Re: NTSE #11 (Panda's thumb)

Terry M. Gray (
Fri, 7 Mar 1997 12:31:21 -0500

I attended some meetings last night with Elliot Sober, a philosopher of
biology from the University of Wisconson, who has written at length on
design (a la Paley) vs. Darwinian evolution. (Interestingly, he seem
singularly unimpressed and uninterested in the ID discussion happening
among Christians.) Somewhat disturbingly, I found myself agreeing him on
many points in his critique of the creationist position, although,
obviously, I can't join him in his skepticism about the existence of God.
[Skeptics and Christians think they have integrity and truth-seeking in
common, so I'm not totally disturbed by this common ground.]

Anyway, Sober makes use of the Panda's thumb argument as well. Although I
haven't read this latest manifestation of Paul Nelson's argument, I have
read an earlier version and talked at length with him about htis. I agree
with both of his critiques about the theologizing inherent in the argument
and about the lack of objective criteria for optimality.

However, my gut reaction is that there is still something to the argument.
Perhaps it is just a repeat of the general homology argument (which I find
pursuasive as an argument for evolution, despite Jon Wells' and others'
critique). But here's a challenge to the EC's out there. Can we
re-formulate the Panda's thumb argument without appealing to the alleged
imperfection of design (I don't believe that perfect design and adaptation
is a necessary consequence of divine creation anyway.) and without
necessarily requiring some measure of design in order to define optimality.

For example, given all the bears (or raccoons, depending on how you
classify Pandas), is it not at least odd (striking, remarkable) that the
wrist bone has been given this function. Doesn't the historical argument
lead you to expect such odd or surprising features? Now I'm substituting
the more vague "odd" or "surprising" for the word "imperfect" of Gould's
argument. But in my mind it takes much of the sting from the Nelson
critique. So, it is not surprising that such a structure would exist in an
evolutionary consideration.


Terry M. Gray, Ph.D. Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Calvin College 3201 Burton SE Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Office: (616) 957-7187 FAX: (616) 957-6501

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