologists' descriptions of creationism and then ascribe these views to the biologists themselves! These patently dishonest practices of misquotation give us a right to question even the sincerity of creationists.--Richard Lewontin, "Adaptation," Scientific American, 1978 [48]
It is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.--Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory," Discover, May 1981 [49]
Disagreements and clashes of opinion are rife among biologists, as they should be in a living and growing science. Anti-evolutionists mistake, or pretend to mistake, these disagreements as indications of dubiousness of the entire doctrine of evolution. Their favorite sport is stringing together quotations, carefully and sometimes expertly taken out of context, to show that nothing is really established or agreed upon among evolutionists. Some of my colleagues and myself have been amused and amazed to read ourselves quoted in a way showing that we are really anti-evolutionists under the skin.--Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.", 1973 [50]

Footnotes

  1. Stanley, Steven M. (1981). The New Evolutionary Timetable. Basic Books, Inc. New York. p. 77.
  2. Ibid., p. 71
  3. Ibid., p. 7
  4. Evolution Encyclopedia Vol. 2, Chapter 17 Appendix Part 3, Evolution-facts.org
  5. Stanley, op. cit., pp. 83-84
  6. Ibid., p. xv
  7. Ibid., pp. 4, 5
  8. Ibid., p. 4
  9. Ibid., pp. 95, 96
  10. Ibid., p. 5
  11. Ibid., p. 142
  12. Leakey, Richard; Lewin, Roger (1977). Origins. E. P. Dutton. New York. p. 86.
  13. Luria, Salvador; Gould, Stephen; Singer, Sam (1981). A View of Life. Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc. Menlo Park, CA. p. 574.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid., p. 575
  16. Ibid., p. 642
  17. Ibid., p. 651
  18. Ibid., p. 556
  19. Charles Darwin's Origin of Species
  20. Ibid.
  21. The Origin of Species, Literature.org
  22. David M. Raup Conflicts Between Darwin and Paleontology. Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin. January, 1979. Vol. 50, No. 1
  23. Evolution as Fact and Theory, Stephen Jay Gould
  24. Quotations and Research in the Society's Publications
  25. Hitching, Francis (1982). The Neck of the Giraffe. Ticknor & Fields. New Haven. p. 84
  26. Parker, Gary (Oct 1, 1980). Creation, Selection, and Variation. Impact. Institute for Creation Research
  27. Misquoted Scientists Respond, National Center for Science Education
  28. Attenborough, David (1979). Life on Earth. Little, Brown and Company. Boston. p. 184.
  29. Ibid., p. 137
  30. Sagan, Carl (1980). Cosmos. Random House, Inc. New York. p. 29
  31. Jastrow, Robert (1979). Red Giants and White Dwarfs. Warner Books, Inc. New York, New York. p. 97.
  32. Ibid., p. 224
  33. Johanson, Donald; Edey, Maitland (1981). Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. Simon and Schuster. New York. p. 38
  34. Dobzhansky, Theodosius (1964). Heredity and the Nature of Man. Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, Inc. New York, New York. pp. 126-127
  35. Disagreements About Evolution, Alan Feuerbacher
  36. Creation/Evolution Quotes, Stephen E. Jones
  37. Is There a Creator Who Cares About You?. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. Brooklyn, New York. 1998. p. 47
  38. New Scientist. "Let there be life." Jul. 6, 1996.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Creation/Evolution Quotes, Stephen E. Jones
  42. Creation/Evolution Quotes, Stephen E. Jones
  43. Linde, Andrei. "The Self-Reproducing Inflationary Universe. Scientific American. November 1994.
  44. The Immense Journey--The Secret of Life
  45. Boyce Rensberger. "Recent Studies Spark Revolution in Interpretation of Evolution." The New York Times. November 4, 1980. p. C3
  46. Ibid.
  47. Mis-quoting. Quote mining. Quotology. Quotography. LYING. Homeopathic association misrepresents evidence to MPs, The Guardian
  48. Misquoted Scientists Respond, National Center for Science Education
  49. Ibid.
  50. Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution, Evolution Library

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