Quoting, Misquoting, Quote-Mining
|December 21, 2013||Posted by William Dembski under Evolution, Intelligent Design|
UD Editors: There is nothing new under the sun says the teacher. With all the furor over false quote mining charges recently, it seems appropriate to revisit this piece Dr. Dembski first published on April 26,2005 (making it among the first of the now 11,000+ UD posts).
Unlike the serious sciences (e.g., quantum electrodynamics, which is accurate up to 14 decimal places), evolution has become an exercise in filling holes by digging others. Fortunately, the cognitive dissonance associated with this exercise can’t be suppressed indefinitely, so occasionally evolutionists fess-up that some gaping hole really is there and can’t be filled simply by digging another hole. Such admissions, of course, provide ready material for evolution critics like me. Indeed, it’s one of the few pleasures in this business sticking it to the evolutionists when they make some particularly egregious admission. Consider the following admission by Peter Ward (Ward is a well-known expert on ammonite fossils and does not favor a ID-based view):
“The seemingly sudden appearance of skeletonized life has been one of the most perplexing puzzles of the fossil record. How is it that animals as complex as trilobites and brachiopods could spring forth so suddenly, completely formed, without a trace of their ancestors in the underlying strata? If ever there was evidence suggesting Divine Creation, surely the Precambrian and Cambrian transition, known from numerous localities across the face of the earth, is it.
— Peter Douglas Ward, On Methuselah’s Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1992), 29.
Pretty convincing indicator that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory, wouldn’t you say? Note that this is not a misquote: I indicate clearly that Ward does not support ID and there’s sufficient unedited material here to make clear that he really is saying that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory.
You’d think, therefore, that the evolutionary community might be grateful to evolution critics for drawing their attention to this problem, treating it as an incentive to get the lead out and figure out just what happened during the Cambrian. But that’s not what happens. Rather, evolution critics are charged with “quote mining,” misrepresenting the true state of evolutionary theory by focusing on a few scattered problems rather than toeing the party line and admitting that evolution is overwhelmingly confirmed.
This happened when I quoted from the above passage by Ward in a popular piece titled “Five Questions Evolutionists Would Rather Dodge” (go here). In due course I received the following email:
Dear Dr. Dembski,
I would appreciate the citation for your recent quote from Peter Ward, “The Cambrian Explosion so flies in the face of evolution that paleontologist Peter Ward wrote, “If ever there was evidence suggesting Divine Creation, surely the Precambrian and Cambrian transition, known from numerous localities across the face of the earth, is it.”
Gary Hurd, Ph.D.
Innocent enough request. The piece in which the quote appeared was popular, so I hadn’t given the reference. I wrote back giving the full citation. Next thing I read on the web is a piece (co-authored by Hurd) twice as long as my original piece focused on the sin of quote-mining (go here). And, as is now standard operating procedure, the original author of the quote is contacted for comment on being “quote-mined.” Predictably, the author (in this case Ward) is shocked and dismayed at being quoted by evolution critics for being critical of evolution. Evolutionists may not know much about what actually happened in the course of natural history, but they have this script down:
We [i.e., Gary Hurd et al.] emailed and then telephoned Peter Ward to ask him for a citation to this quote. He actually couldn’t recall where he had written this. Ultimately we had to ask William Dembski for the citation, which he promptly provided. We would like to thank him publicly for this courtesy. Professor Ward was not at all pleased, and wished us to convey to Dr. Dembski his displeasure at his writing being manipulated in this fashion. We consider this as done herein.
Word of advice: if you are an evolutionist and don’t want to be quoted by evolution critics for being critical of evolution, resist the urge — don’t criticize it. If tempted, even if the reality of evolution’s gaping holes is staring you in the face, close your eyes and repeat the phrase “overwhelming evidence” or “nothing in biology makes sense apart from evolution.”
Through long experience, this has been found to be the most effective way to rejoin your fellow sleepwalkers.