Notable Charles Darwin misquotes

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Charles Darwin's works are often misrepresented by intelligent design supporters and creationists.

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The Origin of Species[edit]

Scott Huse in The Collapse of Evolution (1996) claimed Darwin wrote:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. (Darwin 1872)

[1]

According to Richard Dawkins, this quote is taken out of context[2][3][4] because Darwin explains the development of the eye in that "some simple animals have only "aggregates of pigment-cells...without any nerves ... [which] serve only to distinguish light from darkness." The full quote, in context, reads:

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms, in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.[5]

The Descent of Man[edit]

In Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, to support of the claim that the theory of evolution inspired Nazism, Ben Stein attributes the following statement to Charles Darwin's book The Descent of Man:[6]

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

Stein stops there, then names Darwin as the author in a way that suggests that Darwin provided a rationale for the activities of the Nazis. Some claim that the original source shows that Stein has significantly changed the text and meaning of the paragraph, by leaving out whole and partial sentences without indicating that he had done so.(page 168) (words that Stein omitted shown in bold):[7][6]

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.[8]

The Expelled Exposed website also points out that the same quotation from this passage was used by anti-evolutionist William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes Trial, but claims that the full passage makes it clear that Darwin was not advocating eugenics. The website insist that the eugenics movement relied on simplistic and faulty assumptions about heredity, and by the 1920s evolutionary biologists were criticizing eugenics. Clarence Darrow, who defended the teaching of human evolution in the Scopes trial, wrote a scathing repudiation of eugenics.[9]

In Richard Weikart's 2004 book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany he claims:

Darwin clearly believed that the struggle for existence among humans would result in racial extermination. In Descent of Man he asserted, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races."[10][11][12][13][14]

According to Darwinists at talk.origins, this is a common creationist quote mine.[15] They argue that when Darwin referred to "race" he meant "varieties," not human races.[16] (For example, in Chapter 1 of On the Origin of Species, Darwin writes "the several races, for instance, of the cabbage".) However, they argue that apart from the plain meaning of the words, in the passage "there is nothing in Darwin's words to support (and much in his life to contradict) any claim that Darwin wanted the "lower" or "savage races" to be exterminated. He was merely noting what appeared to him to be factual, based in no small part on the evidence of a European binge of imperialism and colonial conquest during his lifetime." [17] Darwin's passage, in full context, reads:

The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies—between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct. At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.[8]


References[edit]

  1. Huse, Scott. 1996. The Collapse of Evolution. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, p. 73.
  2. http://www.beliefnet.com/story/178/story_17889_3.html
  3. Richard Dawkins (Department of Zoology, Oxford University, UK), 'The necessity of Darwinism'. New Scientist, vol. 94, 15 April 1982, P. 130. (The Revised Quote Book, P. 6)
  4. http://www.csicop.org/intelligentdesignwatch/dawkins.html
  5. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species page 143-144
  6. a b Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know..., John Rennie and Steve Mirsky, Scientific American, April 16, 2008
  7. Scientific American: Never You Mine: Ben Stein's Selective Quoting of Darwin. Retrieved on 2008-04-19.
  8. a b Charles Darwin (1871) The Descent of Man, 1st edition, pages 168 -169.
  9. Hitler & Eugenics. Expelled Exposed. National Center for Science Education (National Center for Science Education). Retrieved on 2008-04-16.
  10. Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler, Page 186
  11. Also cited by Richard Weikart in Re-examining the Darwin-Hitler Link Discovery Institute, February 28, 2008
  12. Also cited by Richard Weikart in Was It Immoral for "Expelled" to Connect Darwinism and Nazi Racism? Discovery Institute, May 2, 2008
  13. Also cited by Richard Weikart in "Darwin and the Nazis," The American Spectator, April 16, 2008
  14. Also cited by Richard Weikart in The Impact of Darwinism The Stanford Review April 22, 2008
  15. Quote Mine Project: Darwin Quotes -Quote #2.10 talk.origins One of their examples of creationist citing this quote is:
  16. Creationist Claim CA005.2 talk.origins
  17. Quote #4.6 talk.origins

External references[edit]