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Critique: "Of Pandas and People"

Of Pandas and People, the foundational work of the 'Intelligent Design' movement

by Nick Matzke

The creationist textbook Of Pandas and People was published in 1989 (second edition, 1993). This was the first book to frequently use now-common buzzwords such as "intelligent design," "design proponents," and "design theory." As such, Pandas represents the beginning of the modern "intelligent design" movement.

This fact is obscured in most recountings of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, which usually credit Phillip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial and subsequent books by Behe (Darwin's Black Box, 1996) and Dembski (The Design Inference, 1998) as building the intellectual foundation of the scientific movement of Intelligent Design. In fact, all of the basic arguments of these ID proponents are found in essentially modern form in the 1989 Of Pandas and People (Behe's irreducibly complexity argument is found in the 1993 edition of Pandas). The textbook came first, and the "research" to support it came many years later. Thus, if ID ever does succeed, it will be the first movement in the history of science that began in a high school textbook and then "filtered up" to acceptance by the scientific research community.

Pandas was actively promoted for public school use by creationists, starting in Alabama in 1989 and continuing throughout the 1990's. After 2000, Pandas activity largely died down (the last edition having been published in 1993), but in 2004 the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania accepted an anonymous donation of 50 copies of the Pandas book, now 11 years old. The board subsequently passed a policy mandating the teaching of ID, attracting national media attention.

The Dover event prompted NCSE to dust off its old Pandas files, including book reviews and descriptions of previous Pandas battles in NCSE Reports. They are presented here in digital form in the interest of making readers more aware of this foundational, but little-known, episode in the history of intelligent design.