A number of years ago, journalist Robert Wright labelled evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould “the accidental creationist” in an oft-quoted article that appeared in The New Yorker. According to Wright, Gould was culpable of (unwittingly) aiding and abetting creationists because of his public pronouncements on evolution, based on “his muddled [understanding of] evolutionary theory.” Indeed Wright went on to quote this infamous quip by John Maynard Smith (another prominent evolutionary biologist), who said of Gould:
[T]he evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists.
I don’t know which evolutionary biologists Maynard Smith talked to, but they were off the mark by a long shot, and his vitriolic comment was anything but fair play toward an esteemed colleague. Be that as it may, I was reminded of this incident several times during the past few weeks because of a sudden spike in mis-quotations of yours truly that have appeared on two “prominent” creationist blogs: the bizarrely named “Evolution News” and the more ironically termed “Uncommon Descent” (the four entries are here, here, here, and here, in chronological order of appearance).
The barrage began on March 23rd at Uncommon Descent, where Sal Cordova picked up several quotes from a recent Rationally Speaking post (on “Universal Darwinism” — he got the link wrong, don’t know for sure if by unintelligent design or what). Cordova ended the short post by summarizing my position thus: “Dennett is wrong, Dobzhansky is wrong, Dawkins is wrong, and Pross (the author Pigliucci critiques) is wrong. Grand slam!” To which he added: “Duane Gish said it better: ‘Nothing in evolution makes sense in light of biology.’”
Of course I did not say anything like “Dennett, Dobzhansky, Dawkins and Pross are wrong” across the board, and instead disagreed with specific statements and positions taken by these writers. But apparently if you are a creation-fundamentalist the very concept of honest disagreement and open discussion eludes you. And so does the idea that the nature of science makes it an open-ended enterprise where progress is made in part precisely because people disagree.
The following day a “memo to Sal Cordova” appeared, again at Uncommon Descent, posted by Denyse O'Leary, entitled “Massimo Pigliucci may be in transit” (uh, oh!). The entire post consists of two quotes from me (and they didn’t give me royalties!), one about Dobzhansky, the other from a slightly older Rationally Speaking post about consciousness.