Monday, 19 December 2011

Astonishingly bad scholarship from Creationists

Before I begin, this post is about bad scholarship. It's not an attack on Creationism (although I do disagree with every single thing about Creationism, that's not what this blog is about).

So another thing I was reading in that Dawkins book struck me. (It's been a mine of interesting facts - he writes interestingly but he doesn't always realise his aim, I don't think. He's looking to prove evolution to doubters, and so I've been reading it as if I were such a person, and there's not a hope in hell of me being convinced. He goes into great detail in some parts and then in others skips over vital facts. If I were an evolution-denier I'd be seizing those parts with glee.)

Anyway, he mentions that in The Blind Watchmaker he gives this line:
It is as though [the fossilised remains of lots of major animal phyla in the Cambrian era] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.
Oh, Richard. Really? How naif of you not to realise how foolish that was. Anyway, so he says that Creationists have quoted this line many times, without quoting the following line:
Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this really does represent a very large gap in the fossil record.
This is an example of how you must NOT do quotations. In my job as a writing tutor I see lots of students unsure of how to quote people properly. I might use this as a how-not-to-quote lesson. The absolute golden rule is that you must not misrepresent anyone's words. So, for instance, it's not OK to give this quotation:
Bailey (2010) argues that "Dairy Milk is... the best chocolate bar"
if this is the original:
"Dairy Milk is not the best chocolate bar"
And likewise, it is not OK to quote a sentence out of context if doing so would cause it to be interpreted to mean something other than what the author intended. It's quite clear here that Dawkins did not mean to say that the fossils have no evolutionary history, and so he shouldn't be quoted as appearing to say that. Not all Creationists would condone such behaviour, of course, and it's not only Creationists who do bad scholarship. But this is really an extreme example of staggeringly bad form.


  1. I think you're confusing an ideological battle with doing proper scholarship. After all, creationists want to win political support, not engage in debate. Misrepresenting what people say by selective quotation ('quote mining') is standard practice. In America it's a tactic that seems to be working, not just for creationism but also global warming denial.

  2. Yeah, I know, but it makes me cross. At least some of these people do say that they're presenting proper counter-arguments and give the impression that it's just as valid a theory, which is clearly wrong. Just not cricket.

  3. Indeed. They would claim a cricket is in fact an ant if it suited their purposes.