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The Panda’s Thumb: An Extraordinary Instance of Design?

Photo credit: 江戸村のとくぞう, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Does the panda’s thumb refute intelligent design? Or is it one of the most extraordinary manipulation systems in the mammalian world, as one respected study has found? On this episode of ID the Future, host Casey Luskin speaks with philosopher Dr. Stephen Dilley about his recent paper evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the iconic panda’s thumb argument for evolution.

Harvard scientist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould is well-known for his theory that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria and best kept separate from one another. Yet one of his favorite arguments for evolutionary processes was the panda’s thumb, which is underpinned by a theology-laden premise: namely, God wouldn’t design the panda’s thumb like this, therefore a clumsy step-wise natural process is responsible. But does this argument hold up to philosophical and scientific scrutiny? 

In this conversation, Dr. Dilley challenges the assumptions implicit in the panda’s thumb argument. He also explains that what might be deemed by some as sub-optimal design may actually be an engineering trade-off. Optimizing a structure can sometimes come at the cost of certain design constraints. Ultimately, Dilley holds that the panda’s thumb may be more of a problem for an evolutionary view than a design perspective: “If in fact the very best studies commend the thumb for its efficiency, its dexterity, its precision…then by Gould’s own framing the panda’s thumb would pose a problem” for evolutionists. Download the podcast or listen to it here.

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