Bookwatch Reviews "Pandas" Issue

Review
Year: 
1989
Reviewer: 
Eugenie C. Scott and Gordon E. Uno
Work under Review
Title: 
Of Pandas and People
Author(s): 
Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, edited by Charles Thaxton

Introduction

Why Pandas and People?

Usually, Bookwatch Reviews publishes analyses of textbooks from mainline publishers whose names and titles are familiar to the educational world. Why have we chosen to pay such attention to the first textbook published by an obscure agricultural publisher, and a supplementary text at that? The reason is that teachers in the U. S. are very likely to be exposed to Of Pandas and People during the coming months, and, as one of our reviewers says, "Teachers should be warned against using this book."

Our reviewers include a prominent paleontologist who has been a classroom teacher and who was one of the authors of the California Science Framework, a science educator who is a past-president of the NSTA, and an internationally-known philosopher of science. All three point out that the book lies outside of science in promoting a sectarian, religious view. The book is cleverly-disguised "scientific" creationism, the "theory" that the six-day Genesis creation story, literally interpreted, can be supported scientifically. Scientific and educational organizations have roundly criticized "scientific" creationism as being bad science and bad education. Consensus opinion is that it has no place being advocated as a scientifically accurate history of the world. Pandas has fooled many teachers and even some scientists because it does not use creationist terms but instead contrasts evolutionary theory with a neologism called the "theory of intelligent design." Although more slickly-produced than most creationist works, Pandas is similarly factually incorrect, and grossly misstates evolutionary theory. As science educator Gerald Skoog says, "This book has no potential to improve science education and student understanding of the natural world."

Of Pandas and People has been promoted vigorously by its publisher in full-page ads in The Science Teacher and other journals, and at teachers' association conventions. It is also being advanced by members of religiously-oriented citizen pressure groups like Concerned Women for America and Citizens for Excellence in Education. Pandas was, at the time of this writing, under consideration for state adoption in both Idaho and Alabama, and will be submitted in Texas and other states in the coming months. In addition, given the grass-roots nature of its promotion, Pandas has a good chance of showing up in local districts of non-adoption states as well. In Alabama, more than 11,000 citizens signed a petition requesting the adoption of this book. In the face of such pressure from non-professionals, science teachers need to have accurate information and analysis. This issue of Bookwatch Reviews is a start towards filling that need.

Eugenie C. Scott, Publisher
Gordon E. Uno, Editor



This introduction was originally published in NCSE's Bookwatch Reviews 2(11) in 1989, and republished in Reviews of Creationist Books, second edition, edited by Liz Rank Hughes (Berkeley: NCSE, 1993). Transcribed for the web by Nick Matzke.

A View From the Past

Review
Year: 
1989
Reviewer: 
Gerald Skoog
Work under Review
Title: 
Of Pandas and People
Author(s): 
Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, edited by Charles Thaxton

Can structures such as fins, feathers, and skulls be the result of "common engineering work of an intelligent artisan?" In answering this question, Charles Thaxton, the Academic Editor for Of Pandas and People, affirmatively sums up the premise of this book which is "life is like a manufactured object, the result of intelligent shaping of matter." In striving to meet the goal of presenting data "that bear on the central question of biological origins," the authors make the following assertions:

a) Messages encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause.

b) Biological structures exhibit the characteristics of manufactured things.

c) Organisms such as giraffes are a package of interrelated adaptations that has resulted from the ability and work of an intelligent designer.

d) An intelligent designer shaped clay into living forms.

e) Various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency with their distinctive features (fins, feathers, etc.) already intact.

f) Similarities among living things are like preassembled units that can be plugged into a complex electronics circuit. They can be varied according to an organism's need to perform particular functions in air or water or on land. Organisms are mosaics made up from units at each biological level.

g) The fossil record is either the result of a catastrophe that followed an initial informative event or a series of informative events by an intelligent designer which matches the record of appearance found in the geological record.

h) The view of intelligent design is rooted in the observation that today human intellect is required to produce the complex arrangements of matter we see in computers, literary works, and bridges. If the present is a key to the past, then an intelligent cause similar to human intellect must have accounted for all relevantly similar complex assemblages in the past.

In assessing this list of claims and propositions, Thaxton's assertion that "Darwin did not disprove intelligent design, he simply argued there is no need for it" seems relevant. The claim that life is the result of a design created by an intelligent cause cannot be tested and is not within the realm of science. Also, as implied by Darwin, the explanatory power and usefulness of the dicta of intelligent design in directing research and understanding the natural world make them peripheral to the study of biology. Observations of the natural world also make this dicta suspect. Stephen Jay Gould in The Panda's Thumb argued that "ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution" and that "odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proofs of evolution – paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process constrained by history, follows perforce." Gould uses the orchid, which he describes as a "collection of parts generally fashioned for other purposes," and the panda's thumb, which he described as a contraption that is a modified radial sesamoid bone and anatomically not a finger, as examples that reflect evolution in nature rather than intelligent design.

In 1886, Thomas Huxley argued in his book Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews that the hypothesis of special creation was not only a "specious mask of our ignorance" but its "existence in Biology marks the youth and imperfections of the science." Huxley indicated the history of every science involved the "elimination of the notion of creative or other interferences with the natural order of the phenomena which are subject matter of that science." He indicated that when astronomy was a young science "the morning starts sang together for joy" and the "planets were guided on their courses by celestial hands." In 1989, Of Pandas and People represents the continued efforts of a vanguard to keep an earlier and less mature view of the world entrenched in biology classrooms.

The view that life is the result of design by an intelligent cause was in the mainstream of American thought as late as the nineteenth century. Prior to the Civil War, nearly every college and university had a natural philosophy course that was built around the basic tenets presented in this book. The course was so important it generally was taught by the school's president. In the late 1800s, the faculty at John Hopkins University revised the biological sciences curriculum and eliminated the emphasis on creative design and other creationist tenets. Other colleges and universities eventually did likewise. These actions were not the result of censorship or abridgement of academic freedom. Creationist ideas, which were once in the center of human thought, had become fringe ideas that had no power to explain the natural world. Today, they remain fringe ideas that have no legitimate place in the study of biology beyond their historical significance as ideas that once dominated human thought.

Because of legislative and judicial setbacks in their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution or to neutralize it with equal treatment of creationism, the antievolutionists now are focusing their attach on evolution. This book reflects that strategy. Also, the antievolutionists are interpreting the statement in Edward V. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 96(1987) that indicated "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction" as support for the teaching of creationist tenets. Undoubtedly, the authors also were encouraged by the Texas State Board of Education's guidelines for the upcoming adoption of biology and elementary science textbooks that mandate the coverage of "scientific theories of evolution and other reliable scientific theories, if any." As stated by Robert Simonds in the creationist publication "Impact" (October, 1989), there are many school administrators, school board members, and teachers who are "closet creationists" who want to support creationist views. This book may find favor with these individuals. No one, however, should be seduced by the argument that the idea "life is the result of an intelligent plan conceived by an intelligent agent" is a scientific theory or model, and as such, should be studied by students to balance or neutralize the teaching of evolution. Clearly, Pandas is being used as a vehicle to advance sectarian tenets and not to improve science education. This book has no potential to improve science education and student understanding of the natural world.

Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker asserted that "biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose" and that "all appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit displayed in a very special way." The authors of Pandas have been seduced by the complicated nature of life and, undoubtedly, by other factors to see purpose and design in nature. As a result they cling to an outmoded orthodoxy that represents poor science. No benefit could be achieved by emphasizing this orthodoxy in the biology classroom of this nation.

Gerald Skoog is Professor and Chairperson of Educational Leadership and Secondary Education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and was President of the National Science Teachers Association in 1985-86.


Note: This review was originally published in Bookwatch Reviews 2(11) in 1989, and republished in Reviews of Creationist Books, second edition, edited by Liz Rank Hughes (Berkeley: NCSE, 1993). Transcribed for the web by Nick Matzke and Glenn Branch.

Gross Misrepresentation

Review
Year: 
1989
Reviewer: 
Kevin Padian
Work under Review
Title: 
Of Pandas and People
Author(s): 
Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, edited by Charles Thaxton
Of Pandas and People is a wholesale distortion of modern biology. It is straight fundamentalist creationism, but this may not be apparent to many readers because the philosophy is couched in a user-friendly voice, with plenty of slick graphics and nice photographs. The text seems sweetly reasonable, but as one reads farther and deeper, the tone becomes angrier and the distortions of science more pervasive.

This book purports to present for teachers "reliable information on plausible alternatives to balance their curriculum." What it presents instead is the same old dichotomy of evolution vs. sudden creation that allows no accommodation for intermediate views, for religious scientists or laymen who think that it is possible to approach the ways of God through science, or for scientists who carry out science without a preconceived idea of "intelligent design." The theme of "intelligent design" consists mostly of denying any possibility of evolution, and explaining all the evidence adduced for it as "specially created." Thus, homology cannot result from descent, biochemical similarity must be functional in some way because it is not inherited, and the fossil record is a grand illusion.

Particularly illuminating in this regard is the authors' discussion of punctuated equilibrium as a manifestation of "intelligent design." So species don't change gradually in many or most cases through their brief durations in the fossil record. So they are quickly replaced by very similar (daughter) species, which in turn are replaced through time. Evolutionists recognize this pattern (not mechanism, contrary to the authors) as the groundplan of phylogenetic divergence, regardless of how little or how much change occurs in a single species. Not so with these proponents of "intelligent design." They would have you believe that a Creator plucked up each individual species when its time on Earth was over, and replaced it with a similar, apparently as well adapted, but not descendant species.

How could this claim possibly be scientific? How can we investigate it? The authors admit that this is a difficult matter. A lot remains to be done, they conclude, by "design proponents." They say, "... scenarios (about the past) ... win our allegiance by being reasonable in light of the total evidence, not because they are proven. Without observation or testing, as could be done for a theory of planetary motion, there is no 'proof' or 'disproof'." This is a complete distortion. All scientific theories strive to be reasonable in light of the evidence. Observation and testing are constantly being carried out on the evidence from the fossil record. And no theories in science are ever "proven."

The fallacies in this catalog of errors are as predictable and shopworn as a Henny Youngman monologue. The text suggests that life appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian, when in in fact it is only the hard shells of metazoans that are first found with any abundance during the Cambrian. These particular phyla appear in the record through the whole extent of the Cambrian, probably due more to geochemical than biological processes; and moreover, the first life is nearly 3 billion years more ancient, though the authors neglect to mention this or separate the Cambrian explosion from the origin of life. Gaps in the fossil record are magnified and worried over, and Darwin's "gravest objection to my theory" is once again twisted to mean the absence of biological evidence, instead of the incompleteness of the geological record, which is what Darwin meant. Archaeopteryx is hopelessly misinterpreted; the authors have neglected to study the copious work on the origin of birds that has made the last two decades the most exciting for the solution to this question. Several hundred shared derived evolutionary features show that birds are descended from small carnivorous dinosaurs, yet this book tells students that the putative ancestor was a "thecodont," a term that is not even used any more by vertebrate paleontologists. Active scientists in this field no longer consider that fishes gave rise to amphibians, which gave rise to reptiles, which gave rise to mammals. It is manifestly clear, instead, that the first tetrapod emerged from lobe-finned marine forms, that both the true amphibians and the first amniotes diversified from the former, and that amniotes quickly split into lineages leading to the mammals (synapsids) and the true reptiles (including birds). However, the past two decades of research are completely omitted from this text.

Equally shameful is the authors' treatment of homology. They pretend that the Tasmanian wolf, a marsupial, would be placed with the placental wolf if evolutionists weren't so hung up on the single character of their reproductive mode by which marsupials and placentals are traditionally separated. This is a complete falsehood, as anyone with access to the evidence knows. It is not a matter of a single reproductive character, but dozens of characters in the skull, teeth, post-cranial bones (including the marsupial pelvic bones), soft anatomy, and biochemistry, to say nothing of their respective fossil records, that separate the two mammals. About the closest similarity they have going for them is that they are both called "wolf" in English. The same criticism can be applied seriatim to the authors' mystifying discussion of the red and giant "pandas."

Finally, there is a warped chapter of biochemistry taken wholesale from that compendium of misinformation, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. The authors pretend that there is a "ladder of life," and organisms that have apparently diverged early on from this sequence are somehow frozen in time, retaining "primitive" as opposed to "advanced" features. Hence, in their view of evolution, because "fish" are supposed to have evolved into "amphibians," fishes should have cytochromes most similar to those of amphibians. Instead, all the tetrapod are equally distant from the fish. Of course, this is exactly what is to be expected from evolution, because the ancestors of the living fish tested diverged from those of the tetrapod, and their cytochrome evolved as those of the tetrapod were evolving along separate pathways. This is why the fish is equidistant from the tetrapod. This is also why the bacterium Rhodospirillum is equidistant from all the vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and yeast tested. Not to present the standard, internally and independently consistent evolutionary explanation of these results is inexcusable and incompetent. The following page presents the same misinformation, pretending that the consistent number of differences between the cytochrome c of the carp and of the bullfrog (13), turtle (13), chicken (14), rabbit (13), and horse (13) implies that they all might have equally well diverged independently from the carp, rather than the carp having diverged independently from the tetrapod 500 million years ago.

Of Pandas and People is a tract on hard-shell fundamentalist creationism in disguise. This underlying theme never speaks its name in this tract, but it is there nonetheless. It is hard to say what is worst in this book: the misconceptions of its sub-text, the intolerance for honest science, or the incompetence with which science is presented. In any case, teachers should be warned against using this book.

Kevin Padian (as of 2004):
Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley
Curator of Paleontology, University of California Museum of Paleontology
Berkeley, CA

Kevin Padian is a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley. He is one of the authors of the new California Science Framework.


This review was originally published in Bookwatch Reviews 2(11) in 1989, and republished in Reviews of Creationist Books, second edition, edited by Liz Rank Hughes (Berkeley: NCSE, 1993). Transcribed for the web by Glenn Branch and Nick Matzke.

They're Here!

Review
Year: 
1989
Reviewer: 
Michael Ruse
Work under Review
Title: 
Of Pandas and People
Author(s): 
Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, edited by Charles Thaxton
Several years ago, I was a witness in Arkansas testifying against a bill pased into law mandating the teaching of Biblical literalism, alongside evolution, in state schools. The ACLU brought suit on the grounds that this violated the separation of Church and State. The law was thrown out, as was right and proper, but I still remember what one of the ACLU lawyers said: "Don't think the Creationists will go away. They won't! They'll just regroup and be smarter and sneakier next time."

I am afraid the lawyer was right, as this book under review — whose title has the gall to echo a work of one of the other ACLU witnesses, Stephen Jay Gould — shows only too well. The early creationist publications were crude affairs, not the least in their physical appearance. The leader of the pack, Duane T. Gish's Evolution, the Fossils Say No!, may well have sold over 150,000 copies as its cover proudly proclaimed. Yet, it was a cheap-looking thing on second-rate paper with flawed print and with contents that were little better.

Now, we have Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins — clean, crisp, beautifully-illustrated, with attractive photographs. There is even the "mandatory" Gary Larson cartoon (a good one, too!). But, it is as bogus as ever, maybe even more so than were the original productions of Gish and friends. They, at least, let you know their thesis clearly — 6,000 years of Earth history, six days of Creation, and an enormous flood. In Of Pandas and People, the real (same old) message is carefully concealed until you are well and truly hooked. You are, as with a judicious lecture, given an apparently disinterested discussion of rival views — evolution and design (more on this latter term in a moment). You are, as in a real textbook, taken through the various branches of biological science. (This, at least, is an improvement, since previously one tended to begin and end with the fossil record.) You are, as in a scholarly text, given plausible quotes from eminent scientists in the field — Ernst Mayr and the like. You are, however, in these types of books, plunked down on the side of evangelical religion.
Any view of theory of origins must be held in spite of unsolved problems; proponents of both views acknowledge this. Such uncertainties are part of the healthy dynamic that drives science. However, without exaggeration, there is impressive and consistent evidence, from each area we have studied, for the view that living things are the product of intelligent design.
Beneath the gloss of the text, one soon starts to turn up familiar pseudo-arguments.
Many design proponents and some evolutionists believe Archaeopteryx was a true bird, capable of powered flight. The fact that it possessed reptilian features not found in most other birds does not require a relationship between birds and reptiles, anymore than the duck-billed platypus, a mammal, must be related to a duck.
Well, if you believe that, you will believe anything! You might believe, for instance, that, as we read earlier in the book, Ernst Mayr thinks so poorly of the Origin of Species that his views merit being included in a section on "The failure of natural selection." Or you might believe that Stephen Gould and David Raup think that the fossil record gaps spell "Big Trouble" for evolutionists. Or you might believe that the molecules tell nothing of homology and evolution, as the book suggests.

This book is worthless and dishonest — but slick and appealing, so be on your guard. And, let me (for what seems the millionth time in my life) protest at the Creationists appropriating exclusively unto themselves the mantle of religion. The world of life may or may not be designed. But the argument is not that the choice is between an exclusive disjunction of evolution and design. I believe that if God chooses to do things through unbroken law, then that is God's business, not ours. What is our business is the proper use of our God-given powers of sense and reason, to follow fearlessly where the quest for truth leads. Where it does not lead is to the pages of the book Of Pandas and People.

Michael Ruse is Professor of Philosophy and Zoology at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, where he studies philosophy of science and the history of Darwinism. Author of several books, his most recent is The Darwinian Paradigm, published in 1989 by Routledge.

Michael Ruse (as of 2004)
Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL


This review was originally published in Bookwatch Reviews 2(11) in 1989, and republished in Reviews of Creationist Books, second edition, edited by Liz Rank Hughes (Berkeley: NCSE, 1993). Transcribed for the web by Nick Matzke.