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Sunday, February 8, 2009
"Academic Freedom Day" - Built On A Quote Mine

February 12th is Darwin Day, an international celebration of the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin - the man who first put forth biological evolution via natural selection. This Thursday will mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and over 500 events have been planned in honor of the English naturalist's contribution to the advance of science and reason.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI) has co-opted this date to throw a little party of their own:

Discovery Institute today announced the launch of Academic Freedom Day in honor of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday on February 12, 2009.

"We're celebrating Charles Darwin's birthday by supporting what he supported: academic freedom," said Robert Crowther, Director of Communications at Discovery Institute. "Like Darwin, we recognize the importance of having an open and honest debate between evolution and intelligent design."

In his revolutionary On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question." This quote is the cornerstone of the Institute's Academic Freedom Day efforts.

The Institute's Center for Science and Culture is sponsoring Academic Freedom Day, assisting student groups, clubs, and individual students to organize Academic Freedom Day Events centered on Darwin's birthday and his fair-minded approach to freedom of inquiry.

That quote from Charles Darwin is indeed the cornerstone of their effort. It is prominently displayed on each and every page of their website. It was offered as the inspiration for their video and essay contest. It's even found on the T-shirts and calendars that they're trying to sell.

Unfortunately, the quote is glaringly out of context. Here are Darwin's actual words from the introduction of On the Origin of Species:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species

By replacing a semi-colon with a period, the first part of Darwin's original sentence has been deceptively changed into what appears to be a complete thought. Contrary to what the DI would have us believe, Darwin was not referring to a debate between evolution and some purported alternative explanation. He was referring to his own ideas concerning evolution and lamenting the fact that he knew of so many supportive observations that he could not possibly present them all - even in his 500+ page "abstract."

Personally, I think that it is quite fitting that the folks at the Discovery Institue would "honor" Charles Darwin's birthday by actively misrepresenting something that he wrote and then using it to further their own anti-evolution agenda. It is precisely this kind of hypocritical and unreflective behavior that exemplifies their twisted sense of "honor."

posted by Jeremy Mohn

<< Home | McLeroy Re-Appointed Chair of Texas BOE >> | Accept Evolution, Become a Serial Killer >> | Iowa "Evolution Academic Freedom Act" filed >> | . . . meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . >> | Dolphins >> | Enough Already! >> | DI's John West: Quotemining = "Tour-de-Force," "Sc... >> | Collapsing the Texas Quote Mine >> | Catch Your Inner Fish on Paper >> | A Teachable Moment in Texas >>

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