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Dover in Review, pt. 3: Did Judge Jones accurately describe the content and early versions of the ID textbook Of Pandas and People?

Note: This is the third part of a multi-part series. You can read the first two installments here and here.

In his decision in the Dover intelligent design case, Judge Jones places great weight on the early intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE). According to Judge Jones, early drafts of this textbook supposedly show that intelligent design is merely repackaged creationism. However, Judge Jones seriously misrepresents the facts about Of Pandas and People, and he also misapplies the relevant legal standards.

Before addressing the merits of Judge Jones’ assertions regarding Pandas, something needs to be said about the legal and ethical propriety of Judge Jones placing so much weight on this early textbook in his judicial opinion. Frankly, it is astounding that Judge Jones treats Pandas as central to his decision given that he refused to grant the book’s publisher, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, permission to intervene in the case in order to defend itself.

Earlier this year when it became evident that the ACLU was trying to put Pandas on trial just as much as the Dover School Board, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics sought to intervene in the case so that it could defend itself. FTE wanted to cross-examine the ACLU’s witnesses as well as present its own experts, evidence, and arguments during the trial. Yet Judge Jones rejected FTE’s motion for intervention. FTE was eventually allowed to submit a “friend of the court” brief to Judge Jones, but such briefs do not have the same status as evidence and arguments presented at trial, and the brief was limited to no more than 5,000 words (including footnotes). That’s right, Judge Jones allowed FTE a mere 5,000 words to rebut literally hundreds of pages of testimony and allegations made by the ACLU. How is that for fair and impartial justice? Given Judge Jones’ explicit refusal to allow FTE to present a defense in the Dover case, his condemnation of FTE’s textbook was grotesque.

Regarding the substance of Judge Jones’ critique of Pandas, one would do well to read the amicus brief filed by FTE in the case. The FTE brief clearly demonstrates (1) that the published versions of Pandas do not promote creationism; (2) that the early drafts of Pandas did not promote “creationism” as it has been defined by the Supreme Court; and (3) that even if early drafts of Pandas did promote creationism in the eyes of Judge Jones, those drafts should be legally irrelevant. FTE’s full brief (including footnotes and appendices with supporting documentation) can be downloaded here and here.



A. Intelligent Design, As Described In Pandas, Bases Its Claims On Empirical Evidence And Scientific Methods Rather Than Upon Faith, Doctrine, Or Scripture.

Creationism is identified by its reliance upon religious scripture and doctrine, rather than empirical evidence. By contrast, the theory of intelligent design, as developed in Pandas, relies upon scientific data and does not address religious or doctrinal questions. Pandas infers design using observations, uniform experience, and empirical experimental evidence: “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.” Pandas consistently takes this empirical approach and nowhere relies upon faith, doctrine, or religious scripture.

B. Intelligent Design, As Described In Pandas, Is Distinct From Creationism Because It Does Not Use Science To Postulate A “Supernatural Creator,” Nor Does It Attempt To Validate The Biblical Account In Genesis.

Plaintiffs contend that teaching intelligent design endorses religion. The endorsement test, as adopted by the Supreme Court, employs an objective component where a statement cannot be taken in isolation but must be read in its entire context: “The meaning of a statement to its audience depends both on the intention of the speaker and on the “objective” meaning of the statement in the community. Some listeners need not rely solely on the words themselves in discerning the speaker’s intent: they can judge the intent by, for example, examining the context of the statement or asking questions of the speaker.” Plaintiffs ignore the context in Pandas explaining how intelligent design cannot identify the designer as well as Pandas’ emphasis on empirical data.

1. Pandas Demonstrates That Intelligent Design Takes A Scientific Approach Which Cannot Identify The Designer.

In Edwards, the Supreme Court held that creation science entailed the “religious viewpoint” that “a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of humankind.” Plaintiffs try to force the square peg of design into the round hole carved by Edwards, falsely asserting that Pandas postulates a “supernatural entity.” Yet Pandas clearly states that the scientific theory of intelligent design cannot address questions about the ultimate nature of the intelligent cause: “But what kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy.” “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.” Because it does not delve into questions surrounding the supernatural, Pandas does not violate methodological naturalism (as espoused by plaintiffs).

Moreover, the Pandas edition used in Dover explicitly disclaims endorsement of Christianity: “Advocates of design have included not only Christians and other religious theists, but pantheists, Greek and Enlightenment philosophers and now include many modern scientists who describe themselves as religiously agnostic. Moreover, the concept of design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God.” This context makes it clear that Pandas does not endorse any particular religious belief, including Christianity. All design implies is “life had an intelligent source.”

2. Plaintiffs Mistakenly Contrast Natural Causes With Supernatural Causes, Rather Than With Intelligent Causes.

In an attempt to attack the scientific basis of the theory of intelligent design, plaintiffs claim that the only alternative to explanation by natural causes is an appeal to supernatural causes. Pandas offers two distinct categories of scientific explanation: natural and intelligent. Pandas carefully distinguishes between “supernatural” causes and “intelligent” causes, for intelligent causes are amenable to scientific investigation, whereas it is impossible to detect whether a cause is “supernatural.” The distinction between intelligent and supernatural causes is a critical one, and it was adopted by FTE before the decision in Edwards, as reflected in early drafts of Pandas. If plaintiffs were correct, Pandas should not explain design using examples of intelligent, yet non-supernatural causes. But Pandas offers many such examples, including human writers, artists, skywriters, car manufacturers, carpenters, tribespeople, and engineers. In short, the intelligent aspect of a cause is detectable, while supernatural identity is not: if an intelligent cause is indeed supernatural, its identity as such cannot be determined via science. Pandas explains that we have everyday experience with detecting intelligence; thus, intelligent design is not an untestable supernatural concept.

3. Statements About A “Master Intellect” Do Not Endorse Religion.

Plaintiffs argue that appealing to a “master intellect” entails a deity. Yet the appropriate dictionary definition of “master” has no religious overtones: “being a master of some occupation, art, etc.; eminently skilled a master diplomat; a master pianist.” Pandas refers to the “master intellect” in terms of the designer’s ability to design sophisticated biological molecules. An early draft of Pandas observes: “Some master intellect is the creator of life. But such observable instances of information cannot tell us if the intellect behind them is natural or supernatural. This is not a question that science can answer.”
The claim that the complex information in biological organisms is best explained by an intelligent source is no more “ultimate” in its reach than the claim of Neo-Darwinism that all life results from random mutation and natural selection. What matters is not the degree of “ultimacy” but whether the claim is one that science can address. “Thus the so-called ‘Big Bang’ theory, an astronomical interpretation of the creation of the universe, may be said to answer an ‘ultimate’ question, but it is not, by itself, a ‘religious’ idea.” Similarly, intelligent design interprets biological data as sharing the same informational content found in human language and machines. Like Big Bang cosmology or Neo-Darwinism, the theory of intelligent design in biology is not religious because it lacks “comprehensiveness” and is “generally confined to one question.”

4. Pandas Does Not Advocate “Creation Ex Nihilo” And Advocates A View Of The Fossil Record Consistent With That Of Paleontologists.

The phrase “creation ex nihilo” exists nowhere in Pandas. Nonetheless, plaintiffs complain that Pandas advocates “abrupt appearance,” which they claim is equivalent to “creation ex nihilo.” Pandas states that “[i]ntelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency….,” but this language is a comment on the fossil record, not a theological assertion. It is also a commonplace observation among paleontologists. For example, Stephen Jay Gould wrote: “The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change . . . transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt.” [emphasis added]. True, creationism also defined itself in terms of abrupt appearance, but simply because Pandas shared this view with creationists no more renders it a form of creationism than does Stephen Jay Gould’s observation render him a creationist. Moreover, in Edwards, the Supreme Court declared creationism religion because it required the “supernatural”; “abrupt appearance” had no influence upon the majority’s constitutional analysis, no doubt because of the number of mainstream paleontologists who hold similar views.

5. Pandas Does Not Promote A View Parallel To Genesis.

While Edwards took a broad view of creationism, the Court cited extensively to McLean, which found that “the parallels between [creationism] and Genesis are quite specific.” These parallels include: “(1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.” Two concurring Justices in Edwards observed that McLean recognized that creationist organizations require commitment to specific religious tenets, including the view that all life was created “by direct creative acts of God during Creation Week as described in Genesis” and “accept[ance] of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.” Pandas promotes nothing even approximating these viewpoints.

Pandas makes no reference to a flood or worldwide geological catastrophe. Pandas never takes the viewpoint that life or the earth were created recently, and at various points incorporates a conventional geological time scale. Pandas makes no references to Genesis or Christian religious doctrines. It does not claim that life was created “out of nothing” and does not even explore questions about the origin of the universe. While the textbook does question, on scientific grounds, the ability of mutation and selection to account for the complexity of life and at other points questions common ancestry of all living organisms, these views in themselves do not constitute a religious viewpoint and indeed are advocated by a number of scientists in mainstream scientific literature.


Plaintiffs allege that unpublished draft versions of Pandas provide evidence that the “real” purpose of the published book is to promote “creationism” and “creation science.” But this claim rests on faulty logic and a misrepresentation of the content of these draft versions.

A. Early, Unpublished Drafts Of Pandas Have No Bearing Upon What Students Learn In Schools Today.

It is puzzling, to say the least, that Plaintiffs should rely upon early drafts of Pandas, in light of the burden on Plaintiffs to show that either of the first two prongs of the Lemon test have been violated. Unless either the school board, the teachers or the students were aware of the early drafts of Pandas, it is hard to see how their content could be in any way relevant to the question of whether the school board’s actions had a secular purpose, or had a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. Perhaps plaintiffs recognized that what is presented in the book actually adopted by the school board does not support their claim of unconstitutionality—and so they shift attention to an earlier unused version. But the earlier version was never adopted by the school board and will never be seen by students. Amicus thus urges that only the published version of Pandas is germane, and that previous drafts be ignored.

B. The Removal Of “Creationist” Terminology From The Published Version Of Should Be Interpreted As A Rejection Of Creationism, Not As Hidden Support For Creationism.

Assuming, ad arguendo, that the Court looks to previous drafts of Pandas to interpret its meaning, however, Amicus urges the Court to draw precisely the opposite conclusions from those advanced by Plaintiffs. Admittedly there are no canons of “textbook interpretation”; however, using canons of construction employed in interpreting statutes, language removed from an earlier draft of statute is usually understood as a rejection of that language. For example, “where Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion.” Similarly, in comparing a previous version of legislation that was vetoed to the bill that was ultimately enacted into law, the Supreme Court interpreted the removal of language about retroactivity to mean that Congress intended not to make the law retroactive. Finally, this same form of reasoning is normative among scholars of constitutional law, who refer to language rejected from drafts of constitutional amendments in order to determine what was not the intent of the Framers. If the Court were to apply this canon of construction to Pandas, then the fact that published versions of Pandas removed mention of “creationism” should indicate that textbook authors did not intend to promote creationism.

C. A Similar Rule Applied to Plaintiffs’ Own Expert’s Publication Would Disqualify Dr. Kenneth Miller’s Textbook.

Plaintiffs claim that references to “creation” and “creationists” deleted from pre-publication drafts of Pandas establish the equivalence of intelligent design and creationism. Yet the first two editions of a biology textbook actually published by plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Kenneth Miller explicitly affirmed the anti-religious claim that Darwinian theory “required” belief in philosophical materialism: “Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its byproducts… Suddenly, humanity was reduced to just one more species in a world that cared nothing for us… Worst of all, there was no divine plan to guide us.”
Dr. Miller was quick to point out that later versions of his textbooks removed such anti-religious statements. But if unpublished drafts—never seen by the school board or students—evidence the “real meaning” of Pandas, what should be the significance of language that Dr. Miller actually published? Plaintiffs’ attempt to rely on pre-publication drafts of Pandas not only ignores the context in which the constitutional issues in this case arise, but threatens to open a floodgate to lawsuits challenging the “hidden agenda” of textbooks widely used by students today.

D. Early Drafts Of Pandas Did Not In Fact Advocate Creationism As It Has Been Defined By The Supreme Court.

While certain early drafts of Pandas and other writings may have used the terms “creation” and “creationists,” it is clear that these terms were defined to mean something quite different from “creationism” as later defined by the Supreme Court. As noted earlier, from the beginning Pandas specifically rejected the view that science could detect whether the intelligent cause identified was supernatural. Although the process by which an intelligent agent produces a designed object can loosely be called a “creation” (as in stating that this brief was the “creation” of several lawyers), the authors of Pandas clearly understood that this was a “placeholder” for a more sophisticated expression of this concept. A pre-Edwards draft from early 1987 emphatically stated that “observable instances of information cannot tell us if the intellect behind them is natural or supernatural. This is not a question that science can answer.” The same early draft rejected the eighteenth century design argument from William Paley because it illegitimately tried “to extrapolate to the supernatural” from the empirical data of science. Paley was wrong because “there is no basis in uniform experience for going from nature to the supernatural, for inferring an unobserved supernatural cause from an observed effect.” Similarly, another early draft (also from when the manuscript was still titled “Biology and Origins”) stated: “[T]here are two things about which we cannot learn through uniform sensory experience. One is the supernatural, and so to teach it in science classes would be out of place . . . [S]cience can identify an intellect, but is powerless to tell us if that intellect is within the universe or beyond it.” By unequivocally affirming that the empirical evidence of science “cannot tell us if the intellect behind [the information in life] was natural or supernatural” it should be clear that the early drafts of Pandas meant something very different by “creation” than did the Supreme Court in Edwards. The decision to use the term “intelligent design” in the final draft to express the emerging theory of origins was not an attempt to evade a court decision, as Plaintiffs have alleged, but rather to furnish a more precise description of the emerging scientific theory.


If this case were being argued in 1989, Pandas might be more dispositive as an authoritative guide to the theory of intelligent design. But there is now more than 15 years of scholarship by scientists and philosophers of science who think there are empirical means to detect design in nature. Pandas predates most of the major works of the contemporary design movement in science, including monographs by Cambridge University Press, and technical articles in peer-reviewed science and philosophy of science journals. The primary guide to the beliefs and views of intelligent design scholars today should be this record of scholarly and scientific and technical articles, not a supplementary high school textbook written more than a decade-and-a-half ago.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.