Of Pandas and People:
The Central Questions of Biological Origins
Dean of the Liberty Center for Research & Scholarship
Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA 24506-8001
From: PSCF 42 (December 1990): 246-248. Thaxton Responds
Of Pandas and People is intended as a supplementary text for high school biology classes. The authors are Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon, along with the editor, Charles Thaxton, who wrote the last section.
The Positive Value of the Book
There are many positive features about this book. Not the least of these is that it is the first credible attempt of its kind to offer the scientific case for a creationist view in a text intended for public schools and published by a secular publisher. The format and layout of the book are attractive, and most of the charts are well done. It is printed on a sturdy stock, which is essential for classroom use. In general, the literary style communicates well, and there are other helpful features, such as a glossary and self-pronouncing guide. The title is not very descriptive, but this is somewhat redeemed by the subtitle, "The Central Questions of Biological Origins."
On the whole, the scientific accuracy is good and, generally speaking, the
authors do not overstate the case. The age of the earth question is handled very
well, not siding in particular with either the young or old earthers. Given the
space limitations, the treatment is generally comprehensive. All in all, the
authors should be congratulated on a good job. It is the best book available in
its category, but unfortunately it is practically the only book in its category.
Some Difficulties in the Book
Like other books by creationists, there is room for improvement. Some friendly observations and suggestions in various categories are in order.
Errata and other Mistakes
Judgment is spelled with the "e" on pages 32 and 34 (maybe elsewhere), but without it on page 122. Further, it has now been 130 years since Darwin wrote, not 125 as the authors state on page 94. Likewise, it was 1858, not 1859 (p. 108) that Darwin and Wallace jointly presented their paper on natural selection, a year before Darwin's Origin was published. These, of course, are all minor errors and do not affect the central theme of the book.
Comments on Terminology
The authors of Pandas avoid the word "creation" like the plague. Presumably, this is to avert rejection of the text by the secular market. But why should we be paranoid about the word "creation"? Evolutionists use the term. Darwin even called it the "theory of creation" several times in Origin. Synonyms such as "intelligent design" won't fool the enemies of creation and may alienate many of its friends. Anti-creationists will see words like "made," "design," or "artisan" as synonyms with "creation." Sharper opponents to creation will view references to an "intelligent cause" who "made" some "creatures" as verbal hide-and-seek (p. 25). Why not come right out and admit this is a book defending creationism?
Furthermore, by trying to appease one's enemies we may lose our friends. If we water down our view so much, other creationists may not recognize it as a defense of creation, or consider it so anemic that it is ineffective. What is more, the text is not consistent in avoiding the word "creation." It slips in twice on page 133 and once on page 59. Even "special creation" occurs once (p. 107). It would not have diminished the effect of the book to interchange the word "creation" with "design" throughout the book.
Avoiding the word "creator" leads to some cumbersome expressions like "master intellect," "intelligent artisan" and even "primeval intellect," all of which leave something to be desired. Since the word "creator" has always had a non-religious connotation in our language, there is no reason to avoid it like the bubonic plague.
In a few places the authors overstate their case, at least from the strictly
scientific point of view they claim to take. "No one knows"
is too strong a phrase (p. 86). Likewise, "must have originated from
an intelligent cause" is over extended (p. 7). Also, "cannot
be known" should more properly be "is not known" (p.
Comments on Crucial Concepts
The claim that "life can only come from life" (p. 1) will seem inconsistent when the whole thesis of the book is that a pre-life "primeval intellect" produced life. It would be better to say "Non-life does not produce life." For if life only comes from biological life, then it could not come from a non-biological "primeval intelligence."
The argument on page 13 is cast in terms of probability ("How likely is it...?"). However, using probability is also inconsistent with the overall thrust of resting the case on the principle of uniform experience (p. 161). The reason for positing an intelligent cause of first life is not the improbability of natural causes. Instead, it is repeated regularity of an intelligent cause of specified complexity.
Further, the text claims that the creationist's view is not based on "gaps" in the fossil record (p. 100), yet the word "gaps" is used in the heading on the same page and elsewhere in the same context without any quotes around it (pp. 96, 107). This appears to be inconsistent and plays into the evolutionist's hands in ways which creationists wish to avoid, since "gap" may imply that evolution is true but only some evidence is missing.
The authors claim that intelligent design and evolution are considered opposites (p. viii), and yet the possibility of theistic evolution is admitted (p. 113). But since theistic evolutionists believe that the Creator used evolution to design the world, this will seem inconsistent to them.
In my opinion the most serious mistake in the book is the claim that the supernatural has no place in science, an unfortunate reversal of Thaxton's earlier view (see Mystery of Life's Origins, 1984). This claim is calculated no doubt to appease the opponents of creation, but it creates some very serious problems. Pandas insists that science (even origin science) does not deal with the supernatural or even with the philosophical (pp. 155-157). However, origin science by its very nature is philosophical. For it admits that we cannot "see" an intelligent designer but must rather merely "infer" one by use of the philosophical principles of causality and analogy. And in so doing, we are making a rational "inference" to a supra-human (p. 159), "primeval intellect" (p. 33) that is an "outside [of the world] agency"! Origin science is by nature a speculative reconstruction of the past, not an empirically test-able part of operation science. Thaxton acknowledges this when he says it is not empirical but rather "forensic" in nature (p. 157).
By insisting that origin science can have nothing to do with the supernatural, several undesirable consequences follow. First, it disassociates itself from historic (and many contemporary) creationists, indeed, from its very supporting constituency. Second, the "design view" does not distinguish itself from naturalistic (pantheistic) "creationists" who see the creator within the universe. At best, they are very uncomfortable bedfellows. Finally, even if the book is accepted by the academic community, which is doubtful, the victory will be at best a shallow one. In fact, many creationists will consider it a defeat because it capitulates the historic creationist belief in a supernatural Creator.
Using the same kind of principles by which the "design view" claims to be scientific but not philosophical or religious, other creationists can point to a supernatural cause of the universe. All that is needed is the principle of causality plus the empirical evidence for the origin of the material universe. For instance:
1) Every event has a cause (principle of causality). 2) The whole natural universe had a beginning (Second Law of thermo-dynamics, etc.). 3) Therefore, there was a non-natural cause beyond the whole natural universe.
This kind of speculative inference is just as "scientific" (in the sense of an origin science) as is positing a "primeval intelligence" or a "master intellect" of first life. Furthermore, if we allow only causes within the natural universe (whether primary or secondary), we are making a philosophical claim that science is naturalistic. If the authors of Pandas wanted to avoid the question of the supernatural, it would have been better to simply grant that, as far as the argument for an intelligent cause for life goes, they are neither affirming nor denying it is supernatural. But when they go beyond this and claim that "science [even origin science] does not include the supernatural" (p. 161), they have thereby established an implicitly naturalistic nature of science. Many will see it as a betrayal of creationists' cause to claim, as they do, that "the science classroom is not the proper place to introduce either Naturalism or Supernaturalism" (p. 161). Indeed, by denying that in-ference can be made to a supernatural cause from scientific evidence, the book has fallen into the hands of the very naturalists the authors want to avoid. For by disallowing causes beyond nature, it unwittingly capitulates to Naturalism, which claims that only natural causes count in science. It is the word "only" that makes the view a form of Naturalism. So, ironically, this book surrenders to the very enemy creationists have been fighting for so long.