With additional dialogue by…

One of the great stories about American cinema is that in credits for the 1929 Pickford-Fairbanks film version of “The Taming of the Shrew” was the line “With Additional Dialog by Sam Taylor”. Most unfortunately, it would seem that this just isn’t so, and it’s an urban legend. So, why is this turning up in my atheism blog?

The (unfortunately) well-known creationist Ray Comfort, who runs a number of websites aimed at discrediting evolution and/or atheism has re-published Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. Rather cheekily, this seems to be credited at amazon.co.uk as being written by Charles Darwin and Ray Comfort (it has to be said, in the interests of truth, that the cover image provided by Amazon.co.uk – pictured right – makes no mention of Ray banana man Comfort). Furthermore, judging from the reviews of this edition at amazon.co.uk, the initial listing conflated reviews of this version (bowdlerised not only by inclusion of Comfort’s crass creationist introduction but also by excision of key material) mixed with reviews of more acceptable editions. It would seem that the resounding raspberry of the seven reviews to date are now specifically associated with this version.

There has been an ongoing debate over this edition of Origins over at the US News website, beginning with NCSE Director Eugenie Scott’s piece (How Creationist ‘Origin’ Distorts Darwin) and Comfort’s attempts at justification. Scott pointed out Comfort’s evisceration of Origins:

Unfortunately, it will be hard to thoroughly read the version that Comfort will be distributing on college campuses in November. The copy his publisher sent me is missing no fewer than four crucial chapters, as well as Darwin’s introduction. Two of the omitted chapters, Chapters 11 and 12, showcase biogeography, some of Darwin’s strongest evidence for evolution. Which is a better explanation for the distribution of plants and animals around the planet: common ancestry or special creation? Which better explains why island species are more similar to species on the mainland closest to them, rather than to more distant species that share a similar environment? The answer clearly is common ancestry. Today, scientists continue to develop the science of biogeography, confirming, refining, and extending Darwin’s conclusions.

Likewise missing from Comfort’s bowdlerized version of the Origin is Chapter 13, where Darwin explained how evolution makes sense of classification, morphology, and embryology. To take a simple example, why do all land vertebrates (amphibians, mammals, and reptiles and birds) have four limbs? Not because four limbs are necessarily a superior design for land locomotion: insects have six, arachnids have eight, and millipedes have, well, lots. It’s because all land vertebrates descended with modification from a four-legged (“tetrapod”) ancestor. Since Darwin’s era, scientists have repeatedly confirmed that the more recently two species have shared a common ancestor, the more similar are their anatomy, their biochemistry, their embryology, and their genetics.

The blogosphere has been full of protests about this edition of Origins – I can’t list all articles, but here are two links to PZ Myers’ Pharyngula: Ray Comfort is a parasite (in relation to which, I note that Comfort’s bowdlerised version no longer tops the list in the search results at amazon.com) and Ray Comfort Replies to Eugenie Scott.

(This post was composed offline and submitted via Bilbo Blogger, now sadly renamed Blogilo. Let’s see how well it works!)

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