Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Quote Mining

YECs Misquoting Hebrew Scholars on the Genesis Interpretation

In a former post, I argue that the original Hebrew in Genesis required a completely literal understanding of a creation week consisting of literal twenty-four hour days. I also pointed out that for the last two-thousand years, both Jews and Christians had read and understood in non-literalistic ways, and that their views were quite diverse. (See: On the Interpretation of Genesis.”) However, this itself does not do away with some of the comebacks that many Young Earth Creationists have. Some of them insist that a literal six day creation with a young earth and a global flood is a requirement by the actual Hebrew grammar, and that therefore any other interpretation that doesn’t fit in with the young earth is invalid.

One Hebrew Scholar that is often appealed to by young earth Creationists is James Barr from Oxford. In an article from Creation Ministries International,  a 1984 letter he wrote is quoted as saying:

‘ … probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that

  1. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
  2. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
  3. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.’

After this, the writers claim that James Barr “understood what the Hebrew writer clearly intended to be understood. Some criticize our use of the Barr quote, because he does not believe in the historicity of Genesis,” essentially implying that Barr is claiming that the grammar demands the young earth interpretation. To strengthen their case, they point out that since he doesn’t believe Genesis is to believed as history that he is a “hostile witness.”

Oh, ouch! I guess this is bad news for me, being a Christian “Theistic-Evolutionist,” since I do not see the Bible was ever intended to give a complete record of natural history, and for believing (as I do) that if the flood of Noah happened, that it was a local event (See: The ‘Global’ Deluge: Is it Unbiblical?). Well, considering what Barr says, to remain consistent, I guess I should re-evaluate my view, shouldn’t I? 

Well, not so fast. There is another portion of the letter that they “neglected” to quote where Barr clarifies his position:

The only thing I would say to qualify this is that most professors may avoid much involvement in that sort of argument and so may not say much explicitly about it one way or the other. But I think what I say would represent their position correctly. However, you might find one or two people who would take the contrary point of view and are competent in the languages, in Assyriology, and so on: it’s really not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence, as of appreciation of the sort of text that Genesis is.

Notice Barr says that the conclusion he drew upon was “not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence,” which by itself demolishes the argument that the YECs are making that their interpretation is demanded by the Hebrew text itself; not to mention he adds that most of the professors would tend to avoid this issue not saying anything on the topic on one side or the other. He then adds that he “thinks” he represents the position of the others in his field, but that indicates that he really doesn’t know. Ultimately, he ends up making several qualifications; as such, his letter cannot be cited as viable support for the young earth position.


James Barr letter (23 April 1984) available at:

Recommended Link:

Whitefield, Rodney. Genesis One and the Age of the Earth: What Does the Bible Say? Available online at:

Creationists: Inherent Quote Miners?

Currently, I am having an argument with a Creationist -that goes by the title CreationByDesign–  on Michael’s blog who confuses Lamarck’s theories with modern Evolutionary theory, that is, he is repeating the same old uninformed misinformation that Evolution is a chain or a ladder with “higher” and “lower” forms, which it isn’t. Darwin’s theory of Evolution is based on a tree of life, not a chain. I then quoted Darwin’s own words: “It is absurd to talk of one animal being higher than another.” — To that , linked some papers in which scientists used the terms “more evolved” and “less evolved” and then made the claim that either these scientists were wrong, or Darwin was.

If that was all, I wouldn’t be posting this. But, in the comments we were posting, he was cherry-picking and selectively quoting me, which has lead me to assume that 1) either he has bad reading comprehension, or 2) he is dishonest and a typical quote-miner.

A response I gave him was,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).

Sounds reasonable, no? Well, he later quoted only the first half of this as,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved …..

Convenient, huh? And then he knocked down the incomplete quote saying,

Yes, I can see that you don’t know. I posted excerpts from 5 peer-reviewed scientific publications which used the terminology “more evolved”.

Well, nice. Except, read the rest which adds, ” . . . . except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).” — Get that? I wasn’t actually saying I didn’t know why!! I was giving the reason why Scientists would do such a thing. — Scientists use over-simplified terms all the time for the benefit of laypeople, for example, for public understanding, they call dinosaurs “reptiles,” even though they weren’t really reptiles. And they also call ancestral mammals “mammal-like reptiles,” even though that term is also misleading. Mammals evolved from Synapsids, not reptiles, though they are superficially like them.

Well, anyway, he accused me of changing my story, saying

You previously claimed: “The term “more evolved” has no place in actual science …

So, you made the claim that the term itself is not found in actual science. When I refuted that, you now change your story.

Hmmm, well, lets see if I really did change my story. In the comment he first replied to, I said,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).

Now, if they mean “more advanced” then that is another story, because that would mean creatures that are not primitive. — Sponges would be considered “primitive” BUT that is only because they appeared before we did. They are not “less” evolved then we are, and we are not “more” evolved than sponges.

And then, in the second one I said,

It depends on what they mean. If they simply mean “primitive,” then the story is different, since sponges are considered primitive because they are considered one of the first animals to appear. HOWEVER sponges are not “higher” or “lower”

We are not “more” evolved than Homo habilis, or Australopithecines, . . even though they are “primitive” in the sence they existed before we did.

Now, tell me. How are these “stories” different from each other? As someone who has a university reading level, I see no difference at all. — And as for my “claim” that terms like “more” evolved do not belong in modern science, I stand by that. Such usage is unfortunate oversimplification and distorts the actual scientific view of Evolutionary theory, and I have support to back myself  from scientists themselves. 

Keven Padian and Kenneth Angielczyk, in their essay entitled “‘Transitional forms’ verses Transitional Features” say,

Although a ladderlike image of evolution remains common in the popular media, scientists have long realized that such a concept is simplistic and innaccurate. Instead of resembling a ladder, the evolution of life is more similar to a branching bush.

And also, Donald R. Prothero in his book  says:

But life is not a ladder, and there are no such things as “higher” or “lower” organisms. . . .The first time Biologists hear this question, they are puzzled because it seems to make no sense whatsoever — until they realize this creationist is still using concepts that were abandoned over 200 years ago.

Prothero is considered one of the leading evolutionary scientists in the country, so to say he doesn’t know what he is talking about is like telling a top military commander he knows nothing about the army.

Well, anyway, I already showed that this Creationist twisted my words in a quote while leaving out the second half which rendered his criticism of me irrelevant. And his claim that I changed my story if flat wrong, which can be checked by anyone who decides to read the comments I left  on Michael’s post. — Quite frankly, this isn’t even the first time this same guy (it was CbD, not Michael) selectively quoted me when we had a discussion. When we were talking about the flagellum, he selectively took down what could be considered the “weaker” points of my arguments while completely ignoring the portions I really wanted him to take down. In my view, the statements he tried taking down were more irrelevant than anything else.

[That particular conversation was partially why I issued my flagellum challenge to Michael a while ago. . . one he still hasn’t adequately met, though he gave a feeble attempt . . .]

Oh well, perhaps his reading comprehension sucks, and therefore he didn’t mean to quote-mine me. . .

But then again, it does seem Creationists are inherent quote miners, since there are many examples of dishonest quotes taken by Creationists.

Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond, page 205
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, page 125. By Donald R. Prothero.

Further Reading:
Devolution and an Evolutionary “ladder”

Darwin’s Dilemma: My Take on the Discovery Institute’s Claims

I know it’s several months late, but I just got through watching a film done by the Discovery institute, on the Cambrian “explosion,” called “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion.” There are a few details that should be addressed about it. But, before I go into any kind of detail, yes, it should be pointed out that this is mostly the same kind of Creationist bull that I thought it would be, just a bit more sophisticated than the usual Creationist arguments made about the Cambrian radiation.

At first, typical of Creationist claims, Jonathan Wells makes the well-worn claim about life forms before and during the Cambrian. He compares the entire 3.8 to 4 billion years of life to a twenty-four hour day saying that for the first 21 hours, there were only unicellular life forms, and then the Cambrian life forms came into existence on the scale of a two minutes. This is an attempt to make the Cambrian radiation appear “sudden” A few minutes later, Wells then says something on the lines of that it could have happened over night which is complete bogus because it lasted at least 10 to 25 million years. Though there are higher estimates that go as high as 35 million years or more. The film says that fossil evidence shows that those estimates are too high, but it doesn’t give convincing details.

The film, however does mention the existence of other life forms, like the Ediacaran fauna which existed before the Cambrian, as well as fossil embryos. . . . Oh, about the fossil embryos, the film uses them to address the idea that pre-Cambrian fossils are not preserved because they were too soft. It is pointed out that these embryos were from soft-bodied organisms, and that they existed tens of millions of years before the Cambrian. From that, it is reasoned that if the appeal to pre-Cambrian organisms being too soft for preservation cannot be used. As the film argues this, the Discovery Institute seems to have missed a major implication of fossil embryos several millions of years before the Cambrian “explosion.” Think about it: Those embryos had to have come from precursor ancestors, and that would therefore show that the Darwinian prediction of the existence of simpler pre-Cambrian life. It shows, therefore, that such organisms did in fact exist, but that they were rarely ever fossilized. Fossilization is already a rare enough occurence without the organisms being much softer than is accustomed. But, another detail the DI seems to have missed: I do not remember any scientist ever saying that soft-bodied, pre-Cambrian fossils could never be preserved. They can be, it’s just much more of a novelty. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Discovery Institute is attacking a strawman.

Something I find exceptionally interesting is the interest that the film takes in fossils from southern China. All along, citing these fossils as evidence for their conclusion, I’m left to wonder why other fossils from China are ignored. In pre-Cambrian deposits dating from the Doushantou Formation, evidence of animal life in the form of adult Cnidirians was found. Among the finds were fossilized embryos and larvae tat resembled Anthrozoans. Not to mention, there s also evidence of cnidirian body plans with anthozoan affinity. An implication of this find is that  stem groups of bilaterians were also present between 25 to 45 million years before the Cambrian “explosion.” — Then, also there is more recent evidence from the same formation that complex, bilatarians existed between 40 to 55 million years before the Cambrian. — These fossil finds I cited were made in the first half of the last decade, between 2002, and 2005. These finds alone would show that the Cambrian “explosion” was likely less explosive. In contrast, the film Darwin’s Dilemma was released in September, 2009. Why didn’t the Discovery Institute include these fossil finds? Because of ignorance or bias? You make the call. — I go into more detail in my previous post entitled “The Truth on the Cambrian ‘explosion.’

Between scenes, the Discovery Institute indulges in the usual Creationist quote mining from well-known scientists about the appearance of the Cambrian fauna in the fossil record, but prominently Stephen Gould. Personally, I found that somewhat disrespectful since he is dead with his statements still being hijacked. Then also, they use a very selective quote from Richard Dawkins about the Cambrian’s abruptness in which he says, “It’s as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” You just have to realize that Dawkins is an Atheist and a major anti-Creationist to realize that he ultimately was not endorsing that view.  Besides, as he proposes a little later that “it might be that many of these animals had only soft parts to their bodies: no shells or bones to fossilize,” a view which the film goes out of its way to attempt refuting.  — The Quotes from Charles Darwin can be dismissed since they are 151 years out of date, and do not reflect the research accomplished since he published his theory.

A final claim made is on genetic information, and questioning whether or not Darwinian mechanisms can produce it. After deciding that it cannot, they resort to their typical “designer did it” cop-out. They try to rationalize their logic by saying that information is the product of intelligence, yada, yada . . . .  I’m not going to even bother to refute the typical argument from ignorance.

Basically, the film really doesn’t address anything that hasn’t been debunked before, it just seems to be a bit more sophisticated, and a bit more informative than other pieces of Creationist propaganda, but that’s probably because it admits to the existence of some fossils from before the Cambrian. I guess from that, it is the “best” Intelligent Design film I’ve ever seen, but that isn’t saying much. Mostly, the only real thing this film has going for it is its graphics, though I have seen better. I guess one of its goals is to dazzle the uninformed layperson with its computer graphics?  Who can tell? The Discovery Institute may accept the scientific age of the earth, but other than that, they aren’t much better than ICR.

Precambrian Animal Life: Probable Developmental and Adult Cnidarian Forms from Southwest China, by Jun-Yuan Chena, Paola , Feng Gaoa, Stephen Q. Dornbos, Chia-Wei Lid, David J. Bottjer and Eric H. Davidson. From Science Direct, and Developmental Biology.
The Early Evolution of Animals by David J. Bottjer, from Scientific American.

Recommended Reading:
Transitional Forms and the Evolution of Phyla, by Glenn R. Morton, from American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Cambrian Explosion, from SkepticWiki