Quote: Richard Lewontin

On page 143 of the Jehovah's Witnesses book Life: How did it get here? we find the quote:

Zoologist Richard Lewontin said that organisms 'appear to have been carefully and artfully designed.' He views them as 'the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer.'
but compare that to
Lewontin himself, complaining about this exact same misquotation as presented in an issue of the Institute for Creation Research's Acts & Facts: "But the point of my article, 'Adaptation' in Scientific American, from which these snippets were lifted, was precisely that the 'perfection of organisms' is often illusory and that any attempt to describe organisms as perfectly adapted is destined for serious contradictions. Moreover, the appearance of careful and artful design was taken in the nineteenth century before Darwin as 'the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer.' The past tense of my article ('It was the marvelous fit of organisms to the environment ... that was the chief evidence of Supreme Designer') has been conveniently dropped by creationist [Gary] Parker in his attempt to pass off this ancient doctrine as modern science."

Lewontin, "Misquoted Scientists Respond," Creation/Evolution VI, Fall 1981, p. 35.

Hector Avalos, "The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Society," Free Inquiry, vol. 12, no. 2, Spring 1992, pp. 28-31.

In short, Dr. Lewontin was clearly referring to the opinions of people long dead. He stated those opinions as part of explaining why he thinks those opinions are wrong. The quotes, as given, are a fraud.

Here is what he actually thinks:

It is time for students of the evolutionary process, especially those who have been misquoted and used by the creationists, to state clearly that evolution is a FACT, not theory, and that what is at issue within biology are questions of details of the process and the relative importance of different mechanisms of evolution. It is a FACT that the earth with liquid water, is more than 3.6 billion years old. It is a FACT that cellular life has been around for at least half of that period and that organized multicellular life is at least 800 million years old. It is a FACT that major life forms now on earth were not at all represented in the past. There were no birds or mammals 250 million years ago. It is a FACT that major life forms of the past are no longer living. There used to be dinosaurs and Pithecanthropus, and there are none now. It is a FACT that all living forms come from previous living forms. Therefore, all present forms of life arose from ancestral forms that were different. Birds arose from nonbirds and humans from nonhumans. No person who pretends to any understanding of the natural world can deny these facts any more than she or he can deny that the earth is round, rotates on its axis, and revolves around the sun.

The controversies about evolution lie in the realm of the relative importance of various forces in molding evolution.

R. C. Lewontin "Evolution/Creation Debate: A Time for Truth" Bioscience 31, 559 (1981) reprinted in Evolution versus Creationism J. Peter Zetterberg ed., ORYX Press, Phoenix AZ 1983

Dr. Lewontin has co-authored papers with Dr. Stephen Jay Gould. Gould has made similar statements about being misquoted.

Last modified: 20 May 1997

Up to the quotes page.

Back to the Creation/Evolution page.

Email a comment.

Search this web site