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The 'New Pandas' -- A Note To Teachers

A Note To Teachers

This replaces the section "A Word to the Teacher" written by the "Academic Editor" Charles B. Thaxton, that appeared in the 1st edition. The present section, written by Mark D. Hartwig and Stephen C Meyer, tries to make the same points that Thaxton did, namely, that somehow the concept of a supernatural creator is scientific!

Hartwig and Meyer say that Stephen Gould pronounced the neo-Darwinian synthesis effectively dead. Actually Gould (Gould, 1980, p. 120) stated that only a particular version of the synthetic theory, based on a 1963 quote of Ernst Mayr, was effectively dead. Surely Gould would not have said that about a later version (Mayr, 1967) which included, as a central tenet, Mayr's peripatric speciation (which later became Gould's punctuated Equilibrium!) Also, Gould is a champion of Darwin, of natural selection, "the pearl of great price" at the center of Darwinism, and the creativity of natural selection (Gould, 1976).

An Opportunity

Teaching about alternative explanations and controversies in science certainly has pedagogical value. Unfortunately Pandas advocates a nonscientific alternative which it supports by distortions, errors and untruths about the evidence and about the theory of evolution.

The Status Of Evolution As A Fact (The First Misconception)

This section is organized after Thomson (1982) who indicated that there were three meanings for the word evolution.

The first meaning is "change over time" and is based on the fact that there are sequences of fossils in the geologic strata. Hence the kinds of organisms present on earth have changed over time in a general progression where, as time passes, the forms become more like those existing today. This is based on the assumption that the various geologic strata were laid down in a time sequence extending far back into the history of the earth. Almost everyone accepts this: evolutionists (Darwinian, non-Darwinian and theistic), and all progressive creationists, including Pandas. The only people who reject it are the 6 day (young earth) creationists, who claim that all the geologic strata were laid down during the one year of Noah's Flood.

The second meaning that "all organisms are related by descent through common ancestry" is based on the law that "all life comes from life" a principle based on our knowledge of the present. Hence organisms that formed fossils in younger strata must be descendants of organisms that formed fossils in the older strata. This is accepted as a fact by all evolutionists and most progressive creationists. Ambrose (1982), who realizes that the supernatural provides no understanding, tries to minimize it in his hypothesis of progressive creation. Thus he envisions a continuity of descent, new forms arising though speciation by punctuated evolution but with the designer modifying the DNA (Ambrose, 1982, pp. 143, 161, 164.) Pandas apparently believe that the designer made each successive form anew although it might have made use of the blueprints of previous organisms (Pandas, p. 42.) Thus Pandas is rejecting the law that "all life comes from life." Clearly this is all sheer speculation about the supernatural which we shall never be able to investigate, test, or understand.

The third meaning refers to the "explanatory mechanism" of evolution. The Darwinian mechanism (mutation, genetic recombination, reproduction, and natural selection) can be studied in nature and in the laboratory at the present time in a fashion typical of an inductive or theoretical science. Does our evidence of the nature of past life correspond to what we would expect on the basis of Darwinism? Whenever that evidence has been sufficiently detailed, the answer is: yes! The explanation is still strictly theoretical because we cannot actually observe this mechanism operating in the past. This theory is accepted by Darwinian evolutionists and some theistic evolutionists. It also is accepted by most non-Darwinians evolutionists and progressive creationists for microevolution. Non-Darwinian evolutionists postulate other mechanisms for macroevolution, but so far none have been proposed that have any scientific validity.

On the other hand, Pandas claims that "a growing minority of scientists" see intelligent design "as a plausible alternative..." to Darwinism. This comes from Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen (1984, pp. 203-212). But since we know nothing about the nature of these designers, have never had any experience with such supernatural entities and can never hope to have any, how can we know that this idea is plausible? What do we have to compare it with? Plausibility has no meaning in regard to the supernatural!

Science And The Laws Of Nature (The Second Misconception)

Pandas still doesn't realize that the intelligent design explanations of science involve natural designers. Humans are natural entities whose functioning obeys natural laws. Thus anthropologists may study and try to reinvent the techniques of stone tool making as practiced by ancient hominids (Howell et al, 1965, pp. 110-113).

All scientific explanations of specific phenomena involve the application of laws and theories to specific conditions (see the supplement on Science.) Such instance usually involve discovering and testing the specific conditions that predict the observations. In this sense the theoretical and historical sciences (to use Popper's terms (Popper, 1957) are the same. They differ only in that the historical sciences are concerned almost exclusively with explaining specific instances while the theoretical sciences also test general laws and theories. The testing of general laws and theories also must be done with respect to specific instances, but usually takes the specific conditions as given.

The historical sciences seek to understand how things came to be by applying the laws and theories (natural mechanisms) of the present world, as discovered by the inductive (theoretical) sciences, to the past. The Darwinian mechanism (the interplay of mutation, genetic recombination, reproduction and natural selection) can be studied in the present day by the theoretical sciences and applied to the past, to explain the arrays of fossils and various features of anatomy, physiology, development, etc. of present day organisms. The process is completely analogous to a forensic scientist trying to reconstruct a murder (the specific conditions) which, in conjunction with known scientific laws and theories, will explain the evidence gathered from the corpse and the crime scene. Postulating a supernatural demon that struck down the victim through some sort of "spell" would be laughed out of court. Postulating supernatural intelligent intervention is completely inappropriate in any science, inductive or historical!

Observability (The Third Misconception)

All scientific theories entail mechanisms that feature unobservable entities: atoms, electrons, all the elementary particles of physics, electromagnetic fields, etc. But all these entities are assigned specific properties which allow the scientist to make predictions that can be tested. The invisible and supernatural intelligent designer exists only as a simple, amorphous idea from which no logical predictions can be deduced.

Intelligent design assumes an intelligent designer (i.e. creator) or designers (creators) who are beyond scientific study. We cannot study any present day activities of such designers to learn anything about their properties. In fact there are no present day observations that require the designers to be at work at the present time. Not knowing anything about the intelligent designers, the intelligent design advocate cannot produce any specific observable consequences (predictions) of their hypothesis which would allow it to be tested. All such "predictions" of intelligent design advocates (or creationists) are simply ad hoc statements which might falsify evolution if true. Take for example, the assertion (p. 160) that: "the concept of intelligent design predicts that complex information, such as that encoded in a functioning genome, never arises from purely chemical or physical antecedents."

From what basic postulates of the intelligent design hypothesis and by what deductive steps is this statement derived? The answer is not to be found in Pandas. And exactly what does "arises from purely chemical or physical antecedents" mean? Does the Darwinian mechanism fall under this rubric? Clearly the Darwinian mechanism is a purely natural (as opposed to supernatural) process. Certainly new genes are duplications of old genes (arising by well-understood genetic processes) that have become different through the Darwinian mechanism. This certainly happens in microevolution, which Pandas accepts! It would falsify the prediction. Yet it obviously it doesn't conflict with the idea of intelligent designers as far as Pandas is concerned. Pandas simply denies that microevolutionary changes can be extrapolated into macroevolutionary changes.

As another example of an ad hoc prediction, Pandas would claim that the intelligent design hypothesis predicts that transition forms did not exist and will not be found, but Ambrose' version would predict that such forms did exist.

Religion And Intelligent Design (The Fourth Misconception)

The people who adamantly insist on teaching "intelligent design" in science classes are the young earth creationists, who will identify it with fundamentalist religion! As I have shown, the supernatural design hypothesis makes no contribution to science. In scientific terms it is equivalent to "we don't know." Because it makes no logically justifiable predictions, its only possible empirical support is negative. If our scientific theories fail, one can always give up and say "we don't know." At present Darwinism is the only scientific theory of biological origins (Denton, 1985, p. 355.)

To summarize...

The intelligent design hypothesis actually denies the principle of uniformity (Pandas, pp. 56, 64) and the law that "life comes from life" (Pandas, pp. 42-43)! In the past supernatural creators made living things. They are no longer doing so. Today all living things come from previously living things. True, scientists claim that at one time in the remote past, the earliest life developed from nonliving sources, but this came about through natural physical and chemical processes that can be investigated in the present day.

References

Ambrose, E. J. 1982. The Nature and Origin of the Biological World. Halsted Press. New York.

Denton, M. 1986. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Adler and Adler. Bethesda, Maryland.

Gould, S. J. 1976. Darwin's Untimely Burial. Natural History LXXXV(8): 24-30. (October).

Gould, S. J. 1980. Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging? Paleobiology 6(1): 119-130.

Howell, F. C. and the Editors of LIFE. 1965. Early Man. Time Inc. New York.

Mayr, E. 1967. Evolutionary Challenges to the Mathematical Interpretation of Evolution. In: P. Moorehead and M. M. Kaplan (editors). Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution. Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, pp. 47-58.

Popper, K. R. 1957. The Poverty of Historicism. Boston. The Beacon Press.

Thaxton, C. B., W. L. Bradley and R. L. Olsen. 1984. The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. Philosophical Library Publishers. New York.

Thomson, K. S. 1982. Marginalia: The meanings of evolution. American Scientist 70(5): 529-531 (September-October).


(from Frank Sonleitner's critique of Of Pandas and People)