Riley's pseudo-Darwin quotationIn “Evolution—A False Philosophy,” a pamphlet published sometime in the 1930s by William Bell Riley (1861–1947), the Baptist preacher who was as responsible for the flourishing of the antievolution crusade of the 1920s as anyone, there appears a spurious quotation attributed to Darwin. Riley is here concerned to claim that the “whole doctrine of transmutation”—change in species—is “unknown to nature’s ways,” and he naturally wants to invoke Darwin in support.

This fact was admitted by Darwin himself. Here is Darwin’s language from “The Descent of Man,” the 1874 edition:

“It is asking a great deal of intelligent people to believe the theory which is not supported by evidence, just where evidence is most needed. Now these missing links, if there are any, should be more highly developed than the forms lower down in the scale from which they evolved, and therefore more able to continue. Then why not continue, if they ever evolved, while their weaker progenitors, less able to live, continue to this day?”

Now listen to Darwin’s answer to his own question:

“But this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of Evolution.” (emphasis in original)

Although the answer is Darwin’s (except for the emphasis on “weight” and the capital E in “Evolution”), the question is not. What Darwin wrote was, “The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form,” to which he answered, “But this objection,” etc.

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Albert P. MathewsOnce more unto the breach, dear friends, with T. T. Martin’s unforgettably titled Hell and the High Schools (1923). In chapter 2—“What Is Evolution?”—Martin invites the reader to:

Hear a Professor of Chicago University [sic], that slaughter-house of faith, where they do as the old negro preacher said he was going to do, “Bredderin and sisterin, tonight I’se gwine to dispense wid the gospel and confound de scriptures”—is reported from his lecture room to have said, “The Divine creation of life is a pure humbug. Life originally happened. Life is made up of certain organic compounds; certain organic compounds were made by nature. The compounds came together in some manner and the result was life.”

Martin then quotes, accurately, passages from John Tyndall and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) asserting the impossibility of abiogenesis.

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Title from Young's articleIn “Who Was the Occupant?” (part 1, part 2, part 3), I was concerned to investigate a claim that the expression “we may well suppose” occurs over eight hundred times in Darwin’s works On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. That claim, of course, is plainly bogus; the phrase would have to appear about twice every three pages for the claim to be true, which would make it a conspicuous verbal tic on Darwin’s part. Moreover, Darwin himself seems never to have used the expression in print, at least in his own words. (In “Observations on the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy” he quotes Charles Lyell using it.) Nevertheless, the claim is common, probably owing to its occurrence in “Evolutionism in the Pulpit,” written by the pseudonymous “An Occupant of the Pew,” originally published in 1911 and later included in The Fundamentals (1910–1915).

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Thomas Henry Huxley

I have a number of lawyers among my friends and family, so I usually try not to indulge in jokes that broadly impugn the legal profession. (What’s that? Well, if you insist. What’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One is a slimy, scum-sucking, bottom-dwelling scavenger—while the other is a fish.) And in fact, I have a lot of respect for the legal profession, instilled, in part, by interacting with the lawyers—Eric Rothschild, Steve Harvey, Vic Walczak, Richard Katskee, and all their colleagues—who so effectively represented the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. But I am willing to complain about lawyers who abuse their skills in the service of attacking evolution—like Phillip Johnson, Norman Macbeth, or, in the Scopes era, Philip Mauro (1859–1952). Here, from Mauro’s Evolution at the Bar (1922), is a blatant distortion.

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