The incomprehensible creationist - the Darwin "eye" quote
I've had an interesting albeit frustrating exchange with West Australian old Earth creationist (OEC), Steve Jones. Mr Jones hosts a web site that includes a collection of quotes, one of which is the infamous Charles Darwin quote concerning the evolution of the eye. The quote is often used by YECs in an effort to convince their credulous followers that Darwin had doubts about some aspects of evolution. The quote, in its entirety, is taken from The Origin of Species, Chapter 6, "Organs of extreme perfection and complication".
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. 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.
Young Earth creationists (YECs) and at least one OEC invariably use only the first few lines and omit the part beginning "Yet reason tells me,". Obviously, using the full quote destroys the creationists' argument. Even Answers in Genesis, the most influential YEC web site, has advised their followers not to use the Darwin eye quote because "Citing his [Darwin's] statement at face value is subtly out of context". See Arguments we think creationists should NOT use.
I emailed Mr Jones and took him to task for deliberately misleading visitors to his site by selectively quoting Charles Darwin. Mr Jones responded this morning in an email to a group (copying his response to me rather than directly replying). Bearing in mind that he had the full text of Darwin's statement in front of him, his response was nothing short of staggering. He said:
Thanks. But the above makes *no* difference to the point that I was making, namely that "Darwin admitted it seemed 'absurd in the highest degree' that the eye could have been formed by natural selection." [Mr Jones' emphasis]
Surely it would be clear to a reasonably literate person that Darwin was pointing out that it only seems to be a difficulty and then goes on to demonstrate that in fact it isn't a difficulty at all.
Mr Jones continued:
In fact in the extended quote above Darwin says that "the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection" was "insuperable by our imagination"!
I repeat, Darwin clearly said, "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." That is, the "difficulty" cannot be considered real.
If it weren't for the fact that Mr Jones must be aware that he is misrepresenting science in order to further his cause, one might be forgiven for wondering where he was on the day his high school class studied English comprehension.
Note: It's now over twelve months since I pointed out to Mr Jones his use of at least one "out of context" quote. Today, 28 September 2005, the quote, still "out of context", remains on Mr Jones' web site.