Reviewer: Michael Ruse
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
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.