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http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/10/30/how-creationist-origin-distorts-darwin.html

 

How Creationist 'Origin' Distorts Darwin

October 30, 2009 03:41 PM ET | Dan Gilgoff | Permanent Link | Print

 

In this post, Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, critiques creationist Ray Comfort's new, antievolution version of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The NCSE is the leading group promoting and defending the teaching of evolution in public schools. This is part of a debate in which I've asked Comfort and Scott to give me their perspective. And just a reminder: Neither God & Country nor U.S. News necessarily endorses their views. -Dan Gilgoff

 

By Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.

 

Ray Comfort and I agree that "science is a wonderful discipline, to which we are deeply indebted." We agree that it would be nice for students to get a free copy of Darwins best-known book, On the Origin of Species. I'll even go further than he might: The Origin —like Shakespeare and the Bible—should be on every educated person's bookshelf. If you don't understand evolution, you can't be considered scientifically literate. And we agree that students should read the Origin thoroughly.

 

Unfortunately, it will be hard to thoroughly read the version that Comfort will be distributing on college campuses in November. The copy his publisher sent me is missing no fewer than four crucial chapters, as well as Darwin's introduction. Two of the omitted chapters, Chapters 11 and 12, showcase biogeography, some of Darwin's strongest evidence for evolution. Which is a better explanation for the distribution of plants and animals around the planet: common ancestry or special creation? Which better explains why island species are more similar to species on the mainland closest to them, rather than to more distant species that share a similar environment? The answer clearly is common ancestry. Today, scientists continue to develop the science of biogeography, confirming, refining, and extending Darwin's conclusions.

 

Likewise missing from Comfort's bowdlerized version of the Origin is Chapter 13, where Darwin explained how evolution makes sense of classification, morphology, and embryology. To take a simple example, why do all land vertebrates (amphibians, mammals, and reptiles and birds) have four limbs? Not because four limbs are necessarily a superior design for land locomotion: insects have six, arachnids have eight, and millipedes have, well, lots. It's because all land vertebrates descended with modification from a four-legged ("tetrapod") ancestor. Since Darwin's era, scientists have repeatedly confirmed that the more recently two species have shared a common ancestor, the more similar are their anatomy, their biochemistry, their embryology, and their genetics.

 

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," as a famous geneticist said. That's why evolution is taught matter-of-factly in the biology and geology departments of every respected university in the country, secular or sectarian, from Berkeley to Brigham Young. That's why the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science wholeheartedly endorse the teaching of evolution in the public schools. That's why thousands of papers applying, extending, or refining evolution are published in the scientific research literature every year.

 

But there's no reason for students to refuse Comfort's free—albeit suspiciously abridged—copy of the Origin. Read the first eight pages of the introduction, which is a reasonably accurate, if derivative, sketch of Darwin's life. The last 10 pages or so are devoted to some rather heavy-handed evangelism, which doesn't really have anything to do with the history or content of the evolutionary sciences; read it or not as you please.

 

But don't waste your time with the middle section of the introduction, a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments, teeming with misinformation about the science of evolution, populated by legions of strawmen, and exhibiting what can be charitably described as muddled thinking.

 

For example, Comfort's treatment of the human fossil record is painfully superficial, out of date, and erroneous. Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man—one a forgery, the other a misidentification, both rejected by science more than 50 years ago—are trotted out for scorn, as if they somehow negate the remaining huge volume of human fossils. There are more specimens of "Ardi" (the newly described Ardipithecus ramidus) than there are of Tyrannosaurus —and any 8-year-old aspiring paleontologist will be delighted to tell you how much we know about the T. rex!

 

But you wouldn't learn any of this from reading Comfort's introduction. He says, "Java Man [a Homo erectus], found in the early 20th century, was nothing more than a piece of skull, a fragment of a thigh bone, and three molar teeth." Well, that was from a single site—excavated in the 1890s. What about the dozens of other sites where fossils of H. erectus are found, from China to Kenya to Georgia? Another whopper: "Java Man is now regarded as fully human." Trust me, if one sat down next to you on the bus, you would know the difference.

 

In fact, the fossil record for the human lineage is impressive, providing the evidence on which our understanding of the big events of human evolution is based. We and modern chimpanzees shared a common ancestor millions of years ago; the main feature separating us from our chimpanzee cousins is bipedalism, followed by toolmaking, and then brain expansion, and then the substantial elaboration of behavior we call human culture. More fossils will provide more details, but this outline of human evolution is not in serious doubt among scientists.

 

It's not just human evolution that Comfort misrepresents. His main gripe is the old creationist standby, the supposed lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. (Darwin addressed the objection in Chapter 9 of the Origin, interestingly not included in Comfort's version.) Comfort sneers at the fossil evidence for the terrestrial ancestry of whales and the dinosaurian ancestry of birds. Too bad for him that he has a knack for picking bad examples: There are splendid fossils of dinosaurs that have feathers and of whales that have legs—and even feet. Faced with ignorance like this, I'm reminded of a jeremiad: "Oh foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not."

 

But if you are willing to use your ears to listen to what paleontologists say about transitional features and use your eyes to look at the evidence described in the scientific literature (as well as displayed in many museums and science centers around the country), you will find transitional fossils galore. There are clear transitional series from aquatic vertebrates to land vertebrates, from primitive land vertebrates to mammals, from dinosaurs to birds, from land vertebrates to whales, and of course a wonderful series of fossils leading to Homo sapiens. A good place to begin is a marvelous website dismissively mentioned (and erroneously described) in Comfort's introduction, the University of California Museum of Paleontology's Understanding Evolution.

 

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, both occasions worth celebrating by anyone who cares about our understanding of the natural world. So it's no surprise that creationists are trying to piggyback on the festivities with cynical publicity stunts like Comfort's. But I have faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas.

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But I have faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas.

 

And not just any college campuses, it's supposed to be the top 50 colleges in the country, right? I have to suspect that there won't be very many amongst them who will be swayed by Comfort's bullshit.

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Removing chapters and claiming it is Darwin's "Origin of the Species" is dishonest, particularly when those chapters are some of the key points to the development of the theory.

 

The obvious conclusion is that they know what they did, and it was done on purpose; deliberately.

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According to their own sermons, withholding information is lying. They are withholding chapters. They are lying. They are going to Hell. Except when God tell you to lie it's okay.

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According to their own sermons, withholding information is lying. They are withholding chapters. They are lying. They are going to Hell. Except when God tell you to lie it's okay.

 

OK, at first I thought they were just adding a intro to the piece, but again I ask: How is it legal to alter someone else's text, even if it is in the public domain?

 

Isn't there some legal action that could be taken on this? How can they get away with calling this Darwin's OoS? They should be forced to call it the "abridged OoS" or something...

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But I have faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas.

 

And not just any college campuses, it's supposed to be the top 50 colleges in the country, right? I have to suspect that there won't be very many amongst them who will be swayed by Comfort's bullshit.

 

I'm hoping so, but you never know. Does a high academic standing, over all, necessarily mean that scientific literacy is part of that? If it doesn't, those who comprise that group will be easily swayed -- and from there the infection will spread.

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Removing chapters and claiming it is Darwin's "Origin of the Species" is dishonest, particularly when those chapters are some of the key points to the development of the theory.

 

The obvious conclusion is that they know what they did, and it was done on purpose; deliberately.

 

Oh, of course, they knew what they did! The whole thing is a surgically precise propaganda campaign intelligently designed using lies and misinformation. He's a masterfully skilled con man, dishonet to his very core, doing whatever he can to a) spread the Christ virus and B) make a buttload of money. Sure, this copy is free, but that just means he can spread his message easier, and therefore his other books for sale along with it.

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According to their own sermons, withholding information is lying. They are withholding chapters. They are lying. They are going to Hell. Except when God tell you to lie it's okay.

 

Yup! They are Liars for Christ™! In their mind, evolution is such a dangerous idea that it must be stopped -- by any means necessary! This means that anything usually thought of as immoral is ok within that particular context.

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I'm hoping so, but you never know. Does a high academic standing, over all, necessarily mean that scientific literacy is part of that? If it doesn't, those who comprise that group will be easily swayed -- and from there the infection will spread.

I've seen studies on this. There is a strong correlation, but there are some surprizing gaps in knowledge in college students. Education alone does not determine what level of scientific literacy people have.

 

Below is a graph showing belief in evolution correlated with 1) where they went to college, 2) current belief and 3) level of education.

 

belief_in_evo_lg.jpg

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According to their own sermons, withholding information is lying. They are withholding chapters. They are lying. They are going to Hell. Except when God tell you to lie it's okay.

 

OK, at first I thought they were just adding a intro to the piece, but again I ask: How is it legal to alter someone else's text, even if it is in the public domain?

 

Isn't there some legal action that could be taken on this? How can they get away with calling this Darwin's OoS? They should be forced to call it the "abridged OoS" or something...

 

I'm sure they thorughly researched the legality of their deceptive actions. They have a ton of money and access to the best in Christian lawyers! But who knows, maybe a lawsuit will be filed, nonetheless. Here's hoping that that day will come soon!

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Hi Rev,

 

Glad to see you. I always enjoy your informative posts.

 

I think it's more sinister than being dishonest. By omitting the chapters, they are withholding knowledge. Knowledge equals reality. What they are doing is presenting an illusion of reality. It fits with Fundies. Reality does not fit their worldview, therefore reality is wrong.

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Hi Rev,

 

Glad to see you. I always enjoy your informative posts.

 

I think it's more sinister than being dishonest. By omitting the chapters, they are withholding knowledge. Knowledge equals reality. What they are doing is presenting an illusion of reality. It fits with Fundies. Reality does not fit their worldview, therefore reality is wrong.

 

Glad to be back. I've been caught up with Facebook lately. It's quite the exciting place, unlike MySpace -- which I've largely forsaken. And man, are there ever a ton of Atheists there! Here's my page address, if you're interested:

 

http://www.facebook.com/Rev.AtheiStar

 

And here's my Malevolent Design fan page there:

 

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Malevolent-Design-The-Death-of-a-Loving-God/92455203397?ref=ts

 

Yeah, you're right. "Dishonest" just isn't dark enough to describe what they're doing here!

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I think the Universities should require Comfort's group to pass out disclaimers about the two chapters being removed.

 

The fact that they would take out the chapters to try to influence the student body to disbelieve in scientifically established facts is clear proof they are up to no good and that they are distorting historically and scientifically important works to accomplish this.

 

Maybe they should allow the group to pass out the free books, but the universities should be ethically outraged and the lack of integrity.

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