Over at the Talk.Origins Archive Quote Mine Project, there’s a brief discussion of a quotation supposedly from Darwin: “Not one change of species into another is on record … we cannot prove that a single species has been changed,” credited to My Life and Letters. Mike Hopkins and Mark VandeWettering correctly observe that Darwin never wrote such a book—although there is a book, assembled by his son Francis Darwin, with the similar title The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887). They also correctly observe that the quotation appears on a plethora of creationist websites, to which I’ll add that it appears in a plethora of creationist books as well, the most recent of which (excluding self-published books) seems to be Robert Jeffress’s Outrageous Truths: 7 Absolutes You Can Still Believe (2008). (The sixth of the title’s purported truths is that evolution is a myth.) And they correctly observe that the second half of the quotation actually appears in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, although the words aren’t Darwin’s.
I want to start this week’s entry by saying that I really hadn’t intended this topic to take up three posts! It’s just that I kept adding and adding to make it all make more sense and before I knew it, I had 3000 words on dating fossils! Words fly when you’re geeking out…
This past week on Fossil Friday, I gave you a fossil and posed the question: animal, vegetable, or mineral? It turns out it was totally animal...indeed, an animal that we see even today. What was it? A locust from the Santana Formation in northeastern Brazil.
A beloved holiday tradition returns.
Provoked by a mention of a pseudonymous author, the Gentleman with a Duster, in the creationist Arthur I. Brown’s Evolution and the Bible (1922), quoted at length as complaining about the moral effects and scientific groundlessness of “Darwinism” in his The Glass of Fashion (1921), I decided to investigate. In part 1, I reported that the Gentleman with a Duster (used to clean the mirrors in the halls of power, as it happens) was the journalist Edward Harold Begbie (1871–1929). Since Begbie’s authorship of The Glass of Fashion was not revealed until after his death, Brown could, I suggested, be excused for not recognizing that the author lacked the scientific training to offer a really informed opinion about scientific grounds of Darwinism and for not realizing that he was already on record as accepting evolution, as in The Proof of God (1914), published under Begbie’s own name. I’ll add now that the author’s skeptical attitude toward the scientific bona fides of natural selection is also understandable.
This week I am at the American Geophysical Union meeting, so I have access to lots of fossils! This fossil is from the Lower Cretaceous (about 125 million years ago) and was found in what is now Brazil. It is a perfect sample for my favorite game of “animal, vegetable, mineral”—we already know it is a mineral now, but was it once an animal or a vegetable (as in a plant)? Does it help if I tell you that you can find something very similar today?
You can’t say we didn’t try.
As Stephen Colbert ends his long run as the bombastic, willfully ignorant television talk show host of The Colbert Report, I’m wistful that we never landed him as a Steve.
Let me start this post by admitting that looking to the work of the Understanding Evolution team for examples of excellent science writing is not unlike looking to Glenn Branch for examples of quote-mining in obscure Scopes-related reporting—it’s pretty much a fish-in-the-barrel scenario. As I have noted many times on this blog, Understanding Evolution is chock-a-block with quality materials for educators and evolution-minded people alike.
A generous member of NCSE recently offered to buy a few books from his local used and rare bookstore for us. Looking through the on-line catalogue of the bookstore, I spotted a couple of titles by the creationist Arthur I. Brown (1875–1947) that weren’t in our library (not even in The Antievolution Works of Arthur I. Brown, a reprint volume that Ronald Numbers edited in 1995): namely Footprints of God (1943)—the dust jacket illustration of which I just love—and Must Young People Believe in Evolution? (1937), the answer to which turns out, in Brown’s opinion, to be no. Brown modestly described himself as “one of the best informed scientists on the American continent.” Be that as it may, thanks to his medical degree, he at least “undoubtedly ranked among the top three or four scientific critics of evolution in the fundamentalism community,” as Numbers says in his introduction to the reprint volume. After taking a leave from his medical practice in 1925 to lecture on science and the Bible, he never returned to it.