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More Out of Context Quotations of French Scientists

Concerning the quotation with which this section began, let's repeat it here:

"Evolutionism is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless."

- Prof. Louis Bounoure (Former President of the Biological Society of Strasbourg and Director of the Strasbourg Zoological Museum, later Director of Research at the French National Centre of Scientific Research), as quoted in The Advocate, Thursday 8 March 1984, p. 17. (p. 5 of The Revised Quote Book)

Since the Revised Quote Book stated that "Prof. Bounoure" had served as the "Director of Research" at the "French National Centre of Scientific Research" I wrote the Center [The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique = The National Center for Scientific Research]. I asked them about the exact origin of the quotation and received the following reply, dated March 3, 1995 (translated by professional French translator, Jacques Benbassat, with some minor editing and paragraphs re-arranged in an easier to follow order):

Dear Mr. Babinski,

The new director general of the CNRS [i.e., the National Center for Scientific Research in France], Mr. Guy Aubert, has given me your letter of December 6, 1994, in which you requested several points of information concerning the quotations by French scientists, concerning the theory of evolution.

Here is the information I was able to gather:

The beginning of the quotation, "Evolution is a fairy tale for adults" is not from Bounoure but from Jean Rostand, a much more famous French biologist (he was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the French Academy). The precise quotation is as follows: "Transformism is a fairy tale for adults." (Age Nouveau, [a French periodical] February 1959, p. 12). But Rostand has also written that "Transformism may be considered as accepted, and no scientist, no philosopher, no longer discusses [questions - ED.] the fact of evolution." (L'Evolution des Especes [i.e., The Evolution of the Species], Hachette, p. 190). Jean Rostand was ... an atheist.

The [end] of the quotation of Professor Bounoure to which you allude is taken from his book, Determinism and Finality, edited by Flammarion, 1957, p. 79. The precise quotation is the following: "That, by this, evolutionism would appear as a theory without value, is confirmed also pragmatically. A theory must not be required to be true, said Mr. H. Poincare, more or less, it must be required to be useable. Indeed, none of the progress made in biology depends even slightly on a theory, the principles of which [i.e., of how evolution occurs -- ED.] are nevertheless filling every year volumes of books, periodicals, and congresses with their discussions and their disagreements."

[Obviously, Bounoure was expressing his distaste at those in his day who argued over the "principles" of evolution, "how" it took place, whether via Lamarckian or Darwinian "evolutionism." Bounoure probably thought that such "principles" were not worth all the "discussions and disagreements" since they were not well understood, were yet to be discovered, and perhaps might not be discovered, i.e., if supernatural intervention into the evolutionary process was accepted. Bounoure was a theist. He also probably thought that more practical scientific investigations needed to be pursued and less "discussions and disagreements." - ED.]

As far as we know, Louis Bounoure never served as ["Director" nor was even] a member of the CNRS. He was a professor of biology at the University of Strasbourg. Bounoure was a Christian but did not affirm that Genesis was to be taken to the letter. He expressed his ideas in his work. He is clearly "finalist" and against all contingent visions of evolution. ["Finalism" is a philosophical term related to a belief in ultimate purpose or design behind everything, including, in this case, the evolution of the cosmos and of life. - ED.] He bases his views, among other things, on the existence of elements that are pre-adapted for their future

[In my letter to the CNRS I also asked whether the quotation might not have originated with another French scientist, "Paul Lemoine," to whom the televangelist James D. Kennedy has incorrectly attributed the quotation. And here was the answer they gave to that question. -- ED.]

As far as Paul Lemoine is concerned, he is indeed a "famous French scientist" since he was the director of the National Museum of Natural History. In the Encyclopedie Francaise [French Encyclopedia, circa 1950s], volume 5, he wrote the following: "It results from this explanation that the theory of evolution is not exact ... Evolution is a kind of dogma which its own priests no longer believe, but which they uphold for the people. It is necessary to have the courage to state this if only so that men of a future generation may orient their research into a different direction." And this quotation often circulates among anti-evolutionist groups.

Paul Lemoine was an atheist, and he was against the theory of evolution because he felt it was not a good explanation of the origin of living beings and by showing its limits risked to discredit materialism. Although this point was not very clear we believe that when he spoke of "the theory of evolution" he was actually addressing the explanation of specifically [how] evolution [occurred] and not the [more general idea] of evolution itself.

The problem [of the origin of the quotation] apparently stems from the confusion in the discourse of these three scientists between the fact of evolution and the explanation of this fact. None were creationists but they all felt that the explanations given for the understanding of evolution were insufficient, even totally inexact.

This is the information that I am able to give you. if you would like to have more details, you could write to Jean Staune, Institut de Paleontologie Humaine, 1 rue Rene Panhard - 75013 Paris. This institute is associated with our own: The National Center of Scientific Research.

Very truly yours,

Marie-Antoinette de Lumley

Since writing this section on quotations from French scientists, I have browsed the Internet and seen a creationist incorrectly attribute the quotation, "Evolution is a fairy-tale for adults," to "Pierre P. Grasse," the French biologist whom I mentioned earlier and who wrote that evolution was a "fact!"

Some of the responses to a French scientist stating "Evolution is a fairy-tale..." included Jeff Shallit's: "The French have had a bug up their a-- about Darwin since the Origin of Species was published. I think it's a case of the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. I know at least two college educated French people who could not even recognize Darwin's name. Perhaps even today Darwin continues to get short shrift in France. Anyway, the claim that 'evolution is a fairy-tale' is nice, but where's the evidence for a competing theory? We have been waiting years for that evidence."

Speaking of science education in European countries, Omni (Sept. 1987) published a letter by a Mr. Fabio Femino of Messina, Italy, who said that "The doctrine of creation has been taught in Italy's public schools -- by law -- since 1929, displacing the theory of evolution." [Note: Italy remains one third Catholic, one third communist, and one third apathetic toward Catholicism and communism. -- ED.] Mr. Femino continued, "There are no Italian popular science books in bookshops. Popular science magazines are almost unknown. Astrology and witchcraft, however, are spreading fast." [So, teaching creationism to the youth is no cure for either communism or the occult! -- ED.]

And, as apartheid South Africa has taught us, teaching creationism in public schools and churches for a hundred years can also go hand in hand with racism. In fact, some of Carl Sagan's episodes of his popular science program, COSMOS, were banned from being shown on public television in South Africa strictly because they dealt with evolution.

Another correspondent Alan Filipski, added, "The validity of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection does not depend on a quote by anyone, Nobel prize winner or Pope. There are a number of scientists (e.g. Fred Hoyle) who have done great work and also hold eccentric opinions on certain scientific matters. So what? Quotations are not facts about the natural world. Science progresses despite (and sometimes because of) eccentric individuals, but no individual's opinions are revered as facts. The process [of scientific investigation] retains the true and discards the false."


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