Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

Mark Vuletic

Assertion

Darwin himself thought that the eye could not have evolved.

The short response

Quotes that allege to show this deliberately cut Darwin off right before he explains why any intuitive worries he or others might have about the evolution of the eye are unfounded.

The long response

Here are two typical examples of creationist attempts to find quotes from Darwin in support of the assertion.

I. Waldman

Creationist Shmuel Waldman writes, "In fact, Darwin himself admitted that 'The eye, to this day, gives me a cold shudder,' being that [sic] it's an 'organ of extreme perfection'" (Waldman 2005:25).

Waldman's citation for all of this is "C. Darwin (1860), in a letter to Asa Gray, in F. Darwin, ed., Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. 2, London: John Murray, 1883, p. 273" (Waldman 2005:25, f4). Thanks to the Darwin Correspondence Project, it is a simple matter to check this letter. Doing so, we find that what Darwin really said was, "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder" (Darwin Correspondence Project Database 2011).

Also, nowhere in the letter does the phrase "organ of extreme perfection" occur.  Waldman has cut out the part of the quote that is inconsistent with the case he wants to make, and has spliced in words from somewhere else, without citation.

II. Huse

Creationist Scott Huse claims that "Charles Darwin acknowledged the utter inadequacy of the evolutionary theory when attempting to account for a structure such as the eye" (Huse 1983: 73). The evidence he offers for this claim is an alleged quote from Darwin:

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 possible degree... The belief that an organ as perfect as the eye could have formed by natural selection is more than enough to stagger anyone. (Huse 1983:73)

Anyone familiar with the way creationists handle quotes will wonder what the deleted material between the ellipses is. When we locate the source material (which happens to be On the Origin of Species) we get predictable results:

First, the part before the ellipses and the part after the ellipses are separated by nearly twenty pages (for reference, I am using the CRW 2004 edition of the Origin). Second, Huse has deleted important material from each part:

  • Immediately after "degree," Darwin goes on to say:

    Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations of 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. (Darwin [2004]:207-208)

    This is hardly an acknowledgment of the "utter inadequacy" of evolution.

  • The part after the ellipses has an important first word cut off (with no indication—when one introduces capitalization not present in the original text, one is supposed to put square brackets around it so the reader knows this was not the beginning of a sentence in the original), and omits immediately following material that turns the entire quote on its head. Here is the original:

    Although the belief  that an organ so perfect as the eye could have been formed by natural selection is more than enough to stagger anyone; yet in the case of any organ, if we know of a long series of gradations in complexity, each good for its possessor, then, under changing conditions of life, there is no logical impossibility in the acquirement of any conceivable degree of perfection through natural selection. (Darwin [2004]:226)

    Once more, Darwin's stance is revealed to be the exact opposite of the stance Huse attributes to him.

Unfortunately, creationist authors often are as dishonest and unprofessional as Waldman and Huse have just been shown to be, especially when they allege to produce damaging quotes from evolutionists.

References

Darwin C. [2004.] The Origin of Species. New York: CRW.

Darwin Correspondence Project Database. [2011] http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2701 (letter no. 2701; accessed 8 April 2011).

Huse SM. 1983. The Collapse of Evolution. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Waldman S. 2005. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Convincing Evidence of the Truths of Judaism. Jerusalem: Feldheim.

Last updated: 8 Mar 2017

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