Essay:Of Pandas and People

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Essay.svg This essay is an original work by Zieber.
It does not necessarily reflect the views expressed in RationalWiki's Mission Statement, but we welcome discussion of a broad range of ideas.
Unless otherwise stated, this is original content, released under CC-BY-SA 3.0 or any later version. See RationalWiki:Copyrights.
Feel free to make comments on the talk page, which will probably be far more interesting, and might reflect a broader range of RationalWiki editors' thoughts.

As of this writing I have recently begun reading my eagerly awaited copy of Of Pandas and People that I purchased used on eBay. I had heard that this book was the pride of the fledgling intelligent design movement in the late 1980's and that it was intended as a replacement for the standard textbook for high school biology classes in America. I was worried that this book might actually contain well-presented arguments and as such be a credible threat to good science education.

I was delighted to be disappointed. This book contains the usual creationist assortment of long-refuted points, misinformation, logical fallacies, quotes out of context, and empty references. The focus is on finding fault with established theories, primarily the theory of evolution, with very little positive evidence offered for substitute explanations.

The authors are creationist Percival Davis [1] and creationist Dean H. Kenyon. [2] Academic editor is Charles B. Thaxton, author of the creationist book The Mystery of Life's Origin. [3] Critical reviewers include Michael Behe, expert witness for the defense in the Kitzmiller trial, McLean v. Arkansas defense witnesses Harold Coffin and Norman Geisler, and creationist Kurt Wise. [4]

Subtitled "The Central Question of Biological Origins," the material presented in the book is organized into six chapters: "The Origin of Life," "Genetics and Macroevolution," "The Origin of Species," "The Fossil Record," "Homology," and "Biochemical Similarities." An overview chapter preceding these sections summarizes them.

As quotes presented herein were retyped, please excuse any typographical errors that might have occurred. Page numbers are from Of Pandas and People unless otherwise stated.

Authors' purpose[edit]

The authors of Of Pandas and People, henceforth "the authors," admit that they are not going to take a scientific approach to the question of origins. Per the introduction:

Of Pandas and People is not intended to be a balanced treatment by itself. We have given a favorable case for intelligent design... (p. ix)


A glossary of terms is given at the end of the book. It will be instructive to look at some of them at this point.

Evolution is, "Often defined as mere 'change in living things over time,' but variously meaning also descent with modification, and particular mechanisms to account for change such as natural selection and gene mutation." One wonders if this definition is intended to demonstrate that scientists keep changing the definition of evolution.

This author was pleased to see a definition for Darwinism, namely, "The theory that all living things descended from an original common ancestor through natural selection and random variation, without the aid of intelligence or nonmaterial forces." By the definitions, it is difficult to determine if the authors believe Darwinism to be distinct from evolution. In fact consider the following excerpt from the book in which the terms seem to be used synonymously:

The fossil record is sometimes treated as the Darwinist's trump card. Despite controversies over how evolution occurred, many argue, the fossil record nonetheless establishes that it occurred. It documents that macroevolution is a fact. This argument assumes, however, that Darwinian evolution is the only reasonable interpretation of the fossil record. (p.26)

Functional information is defined as, "Information in the base sequence of a species' DNA that codes for structures capable of biological functions." This definition will prove to be significant as the authors attempt to build a case that there is information in DNA that indicates intelligent authorship. The concept of "information" is rarely considered by biologists and poses no challenge to a scientific explanation of origins. In fact this term is used in a slightly different way in its only use on RationalWiki, where design proponent William Dembski uses it to explain relationships in the tree of life. See the article here.

Similarly Information theory, defined as, "A branch of applied mathematics which provides a measure of information in any sequence of symbols," is also claimed by the authors to be relevant to the question of origin.

Homology is defined as "A body part with the same basic structure and embryonic origin as that of another organism, a fact taken to imply the common ancestry of the two." Note that by including the implication of common ancestry in the definition, the authors can subsequently claim that the use of homology as evidence of common ancestry is circular reasoning. Scientists in fact do not determine common ancestry based on homology. Rather homology is contrasted with analogy, that is it refers to traits whose similarity has been determined (by other lines of reasoning) to be due to common ancestry and not convergent evolution.

A hypothesis is defined as, "In scientific method, 1. An educated guess, 2. A tentative explanation, or 3. A proposition that is to be confirmed by test." Likewise a Theory is defined as, "A scientific explanation of well-established observations." By the definitions then a theory is no more than a firmer hypothesis, and these definitions were no doubt carefully chosen in order to imply that theories like evolution are little more than guesses. In contrast the scientific definition of theory is "a well-substantiated explanation for a series of facts and observations that can be used to predict future observations."

Intelligent design is defined as, "Any theory that attributes an action, function, or the structure of an object to the creative mental capacities of a personal agent. In biology, the theory that biological organisms owe their origin to a preexistent intelligence." It is obvious that the intelligent agent vaguely referred to in this definition is intended to be understood to be God. Also note that inherent in the first part of this definition is the claim that features of an object can be used as evidence of its design, an argument that the authors attempt to advance.

Microevolution is defined as, "Small-scale genetic changes, observable in organisms." Thus the authors contend this has been observed and does happen. The observable fact of microevolution is used by the authors to explain a multitude of phenomena including speciation, (dog) breeding, breeding chains (ring species), and observations from the fossil record, all of which are generally summed up as "variation within a kind."

Macroevolution on the other hand is defined as, "The hypothesis of large-scale changes, leading to new levels of complexity." This definition, with its inclusion of the necessity for added complexity, is used by the authors in their attempt to demonstrate that evolution cannot account for what they identify as large changes. Macroevolution is further defined as, "wholesale changes of physical and behavioral characteristics requiring the input of new information and/or greater complexity," (p. 61) and "a change from a simpler to a more complex state." (p. 145) Most scientists, however, do not use this term and do not make a distinction between macroevolution and large amounts of microevolution.

Stabilizing selection is defined as "Natural selection operating to eliminate extreme members of a population, thereby reducing variation in a population." This definition is used by the authors in their attempt to suggest that natural selection is a force resulting in the stasis of a species.

Let us now look at a few approaches the authors take to building the case for intelligent design. Heading titles hereafter were, for the most part, borrowed from The TalkOrigins Archive's index of creationist claims. [5]

Evolution and intelligent design are the only alternatives[edit]

By establishing a false dilemma, the authors can subsequently use evidence against evolution as evidence for intelligent design. The authors explain that "we will present interpretations of the data proposed by those today who hold the two alternative concepts; those with a Darwinian frame of reference, as well as those who adhere to intelligent design." (p. viii) In fact evolution and intelligent design are not the only models of origin and are not even mutually exclusive. [6]

It is interesting to note that the authors also assert evidence for evolution constitutes evidence against intelligent design. Consider their statement, "Since it is not reliable, most of the so-called evidence for macroevolution (and conversely, against intelligent design) obtained from comparative anatomy and embryology is weak and could turn out to be misleading." (p. 133)

Evolution requires as much faith as creationism[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Evolution requires as much faith as creationism

To support the claim that evolution is not a scientific theory, the authors assert that evolution is not supported by the evidence but rather must be taken on faith. They note, "Evolutionists continue to be committed to the belief that macroevolution occurs but are uncertain how it occurs." (p. 12)

The authors would like to convince the reader that evolution is not provable since it involves incidents occurring in the distant past. They state that "the events which produced the fossil record are historical (singular) rather than repeatable" (p. 87) and that evolution is "a theory about unique past events." (p. 91) They further note that "when we attempt to make predictions about unobserved past events, we are limited to speculation that is not testable." (p. 132) Contrary to the claim, much evidence for evolution exists in experiments and observations that can be made in the present. [7][8]

By convincing the reader that evolution is based on un-provable past events, the authors hope to establish that belief in intelligent design, although subjective and not provable, is just as reasonable as acceptance of evolution. They note:

...theories of origins can't be tested by direct empirical test like the theories mentioned earlier. This fact leaves origins theories open to subjectivity and to the interpretive elements of individual viewpoints and values. (p. 91)

Thus the authors attempt to build a case that acceptance of evolution is not based solely on the soundness of the theory but also on one's point of view. They note that "proponents of intelligent design and Darwinists are divided over perspective or viewpoint of interpretation, not data," (p. 79) and, "On both sides, the decision one ultimately makes regarding the fossils rests on philosophical commitments as well as on empirical data." (p. 26) Note that evolution, being scientific, is based on repeatable experimentation and observation, and as such it need not be taken on faith and is resistant to preconceived conclusions. [9]

In support of the assertion that intelligent design is as reasonable an explanation as evolution, the authors note:

...the intelligent design hypothesis is also reasonable. It fits well with the empirical data... (p. 26)

This argument fails to note that intelligent design, while it might be made to fit the data and might seem intuitive, is, unlike evolution, not falsifiable and is therefore not scientific.

As further evidence that design is as reasonable as evolution, the authors assert:

So both Darwinism and design must take their places as theories to be considered and evaluated. That, of course, is what Darwin had in mind when he looked with confidence to a time when students "will be able to view both sides of a question with impartiality." (p. 26)

However, consider the quote in context:

Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume under the form of an abstract, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the 'plan of creation,' 'unity of design,' &c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact. Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject my theory. A few naturalists, endowed with much flexibility of mind, and who have already begun to doubt on the immutability of species, may be influenced by this volume; but I look with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality. Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction; for only thus can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed. [10]

Clearly it was not Darwin's intention to imply that design was as reasonable as evolution, but rather he felt that when the evidence was looked at objectively it would indicate that his theory was the best explanation.

To support the notion that intelligent design is as much a scientific theory as is evolution, the authors state:

Surely the intelligent design explanation has unanswered questions of its own. But unanswered questions, which exist on both sides, are an essential part of healthy science; they define the areas of needed research. (p. 126)

As examples of "needed research" the authors note, "Design proponents are interested in research that will answer questions such as the limits of change that exist, how we can identify original species (if any) alive today, and what the exact biological definition of a species should be." (p. 85) These examples of "research" illustrate the creationist tendency to seek data that reinforces a preconceived conclusion rather than drawing a conclusion from the data.

To support the claim that intelligent design is scientific, the authors assert that we reach conclusions based on prior experience. They assert that this conforms to the scientific method, stating, "Experience is the basis for science as well." (p. 7) In fact, science is based largely on the use of prediction, experimentation, and observation, which the authors fail to establish are the bases of intelligent design. Consider the authors' assertion that:

We all recognize that an engineer can choose any of several different engineering solutions to overcome a single design problem. An intelligent designer might reasonably be expected to use a variety (if a limited variety) of design approaches to produce a single engineering solution, also. Even if it is assumed that an intelligent designer did indeed have a good reason for every decision that was made, and for including every trait in each organism, it does not follow that such reasons will be obvious to us. (p. 125)

This argument represents an admission on the part of the authors that intelligent design does not in fact make useful predictions.

As further support that intelligent design is scientific, Mark D. Hartwig and Stephen C. Meyer suggest in the conclusion titled "A Note to Teachers" that intelligent design is falsifiable. They state:

The concept of intelligent design entails a strong prediction that is readily falsifiable. In particular, the concept of intelligent design predicts that complex information, such as that encoded in a functioning genome, never arises from purely chemical or physical antecedents...All that is necessary to falsify the hypothesis of intelligent design is to show confirmed instances of purely physical or chemical antecedents producing such information. (p. 160)

The existence of diverse life itself falsifies this prediction of intelligent design. However, the authors have arbitrarily excluded life as an example of naturally occurring "information" by their initial assumptions.

Design is detectable[edit]

To support the claim that design is detectable, the authors build on the concept of uniformity. Per the introduction:

...our experience grows into a collection of uniform observations, things we learn to count on. If experience has shown that a certain class of phenomena results from intelligent causes and then we encounter something new but similar, we conclude its origin also to be from an intelligent cause. (p. ix)

The authors know that, since we otherwise do not have direct experience with anything that was created by a non-human intelligent designer, the concept of uniformity does not help determine the origin of life unless it can be established that life is analogous to something else whose origin we do know. To this end the authors attempt to compare DNA to written language.

To attempt to suggest the association with language, the authors refer to DNA as "text," "meaningful symbols," (p. 7), "specific sequences of 'words,'" (p. 57) "a 'dialect,'" (p. 62) and "a molecular message" (p. 12) and note that it is "'written' out." (p. 62) The authors also suggest that DNA, like language, is complex:

...our experience--and that of everybody else--tells us that natural causes do not give rise to complex structures such as a linguistic message...To say that DNA and protein arose by natural causes, as chemical evolution does, is to say complex, coded messages arose by natural causes. (p.7)

As evidence supporting the claim that DNA is complex the authors, in comparing it to a short written statement, note:

The greatest difference is that the DNA text is much more complex. If the amount of information contained in one cell of your body were written out on a typewriter, it would fill as many books as are contained in a large library. (p.7)

This observation merely comments on the amount of information contained in DNA and says nothing of any inherent complexity. Furthermore the authors state that, "As we observe how living things function, we are impressed by the high levels of complexity and organization," (p.55) which is merely the unsupported assertion that function implies complexity.

The authors assert the complexity of life is analogous to that of manufactured items: seems highly probable that the origin of life on earth involved the fashioning of molecular complexity in a way similar to the production of manufactured items. In fact, the living cell...has the complexity of a miniaturized, automated factory. (p.57)

The authors further present an analogy in which a remote native village finds a pickup truck. They conclude that the villagers would be correct in assuming that the truck originated from "some kind of intelligence." (p.56) Note, however, that if the villagers were to assume the intelligence was supernatural in nature their conclusion would not be a scientific one. The analogy, then, fails to demonstrate that belief in a supernatural origin of life is reasonable.

The authors then pose the question, "Is the kind of complexity found in living cells more nearly like the complexity of proteinoid microspheres or pickup trucks?" (p.57) They of course answer, "Pickup trucks, of course." Although the level of complexity in a cell might be regarded as similar to that of a pickup truck or other manufactured item, it is left unsupported why the kind of complexity need be regarded as similar.

The authors also associate biological nature with "specified complexity" or "specific complexity," noting, "...nowhere in nonbiological nature do we find specific complexity that is even roughly analogous to coded information." (p.57) However, the definition and criteria for identifying specific complexity, as is also the case with complexity, are never clearly defined.

Thus far the notion that DNA and living things demonstrate more than a superficial similarity to the complexity of language, or of manufactured items, is not supported but rather is due to a contrived association. The authors also attempt to show that DNA is similar to written language since they both contain information. They state, "The organization in a living creature is an expression of the information carried in the genetic material of a cell as it directs the building of its parts," (p.55) an unsupported assertion by the authors that organization implies information. Furthermore they refer to DNA as "information molecules." (p. 85)

As evidence that the information found in living systems is analogous to that in written language, the authors note, "It has been discovered that the structure of information in living systems is mathematically identical to that of written language." (p.57) The reference for this assertion is an article by Hubert Yockey. However, in a statement regarding the use of this article to support the conclusion that living systems contain information, Yockey clearly stated that was not the point of his article and that this conclusion is wrong. Yockey also mentioned that intelligent design is an invalid theory and that in fact "Darwin’s theory of evolution is among the most well-established theories in science." [11]

As evidence that the information found in living things could not have had a natural origin, the authors present the unreferenced quote, "Information never arises from physical or chemical causes alone." (p.55) Furthermore they quote Michael Polanyi in an article from 1967:

A book or any other object bearing a pattern that communicates information is essentially irreducible to physics and chemistry...We must refuse to regard the pattern by which the DNA spreads information as part of its chemical properties. (p.55)

Polanyi, for whom Baylor University's intelligent design center was named, does not represent the scientific consensus.

The authors then attempt to draw a parallel with the second law of thermodynamics:

The second law of thermodynamics could be overturned by the repeated observation of exceptions to the rule. Likewise, one repeatedly confirmed observation of physical or chemical processes giving rise to information would disprove this generalization. (p.55)

This argument has been repeatedly refuted.

Thus far the notion that the information in DNA and living things demonstrates more than a superficial similarity to that in language is not supported. The overall assumption of the equivalence of DNA and language, as represented by the authors' statement, "If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause," (p. 7) is not supported and does not refute a natural origin of life.

The authors claim that scientists themselves acknowledge the existence of intelligent causes. They state:

Today, we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by the current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) (see Figure 5-10). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. (pp. 126-127, figure omitted)

In fact researchers in the above-mentioned fields seek effects that their experience indicates have human, or humanlike, causes. Intelligent design advocates are not seeking the effects of human causes and as such cannot draw on experience to determine the nature of supernatural effects. [12] Curiously the authors go on to admit, "We should recognize, however, that if we go further and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science." (p. 127)

Mutations do not produce new features[edit]

The authors refuse to acknowledge that mutation can be a mechanism to increase genetic variation. They conclude that "it is fair to remain skeptical about the claim that accidental mutations are the source of the very impressive quantities of functional information in biological structures." (p.66) Note that this conclusion is again based on the assumption that natural forces are incapable of producing the type of information found in living things. Note also the implication that mutations, as accidents, are incapable of being a creative force.

To support their claim that mutations cannot improve information in a gene, the authors present an analogy:

A mutation in a coding gene, then, can be looked at as a random change in functional information. As a unit of functional information in the cell a coding gene is much like a word (a unit of meaningful information) in a book. What do you think would happen if we randomly changed the letters in some of the words in this book? Would the book be improved? (p. 66)

Although some might disagree, the authors predictably answer in the negative. Actually the analogy fails in that, although words have meaning, coding genes do not. As such it is not unlikely that a single change in a coding gene will result in an equally viable sequence.

To support their claim that mutations cannot account for significant change, the authors assert:

...if macroevolution by means of natural selection is to occur, there must first be new traits for which to select. Darwinists look to mutation as the main source of traits upon which natural selection can operate. But it has not been demonstrated that mutations are able to produce the highly coordinated parts of novel structures needed again and again by macroevolution...there is no experimental evidence to show that a new animal organism or even a novel structural feature has ever been produced from the raw material produced by mutations. (p. 66, italics in original)

This claim is based on a straw man of macroevolution. Evolution does not predict that a mutation will create a new structure and certainly not a new organism. Rather evolution predicts a mutation can result in a new use of an existing structure. Contrary to the claim, there are examples of features that are believed to have been caused by mutations in the past, for example the hemoglobin/myoglobin family and lactose tolerance. Furthermore there are present-day examples of mutations resulting in new features and structures. [13]

The authors further present:

...the mutation does not introduce a new level of complexity, and it cannot be known that it is a "step in the right direction"--that it will integrate with other mutations in the future for an increase in functional information that will code for adaptations for greater complexity. (p. 66)

This argument is again based on the assumption that mutations must increase information and complexity. Note also how it indicates the mistaken assumption that mutations are working toward a future goal.

To support their claim that most mutations are harmful, the authors cite a few examples and assert that "only one in 1,000 is not harmful." (p. 66) It is unknown how this figure was generated, since there is no reference for the assertion. In fact most mutations are neutral, and many more than one in 1000 are actually beneficial. [14] It should also be noted that whether a mutation is of benefit is to some degree dependent upon the environment in which it appears.

To support their claim that mutations are rare, the authors state, "Mutations are not common. In fact, it has been calculated that a gene changes only once in every 100,000 to 1,000,000 replications." (p. 65) The reference for this assertion is Theodosius Dobzhansky from 1951. In reality the rate of mutation is much higher [15]

To further support their claim that mutations are rare, the authors present a statistical argument. They begin with a referenced estimation that at least five genes would be used in "the formation of even the simplest new structure previously unknown in the organism." (p. 68) Using the above figure of one non-harmful mutation in 1000, the authors reason, "The odds of five non-harmful mutations occurring in the same individual are one in one thousand million million!" In addition to the frequency of beneficial mutations likely being wrong, as mentioned above, this argument fails to the recognize the observation that a new feature could be the result of a single (additional) mutation and furthermore that evolution does not predict the sudden appearance of new structures but rather a new use of an existing structure.

The authors continue by exploring the possibility that these same five mutations will come together from separate sources within the gene pool:

Imagine if you were to calculate the chances that the different individuals carrying these separate genes would find each other among a population of, say, one million, and mate at the proper mating time and in the necessary combinations to gather all five genes in a single individual among the resulting offspring! If we could conceive that the resulting new set of five genes could potentially code for a truly new structure, thus increasing the organism's level of complexity over its parental species, perhaps we would have a potential explanation." (pp. 68-69)

This argument ignores the ways in which genes move throughout a population over time. [16]

The authors further assert:

...the proportions of these five mutated genes to their non-mutated counterparts in the rest of the species' population will remain the same from generation to generation. Thus the mere production of more offspring doesn't improve the odds of their coming together through recombination. (p. 68, emphasis added)

However, this argument is based on a misapplication of probability. The chance of the mutations coming together is not a matter of the frequency of mutated alleles but rather the statistical likelihood of the alleles coming together in at least one individual, which would necessarily be greater in a larger population. That the authors understand this is clear from a contradictory statement regarding the retention of a species' genetic diversity through reproduction. When it later suits their argument they in fact state, "The larger the offspring population, the greater the number of gene combinations..." (p. 75)

Microevolution selects only existing variation[edit]

We have seen that the authors do not believe mutation can cause significant change. In fact, although the authors recognize that "the only known means of introducing genuinely new genetic material into the gene pool is by mutation," (p.11) they go to great pains to construct a model of speciation that does not involve the increase of genetic variation via mutation.

The authors' model of speciation involves mechanisms that divide a population with a subsequent reduction of genetic variation within the subsets. In their words:

...the means to speciation discussed above represent the loss of genetic information. Both physical and ecological isolation produce varieties by cutting a small population off from its parent population and building a new group from the more limited genetic information contained in the small population. (p. 19)

Note that this necessitates the entirety of the genetic variation found in a species, and in descendant species, to have existed in the original "created" representatives of the species. This is contradicted by examples of instances in which an increase in genetic variation has been observed, such as in experiments by Lenski and Lederberg. [17]

The authors then use their own inaccurate model of speciation by reduction of variation to disprove evolution: "Mechanisms for the loss of genetic information cannot be used as support for a theory requiring vast increases of genetic information." (p.20)

The authors assert, quite accurately, that genetic variation is a species' safeguard against extinction. They note:

The healthiest thing for a species as a whole is to reproduce randomly. This insures that its hidden adaptive genetic potential is preserved. The genius of natural selection is that it serves as a force, not to change species, but to preserve them. (p. 76)

While this statement is in essence true, the authors confuse the preservation of a species from extinction with its preservation from change. In reality natural selection utilizes genetic variation in order to preserve a species by in fact allowing it to change.

There are barriers to large change[edit]

Although the authors cannot deny that speciation happens, they refer to their model as microevolution, (p. 19) whereas many scientists regard speciation as an example of macroevolution. To demonstrate the inability of speciation to affect great change, they maintain:

Yet even speciation represents only limited change...One fruit fly may breed on apple trees and another on hawthorn trees, but both remain fruit flies. (p. 19)

This is a familiar creationist argument, which exploits the observation that from a taxonomic standpoint any descendant of a fruit fly, no matter how far removed, is still a fruit fly. [18]

The authors present several more arguments that large change (macroevolution) is not possible. To support their claim that there are barriers to large change in evolution, the authors make frequent comparisons to breeding:

Speciation is actually akin to what breeders do...Centuries of breeding testifies to the fact that this produces limited change only. (p. 20)

This argument fails to consider the observation that a few hundred years would be sufficient time to do little more than experiment with existing variation. The argument also fails to acknowledge the significant improvements that plant breeders have made to agricultural and ornamental plants using mutation breeding. [19]

As evidence of the stability of species, the authors present the observation that Mendelian genetics and the Hardy-Weinberg principle indicate that allele ratios are preserved. (pp. 64-65) Note that the indicated principles in actuality do allow changes in allele frequency in the presence of selecting forces.

The authors also assert their belief that natural selection itself is a stabilizing mechanism for a species:

...every species has been given an optimal body form which maximizes its function in a particular habitat. All biologists acknowledge stabilizing selection, where selection can be seen to function as a weeding out mechanism to maintain the cohesion and stability of species. (pp. 67-68, emphasis in original)

In actuality stabilizing selection is a description of one form of natural selection in which a mean character is favored. The authors fail to mention that all biologists also acknowledge directional and disruptive selection in which a character at one or both extremes is favored, which would not maintain stability.

As an example of stabilizing selection in action, the authors cite the Bumpus' sparrows study in which it was observed that the birds surviving a particular winter storm seemed to be those with mean characters. Per the authors:

Today, the conservative role of natural selection is recognized by many. One particularly interesting example comes from the work of an evolutionist, Hermon Bumpus...He found that the birds that died tended to be more extreme in their physical characteristics...It appears that there might be an optimal body type for the species, and any bird which departs too much from this type is eventually weeded out. (p. 67)

Note that subsequent researchers analyzing the data have found the results of the study inconclusive. [20] In any case, an occasional winter storm should not constitute a dramatic change in the environment, and as such this study would merely be an example of stabilizing selection in an essentially constant environment. Also note that this study, which is apparently the authors' best example of stabilizing selection and which they claim exemplifies the scientific consensus "today," was from 1899, a fact that was not mentioned by the authors.

We should see smooth change through the fossil record, not gaps[edit]

The authors interpret the fossil record as indicating that historically, as today, species were stable and did not change beyond their presumed barriers. They note:

Once a taxon makes its appearance in the fossil record, it remains substantially unchanged. Instead of gradually transforming into another taxon, the only change it exhibits is variation and diversification within the bounds of the original taxon. This characteristic of many species in the fossil record is referred to as stasis. (p. 22, emphasis in original)

Note the assumption that this perceived stability in the fossil record is contrary to evolution's prediction that taxa transform into others, and that therefore the fossil record provides evidence against evolution. Based on this assumption the authors ask:

Does Darwin's theory match the story told by the fossils...His theory proposed that living things formed a continuous chain back to one or a few original forms. If the theory is true, the fossils should show a continuous chain of creatures, each taxon leading smoothly to the next...As the fossil record grew it became apparent that the fossils were falling into a definite pattern. Instead of forming a graded series...the fossils filled in existing taxa, leaving the gaps between them conspicuously empty. The pattern in the fossils is not a continuous chain but clusters separated by gaps. (pp. 22, 24)

Contrary to the claim, it is not clear that evolution occurs by the transformation of one species into another. For one thing this is not what fossils imply. Punctuated equilibrium, as mentioned by the authors, is a model of evolution based on speciation and differential survival of species. The resulting "bush of life" would in fact produce the pattern noted in the fossil record.

It should be noted that the authors maintain punctuated equilibrium is based on the negative evidence of "the gaps in the fossil record, an absence of data." (p. 98) In contrast, the original paper on punctuated equilibrium used as support the positive evidence of the detailed evolutionary history of two specific species. [21]

Also note in the preceding blocked quotes the authors' use of the word "taxon" to indicate an unspecified taxonomic level. By not committing themselves to a specific level, such as species or genus, they can remain vague about how much change is permissible within a taxon. Thus they can always claim that any change is still within its "bounds" and that a new taxonomic level has not yet been reached. This appears to be the equivalent of the creationist concept of "kinds." Note that the authors similarly use the terms "types" (p. 19) and "cluster" (p. 25) in this ambiguous sense.

To support the definition of evolution as the transformation of one species into another, the authors maintain that Darwin was a gradualist, stating, "Darwin's view was that macroevolution occurred in a slow and gradual manner." (p. 25) Note that although Darwin theorized stepwise evolution, it is not clear that he was in fact a gradualist. [22]

In regard to the fossil record as evidence of evolution, the authors admit, "The existence of fossils with enormous variety is a fact, and so are the changes in the distribution of those fossils over time..." (p. 26) However, this characterization of the fossil record unfairly understates the strength of its evidence for evolution. The variety and changes in fossils suggest that in fact organisms have transformed incrementally and in a treelike pattern, as predicted by evolution.

Transitional fossils are lacking[edit]

As evidence that the various groupings of fossils are distinct, the authors point out the lack of transitional forms between them. They note:

If all living things are related to each other through evolutionary descent...would we not expect to find many intermediate or transitional forms between major taxa? In fact, the major groups should blend into one another with "evolutionary trails" of innumerable transitional forms connecting the fossil organisms found. (p. 93)

Note that this argument falsely assumes the fossil record is fairly complete and that evolution occurs in a manner such that fossilization of transitional forms is likely to occur. Contrary to the claim, there are in fact many good examples of gradual transitional series such as that from mammal-like reptiles to mammals. [23]

The authors point out that Darwin himself saw the lack of transitional fossils as evidence against evolution. They quote him from On the Origin of Species:

...The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, [must] be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. (p. 94)

The authors go on to comment that "fossil findings were still quite patchy in Darwin's day" and that Darwin believed "intermediates connecting these individual fossils would still be found." Although Darwin did predict that more intermediate fossils would someday be found, he immediately after the above quote stated his belief that the reason for the lack of intermediates rather lay, as indicated by his chapter title, "in the extreme imperfection of the geological record." [24] Darwin additionally stated his belief that conditions likely to cause the formation of new species were unlikely to allow for their fossilization. He concluded, "Nature may almost be said to have guarded against the frequent discovery of her transitional or linking forms." [25] Darwin in fact did believe the fossil record to be evidence for evolution, and it was not his only source of such evidence. [26]

As evidence of the lack of transitional fossils, the authors quote paleontologist Colin Patterson:

I will lay it on the line--there is not one such fossil [a fossil that is ancestral or transitional] for which one could make a watertight argument. (p. 107)

In fact what Patterson meant by this statement was not that transitional forms do not exist but rather that they may be on a side branch and not directly ancestral. [27] Note that such side branches still provide useful information about evolutionary history. [28]

The authors deny that there are any transition fossils documenting the transformation of the reptilian jawbone into the mammalian ear. They explain:

...the skulls and mandibles (lower jaws) of the Therapsids are said to have bones homologous to those of the first mammals...According to Darwinian theory, these two bones have become relocated in the middle ear of the mammals through evolutionary descent (see Figure 5-7). Yet there is no fossil record for such an amazing process. (p. 121, figure omitted)

Contrary to the claim, however, the evolution of the mammalian ear from the reptilian jawbone is well documented through many transitional forms. [29]

The authors deny that Archaeopteryx could be transitional between reptiles and birds since, "No process capable of sculpting its feathers while leaving its other reptilian features untouched is known to current Darwinian theory." (p. 23) In fact examination of genomes demonstrates how feather genes evolved from those of scales. [30]

The authors maintain that except for its feathers Archaeopteryx exhibits the characteristics of reptiles, and therefore it could not be transitional between reptiles and birds since "once Archaeopteryx acquired feathers, the selection pressure for the avian complex would intensify further." (p. 106) Note that this falsely assumes feathers could only be used for flying and that flight was somehow the "goal" of evolution in this case. Contrary to the claim Archaeopteryx does in fact exhibit features of both reptiles and modern birds. [31]

It should be noted that the authors present a diagram depicting Archaeopteryx situated between a dinosaur and a modern bird with rectangles drawn before and after the Archaeopteryx. The caption explains, "The graduated rectangles represent an untold number of missing intermediates between reptile and bird" (p. 106) This illustrates the creationist tendency to, when presented with a transitional B between organisms A and C, to then demand to be shown the transitional forms between A and B and between B and C. In fact there are many transitional forms known between reptiles and birds, including Archaeopteryx. [32]

The authors claim that "there are no clear transitional fossils linking land mammals to whales," (pp. 101-102) citing only Basilosaurus as being transitional between Mesonyx and modern whales. Contrary to the claim, several transitional species are known between land mammals and whales. [33] It must be admitted that some of these fossil species were not discovered until after this book's publishing date. Note that this circumstance illustrates a weakness in the intelligent design viewpoint. Since the proof for intelligent design lies mainly in the claim of the lack of evidence for evolution, it follows that newly discovered evidence for evolution then represents evidence against intelligent design.

Likewise the authors claim that "no such transitional species have been recovered" between crossopterygians (lobe-finned fish) and amphibians, and, "Moreover, we have no fossil evidence of the evolution of the crossopterygians from other fish." (p. 104) Contrary to the claim, there are examples of transitional species both between jawless fish and bony fish and between bony fish, to include crossopterygians, and amphibians. [34] Note that, although the authors do acknowledge crossopterygians to be transitional between "early fish" and amphibians, they again conclude that this creates two gaps in the fossil record where one previously existed. They explain:

Two large gaps thus exist in the fossil record between ordinary Devonian fish (325 million years ago) and amphibians; one between ordinary fish and crossopterygians, and an even larger gap between these lobe-finned fish and amphibians. (p. 104)

Note it is left unstated how small a gap has to be before it is no longer considered a gap.

Furthermore the authors deny that any transitional species link modern humans with their primitive ancestors. They apparently dismiss Australopithecus africanus as being essentially an ape, noting, "It has an average cranial capacity of about 500 cc (compared to an average of about 1400 cc for modern man), stood about 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall, and weighed an average of 90 to 100 lbs." (p. 107) This comparison ignores notable similarities with modern humans such as dentition and, significantly, bipedality. [35]

The authors then pose the question, "Was Homo habilis really the earliest human being, or was it only a primate like the australopithecines?" (p. 108) and imply that its placement in the human family tree is controversial. In fact H. habilis is noticeably more humanlike than A. africanus. [36] Note that the authors' question demonstrates their strategy of attempting to identify human ancestors as being either fully ape or fully human. They conclude that some design proponents interpret H. habilis "instead as an extinct primate," (p. 108) downplaying his use of tools. It should be noted, however, that other authors have identified H. habilis as fully human. [37]

It should also be noted that despite pointing out that Homo erectus had, quite obviously, "significant anatomical differences from modern man that have prevented its classification as Homo sapiens" and that he "left no evidence that it buried its dead, no signs of art, or other recognizably human culture," (p. 110) the authors fail to conclusively identify him as fully ape or fully human. This is perhaps due to their difficulty in assigning such a classification.

The authors do conclude, "Design adherents, however, regard Homo erectus, as well as the other hominids discussed in this section, as little more than apes, and point instead to the abrupt appearance of the culture and patterns of behavior which distinguish man from the apes." (pp. 112-113) They assert, "The best information we can seek about man's ancestors is that which tells us, not what they looked like, but what they did and how they behaved." (p. 111) It is left unstated why culture, which is inherently subjective, is a superior determiner of species. Additionally the authors themselves did a fairly decent job of documenting that tool use and other indicators of culture among early hominids evolved over time.

The authors assert that if evolution happened there should be evidence of partially formed features in the fossil record, and they note, "No creatures with a partial wing or partial eye are known." (p. 100) Actually evolution predicts that a partial eye would benefit an organism, and as such the eye could have evolved. In fact many organisms have eyes that are not as effective as ours and many have eyes that are better, so in that sense there are creatures with partial eyes. [38] Likewise there are uses for partially developed wings other than flight. [39]

As evidence of the lack of transitional fossils, the authors note that preceding fish in the fossil record "we don't find creatures that are partly fish and partly something else..." (p. 22) Note that evolution does not predict half creatures but rather creatures with transitional features. [40]

The authors assert that since there are no transitional fossils that organisms must have appeared fully formed, and that this is what the fossil record indicates. They note that "fossil forms first appear in the rock record with their distinctive features intact, and apparently fully functional, rather than gradually developing." (p. 100) This argument fails to recognize significant changes in organisms since they first appeared in the fossil record. For example, although the authors state that "fish have all the characteristics of today's fish from the earliest known fish fossils," (p. 22) this ignores huge differences between the strange, jawless fish of the Cambrian and modern fish.

As evidence that organisms appeared fully formed, the authors point out the "Cambrian explosion," in which "a dramatic range of body plans made [an] early, abrupt appearance." (p. 22) A diagram is presented with unlabeled vertical lines representing "the Cambrian origins of nearly all animal phyla in relation to the overall time scale of the history of animal organisms." (p. 95) All of the vertical lines in the diagram begin at or above a single horizontal line, implying that the majority of the phyla, unidentified in the diagram, entered the fossil record at a single point in time and that no phyla appeared before. This model of the Cambrian diversification fails to acknowledge the actual duration of the event, evolution occurring within it, evidence of life, even phyla, appearing beforehand, scientific reasons for the event and reasons why it only appears to have been so abrupt, the major differences between organisms then and now, and the observation that major diversifications have occurred at other times as well. [41]

As evidence that there have been no great diversifications of life since the Cambrian, the authors note that "the 'Explosion' of new animal phyla in the early to Middle Cambrian is followed by a nearly complete 'silence'; new phyla simply stop appearing throughout the remaining 500 million years or more of geological time!" (p. 94) In reality this is not a criticism of evolution but rather a function of the way in which phylogenetic trees form. That is, since phyla are large groups of related organisms, their branching point, by definition, will be far down in the tree and, by necessity, long ago. [42]

Evolution predicts a continuum of organisms, not discrete kinds[edit]

The authors claim that evolution predicts not only a continuum of transitional fossils but also a continuum of extant organisms. They note:

The picture painted by Darwinists is of a continuous series of organisms. Life unfolds in a sequence of stages from simple to complex. Within each classification are some organisms that are "primitive," barley emerging from a previous, simpler stage, and others that are "advanced," on their way to a more complex stage. (p. 39)

Note that in this model it is again mistakenly assumed that evolution has a goal in mind.

The authors then note that in nature, "The living world shows us a picture of clusters of organisms, each grouped around a set of defining characteristics." (p. 39) Based on the claim about the prediction of evolution and their observation of nature, the authors pose the question, "Why is the world not filled with intermediate forms of every conceivable kind?" (p. 88) Contrary to this argument, evolution does predict that specialization and extinction will result in segregation of species. Nonetheless there exist examples in nature of species without clearly defined boundaries, such as ring species. In some cases the boundary of a species is an arbitrary, manmade designation. [43]

Some systems are irreducibly complex[edit]

The authors refuse to acknowledge that a structure or an organism can develop one step at a time. As support they present an analogy:

In creating a new organism, as in building a new house, the blueprint comes first. We cannot build a palace by tinkering with a tool shed and adding bits of marble piecemeal here and there. We have to begin by devising a plan for the palace that coordinates all the parts into an integrated whole. (p. 14)

Note that this is a bad analogy. Whereas the piecemeal approach might not be efficient for building a palace, it is more or less how evolution predicts new organisms will develop. Also note that although building a palace should start with a plan, evolution does not begin with a result in mind. Furthermore primitive housing was developed without blueprints by people experimenting piecemeal with various combinations of sticks, hides, palm fronds and whatever other building materials were in their immediate area. Successful designs were integrated into future designs and pre-planning advanced alongside architectural progress, not before it.

The authors present the giraffe as an example of irreducible complexity in the form of a combination of characteristics. They explain:

...the giraffe represents not a mere collection of individual traits but a package of interrelated adaptations. It is put together according to an overall design that integrates all parts into a single pattern...But it is difficult to explain how a random process could offer to natural selection an integrated package of adaptations, even over time. (p. 13)

However, this argument fails to note that evolution predicts a giraffe's characteristics would be acquired simultaneously and in small steps.

As a further example of an irreducibly complex system, the authors present blood clotting. They claim that "when isolated from its 'molecular team,' each of the many components of the system can accomplish nothing constructive, like a steering wheel that is not connected to a car." (p. 144) No one is suggesting that every component of blood clotting or any other complicated biological system be effective in isolation but rather that pieces were added in a stepwise fashion. The authors further claim, "Only when all the components of the system are present and in good working order does the system function properly." (p. 145) It should be noted that, although whales lack some components of the standard vertebrate blood clotting system, their blood still clots. [44] The authors even assert that "no one has ever offered a credible hypothesis to explain how the blood clotting system could have started and subsequently evolved." (p. 145) Contrary to the claim, biology professor Kenneth Miller presents a plausible hypothesis for the evolution of blood clotting. [45]

The authors conclude, "Like a car engine, biological systems can only work after they have been assembled by someone who knows what the final result will be." (p. 145) This clearly demonstrates the authors' mistaken attribution of purpose to evolution.

Homology cannot be evidence of ancestry if it is defined thus[edit]

The authors claim that homology is circularly defined since "the concept of evolutionary descent is employed to explain similar structures, and then the existence of similar structures is cited as evidence that macroevolution has occurred." (p. 32) Contrary to the claim, homology is not used to determine descent, but rather it is applied after common ancestry has been established by the nested hierarchy pattern of similar characteristics. [46]

As evidence to support its claim that homologous structures do not form a nested pattern, the authors present the example of hemoglobin. They note, "Similar structures, like the hemoglobin molecule, appear here and there in the mosaic of living things, like a silver thread weaving in and out of a tapestry." (p. 33) In fact hemoglobin is a name given to molecules of different structure and function because of their oxygen binding ability. Additionally the apparent absence of hemoglobin in some invertebrates may actually be due simply to very low levels of expression. [47]

The authors assert that homology is evidence of design rather than evidence of evolution. They note:

Many things can be classified that are not derived from a common ancestor--things like cars and paintings and carpenter's tools; in short, human artifacts. What makes all Fords look similar, or all Rembrandts, or all screwdrivers, is that they are derived from a common design or pattern in the mind of the person making them...Our experience of how human minds work provides an indication of how a primeval intellect might have worked. (pp. 32-33)

Note this argument fails to first establish that the pattern of organization of manufactured items suggests that it is analogous to that of life. In fact manmade items are not generally classifiable in a nested hierarchical pattern. In addition this argument fails to note that intelligent design does not make predictions as to when a similar structure will perform a different function or a similar function will be performed by a different structure. Evolution on the other hand predicts that such cases will follow a nested hierarchical pattern. [48]

Similarities in DNA and anatomy are due to common design[edit]

The authors assert that biochemical similarities are not evidence of evolution but rather are evidence of design. They explain:

The proteins of humans more closely resemble those of monkeys than those of turtles, for example. This is taken as confirmation that humans share a common ancestry with monkeys.

Proponents of intelligent design read similarity in structure as a reflection of similarity in should not surprise us that organisms share similarities on both anatomical and biochemical levels. (p. 36)

However, this argument fails to note that the tenets of intelligent design do not predict when similar biochemistry should coincide with similar anatomy. On the other hand, not only does evolution predict similar biochemistry in related organisms, similar biochemistry actually implies relatedness. [49]

To advance the claim that evolution is not supported by the biochemical evidence, the authors present several variations of an argument based on the comparison of amino acid sequences in cytochrome c of various organisms. They explain:

Now look at the entry for silkworm moth (No. 15 at the top of the table) and this time go down the table from vertebrate class to vertebrate class. Notice that the cytochrome c of this insect exhibits the same degree of difference from organisms as diverse as human, penguin, snapping turtle, tuna, and lamprey. Considering the enormous variation represented by these organisms, it is astonishing that they all differ from the silkworm moth by almost exactly the same percent.

The reason this finding is so surprising is that it contradicts the Darwinian expectation. As we move up the scale of evolution from the silkworm moth, that expectation (although it was probably never stated as a prediction) was to find progressively more divergence on the molecular level...Darwinism would predict a greater molecular distance from the insect to the amphibian than to the living fish, greater distance still to the reptile, and greater than that to the mammal. Yet this pattern is not found. (p. 37, table omitted)

The trick here is to recognize that the pattern evolution predicts is a tree, and it is not a straight line as implied by the authors in the portion of the above quote after the ellipsis. When evolution is properly viewed as a tree one can see that the most recent common ancestor of the moth and the above-listed vertebrates is going to be the same organism (at the invertebrate/vertebrate split), and thus the similarity in the molecular divergence noted is exactly what evolution predicts. [50]

That the authors would lead us to believe evolution predicts this disproved straight line pattern is evidenced by the statement, "By studying sequences of amino acids in proteins, it has been found that organisms cannot be lined up in a series, A->B->C, where A is an ancestor of B and B an ancestor of C,but are instead, approximately equidistant from most other organisms in a different taxon." (p. 40) Consider also the implication of a straight line pattern in the statement that "it has proved impossible to arrange protein sequences in a macroevolutionary series corresponding to the expected transitions from fish->amphibian->reptile->mammal." (p. 140)

The authors claim that the molecular clock cannot be used to determine relatedness since organisms differ in generation times, and additionally "the rates of mutation are different for different proteins," necessitating "not one molecular clock, but thousands." (p. 39) In fact researchers have taken these considerations into account, and a fairly accurate molecular clock can be established for a given gene by calibrating from previously established dating and using variable rates estimated from statistical analysis. [51]

The odds of life forming are incredibly small[edit]

The authors present the view of a spontaneous origin of life thusly:

One explanation for the origin of life is that the first living cell, or cells, developed from nonliving matter according to chemical laws that we can observe today. This explanation is called the theory of chemical evolution or prebitoic (before biological life) evolution. (p. 41)

Note the implication that the first cell appeared all at once. Note also the implication that the conditions under which it appeared can be observed today. The authors make the similar assumption that DNA appeared all at once. Consider the statement, "It is also assumed that DNA and RNA were formed in a similar way when their chemical building blocks combined," and, "others maintain that DNA and proteins appeared simultaneously." (p. 45)

The authors make assumptions about the nature of the first cell. They state, "These presumed first cells had cell membranes, complex metabolism, genetic coding, and the ability to reproduce." (p. 46) Note that no one knows about the nature of the first cells, but they were almost certainly much simpler than modern cells. [52]

To support their claim that life could not have developed spontaneously, the authors present the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis as "the foundation for the theory of chemical evolution." (p. 43) Note that this hypothesis was 65 years old at the first printing of Pandas.

To further support the claim that life could not have developed spontaneously, the authors state that "it is not at all clear that Oparin's basic assumption of an early oxygen-free atmosphere is correct." (p. 48) Note that despite the authors' ability to find two references to the contrary, it is the scientific consensus that the early atmosphere was lacking in oxygen. [53] In fact one of the references for the above claim is a letter to a periodical arguing that oxygen in the early atmosphere would have allowed for a UV ozone screen protecting spontaneously generating life, so the conclusion of the reference actually contradicts the claim. [54]

To further support the claim that life could not have developed spontaneously, the authors assert that by using a trap Miller and Urey's apparatus "didn't really match what has been understood of the prebiotic conditions." (p. 48) They further assert, "In this respect, the design of Miller's apparatus was very different from the conditions existing on the earth as proposed by Oparin." (p. 49) The source for the latter quote is listed by the authors as The Mystery of Life's Origin, an intelligent design book published in 1984. [55][56] This work, referenced five additional times in this chapter, can by no means be considered a source for the scientific consensus, and it is inappropriate to use it as such.

The authors further assert that the amino acid sequences representing early self-replicating molecules could not have formed because "reactions in an organic soup full of tens of thousands of varieties of chemicals, instead of neatly matching amino acid to amino acid and sugar to sugar, would tie up useful chemicals in cumbersome masses of cross-reactions." (p. 49) In fact the combination of amino acids and sugars is known as the Maillard reaction, or the browning of food, and there are many known inhibitors of it. [57][58]

As evidence against the hypothesis that proteinoid microspheres could have represented an early stage of chemical evolution, the authors assert:

...we have already seen how sugars react with amino acids to form the nonbiological compound known as melanoidin. Because of such cross-reactions, which Oparin assumed did not occur, it is very unlikely that proteinoids could have formed under natural conditions on a primitive earth. (p. 53, emphasis in original)

It is interesting to note that this assertion contradicts previous conclusions of author Dean Kenyon in a 1976 article in the Journal of Molecular Evolution in which he and his coauthor claim, "It is concluded that melanoidin and aldocyanoin microspheres are plausible candidates for precellular units in the primitive hydrosphere." [59]

The authors of Of Pandas and People then conclude that "many scientists agree that [biochemist Sidney W. ] Fox's use of selected and purified amino acid mixtures isn't realistic." (p. 53) The reference for this quote, the "many scientists" mentioned, is again the intelligent design work The Mystery of Life's Origin, and the relevant passage from it seems to be, "The approach of Fox and others, which involves reacting gases to form many organic compounds, separating out amino acids, purifying, and finally polymerizing them, is more successful because it involves a greater measure of investigator interference." [60] Note this argument fails to take into account that the investigator does not have four billion years to watch the experiment and that therefore some amount of interference is inevitable.

The authors present the preference for organic molecules of a particular handedness as evidence that life could not have developed spontaneously. They note:

No one knows why amino acids in living things only occur in one of their two possible forms...Scientists have conducted special experiments to try to find out how these "preferences" originally developed, but so far all such attempts have failed. (p. 51)

Note that this is an argument from ignorance. It may well be that there exists a compelling reason for the particular handedness of organic molecules. Also just because organic molecules began with a particular handedness does not imply that life could not have worked anyway had the handedness been different.

The authors work in a statistical argument against the spontaneous generation of life with the conclusion that "there has not been enough time during the conventionally accepted age of the universe (15 billion years) to try every combination in an attempt to find the specific combination of one protein!" (p. 54) Note that this argument not only demonstrates a misunderstanding of statistics but also a misunderstanding of biology. [61]

To make it appear that even scientists doubt that life could develop spontaneously, the authors quote biochemist Klaus Dose:

More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance. (pp. 57-58)

However, note that Dose goes on immediately hereafter to state:

New lines of thinking and experimentation must be tried. The continued exploration of our solar system, especially a better knowledge of Mars and Venus, of comets and carbonaceous meteorites may also lead to a better understanding of the prebiotic environment on Earth and will thus help us to design more appropriate prebiotic simulation experiments." [62]

In context then it becomes clear that, rather than doubting abiogenesis, Dose is simply advocating new avenues of research.

The authors of the conclusion would like us to believe that scientists generally doubt a spontaneous origin of life. They note that "the standard models explaining chemical evolution--the origin of the first living cell--have taken severe scientific criticism." (p. 152) It should be noted that the mentioned criticism from the general scientific community in fact represents disagreements as to the mechanism rather than the historical fact of abiogenesis, and is in no way intended as support for intelligent design. [63]


Despite its resemblance to a scientific work, this book contains numerous errors of fact, withheld information, and invalid conclusions, and it does not teach good science. In summary, to quote the conclusion of Of Pandas and People:

If students are to achieve true scientific literacy, they must learn to distinguish fact from supposition. A curriculum that blurs this distinction serves neither the students nor society. (p. 157)


  1. "Percival Davis." Wikipedia.
  2. "Scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation." Creation Ministries International.
  3. "Charles Thaxton." Wikipedia.
  4. Creation Ministries International.
  5. Isaak, Mark (2006). "Index to Creationist Claims."
  6. "Creationism and evolution are the only 2 models." The TalkOrigins Archive. May 30, 2003.
  7. "Evolution can not be replicated." The TalkOrigins Archive. Apr. 21, 2003.
  8. Theobald, Douglas (1999-2007). "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution." The TalkOrigins Archives.
  9. "Evolution requires as much faith as creationism." The TalkOrigins Archive. Feb. 18, 2001.
  10. Darwin, Charles. "The Origin of Species: Chapter 14: Recapitulation and Conclusion." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  11. Yockey, Hubert P. (Nov. 16, 2005). "Dr. Hubert Yockey’s answer to FTE amicus brief."
  12. "Archaeologists and forensic scientists can detect design." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2003.
  13. "Mutations do not produce new features." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2003-2004.
  14. "Most mutations are harmful." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2001-2008.
  15. Drake, John W.; et. al. (Apr. 1998). "Rates of Spontaneous Mutation." Genetics.
  16. "Odds of many successive beneficial mutations are minuscule." The TalkOrigins Archive. Nov. 2, 2003.
  17. "Microevolution selects only existing variation." The TalkOrigins Archive. Feb. 17, 2001.
  18. "Fruit fly experiments produce only fruit flies." The TalkOrigins Archive. Aug. 20, 2003.
  19. Maluszynski, M.; Nichterlein, K.; Van Zanten, L.; Ahloowalia, B. S. (Dec. 2000). "Officially released mutant varieties - the FAO/IAEA database."
  20. Buttemer, William A. (1992). "Differential Overnight Survival by Bumpus' House Sparrows: An Alternate Interpretation." The Cooper Ornithological Society.
  21. Eldredge, Niles; Gould, Stephen Jay (1972). "Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism." pp. 98-108.
  22. Wilkins, John S. (Feb. 19, 2009) "Myth 4: Darwin was a gradualist." ScienceBlogs.
  23. Hunt, Kathleen (1994-1997). "Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ Part 1B." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  24. Darwin, Charles. "The Origin of Species Chapter 9: On the Imperfection of the Geological Record." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Fitch, David H. A. (1997). "Darwin's Evidence for Evolution (lecture notes)." New York University.
  27. Theunissen, Lionel (1997). "Patterson Misquoted: A Tale of Two 'Cites'." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  28. "Transitional fossils do not show direct ancestry." The TalkOrigins Archive. Aug. 24, 2006.
  29. "There are gaps between reptiles and mammals." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2003-2004.
  30. Greenwold, Matthew J.; Sawyer, Roger H. (May 18, 2010). "Genomic organization and molecular phylogenies of the beta keratin multigene family in the chicken (Gallus gallus) and zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata): implications for feather evolution." PubMed Central.
  31. Nedin, Chris (1999-2002). "All About Archaeopteryx." The TalkOrigins Archives.
  32. "There are gaps between reptiles and birds." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2001-2005.
  33. "There are gaps between land mammals and whales." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2001-2006.
  34. Hunt, Kathleen (1994-1997). "Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ." The TalkOrigins Archive
  35. "Hominid Species." The TalkOrigins Archives.
  36. ibid.
  37. "Comparison of all skulls." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  38. "What use is half an eye?" The TalkOrigins Archive. 2003-2007.
  39. "What use is half a wing?" The TalkOrigins Archive. 2001-2005.
  40. "We do not see creatures in various stages of completion." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2003.
  41. "The Cambrian explosion shows all kinds of life appearing suddenly." The Talk Origins Archive. 2001-2006.
  42. Meritt, Jim. "The General Anti-Creationism FAQ: Evolution." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  43. "Evolution predicts a continuum of organisms, not discrete kinds." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2003-2006.
  44. Robinson, A. J.; Kropatkin, M.; Aggeler, P.M. (Dec. 12, 1969). "Hageman factor (factor XII) deficiency in marine mammals." PubMed
  45. Miller, Kenneth R. "The Evolution of Vertebrate Blood Clotting."
  46. "Homology cannot be evidence of ancestry if it is defined thus." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2001-2005.
  47. Weber, Roy E.; Vinogradov, Serge N. (Apr. 2001). "Nonvertebrate Hemoglobins: Functions and Molecular Adaptations." Physiological Reviews.
  48. "Similarities in DNA and anatomy are due to common design." The TalkOrigins Archive. May 5, 2003.
  49. Theobald, Douglas (1999-2004). "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: Part 4: The Molecular Sequence Evidence." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  50. "Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District: Trial transcript: Day 1 (September 26), AM Session, Part 2." The TalkOrigins Archive.
  51. Drummond, A. J.; Ho, S.; Phillips, M. J.; Rambaut, A. (March 14, 2006). "Relaxed Phylogenetics and Dating with Confidence." PubMed Central.
  52. "First cells could not come together by chance." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2001-2005.
  53. Des Marais, D. J. (May, 1998). "Earth's Early Biosphere."
  54. Carver, J. H. (July 9, 1981). "Prebiotic atmospheric oxygen levels." Nature.
  55. "The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories." Center for Science and Culture. Jan. 1, 1985.
  56. "The book that began the ID movement, by Thaxton, Bradley, Olsen." Uncommon Descent. Dec. 11, 2006.
  57. "The Maillard reaction: chemistry, biochemistry, and implications." Google books.
  58. Mogol, B. A.; Yildirim, A.; Gokmen, V. (Aug. 5, 2010). "Inhibition of enzymatic browning in actual food systems by the Maillard reaction products." Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
  59. Kenyon, D. H.; Nissenbaum, A. "Melanoidin and aldocyanoin microspheres: Implications for chemical evolution and early precambrian micropaleontology." SpringerLink.
  60. "Chapter 9: Specifying How Work Is To Be Done."
  61. "The odds of life forming are incredibly small." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2001-2003.
  62. Dose, Klaus (Dec. 1988). "The Origin of Life: More Questions Than Answers." ingentaconnect.
  63. "Many scientists find problems with evolution." The TalkOrigins Archive. 2003-2004.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]