Quote Mining (Fallacy of the Day)

“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 degree.”

“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 degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei [“the voice of the people = the voice of God “], as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certain the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.”

Darwin then went on to describe how some simple animals have only “aggregates of pigment-cells…without any nerves … [which] serve only to distinguish light from darkness.” Then, in animals a bit more complex, like “star-fish,” there exist “small depressions in the layer of [light-sensitive cells] — depressions which are “filled … with transparent gelatinous matter and have a clear outer covering, “like the cornea in the higher animals.” These eyes lack a lens, but the fact that the light sensitive pigment lies in a “depression” in the skin makes it possible for the animal to tell more precisely from what direction the light is coming. And the more cup-shaped the depression, the better it helps “focus” the image like a simple “box-camera” may do, even without a lens. Likewise in the human embryo, the eye is formed from a “sack-like fold in the skin.”

George Gaylord Simpson in The Meaning of Evolution, points out that the different species of modern snail have every intermediate form of eye from a light-sensitive spot to a full lens-and-retina eye.

Creationist quotes geologist saying that “it appears these strata are out of order” and then omits the following line that explains that they were clearly pushed out of place (and when pressed, at, made the excuse that “one has to stop quoting somewhere”)?

“Whitcomb and Morris do not quote that sentence. Perhaps this is because it conflicts with the point they are trying to defend. Or perhaps we should accept the explanation that Gish is reported to have offered at the Arkansas trial: ‘After all, you have to stop quoting somewhere.'” (Kitcher 1982:182)

Here’s a news story that includes the Romney ad: YouTube. (If you find the original ad up, send me the link and I’ll post it.)

It should be obvious why quote mining is a dishonest fallacy. But here’s a video that makes it clear:

When you quote mine, you can attribute anything to a speaker or author. It’s a form of lying.

This is noteworthy because it’s so egregious, but, of course, somewhat milder versions of this fallacy are commonplace in political “discourse,” and sometimes some interpretation is required.

Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people, my friend.” (He wasn’t defending the Supreme Court’s position that corporations are persons, he was claiming that any money that goes to corporations goes to people that make up — or work for, or invest in — the corporation. But this fits into his critics’ claims that he is indifferent to workers and only cares about business owners.)

Obama: “You didn’t build that.” (He wasn’t saying that owners didn’t build their businesses, he was saying that they didn’t build “roads and bridges” that allowed their businesses to thrive. But it fits into his critics’ claim that he doesn’t give sufficient credit and support to business owners and that he gives government too much credit.)

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