Dialogue

 

Thaxton Replies to Geisler

Charles B. Thaxton, Ph.D. 
Academic Editor of  Of Pandas and People  
Julian Center #400 Julian, CA 92036-0400 

From: PSCF 42 (December 1990): 248-249.

As an avid reader of reviews, I am always intrigued by the rare book that draws the praises of leaders on both sides of a debate. When both sides roundly criticize a work I usually conclude it is probably not worth reading. But what should a reader do in the case of Of Pandas and People, a book which purports to be about the science of biology for high school, and which is being rebuked by some scientists for being a religious tract, and by some theologians for eliminating the supernatural? In this case I am especially interested because I served both as developer of the book's approach and academic editor for the project.

Several critics in Bookwatch Reviews, a publication of the National Center for Science Education, wrote that "Teachers should be warned against using this book."1 According to them Pandas "lies outside of science in promoting a sectarian, religious view."2 Their biggest concern, however, is that unsuspecting teachers will be seduced by this work of "cleverly-disguised `scientific creationism.' "3 In the opinion of Gerald Skoog, science textbook analyst from Texas Tech University, "This book has no potential to improve science education and student understanding of the natural world."4 Kevin Padian, a Berkeley paleontologist and one of the authors of the new California Science Framework, can't decide "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."5 Michael Ruse, a philosophy of science professor at Guelph University and an expert witness for the ACLU during the Arkansas creation case, said in his characteristically sweeping style, "This book is worthless and dishonest."6

It must surely come as a shock to the above reviewers to learn that Dr. Geisler, mercilessly branded as a "creationist know-nothing" during the Arkansas creation trial, concludes that Pandas goes so far as to deny the supernatural, and "unwittingly capitulates to Naturalism."7

So, which reading of Pandas is correct: the critics' of Bookwatch Review or Geisler's? Instead of giving a detailed response, I will address what I believe are Dr. Geisler's main points. In addition I would like to issue a challenge to the membership of ASA to debate the issue of whether, as I claim in the "Word to the Teacher" in Pandas, intelligent causes are acceptable in science. My contention is that intelligent cause has never been eliminated as a legitimate candidate for a cause in science. Currently, intelligent cause is used in some areas of science, e.g., archaeology and the SETI program. We only extended its use into the realm of biology, not by dogmatic assertion, but by legitimate inference. We chose not to use the traditional terminology of creation and creator in order to emphasize that our case was based on experience, not the Bible. Dr. Geisler is correct, of course, that the words creation and creator have a secular usage. What we wanted to "avoid like the plague" was our readers' thinking we were reading Genesis into science.

For Geisler, our offense in using the term "intelligent cause" seems to have been that we did not make a definitive statement as to philosophical category when we used it. We did not do so on purpose. We meant to be equivocal. When someone affirms by experience that some phenomenon had a natural cause, does it automatically inform us as to his or her metaphysical commitment? Of course not. This has been and is part of the genius of modern science. Both theists and atheists can practice science. Theistic scientists may say to themselves that God is above or behind the recurring natural processes they describe, and atheistic scientists may mumble under their breath that nature is all there is. What they say in print or utter in public forums, however, is that the particular phenomenon under discussion is explicable in natural cause terms. We only want the same courtesy extended to intelligent cause, where experience justifies, to use it in a generic sense without it automatically being used to determine one's metaphysical stance.

Yes, I did say that "science does not include the supernatural." But does that make me opposed to the supernatural? Would a blind man be opposed to color because he does not see a rainbow? Rather, would it not be that a blind man simply lacks any sensory means for detecting it? That is my claim for why science does not include the supernatural. It is not for Dr. Geisler's supposed reason of opposition, but simply that with the methods of sensory experience we do not apprehend the supernatural. Because of the limitations on the methods of science we were left with no alternative but to leave the identity of the intelligent cause affirmed by experience unspecified as to philosophical category.

It seems to me the Bookwatch reviewers merely assumed that by intelligent cause we meant supernatural creator, and objected. Geisler, on the other hand, saw the claim that science does not apprehend the supernatural, and concluded we were denying the supernatural. We tried to limit ourselves to what could be legitimately said on the basis of experience, without regard to metaphysical stance, just as above in the case with natural cause.

Dr. Geisler points out correctly that our " `design view' does not distinguish itself from naturalistic (pantheistic) `creationists' who see the creator within the universe."8 He may be uncomfortable with this, but how else can we teach biological origins in public school science classes, including the case for intelligent cause, without it being apologetics? If the Creator could make birds, trees and butterflies without labels saying "made by God," why is it not okay for us to remain equivocal as to cause?

Both the critics of Bookwatch Review and Dr. Geisler seem to have adopted a natural/supernatural dichotomy in reading Of Pandas and People. In other words, they have read a purported science work through the glasses of metaphysics. Natural/supernatural is appropriate language for discussing metaphysics. And even though scientists practice their science within the framework of some kind of metaphysics, science itself neither affirms nor denies the supernatural. Likewise science neither affirms nor denies that nature is all there is. Science is quite simply blind to metaphysics, which people choose or adopt for themselves based on a host of factors, perhaps including science itself.

The issue involved in an examination of Of Pandas and People is much larger than the merits of this one book. Is it possible, or is it not, to make a case for intelligent design without embracing strictly theological answers instead of scientific ones? If it is possible, and we have failed, then there is hope that someone may do it. If it is not, then in principle we are left with only natural cause answers in science. Many scientists have justified their stance of philosophical naturalism on this logic.

Our aim in Of Pandas and People was to present an intelligent cause origins perspective for high school biology without bias in favor of either theism or naturalism. Just as it is possible to maintain a natural cause perspective on biological origins without becoming a humanist or a philosophical naturalist, so it is possible to hold an intelligent cause biological origins perspective without becoming a pantheist or bringing the supernatural into science. In other words this approach shows how to make an intelligent cause origins case for biology without indoctrinating in either theism or naturalism, thus preserving the integrity of science. I do appreciate Dr. Geisler's review and the opportunity to respond to it here. 

1990

Notes

1Bookwatch Reviews, Volume 2, Number 11, 1989, p. 1. Published by the National Center for Science Education, Inc., P.O. Box 9477, Berkeley, CA 94709. Eugenie C. Scott, publisher, Gordon E. Uno, ed. 2ibid. 
3ibid. 
4
Gerald Skoog, p. 2. 
5Kevin Padian, p. 4. 
6
Michael Ruse, p. 4. 
7
Norman L. Geisler, PS&CF, this issue, p. 248. 
8
Geisler, PS&CF, this issue, p. 247.