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Quote mining

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Quote mining is similar if not identical to quoting out of context, but is used as an accusation by evolutionists against their critics in particular. Evolutionists claim that quote mining is "frequently engaged in by creationists",[note 1] yet their claims do not stand up to scrutiny.[1].

Contents

Substance

The anti-creationist web-site TalkOrigins Archive contains what it calls "The Quote Mine Project"[2] with links to other articles allegedly demonstrating creationist quote mining. However, many of their claimed cases do not withstand scrutiny. Their project links to several other articles, the first of which claims to examine the quotes in "The Revised Quote Book", published by Creation Ministries International. Yet it only looks at three quotes from that book, and gets all three wrong, including getting the context of the use of one of the quotes wrong.[3]

Creationist Dr. Jerry Bergman has investigated numerous claims of quote mining, and he concluded that:

...the claim of misquoting is usually actually an attempt to misrepresent the creationist, although in some cases it was due to typographical errors, sloppiness, or was in a few cases actually contrived by anti-creationists.[4]

This was after studying an allegation of misquoting by Jim Foley in The Quote Mine Project. Bergman added:

The common misquote claim is a ploy to discourage others from considering creationist arguments. The implication is that creationists are not to be trusted, thus it is a waste of time to read their articles. When I was deeply involved in the atheistic movement as a young man, the finding that many Darwinists were not honest (or accurate), and that academic creationists, in contrast, were more often accurate, was an important factor in my acceptance of the theistic world view. Conversely, Foley implies that creationists universally misquote (and many creationist critiques openly claim that all creationists routinely misquote or are otherwise dishonest) in an effort to deceive, but imply that Darwinists are above reproach in this regard.[4]

Fallacious claims

One problem with the accusation of quote mining is that it tends to regard any possible mistake in the use of a quote as evidence of the quoter being dishonest or careless.

Another mistake accusers make is of failing to realise that there is a distinction between the purpose of the original author and the incidental facts they mention, which facts are not incidental to the person using the quote. By way of analogy, suppose a witness for the defence in a court case tried to exonerate the defendant's claimed drunken state by testifying that "when I visited the defendant at his home the night before, he was completely sober and there was no evidence of alcohol in the house". In this analogy, the defendant was supposedly not home the night before the offence, so the prosecution picks up on this point and uses the witness' statement as evidence that the defendant was home. This is perfectly legitimate, and it would be ludicrous to claim that the prosecution was taking the testimony out of context, or that the prosecution was ignoring that the witness' purpose was to claim that the defendant was not drunk.

Yet that is the sort of accusation sometimes made by anti-creationists against creationists. For example, Michael Hopkins accuses creationists Keith Davies and Jonathan Sarfati of misquoting Clark and Caswell:[5]

  • Sarfati:

As the evolutionist astronomers Clark and Caswell say, 'Why have the large number of expected remnants not been detected?' and these authors refer to 'The mystery of the missing remnants'.

  • Hopkins:

Both of them [Davies and Sarfati] give the impression that astronomers cannot explain the number of observed supernova remnants assuming an old universe. The Clark and Caswell paper is online. Both quotes are on page 301. As the reader can easily verify, "Why have the large number of expected remnants not been detected?" is a rhetorical question. And "The mystery of the missing remnants" is followed by "is also solved."

However, the fact that Clark and Caswell attempt to answer their own question, and further claim that they have thereby solved the mystery, does not change that the expected remnants have not been detected, and are "missing".

Any evidence will do

Anybody who can in the slightest way be called a "creationist" is sufficient evidence to smear all creationists, it seems. For example, TalkOrigins Archive's Quote Mine Project includes an article titled "Francis Hitching: Commonly quoted by creationists"[6], billed as "A man commonly quoted as an authority who opposes Darwinism turns out to be a television script writer."[2] The article itself, however, doesn't include any examples of who these creationists are (despite them apparently being "common"), and is very non-specific about just what they misquote. A couple of other sites[7][8] list one example of use of the quote—not by any of the leading creationist groups, but by the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Traditional Example

Charles Darwin wrote in his Origin of Species:

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.

But he goes on to say:[note 2]

Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an 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, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.

To use the witness analogy of the previous paragraph - imagine the witness stating: "it's impossible to get a drink in this bar - but the defendant somehow managed"...

Though witnesses should refrain from using certain rhetorical means, like hyperbole, rhetorical questions, irony or satire (all to be found in Darwin's works), it would not be legitimate to quote only the first half, and omit the second one.

Note

  1. Evolutionists consider intelligent design to be a form of creationism, so would be including ID proponents in this.
  2. This is according to the first edition. By the sixth edition, the wording had been changed to: 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.

References

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