Notable Charles Darwin misquotes
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The Origin of Species
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)
According to Richard Dawkins, this quote is taken out of context 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.
The Descent of Man
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:
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. The original source shows that Stein has significantly changed - omitting three quarters of the original text, or half of the first paragraph - 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):
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.
- Huse, Scott. 1996. The Collapse of Evolution. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, p. 73.
- 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)
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species page 143-144
- Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know..., John Rennie and Steve Mirsky, Scientific American, April 16, 2008
- Scientific American: Never You Mine: Ben Stein's Selective Quoting of Darwin. Retrieved on 2008-04-19.
- Charles Darwin (1871) The Descent of Man, 1st edition, pages 168 -169.