Sunday, November 01, 2009

Intellectual Dishonesty

[Edited to add (11/4/09) that not only is Comfort dishonest, he's a plagiarist, as well - see the comparison of his "introduction" to "A Brief History of Charles Darwin" by Dr. Stan Guffe]

When Ray Comfort announced that he was going to give out free copies of Darwin's Origin of Species with his own, special introduction, I was ticked off, but figured that getting the book into people's hands was more important than worrying about the fifty pages of dribble that Comfort felt he had to put in the intro. Bad enough, but his idiocy is pretty easy to debunk and no one interested enough in reading Darwin's book was going to give him any credit.

But now, I've read that the book is actually EDITED. Yup, whole chapters are missing -- you know, the ones that Comfort doesn't agree with, and that ones that contradict his little fairy story of how life ended up where we are. He can, of course, the book is out of copyright, but if he's going to drop chapters from the book, he should be honest enough to admit it. Honest enough to leave the book intact and let his "arguments" stand for themselves. He can't. He's got nothing but debunked and rejected stories that can't stand up to criticism or even casual attention. So he has edited the book shamefully while still representing it as the original. It's dishonest to the extreme.

His response? It was too expensive in the initial printing -- "too many pages", but the second printing, the one that will go to students, is intact. I'll believe that when I see it - he's shown that truth is a rather fluid concept.

Ray said "The first printing of 30,000 was an abridged edition. It was abridged because it was too many pages (too expensive) for a giveaway. In the book, we explained that the removed chapters could be downloaded freely online at

The second print of 175,000 (which has just come off the press) was the complete book--that's the one that will go to students. Nothing is missing from the original book. Not a dot. Thanks for asking. I appreciate it. Best wishes."

Does this make any sense to anyone? So, it was too expensive to give away the full book, but now they are going to give away the full book for free. That's a pretty thin excuse. Didn't expect to get caught, I imagine.

In the meantime, the absurd abridgement is out in the wild. It's been sent to various outlets for review and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Which version has been sent out? Guess.

Eugenie Scott, of the National Center for Science Education, wrote her review of the book.

Unfortunately, it will be hard to thoroughly read the version that Comfort will be distributing on college campuses in November. The copy his publisher sent me is missing no fewer than four crucial chapters, as well as Darwin's introduction. Two of the omitted chapters, Chapters 11 and 12, showcase biogeography, some of Darwin's strongest evidence for evolution. Which is a better explanation for the distribution of plants and animals around the planet: common ancestry or special creation? Which better explains why island species are more similar to species on the mainland closest to them, rather than to more distant species that share a similar environment? The answer clearly is common ancestry. Today, scientists continue to develop the science of biogeography, confirming, refining, and extending Darwin's conclusions.

Likewise missing from Comfort's bowdlerized version of the Origin is Chapter 13, where Darwin explained how evolution makes sense of classification, morphology, and embryology. To take a simple example, why do all land vertebrates (amphibians, mammals, and reptiles and birds) have four limbs? Not because four limbs are necessarily a superior design for land locomotion: insects have six, arachnids have eight, and millipedes have, well, lots. It's because all land vertebrates descended with modification from a four-legged ("tetrapod") ancestor. Since Darwin's era, scientists have repeatedly confirmed that the more recently two species have shared a common ancestor, the more similar are their anatomy, their biochemistry, their embryology, and their genetics.

So, Mr. Comfort, because he can't really counter the information, simply omits it. Where their "evidence" fails, they just ignore it. No one with on iota of ethics is going to support it, and this has simply cemented the opinion of rational, thinking people that Comfort is intellectually dishonest (as if we actually needed this particular incident, but there it is). He has a fabulous strawman idea of what atheists believe and continually conflates evolution with abiogenesis, and procedes to tilt madly at those instead of actually addressing the reality of evolution and scientific fact. It would be funny if it weren't for the people who actually think he's honest and accurate.

If you want to propose a different model for life on earth, you really do have to address ALL of the points of the other model. Your new theory has to account for ALL the empirical evidence and ALL of the facts available. Ignoring them simply shows that you can't and it's pretty pathetic.

If he wants to slice and dice the book, fine. But at least have the decency to note that it is NOT the entire text, that you have abridged and edited it to fit your own agenda, and don't attempt to market this as the real thing. What he is doing is dishonest and manipulative.

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