A Word To The Teacher

Outline of the Pandas Chapter

Common Facts But Different Perspectives
Giving Weight To What We See
Natural And Intelligent Causes
The Search For E.T.I.
What Present Observations Are Keys To The Past?
Religion, Philosophy And The Supernatural

Right from the start, Thaxton bombards the reader with misinformation about the fossil record. Only eight phyla of multicellular organisms that have extensive fossil records appear in the late Precambrian or early in the Paleozoic Era. The other phyla are represented by a few scattered fossils or none at all. This is a far different statement than that illustrated in Pandas' Figure 4.2! Vertebrate classes do not dominate the record, the shells of marine invertebrates are many times more abundant. Again the nonsense phrase "fully formed and functional" is used. As if evolution required that fossils of partially formed and nonfunctional organisms should be found!

In the third paragraph Thaxton makes a statement that completely undermines his efforts and arguments to make intelligent design a scientific hypothesis! He says that the view that "an intellect brought forth all similar structural features by natural means over time" is not considered by this book because this view is "empirically indistinguishable from natural descent". It follows that if Pandas' intelligent designers do not use natural means, they must be using unnatural or supernatural means. Thus the main distinction between evolution and creation (intelligent design) is natural versus supernatural, not natural versus intelligent. Hence creation (intelligent design) is not scientific but purely philosophical and/or religious (see Pandas, p. 160 fol.).

Common Facts But Different Perspectives

Thaxton claims that both "sides" deals with the same facts; that they only interpret them differently. The book clearly shows that this is not true. Most of the "facts" presented by Pandas are incorrect as this critique abundantly demonstrates. Creationists (intelligent design proponents) work in a world of imaginary facts fabricated by generations of creationist writers. Even the basic concepts are distorted. For example, Pandas radically redefines evolution as the transformation of kinds in Chapter 2.

Giving Weight To What We See

Descent with modification results from a straightforward application of the principle of uniformity. Proponents of intelligent design do the opposite. They propose invisible, supernatural, untestable mechanisms working in the past totally unlike anything working in the present. Their "evidence" consists of wrongheaded and "imaginary" predictions about what evolutionists should find in the fossil record, such as "partial creatures".

Pandas certainly does not give us a clear and impartial presentation of the cases for both sides. As this critique shows in exhaustive detail, the information is clearly distorted and fabricated to make evolution look unlikely. For example, none of the relevant data supporting the homology of the reptilian jaw joint bones with the mammalian ear bones is presented. Quite the contrary, Pandas gives the reader the impression that this homology is purely "wishful thinking" on the part of the evolutionists to satisfy the requirements of evolution. There is extensive criticism of evolutionary mechanisms and ideas but virtually no criticism of the few vague intelligent design statements. There is no discussion at all of the radical differences between the old earth and young earth proponents. In fact, very little is said about "intelligent design". Most of the book is old-fashioned anti-evolution.

In science the method of multiple hypotheses means multiple natural testable hypotheses. Untestable supernatural hypotheses won't do.

Natural And Intelligent Causes

Thaxton admits at the beginning of this "word to the teacher" that he and Pandas do not consider intelligent designers that work by natural means. Obviously, they only consider designers that work supernaturally. But as Thaxton correctly points out, the supernatural is not admissible in science. Neither are supernatural designers. Thus this entire argument trying to establish "intelligent" as an alternative to "natural" is totally irrelevant to the subject matter of Pandas and the question of intelligent design as a scientific hypothesis.

Thaxton's and Pandas' argument for intelligent design totally defies the principle of uniformity and has nothing in common with the thinking of archaeologists, forensic scientists, or people explaining "John loves Mary" written in the sand.

The Search For E.T.I.

Intelligent causes are perfectly acceptable in science as long as they are natural intelligent causes. SETI is looking for intelligent biological organisms, not invisible supernatural intelligences.

What Present Observations Are Keys To The Past?

Thaxton totally misuses the principle of uniformity. How do organisms originate and change? They reproduce themselves. We do not observe any kind of design or manufacturing process producing organisms at the present time, therefore we do not postulate such a process in the past. The idea that organisms were intelligently designed is not based on the principle of uniformity but on an analogy organisms are like manufactured objects. This analogy is very weak and is rejected by all modern philosophers, including Hume, who proposed the principle of uniformity!

As I have already mentioned there are many other changes in the physiology and behavior of dark peppered moths and some biologists, such as Lovtrup, whose book is recommended by Pandas(!), considers this a macromutational change.

We know that the complex arrangements of matter we see in computers, literary works and bridges are the result of natural intelligent (human) causes. Thus we are justified in ascribing the existence of computers, literary works and bridges that were produced in the past to natural intelligent (human) causes. This is no basis for ascribing the complex order of organisms to supernatural intelligent causes of totally unknown and unknowable nature. Such an hypothesis is not only unscientific, it has a decidedly dampening effect on scientific research and tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If all scientists believe that a phenomenon is supernatural and hence beyond understanding, none are not likely to devote time to research in an attempt to explain that phenomenon. They will move on to something else. And so that phenomenon will remain unexplained.

Darwin described natural selection in terms of an analogy with the artificial selection of breeders. We have now verified the existence of natural selection in nature. The principle of uniformity leads us to postulate that changes in organisms that we see in the fossil record also came about through natural selection. Also, since it has been empirically shown that all life comes from life, organisms in the younger layers of the geological sediments must have descended from those in the older layers. To postulate that this is not so and that those successive fossil faunas and floras were independently created is to reject the principle of uniformity!

The design proponents intelligent cause is not rooted in experience. We have never seen an organism being designed or created. Furthermore unless one postulates some sort of natural design mechanism, it cannot be considered by science. Only if we can postulate and understand how it works, can we possibly understand what it would and would not produce and hence test it. No matter how much the genetic code looks like a code, and how much you dress up the idea in information theory, a supernatural designer cannot be a scientific hypothesis.

We do not observe DNA encoded messages being produced by a designer. All DNA comes from previous DNA and changes are brought about by mutation. These observable causes for the origin of DNA have little to suggest "manufacture" by some invisible designer. Nor would postulating such an entity add anything to our understanding of the processes. There is no logical justification for Pandas' line of argument.

Religion, Philosophy And The Supernatural

Thaxton admits that only design by supernatural means is considered by this book. Thus the natural/supernatural dichotomy remains and intelligent design and creationism has no explanatory power. No design explanations are given in the book only repeated assertions that an intelligent agent was responsible. This does not provide any basis for predictions or testing of hypotheses. Because the agent works in a supernatural manner, which is to say the agent utilizes processes completely beyond human comprehension, we have no idea of what the agent could or could not do. In fact all creationists assume that the agent is omnipotent and omniscient, i.e. anything is possible.

Thaxton's assertion that the proper alternative to a natural cause in science is intelligent cause has no logical justification. Any intelligent causes considered by science operate by natural means. We know, understand, and can describe in detail, how people might write words in the sand or how pickup trucks are manufactured. Thus intelligent cause is a subdivision of natural cause. Because the aim of science is to discover explanations, not promulgate supernatural mysteries, it must restrict itself to natural causes. Thus if the student draws the Naturalistic conclusions that (1) Science includes only what is natural; and (2) Science does not include the supernatural, the student will be 100% correct! Science does not exclude natural intelligent causes but Pandas does!

The hallmark of intelligent design or creationism is supernatural cause. As has already been pointed out, Thaxton, himself says (p. 153) that a designer working by natural means over time is indistinguishable from evolution and is an alternative not discussed by this book! Virtually all creationists insist that their designer, creator or God works exclusively by supernatural means. The term "supernatural explanation" is an oxymoron, i.e. a contradiction in terms. To say that a phenomenon is supernatural is to say that it is beyond human understanding and incapable of being explained! Thus creationism, no matter what you call it, intelligent design, abrupt appearance, etc. has no explanatory power and is outside the scope of science.

Thaxton contradicts himself. He agrees that the science classroom is not an appropriate place to discuss the supernatural but at the same time he advocates presenting a supernatural intelligent designer! His entire case for the natural/intelligent dichotomy falls apart.

Content Of Supplement

Unfortunately, students who read or study Pandas will fill their heads with incorrect or "imaginary" facts, distorted historical backgrounds and illogical and self-contradictory arguments. By Thaxton's own criteria, the supernatural intelligent designers of Pandas are outside the realm of science and have no place in the science classroom. Even if all the references to the supernatural intelligent designers were eliminated, the book would be unacceptable as a critique of evolution because of the wealth of misinformation and distortions that it contains.

The Illogical Argument From Design

The argument from design, championed by William Paley, was thoroughly critiqued by Hume in his work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and summarized by Water Kaufmann (Kaufmann, 1958. Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Harper and Bros., section 45) in a concise and witty manner. The argument is based on analogy and goes something like this: If you found a wristwatch, you would not hesitate to infer that it was made by a watchmaker. (My first inference would be that someone had lost it). The universe with its many complicated interrelated parts is like a watch, therefor you should infer that it was made by a "universe maker" who is (of course!) the Christian God. The logic of the argument is very weak. In fact the argument is about 5% logic and 95% contrivance. If you found a wristwatch similar to the one I'm wearing as I type these lines, you should more accurately infer that it was designed by a group of electrical engineers, its parts fabricated by very intricate processes in a factory and assembled, on a mass production basis, by a force of oriental housewives working on an assembly line in Taiwan or Japan. If we start with an automobile as our example, the process is even more elaborate. According to the Ford Motor Co. (Furnas, C. C., J. McCarthy and the Editors of LIFE. 1966. The Engineer. Time, Inc. p. 16), as many as 12,000 engineers contribute to the design of a modern auto, and the various parts are made in many factories.

Thus, preserving the analogy as closely as possible, we should infer that our universe was designed by an army of cosmic engineers, its parts fabricated by an entire industry of cosmic factories and assembled on a mass production basis by an army of cosmic workers (angels?) If we borrow the creationists' fondness for infinities, these factories have been working for eternity and there should be an infinity of universes! If you protest that this analogy is unfair; that prior to the nineteenth century, watches really were made by watchmakers, you would still not be quite correct. A watch, or most of it, was probably made by apprentices to the watchmaker!

Present day watches (and cars) are made in a variety of models deluxe ones and cheap ones. What model of universe is ours? Maybe its a cheap model, even a lemon! If we seriously heed the creationists' insistence upon a universal law of death and decay, we may be dealing with either an example of the divine version of planned obsolescence or our universe should have been recalled to the factory for repairs. Indeed, it may already have been cast aside and is now "decaying away" on some cosmic junk heap.

The point is that the argument from design must be "forced" to lead us to a single, omnipotent and omniscient Christian God and hence is no "proof" at all of such a being, only an arbitrary exercise in self-delusion. If we were to continue to "improve" upon the analogy by considering the largest and most complex of man's inventions, namely his industrial society, which would be most like the universe in size and complexity, we discover that there is no overall design at all! It grew as the result of natural selection of many separate parts (i.e. laissez faire capitalism) much the way a natural community of organisms evolved. The creationists themselves, being a politically conservative lot, would consider any central planning of our society anathema that's socialism and communism!

Creationism And Homologies

The argument from design is applied on a smaller scale to explain the patterns of structure found in living organisms by studies in comparative anatomy and physiology. Thus Morris says:

"On the assumption of creation, it is reasonable that there would be resemblances between creatures and that these resemblances would be stronger between those creatures living in similar environments and with similar physiological functions to fulfill. One could hardly imagine any more probable an arrangement than now prevails if the origin of all things actually were special creation."

Evolution And The Modern Christian, P. 23.

If Morris stands by this statement then creationism is falsified, because this is not what is found in nature! The classic example of the vertebrate limb will illustrate what I mean. The mole lives in the soil and uses its legs for digging. The horse lives on the plains and uses its legs for running. The ape lives in the trees and uses its limbs for climbing and brachiation. The whale lives in the sea and uses its limbs for swimming. The bat flies through the air using its limbs for wings. What we have here is a group of mammals, living in different habitats and using their limbs for different functions, yet these limbs are all constructed on the same "plan" with the same bones and muscles.

An even more remarkable example concerns the mouthparts of insects, the great variety of which are all formed by modification of the same set of basic parts (which in turn are modifications through evolution of three pairs of legs). The chewing mouthparts of many insects function like a meat grinder; the sucking mouthparts of a mosquito or bug are constructed and function amazingly like a hypodermic syringe while those of a housefly are similar to a vacuum cleaner. Yet what engineer would attempt to design a meat grinder, a hypodermic syringe and a vacuum cleaner from the same set of parts? or a shovel, an automobile wheel, a boat propeller and an airplane wing from the same set of parts?

Organisms that do live in the same habitat and whose structures perform the same functions are often very unlike! Consider the mole and the earthworm, the horse and the grasshopper, the ape and the tree snake, the whale and the squid, the bat and the moth, etc. When we do find organisms with similar structures performing similar functions, we call it parallel evolution if the organisms are closely related and convergent evolution if they are distantly related. Convergent evolution results when the basic physical requirements for a particular function are very narrow or even unique. Thus there seems to be essentially one shape for large objects moving rapidly through water, a shape exemplified by sharks, ichthyosaurs and dolphins, yet even here those similar external shapes conceal widely divergent anatomical structures underneath.

Clearly the "design" of organisms as revealed by comparative studies is incredibly conservative ("niggard in invention, prodigal in variety" as Darwin put it) even to the point of irrationality. This is exactly what you expect of natural selection but no human designer (the only intelligent designers that we actually know exist) would ever think of doing things this way! If organisms were made by a Creator as creationists claim, then that creator functions in a manner totally alien to any intelligent designers we know of.

The Fundamental Differences Between Organisms And Automobiles

There is nothing in the manmade world of macroscopic contrivances, essentially mechanical and electrical, that is remotely analogous to the chemical interactions of atoms and molecules upon which the organization of living organisms is based. It's not the Second Law of Thermodynamics that prevents the parts in a junkyard from spontaneously assembling themselves into an automobile. First, these parts have no means of locomotion and are pinned to where they lay by the force of gravity, and second, even if a tornado flung them around, they are incapable of interacting with one another if they should collide. On the other hand, atoms and molecules are in motion and they do react with one another when they collide! Consider that if General Motors made cars the way DuPont makes chemicals, the parts for a car would be dumped into a big vat and stirred, whereupon they would react with each other and automatically assemble themselves into a car.

In nature, organic or inorganic matter is normally found in complex chemical forms. In fact, the main task of our basic industry is to break down chemically complicated ores to produce the relative simple pure metallic elements from which our technology is fabricated. When one considers the field of geochemistry, there is overwhelming evidence for the production of highly complex organizations by natural means. One doesn't normally describe the complex chemical structures of clay minerals to the direct activity of some higher intelligence but to the natural physical and chemical processes of erosion and weathering.

If I found the bones of a cow, I would not deduce the existence of a cow designer. There is a great deal of observational evidence that cows (and all other organisms) reproduce themselves and that cow embryos grow and develop without the supervision of a "cow designer" another obvious and fundamental difference between organisms and human artifacts. This is even more remarkable when you realize that in sexual reproduction (practiced by virtually all eukaryote organisms), the somewhat different instructions from two individuals are "cut up" into pieces and reassembled at random into a new, different third set of instructions, that much more often than not, functions to produce a new unique individual. Try that with the plans for two different models of autos, or two different versions of a computer program!

In the manufacture of an automobile, all the parts are fabricated separately, often in different factories, and they do not come in contact until they meet on the assemble line. The only reason that they fit together at that time is that they were all fabricated to the specifications of a master set of plans. And if they don't fit (maybe the wrong size parts were shipped) there is nothing that can be done about it. Organisms, however, grow and develop from zygotes in a fundamentally different way. All the parts form together in situ in the zygote and interact with one another as they develop! This allows the new composite set of instructions produced by the process of genetic recombination characteristic of sexual reproduction to successfully produce a new unique individual. The closest analogy to this is the cutting up of a picture painted on a piece of wood to make a jigsaw puzzle. The contours of the two pieces on either side of a cut, even if it is done randomly, are automatically complementary and will fit when they are put together again.

Intelligent Design In Pandas

The authors of Pandas (Davis, P. and D. H. Kenyon, 1989. Of Pandas and People. Haughton) claim that "similarities among living things are like pre-assembled units that can be plugged into a complex electronic circuit." Yet the modifications to the basic plan exhibit much variety. An almost ideal example of a "pre-assembled unit" would be an enzyme like cytochrome c. One would expect it to be identical in all living things, yet it isn't; it exhibits a wide variation in amino acid composition despite its identical function under identical chemical conditions in virtually all forms.

The nineteenth century morphologists ascribed the basic plan of the vertebrates to a philosophical, ideal Archetype. The Pandas' authors claim the intelligent designer is forced to work with a limited vocabulary of possible forms. But wait, there is more than one Archetype! In fact, there is probably one for every phylum. Arthropods have heads, bodies, legs and systems (skeletal, muscular, nervous, circulatory, digestive, excretory, etc.) analogous to vertebrates but built along entirely different lines. Arthropods are about as different from vertebrates as one can imagine two organisms to be! No one company in the human world would make similar products that are so thoroughly and radically different. One can only assume that a different designer (or design team) using a different set of forms, was responsible for the arthropods. It follows that there must be such a team for each of the phyla!

The Pandas' authors say we must take the fossil record at face value. If new organisms appear suddenly in the record it is because designers were making new forms throughout geologic history. For example, since the early Mesozoic, designers had produced pterosaurs, specialized flying forms, that apparently did very well. In the late Jurassic period, another designer, the inventor of the feather, thought it could accomplish the same end by simply putting feathers on a theropod. The result, Archaeopteryx, apparently didn't work too well and its production was cancelled. Later, the designer and possibly its colleagues, decided that they could make it fly if they got rid of the bony tail, replaced the toothed jaws with a beak, completely revamped the skeleton, the flight muscles, and the respiratory system (probably getting some of their ideas from the pterosaur designers.) They ended up with a very efficient flying machine that apparently put the pterosaurs out of business. Still later, for some mysterious reason, they crippled a lot of these birds making them flightless (penguins, auks, rails, ground pigeons, kiwis, tinamous, some cormorants, emus, ostriches, moas, etc.). Now what aircraft company would take a good airplane, remove its wings and try to market it as an auto?

Taking the fossil record at face value also means that if a form is not found in the fossil record, it never existed! It follows that the designers, for some reason, were continually wiping out their creations. They wiped out the coelacanths at the end of the Mesozoic, then reintroduced one for the present day! The fossil record of insects is very spotty. The arthropod designers, unable to make up their minds? must have wiped out and remade the insect orders up to a dozen times!

The Pandas' authors suggest that all the biochemical similarities of organisms serve to make the food chain efficient! But why have a food chain? There is nothing comparable among human design products. And you can have a viable ecosystem with just microorganisms. Multicellular animals and plants are superfluous. The adaptations of predators and prey are like an arms race among weapons manufacturers. But the designers of a counter-weapon are not the same designers that designed the weapon. They usually work for a different company and a different nation. There is obviously an intense rivalry among the biological designers, given the fantastic array of predators and parasites and the strategies, bordering on the fiendish and diabolical, that they use to catch and eat their prey! More than half the known species of animals are parasites on other living animals. Some of these design rivalries are bizarre. Even Darwin couldn't imagine an intelligent designer designing tens of thousands of species of insect parasitoids, that eat their living hosts from the inside.

The Pandas' authors argue that organisms contain information and the only known way to produce information is to be produced by intelligent designers. Actually this is an arbitrary and religiously-biased conclusion. Organisms contain information and as we have already mentioned, they reproduce themselves and that information in a fundamentally different way from human-generated information. Thus observation suggests that there may be another way to generate information. After all, we have never seen an intelligently designed organism pop into existence-although for many centuries people thought that was a common occurrence. They called it spontaneous generation!

An Alternate Solution

The evolutionary mechanism of mutation, sexual recombination, reproduction and natural selection has been shown to work. The "design patterns" displayed by the biotic world and the known fossil trends are all what one would expect from evolution guided by natural selection. Even DNA, the information storage material is full of silent, noncoding nonsense sequences. In a recent article entitled Natural Selection for Computers which appeared in Science News (Nov. 25, 1989; vol. 136(22): 346-348) Ivars Peterson reports on the technique of "genetic algorithms" to design jet engines, integrated circuit chips, scheduling work in a busy machine shop, operating gas-pipeline pumping stations and recognizing patterns. The technique, pioneered by computer scientist John H. Holland at the University of Michigan, simulates the mechanism of Darwinian evolution, involving mating, genetic recombination, reproduction, selection and even mutation. Here are engineers (no less!) using Evolution To Design things. Maybe the Pandas' authors can be persuaded to accept theistic evolution!