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Does The Panda’s Black Box “mov[e] beyond mere name-calling and finger-pointing” or continue the Darwinian trend?

Casey Luskin

Does Panda’s Black Box really contribute something new or is it just more Darwinist “name-calling and fingerpointing”?

A book has come out about intelligent design, published by Johns Hopkins University Press and titled The Panda’s Black Box, that promises on its dust-jacket that it “moves beyond mere name-calling and fingerpointing.” Does it live up to its promise? Let’s look at some of the statements in the book to find out. We’ll start with my favorite quote, by bioethicist Jane Maienschein: “There is no doubt, there is no evidence against evolution, and there is no controversy about the science of evolution.” Just keep repeating that to yourself over and over again until you believe it. Other examples include Scott F. Gilbert’s proclamation that “I see Intelligent Design to be in the tradition of American flimflam artistry” or the instance where he calls Jonathan Wells, “The Reverend Jonathan Wells.” “[F]limflam artistry?”

That sure sounds like namecalling to me. And of course Jonathan Wells has never been a “Reverend,” but rather holds 2 Ph.D.’s from top institutions: a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in theology from Yale. Gilbert mentions none of Wells’ academic credentials (nor does Ken Miller, when using the same tactic), and instead prefers a namecalling strategy most common among Darwinist namecalling bloggers. But apparently in the Darwinist academic community, such tactics are also acceptable in books published by Johns Hopkins University Press. All I can conclude is that this book has aptly chosen to put the word “Panda’s” in its title. What follows is a survey of various similar statements made in this academic book that promises to “mov[e] beyond mere name-calling and fingerpointing”:

The statements can be classified into 4 categories:

  • Category 1: Name-Calling
  • Category 2: Fingerpointing
  • Category 3: Patently False Rhetoric
  • Category 4: Mistakes and Other Erroneous Claims.

The table below surveys some comments from various chapters in The Panda’s Black Box (by no means exhaustively) that fit into one or more of these 4 categories:

Author Quote Page # Category and Comments
Nathaniel C. Comfort “among biologists, there is no controversy over Intelligent Design … Biologists–whether atheist, animist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, or Jewish–simply do not take Intelligent Design seriously as an evolutionary mechanism.” 1 Category 3: There are a good number of biologists who support intelligent design, and this is patently false rhetoric.
Nathaniel C. Comfort “the biological worldview [including evolutionary biology] is so well supported by evidence, so coherent theoretically, so compelling to anyone not dogmatically mystical, that many of those insulated by ivy-covered laboratory walls find it inconceivable that anyone would challenge it.” 1-2, emphasis added Categories 1, 2, & 3: In reality, there are hundreds of credentialed scientific dissenters from Darwinian evolution.
Nathaniel C. Comfort “when the scientific community dismisses the challengers as either ignorant or stupid, the public–many of whom accept science’s authority in matters of nature but not of morals–tends to see the disingenuous design proponents as paragons of intellectual honesty and integrity.” 2 Categories 1 & 2: He’s clearly calling design proponents “disingenuous” as a generalized stereotype.
Nathaniel C. Comfort “David Limbaugh, another Discovery Institute fellow…” 4 Category 4: This statement is completely false: David Limbaugh is not and has never been a Discovery Institute fellow.
Nathaniel C. Comfort “Michael Behe is the only practicing bench scientist among the movement’s leaders” 5 Categories 2/3/4: Many ID proponents to laboratory research, and another prime example is Discovery Institute’s senior fellow Scott Minnich, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho who testified alongside Behe at the Dover trial.
Nathaniel C. Comfort “The design proponents count as peer-reviewed anything that was read by another design proponent, whether or not the review process was open to critics of ID, whether or not the peers rejected the article, or where it was published.” 5 Categories 3/4: The statement is false; it refers to our peer-review page which plainly lists a number of peer-reviewed articles published in mainstream scientific articles that went through their normal review process.
Scott F. Gilbert “Intelligent Design celebrates ignorance” 47 Categories 1, 2, 3: ID postulates an intelligent cause based upon our knowledge of the cause and effect relationship of the world, namely that high levels of specified and complex information come only from intelligence.
Scott F. Gilbert “Behe is not the only Intelligent Design ‘scientist’ who ignores or distorts scientific evidence.” 45 Category 1, 2, 3: This is blatant name-calling and fingerpointing, and by putting the word “scientist” in quotes, it also engages in false rhetoric against Behe’s status as a tenured research biochemist.
Scott F. Gilbert “There is no science in Intelligent Design. … There is no substance to Intelligent Design.” 44 Category 3: This is mere rhetoric against ID–a main aspect of ID’s scientific substance is that it can detect whether an intelligent cause was involved in the origin of a natural object by finding the tell-tale sign of intelligent action: high levels of specified complexity.
Scott F. Gilbert “The Reverend Jonathan Wells” 45 Categories 1, 3, & 4: This name-calling implies that Wells is a “Reverend” (which he isn’t), when in reality Wells holds 2 Ph.D.’s from top institutions: a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in theology from Yale. Gilbert mentions none of Wells’ academic credentials.
Scott F. Gilbert “I see Intelligent Design to be in the tradition of American flimflam artistry…” 47 Category 1: This is clear name-calling.
Scott F. Gilbert “Ignorance of the natural world is dangerous; Intelligent Design proponents advocate this pernicious condition.” 49 Categories 2 & 3: He states this after citing a quoted passage from Judge Jones with many mistakes, but this fingerpointing scare tactic is typical Darwinist rhetoric.
Scott F. Gilbert “the Orwellian-named ‘Discovery Institute'” 51 Category 1: Clear name-calling.
Scott F. Gilbert “the chicanery of the type perpetrated by Intelligent Design proponents can only work if there is a public desperate for their message.” 60 Categories 1 & 2: This is clear name-calling and fingerpointing.
Scott F. Gilbert “Intelligent Design is more in the tradition of American hokum than it is in any tradition of Western philosophy or theology.” 62 Categories 1 & 2: This is clear name-calling and fingerpointing.
Jane Maienschein “ID proponents, like their ‘creation science’ predecessors, create confusion about what is really meant by science and by religion and then take excellent advantage of the resulting confusion.” 84 Category 2: She’s pointing fingers at ID proponents for allegedly creating “confusion.”
Jane Maienschien “There is no doubt, there is no evidence against evolution, and there is no controversy about the science of evolution.” 87 Category 3: This is simple false rhetoric–falsified by the fact that over 700 doctoral scientists dissent from Darwinian evolution.
Jane Maienschien “There is no controversy, Jones concluded. Or rather there is no controversy within science. There is no controversy that belongs in public education….Judge Jones’s wise and well-grounded ruling is extremely important.” 105-106 Category 3: By praising Judge Jones’s ruling, she adopts as her own the false rhetoric with which she describes the ruling.
Jane Maienschien “Therefore, we need understanding of evolution. We need the science, and also there is room to allow some versions of religion. Not the narrow, evangelical, science-bashing religion, but open-minded, tolerant, and well-behaved religion.” 108 Categories 1, 2, & 3: It’s difficult to not laugh when reading a quote like this that lauds the “tolerant” and “open-minded” while stating that we should only “allow some versions of religion”–this also engages in clear name-calling and fingerpointing at a particular religious denomination of Christianity.
Robert Maxwell Young “Intelligent Design: A Symptom of Metaphysical Malaise” 109 Categories 2: The title itself engages in fingerpointing.

There are more statements that aren’t represented here–there are so many misrepresentations of ID arguments and positions in this book that most of it just isn’t even worth critiquing.

But what about truth in advertizing? Is the dust-jacket correct when it claims that this book “moves beyond mere name-calling and fingerpointing,” or is this just the same old Darwinian name-calling, with a few new voices added to the choir? Readers can decide for themselves.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



The Panda's Black Box