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Another Creationist Misquote

Richard Arrowsmith

I am proud to report that I have discovered what appears to be a previously unreported creationist misquote.  May I have it named after me? smile.gif (862 bytes)

This misquote first came to my attention in a post on the OCW Message Board in July 2001, in which a creationist participant on that board posted, without references:

"The paleontologists have convinced me small changes do not accumulate."
Francisco Ayala, Ph.d Assoc Professor of Genetics, U of California

I decided to follow this up, so I searched the net (using http://www.alltheweb.com/) for "Francisco Ayala"+"small changes do not accumulate". The result was 24 of hits, all apparently from creationist sites (and one theistic evolutionist).  I did not check every one.

Perhaps the clearest example of the quote is found on Dr Walt Brown's web site where we find:

“In a generous admission Francisco Ayala, a major figure in propounding the Modern Synthesis [neo-Darwinism] in the United States, said ‘We would not have predicted stasis [the stability of species over time] from population genetics, but I am now convinced from what the paleontologists say that small changes do not accumulate.’”  Roger Lewin, “Evolution Theory under Fire,” Science, Vol. 210, 21 November 1980, p. 884.

A full reprint of the article in question can be found at Evolutionary Theory under Fire.

The relevant section of the article, as quoted on the above site, is:

"Thus went the verbal jostling, with the mood swinging perceptibly in favor of recognizing stasis as being a real phenomenon. Gabriel Dover, a geneticist from Cambridge University, England, felt atrongly enough to call species stasis 'The single most important feature of macroevolution.' In a generous admission Francisco Ayala, a major figure in propounding the Modern Synthesis in the United States, said: 'We would not have predicted stasis from population genetics, but I am now convinced from what the paleontologists say that small changes do not accumulate.'"

So I e-mailed Dr Ayala asking for his reaction, and his reply (received on 26 July 2001) was as follows:

Dear Dr. Arrowsmith:
please note that the "Dr" is Dr Ayala's error/assumption and I did not misrepresent my credentials!]

I don't know how Roger Lewin could have gotten in his notes the quotation he attributes to me. I presented a paper/lecture and spoke at various times from the floor, but I could not possibly have said (at least as a complete sentence) what Lewin attributes to me. In fact, I don't know what it means. How could small changes NOT accumulate! In any case, virtually all my evolutionary research papers evidence that small (genetic) changes do accumulate.

The paper that I presented at the conference reported by Lewin is virtually the same that I presented in 1982 in Cambridge, at a conference commemorating the 200 [sic] anniversary of Darwin's death. It deals with the claims of "punctuated equilibrium" and how microevolutionary change relates to macroevolution. (I provide experimental results showing how one can obtain in the laboratory, as a result of the accumulation of small genetic changes, morphological changes of the magnitude observed by paleontologists and presented as evidence of punctuated equilibrium.) The paper was published as part of the conference proceedings:

Ayala, F.J. 1983. Microevolution and macroevolution. In: D.S. Bendall, ed., Evolution from Molecules to Men (Cambridge University Press), pp. 387-402.

More accessible are two papers dealing with the same topic, written with my colleague G.L. Stebbins: Stebbins, G.L. and F.J. Ayala. 1981. Is a new evolutionary synthesis necessary? Science 213:967-971. (I quote from the abstract of the paper:

"Macroevolutionary processes are underlain by microevolutionary phenomena and are compatible with the synthetic theory of evolution." But, please, read the whole paper to get the wealth of results and ideas that we are discussing; and read also the following paper:

"Stebbins, G.L. and F.J. Ayala. 1985. The Evolution of Darwinism. Sci. American 253:72-82."

You may quote from this letter so long as you don't quote out of context or incomplete sentences.

Sincerely yours,
Francisco J. Ayala

For more information on Dr Ayala and his work, see his personal web site.

So, in summary -

1. Dr Ayala did not say the words attributed to him by Lewin;

2. Dr Ayala does not agree with the words attributed to him by Lewin; in fact his views on the subject are diametrically opposed.

Postscript:     Since my communication with Dr Ayala I have been progressively contacting the sites in question, informing them of the error and suggesting that they remove the offending quote.  Already a number of sites have responded positively and have acted on my advice.

I trust that readers who repeat the search given at the beginning of this article will get much fewer than 24 hits!

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