Creationist misrepresentation of Richard Lewontin
I'd like to find out in which creationist publications,
if any, an article by Richard Lewontin was first misrepre-
sented by creationists.
Richard Lewontin wrote an article, "Adaptation," for the
September, 1978 _Scientific American_ series on evolution.
On page 213 he described the general viewpoint of 19th cen-
tury scientists about nature and how they thought the great
variety of life forms came about. He said that Darwin had
tried to account for both its diversity and fitness:
Life forms are more than simply multiple and diverse,
however. Organisms fit remarkably well into the
external world in which they live. They have mor-
phologies, physiologies and behaviors that appear to
have been carefully and artfully designed to enable
each organism to appropriate the world around it for
its own life.
Later Lewontin said that organisms only *appear* to have
been carefully designed, adding:
It was the marvelous fit of organisms to the environ-
ment, much more than the great diversity of forms,
that was the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer.
Darwin realized that if a naturalistic theory of evo-
lution was to be successful, it would have to explain
the apparent perfection of organisms and not simply
The rest of the article showed that Lewontin considers
the viewpoint highlighted in the above quotation as erro-
neous, and that it has been corrected by the work of Darwin
and his successors in the 20th century. In fact, the arti-
cle is devoted entirely to demonstrating how the adaptation
of an organism to its environment can be explained by natu-
ral, not supernatural, mechanisms. The abstract for the
article was quite clear: "The manifest fit between organisms
and their environment is a major outcome of evolution."
Some creationists apparently took Lewontin's statements
about 19th century views and made it appear as if Lewontin
himself shared those views. They claimed Lewontin said
something like "organisms appear to have been carefully and
artfully designed," and that he views them as "the chief
evidence of a Supreme Designer." Lewontin specifically
complained about this in the 1983 book _Scientists Confront
Creationism_ by Laurie R. Godfrey, W. W. Norton & Co., New
York, page xxiv, "Introduction":
Partly through honest confusion, but also partly
through a conscious attempt to confuse others, cre-
ationists have muddled the disputes about evolutionary
theory with the accepted fact of evolution to claim
that even scientists call evolution into question. By
melding our knowledge of what has happened in evolu-
tion with our doubts about how this has happened into
a single "theory of evolution," creationists hope to
challenge evolution with evolutionists' own words.
Sometimes creationists plunge more deeply into dishon-
esty by taking statements of evolutionists out of con-
text to make them say the opposite of what was
intended. For example, when, in an article on adapta-
tion, I described the outmoded nineteenth-century
belief that the perfection of creation was the best
evidence of a creator, this description was taken into
creationist literature as evidence for my own rejec-
tion of evolution. Such deliberate misuse of the lit-
erature of evolutionary biology, and the transparent
subterfuge of passing off the Old Testament myth of
creation as if it were creation "science" rather than
the belief of a particular religion, has convinced
most evolutionists that creationism is nothing but an
ill-willed attempt to suppress truth in the interest
of propping up a failing institution. But such a view
badly oversimplifies the situation and misses the deep
social and political roots of creationism.
This misrepresentation of Lewontin appeared in the 1982
book by Francis Hitching, _The Neck of the Giraffe_, (page 84
hardcover; page 65 paperback). Hitching is not a creation-
ist, and Lewontin's complaint leads me to think that a cre-
ationist first misrepresented Lewontin -- Hitching just
lifted the passage. It is known that much of Hitching's
material was borrowed from creationists without attribution.
Later creationist writings in turn borrow heavily from
Hitching, often without attribution.
Does anyone know in which creationist publications, if
any, Lewontin's _Scientific American_ article was first mis-
I intend to collate material like this and post an arti-
cle about creationists plagiarizing each other.
I don't know if it's the first, but it's earlier than the Hitching
example you cited. Lewontin points out that the same passage of his
article was misrepresented in "a recent issue of _Acts & Facts_,"
page two, in John R. Cole's "Misquoted Scientists Respond" (_Creation/
Evolution_, Fall 1981, p. 35). I think Lewontin possibly means _Impact_,
since he says the misrepresentation is by Gary Parker and mentions
"page four of Parker's paper."
> I intend to collate material like this and post an arti-
>cle about creationists plagiarizing each other.
I look forward to seeing this.
Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721