Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Creationists Are Liars.

Welcome to a new feature, Creationists Are Liars. This will be a non-regular section where I expose the blatant lies of creationists whenever they are brazen enough to draw my ire.

To be fair, most creationists really aren't lying. There are some, however, who warp the truth so badly that what they say is indistinguishable from telling a lie. A text book example is the dark art of quote mining.

Take, for example, this video posted over at the Force blog. It lists a plethora of quotes from seemingly reputable sources that, when carefully prefaced by the author of the video, make it sound like evolution isn't very well supported (by either the scientists or evidence). As far as the quotes go, they are accurate- but taken out of their original context and strung together with the opinions of the author of the video until the meaning is completely distorted. Now I ask you, dear reader, by warping the truth to impose a new meaning, how is this different than lying?

After watching the video, I realized that the easy thing to do was to assume that the video was just quote mining. I decided that it would be far more responsible to seek the truth myself. You will find, as I did, that 95% of the quotes could be found in their full context by simply googling the author and the quote. Many explanations can be found over at Talk Origins' Quote Mine Project. You'll also note that 100% of them can be found echoed at other creationist webpages, still completely out of context.

There was one, however, that threw me for a loop-

"[There is not] enough evidence from fossil material to take theorising out of the realms of fantasy" - New Scientist, August 1972, p.259.
On the web, I could not find this quote in its original context anywhere. I was also bothered to see such a phrase (with its implied meaning imposed by the video) pulled directly out of New Scientist.

It was at this point that I did the unthinkable- I went to the library. It was trivial to find the original line; it was the fifth line of a four paragraph book review:

"It is proving particularly difficult to understand the evolution of man: through what forms has he progressed--vegetarian or carnivore, quadruped or brachiator? When did he become a biped, when a toolmaker? How close is his relationship to the great apes? When did they diverge? We know too little of the timing or mechanisms of evolution, nor tis there enough evidence from fossil material to take our theorising out of the realms of fantasy."

That's right- this article (not even a true peer reviewed scientific article, but a mere book review!) does not doubt evolution, nor that we are close cousins to the great apes; it only declares that as of August, 1972, there was not enough evidence to fill in the minute details. The article continues that the title of the book being reviewed is misleading- it does not argue that we are not apes ourselves, but focuses on when we split off from the line that has become modern great apes.

There are two points to be made with this little exercise:
1) If you are actually interested in the truth, it often does not take much work to find it. A handful of Google searches was all it took to get me most of the way; a quick trip to the local library (not even an hour of work!) completed the journey. Given that it takes so little effort to sort fact from fiction, why do not more people do this?

2) At some point, a person found this quote in the context of the original article and isolated it in order to twist the original meaning, therefore lying to his or her audience. I am certainly not blaming Zach over at the Force blog. I'm not evening blaming the creator of the video, who likely found this isolated quote as it is presented in his propaganda piece. I put the blame on the original quote miner, who is undeniably a liar.


  1. Well, you've got more patience than me. I gave up on Zach when he wrote a blog post accusing us atheists of being "scared", recommending we jump off a building because hey, why not, we're nihilists anyway, right? And he also said somethign on my own blog about how he's going to prove god to us by disproving evolution. Not interested in that same old runaround.

    In all seriousness, though, good job catching the quote mining.

    But, I would reiterate that I don't think Zach is actually interested in engaging you or learning anything about science or evolution. He's just going to continue hopping around the internet looking for creationist/apologist webpages/youtube videos and keep telling you to let god into your heart and that evolution is fantasy. I've seen it before and I think it's just the kind of back-patting/pamphletting/"I'll pray for you" type of stuff that Christians think passes for "engaging" nonbelievers.

  2. As to your question about "why don't more people do this?" (ie: fact-check). Well, one reason could be laziness. This person wanted to throw this video together as just a rhetorical piece, found what they needed and slapped it on there. A second reason could be the person doesn't understand how to fact-check. And a third reason could be that they just don't give a shit...they're putting this video up to give fellow evolution deniers more mud to sling at the rest of us.

    If you ask me, this is more about people being anti-science than pro-creationism. I can't for the life of me fathom why someone would be anti-science, but it seems to be the case.

  3. "Given that it takes so little effort to sort fact from fiction, why do not more people do this?"

    A few reasons come to mind:


    This piece of data fits with my preconceived notions, so lets spout it!

    And http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_authority

    This piece of data is coming from an authoritative source from within the evolution conspiracy, so lets spout it!

    Also, as Sir Sparrowhawk kindly pointed out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laziness

    (I learned a new word, indolence, for laziness today. Thanks Wikipedia!)