Carrie Poppy reads Of Pandas and People, so you don’t have to


Really, you don’t want to ever have to bother reading Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, the terrible textbook from the Discovery Institute that was at the heart of the Dover trial. It’s badly written sludge, warmed over creationism (remember “cdesign proponentsists”, the typo that was the result of a botched copy/replace of “design proponents” for “creationists”? That was from this book), and it’s basically an error-filled bad textbook.

Carrie Poppy read it for the Center for Inquiry. I don’t know why. Maybe the editors were playing a cruel trick, like saying “here’s a flashlight and a shovel; I need you to do an important investigative piece exploring my cesspool”, but she survived and has written a brief summary of a few things that leapt out at a lay person reading a pseudoscientific text. It’s entertaining.

But come to think of it, my bathroom sink is clogged. I’m sure there’s a story in it. I wonder if Carrie would like to stop by and venture into the world of old toothpaste, hair, and drainage?

By the way, I also talked about Pandas and the Dover trial in my intro class on Monday. It’s important to remember the ugly bits of history so we don’t repeat them.


  1. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    It’s nice to know that someone would attempt the challenge of slogging through the entire mass of excrement, and not just leave us with the worst bits and pieces extracted from the mess.
    But… still pity Carrie for this form of masochism. Would have been best to just ‘nuke it from orbit’ to protect the naive from falling into that pit of sludge.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    (remember “cdesign proponentsists”, the typo that was the result of a botched copy/replace of “design proponents” for “creationists”? That was from this book)

    That was in a manuscript from ~1987, and did not make it into the published book.

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 2:
    from the manuscript, still counts as “from this book”

  4. emergence says

    There are a couple of things I think should be commented on:

    – The point about creating life was probably about the Miller-Urey experiment that produced amino acids, not about transgenic organisms. The creationist claims still don’t hold up, though. Even if scientists haven’t created life from non-living matter, they have still managed to synthesize many of the components of biomolecules like amino acids. I think biochemists have also managed to synthesize polypeptides, phospholipids and possibly even nitrogenous bases, but I would have to do some research to be sure.

    – The creationists seem to think that the fluidity of the concept of a species somehow supports their position rather than evolutionary biology. Creationists are the ones arguing that there are strict genetic delineations between different groups of organisms, so I don’t see how the line between species being fuzzy helps them at all. I was taught that species are a fuzzy concept in my introductory biology classes in college. Even different species that creationists will insist are distinct from one another can fail some of the criteria to be considered seperate.

    – The claim about dog’s paws and human hands is ridiculous. If you look at the underlying skeletal structure and musculature of a dog’s forelegs and a human’s arms, you see that they have all of the same bones and muscles, but with different shapes and proportions. There aren’t any non-homologous tissues that are present in one but not the other. The same is true of pretty much all tetrapods. Differences in gene regulation can cause variations in limb shape and proportion within species and between related species. The differences in limb structure between more divergent groups of animals are just a more extreme version of that.

    – PZ already covered the last point about genetic compatibility being needed for heterotrophs to consume their prey. Organisms already break down their food into their basic molecular components. They don’t just co-opt whole proteins and lipids from what they eat. Also, most animals eat prey that is fairly biochemically distinct from them. Herbivores aren’t all that closely related to plants, and insectivorous mammals aren’t all that closely related to insects. Heterotrophs don’t need their prey to be genetically similar to them to eat them.

  5. emergence says

    Actually, can anyone find that post by PZ explaining why organisms don’t need to be genetically similar to eat each other? I can’t seem to find it.

  6. wzrd1 says

    “It’s important to remember the ugly bits of history so we don’t repeat them.”

    Why? We still keep repeating them. The entire anti-desegregation argument was rehashed, frequently verbatim, during military prohibition of gay and lesbian service members, from don’t ask don’t tell until we finally desegregated, erm, admitted to reality – with a fight of the same tired bullshit being trotted out as new.
    The idea of concentration camps for The Other.
    Even blood libel gets trotted out from time to time.
    When one reminds the speaker of the ancientness of their lousy argument, denunciation begins and death threats follow.

  7. dannorth says

    The point abou tthe existence of transitional fossils being denied by creationnists gave me a flashback of the 1997 Firing Line debate about creationism.

    I was infuriated at the arrogant smugness of David I wont be satisfied until I have been shown the fossols fo every organism that ever lived Berlinski.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    10 Astounding Moments in a Creationist Textbook: Revisting Of Pandas and People

    I’m going to ignore the typo in the headline and concentrate on the list, which is presented in countdown order.
    #9) Philip Johnson is an HIV/AIDS denialist. This is sad for Johnson and for the ID movement in general (he is not the only one), but it doesn’t say anything about the book in question. This is guilt by association, which is completely unecessary given the immense quantity of wrongitude in the book.

    #8) “Critical parts of the case presented in Pandas are no longer accurate.”
    This is true. For example, to make their case for the deficiency of the fossil record, they concentrated on the land mammal-whale transition, and the avian feather. Guess what were two of the hottest topics in paelaeontology in the 1990s and 2000s?
    But it is also true that critical parts of the case presented in Pandas were not accurate at the time of publication. I am thinking of the chapter 6 on “biochemical similarities,” which uses sequence comparisons of cytochrome C genes from various organisms to illustrate that such sequences turn out exactly like evolution predicts they should. The authors don’t understand that because they completely misunderstand the standard evolutionary interpretation, apparently thinking of evolution as a ladder, rather than as a branching tree. For example, the sequence from bacteria is equally distant from various eukaryotes (humans, reptiles, amphibians, insects, plants, yeast)(p.143). The authors apparently think that humans have “evolved more” than yeast, so that yeast should be closer to bacteria. An actual evolutionist realizes that humans and yeast are both eukaryotes, and their common ancestor with each other is closer than their common ancestor with bacteria. What an embarrassing dunder-headed mistake to churn out an entire chapter from such a basic misunderstanding. Or perhaps the mistake is so obvious to me because my field of work is molecular biology. But I think this huge error deserves mention in any discussion of the book.
    BTW, this error was based on chapter 12 of Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, (1982), which book reportedly impressed Michael Behe and got him interested in Intelligent Design, so it represents a very deep and broad flaw in ID.