Monday, May 12, 2008


How to Build a Quote Mine

Michael Craven (okay, that one's too easy), described as the "Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture," has a blog at where his latest post is more fertilizer spread around the smelly weed that is Expelled. Craven dredges up the supposedly unaddressed "holes" in the theory of evolution that only remain so if you resolutely refuse to look for the answers in those secret, hidden away places called "libraries." And there is the alleged link between evolutionary theory and the Holocaust that remains strangely "missing," except for vague dark claims about the lack of "any objective moral basis," without any attempt to show that any such thing actually exists or has influenced human history. In other words, the same ol' same ol'.

Of far more interest is the object lesson as to how quote mines originate. Craven says:

Fomented by decades of Darwinian social and ethical theories, the idea of genocide as a means of purifying the races and furthering the evolutionary development of mankind became less and less objectionable, especially among the German elite. Darwin believed this was inevitable if not necessary and T. H. Huxley, the foremost Darwinian biologist in late-nineteenth century Britain, nicknamed "Darwin's bulldog," argued, "only from death on a genocidal scale could the few progress."

Of course, Darwin actually articulated the exact opposite sentiment. But what caught my eye was the alleged quote by Huxley. Being fairly sensitive to these things, I was surprised not to have seen this alleged quote before. More importantly, only a moment's reflection is necessary to question whether the word "genocidal" had been in existence during Huxley's life. Indeed, it hadn't been coined until well after his death.

So where did Craven come up with it? He had mentioned Richard Weikart and a Google search on the offending phrase immediately turned up this:

While Malthus saw this tendency toward overpopulation as the cause of misery and poverty, Darwin explained that it was really beneficial. In the conclusion of The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, "Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows." For Darwin death -- even mass death -- was not only inevitable, necessary. As Adrian Desmond explained in his biography of T. H. Huxley (the foremost Darwinian biologist in late nineteenth-century Britain, who earned the nickname, "Darwin's bulldog"), "only from death on a genocidal scale could the few progress."

I'll leave it up to the gentle reader to try to figure out why we should prefer if misery and death has only evil as an outcome.

But note how low someone's reading comprehension must be to mistake Weikart's phrase for a quote by Huxley, instead of by Desmond. Or how low their morals ...

It's somewhat mysterious as to what makes one quote mine take off and wind up in a thousand places and another languish. This one may disappear without a trace but the origin of quote mines is clear. All it takes is someone so indifferent to the truth as to not make even the most modest effort to check the words he or she is putting in the mouths of others.

But it is handy when people like Craven advertise their intellectual bankruptcy in such neon colors.


A withering expose of the quote mines! They may not use child labor, but they certainly take advantage of the ignorant, don't they?
I think what it is comes down to is that once they reach a point that conforms to their preconceptions, their brains shut down. All of us are subject to it to some degree, though educated people are, by training, more likely to be on the lookout for it and take that one or two additional steps to check if our desires have overcome our understanding.
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