Reports of the National Center for Science Education

More Patter of Little Pandas

More Patter of Little Pandas
Reviewed by
John Cole

Reports readers will by now by familiar with the "intelligent design" book, Of Pandas and People. We have reported ongoing efforts to introduce the book into public schools as an alternative to naturalistic evolution. Sometimes the significance of this book probably gets lost (it is, after all, just one book, so why should we care about it?).

Michael Woodruff, a lawyer writing for the creationist "Center for Law and Religious Freedom" in Falls Church,Va., makes clear in a cover letter and annotations of the 1987 Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard that Pandas is a carefully constructed ruse to get around legal objections to antievolutionism. "[The book] is not creation science as the court defined that term. It does not support evolutionary theory grounded in naturalism...[and] that that there are phenomenon [sic] that don't fit the evolutionary theory but do fit a theory of intelligent design. ... Members of school boards and local authorities that consider the enrichment of curriculum should not be concerned that this particular book violates standards set forth by the Supreme Court in any way because it is a careful and scientific presentation of facts that might not otherwise be considered."

There follows an eleven-page "legal scrutiny" of Of Pandas and People which goes through 37 major statements in the Court decision and explains how Pandas handles each clause. Woodruff outlines how the book is tailored to meet specific objections while introducing the "intelligent design" alternative to evolution. He also quotes Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion, when useful to his case.

Woodruff adds that "Intelligent Design is a more modest and general position than Creation Science, one that rests on inferences from empirical observations of nature...not on revelation or holy books." He probably offends creationists by arguing simultaneously that "Intelligent Design" (which he capitalizes) is fairly trivial and that it can be usefully substituted for creationism in the science classroom. In other words, he argues that it is a valid place-holder for creationism in the curriculum despite its being supposedly innocuous. For example, Intelligent Design "makes no attempt to identify the intelligent agent," he writes. "While it is a fact that many people identify the intelligent agent with the traditional God of the Bible in their own minds, Pandas in no way teaches or encourages the teaching that this private mental conclusion is scientific knowledge." Some creationists as well find most evolutionists surely find this a rather sophistic (as opposed to sophisticated) argument.

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.