Other creationists who crashed the Darwin party

[BPSDB]The “Shrewsbury Deep Waters Trust” were not the only creationists to take advantage of the Darwin celebrations in Shrewsbury. During March/April the Christadelphians sent leaflets throughout the town and set up a stall in the town centre advertising meetings – although they were not very efficient about it, as the leaflet came through my own door after the meetings had taken place.

The leaflet was produced by the Shrewsbury Christadelphians, although it seems likely that similar materials have been distributed elsewhere. What interested me was the quotation on the cover.

Darwin Question leaflet

Darwin Question leaflet

I asked the local Christadelphians, at their email address, for the source of the quotation, but I haven’t yet had a reply after five weeks.

I have searched on the web, where all Darwin’s writings are available, and have not been able to find it there. As far as I can tell, Darwin did not write a volume called “My life and Letters”. His son Francis put together a collection called “Life and Letters”. This contains one sentence that may be what the Christadelphians are referring to. This reads: “When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed [i.e. we cannot prove that a single species has changed]; nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory.”

If you do a search for the exact words, though, you will find it quoted widely on creationist websites, with the same erroneous citation. Quite likely, the Christadelphians simply lifted it from one of these. It is an example of what is often called called “quote mining” – selecting from the words of people who are perceived to be “authorities” in such a way as to change the apparent meaning in a favourable way. Creationists often use this trick to make it seem as if scientists are expressing doubt about evolutionary theory, or pointing out a problem with the theory that does not actually exist. In this case, I doubt if the Christadelphians are being consciously dishonest – it probably never occurred to them that something that is so widely quoted by their brethren could be wrong.

“Quote mining” is so prevalent that TalkOrigins, one of the best web resources on evolution, has a project devoted to it: you can find the misquotation I am referring to discussed here.

Selecting Darwin on this matter is misleading too: Darwin is not an “authority” on evolution as the Bible is an authority to Christadelphians. Darwin originated the theory of evolution of natural selection which continues to be the basis for a vast research project. Discoveries in genetics now mean that we can trace the evolutionary descent of huge numbers of species – which Darwin could not do in the state of knowledge that existed in his time.

Incidentally, the history of the Christadelphians makes interesting reading. They comprise a tiny sect that tries to uphold to an extreme the literal accuracy of the Bible. Not surprisingly, it has fractured into even tinier fragments as its members fail to agree on differences of doctrine that most of probably couldn’t even see. A probably inevitable consequence of believing that you know the absolute truth is that eventually you must believe that only you (and your followers) know the absolute truth.