Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ray Comfort, Quote Mining, and Me

Today I want to complain about Ray Comfort ... and me.

Ray Comfort

I read some of Ray Comfort's introduction to Darwin's Origin of Species. There was one particular quote in it that I was surprised to see. It was from Richard Leakey, the prominent paleontologist, and it goes like this:

If pressed about man’s ancestry, I would have to unequivocally say that all we have is a huge question mark. To date, there has been nothing found to truthfully purport as a transitional species to man, including Lucy … If further pressed, I would have to state that there is more evidence to suggest an abrupt arrival of man rather than a gradual process of evolving.

Knowing anti-evolutionist proclivity for quote mining--sorry for the $2 words; proclivity is a great word to learn, and quote mining is pulling words out of context to say something they don't mean--I was very suspicious about this quote. I was all the more suspicious because the only reference was a 1990 PBS interview.

It turns out Dr. Leakey very likely said these words, but, as usual, they're quote mined--seriously out of context.

I'll explain in a moment.

What About Me?

Shortly after reading Comfort's intro, a couple young friends of mine, who have no problem believing in evolution while still serving God wholeheartedly, were asking me some questions about the literal or allegorical nature of the Garden of Eden. The discussion was pleasant enough, but immediately afterward a dear friend of mine asked me, "What about blind faith? Can't we just believe things out of blind faith?"

I've been thinking a lot about that. I have no desire to shake someone's faith. Maybe Adam and Eve were literal. I doubt it, but hey, I wasn't there. Maybe God inspired Moses to write literal details about events that he wasn't around for. I believe God could do that. I don't believe he did do that or that he had any reason to do that, but I believe he could do that. So maybe my friend is right, and it's a literal story.

Shoot, maybe the earth is 6,000 years old! Well, ok, I won't go that far. It's definitely not.

On the other hand, I don't have any problems with people believing that out of blind faith in their idea of what the Bible is. People with that kind of literal faith in the Bible don't bother me. In fact, sometimes I wish I could be one of them.

So I want it to stay clear in all that I do that I object to three things and three things only:

  • A false gospel

  • Division

  • Dishonesty: deceit and slander

Real quickly, let me cover those:

A false gospel:

There are those who say that if you don't take Genesis one literally, you can't be a Christian or you can't obey the Bible. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ. Those who say such things are Pharisees who search the Scriptures, thinking that in them there's life, but they refuse to come to Christ or point others to Christ. For them, the Bible has become an idol, and they are guilty of idolatry.


This is related to a false gospel. It is wrong for a Christian to divide from any other Christian who is living as a Christian. Evolution is just one of the many issues Christians use to justify this sin, which will keep you out of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21).


It's one thing to accept a young earth on blind faith. It's another to be guilty of dishonesty and slander. This last week I saw one more web site falsely accusing Dr. Johansen of falsifying data concerning "Lucy," the Australopithecus afarensis fossil he found. It's not true, and so it's just slander. Young earth creationists regularly pass themselves off as understanding science when they don't, and then they accuse good scientists of deceit. It's awful that a Christian would do such a thing.

Those are the things I object to. I do not object to a Christian rejecting evolution on the basis of the Bible. If that's where you're at and what you believe, more power to you. Just don't go repeating crazy falsehoods like "there's no transitional fossils" or "the 2nd law of thermodynamics proves evolution is impossible." You just prove yourself ignorant or dishonest saying such things.

Back to Ray Comfort

In some ways I like Ray Comfort. He's interesting, and he's zealous. He's also embarrassing. He's guilty all the time of passing on information he knows nothing about, and so he repeats arguments that are dishonest.

For example, in the quote at the top of this post, he is suggesting that Dr. Richard Leakey questions evolution. Of course, you know it's not true.

Here's the real situation.

The Leakey's really wanted—because they thought it was true—the Homo lineage, the genus to which man belongs, to go back further. When a Homo habilis skull listed as skull 1470 was dated at 2.9 million years old, Richard Leakey had evidence for his assertion.

Since this Homo habilis skull was older than most Australopithecus afarensis fossils, then the Homo lineage probably didn't descend from the Australopithecines. If the Australopithecines are rejected as the ancestor of the Homo lineage, then there are still more Homo fossils to be found, dating back even earlier than 2.9 mya.

Thus, when Leakey gave the quote at the top of this page, he was saying that his find of skull 1470 threw the whole lineage of man into disarray. Goodbye Australopithecines, and thus goodbye Lucy as well. That was something Leakey was glad about.

Alas, the dating for skull 1470 was questionable at best. It has since been dated at 1.8 mya, putting it later than the Australopithecines and restoring the theory that is almost certainly accurate: the Homo series of fossils down to ourselves descended from the Australopithecines, including Lucy. We won't be finding any Homo fossils older than Homo habilis.

Trying to quote Richard Leakey as though he doubted the evolutionary ancestry of man is bad science and bad journalism at best, and it's lying at worst. We ought to avoid both, and we ought to avoid the latter with a lot more diligence than Ray Comfort is giving to it.

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